Video: Meka Robotics Talks Up its Anime-Style Expressive Head

Meka Robotics' co-founder Aaron Edsinger talks to us about their compliant, underactuated limbs and highly expressive heads

1 min read
Video: Meka Robotics Talks Up its Anime-Style Expressive Head

Meka Robotics is based in San Francisco, which is lucky for us, since that made it pretty much impossible for them to not show up at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. They're probably best known for their underactuated, compliant hand (and the arm that goes with it) and more recently for their humanoid head. The S2 head is notable because it manages to maintain a high degree of expressiveness (those eyes are amazing) while entirely avoiding the Uncanny Valley effect, thanks to its vaguely cartoonish look. We asked Meka's co-founder, Aaron Edsinger to take us through it:

The particular robot in this video is called Dreamer, and it belongs to the Human Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas, Austin. Dreamer's head was a cooperative effort involving Meka and UT Austin professor Luis Sentis, who came up with the subtle and effective anime look. Part of what helps keep Dreamer's motions so compliant (and lifelike) is its software: called "Whole Body Control," it's a collaboration between UT Austin, Meka, Stanford, and Willow Garage.

Meka is also offering an entirely new system consisting of an arm, gripper, sensor head, and mobile base for $200,000. It's no coincidence that the one-armed PR2 SE costs the exact same amount; the NSF's National Robotics Initiative provides research grants including up to $200k for research platforms. Yep, the government is basically giving these things away for free, all you have to do is convince them that you deserve one, and then pick your flavor.

[ Meka Robotics ]

[ HCRL ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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