Amazing Nao Hack Offers Full-Body Teleoperated Kitty Grooming

Talyor Veltrop's full-body teleoperation of a Nao is every lonely cat's dream

1 min read
Amazing Nao Hack Offers Full-Body Teleoperated Kitty Grooming

We've been following Taylor Veltrop's Nao teleoperation saga for, uh, well... It feels like it's been forever, but I guess it's only been about a year since Veltrop, a Japan-based roboticist, had a robot doing push-ups for him. But there's more to teleoperation than just virtual exercise: There's also virtual pet pampering, and it involves Nao, a Kinect system, a treadmill, a bunch of cameras, and one exceptionally tolerant cat.

There's a lot going on here. The system consists of a Nao (of course), a Kinect sensor, two Wiimotes, a treadmill, a camera mounted on Nao's head, and a head-mounted immersive display system for the user that also control's Nao's head and neck. So, put all this together, and Veltrop (the user) can walk forward and Nao walks forward. Veltrop can turn, and Nao turns. Veltrop can pick up a brush and start beating on a clearly uncomfortable cat, and, well, yeah, there you go.

I have to say, this is a fairly remarkable feat of robotics that Veltrop's come up with. It's also worth noting just how much of this was accomplished based on off-the-shelf (and relatively inexpensive) sensors combined with some intense cleverness. In just the last few years, the availability of cheap and open source software and hardware has enabled people without giant research budgets to do some amazing things that just haven't been possible before, and with sensors like the Kinect 2 to look forward to, the near future is going to be awfully exciting for robots and humans. And cats.

[ Taylor Veltrop ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

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11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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