[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/CaMuS3wZ-bM&hl=en&fs=1& expand=1]


The video session at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems last month opened with a bit of chaos. The tables and chairs in the room were set up in board-meeting style, taking too much space and making it hard for attendees to face the screen. Eventually the tables were moved and the mass of people crowded in the doorway was able to come in and bring more chairs.

Which made me wonder, Where's the robotic furniture?!

It may be here soon. One of the videos presented at the session featured a robotic wall called AWE (animated work environment), developed at Clemson University's school of architecture and department of electrical and computer engineering.

Presenting the AWE Project was Keith Evan Green, the director of the school’s program of intelligent materials and systems for architecture. His opener: "We're in the business of reconfiguring rooms," he said, "which we just did here manually." 

He explained that the segmented wall can be rearranged to make a single space that is useful for working at a desk, giving presentations, even watching football. "The idea is for multiple people to convene in one place" with different objects and uses. 

The eight-degree-of-freedom robowall, powered by electric motors, has multiple touch-screen displays and mobile desk units. Users can select six different configurations and fine-tune them by gesturing at proximity sensors. 

Their original idea for the contraption's design came from studying the movement of an elephant’s trunk, though for their current prototype they went to a "hyper redundant" system more like the links in a watch's wristband. "Out of cowardice," Green said when asked, because they wanted to be sure it worked. But Green and collaborator Ian Walker are currently working on "continuum robotics," more like that trunk.

Maybe at IROS next year Green will wave his hand and the hotel conference room will morph into a cool movie theater?

Video: AWE Project

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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