Video Friday: Festo's ExoHand, Russian Robonaut, and Hugvie the Huggable Robot

In this edition of Video Friday, we bring you robot videos featuring hands, humanoids, and hugs

3 min read
Video Friday: Festo's ExoHand, Russian Robonaut, and Hugvie the Huggable Robot

Festo ExoHand

It's Friday, and as we do most Fridays, it's time to deliver a horse doctor's dose of robot videos straight into your skull. Not that your brain didn't get a healthy amount of robotic juice this week: On Wednesday we had clips showing a robot purposefully cheating and deceiving humans (all in the name of science), and yesterday you saw robots shooting plastic pellets and mini rockets at each other (all in the name of fun). But we're not done, and today we bring you robot videos featuring hands, humanoids, and hugs.

Festo, the big German automation-firm-cum-mad-science-lab, is famous for its SmartBird robotic seagull and elephant trunk manipulators, among other things. Last week the company unveiled its latest bionic contraption: the ExoHand is an exoskeleton glove that you can wear to teleoperate a separate robot hand in real time. But the cool part is that the device, powered by eight pneumatic actuators, can also be used to make your hand stronger and reduce fatigue during repetitive tasks. Festo says the ExoHand could find applications in manufacturing and medical therapy. Bionic handshake anyone?

Our friends at PlasticPals reported this week that Russia is building a teleoperated humanoid called the SAR-400, which is very similar to NASA and GM's Robonaut. Apparently the SAR-400 was constructed by a company called Android Technology and the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, part of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. The legless robot has two arms, torso, and head, and an operator wearing a head-mounted display and haptic gloves can directly control its movements. The Russians are currently testing the SAR-400 in simulated environments, having it tight screws and open hatches, and the plan is to have the robot aboard the International Space Station within the next two years. Check out the vid below (in Russian) and another one showing the robot's capabilities.

Dan Mathias is a Florida-based inventor and a self-described "engineering firm of one." At his robotics outfit FutureBots, in Jupiter, Fla., he's been building myriad wheeled and legged systems based on his own original designs and parts scavenged from his home lab and yard sales around town. A couple of years ago he introduced a 1.6-meter tall, self-contained humanoid robot called ATOM-7XP—an impressive feat for a solo engineer. His latest creation, built in just three months, is KATE, which stands for "Kids Avatar Teacher and Entertainer." The robot has an articulated mouth, a Microsoft Kinect for tracking people, and an Android tablet for communication and data input. Mathias says he hopes KATE could be used "for the home, schools, and labs for AI work."

Remember the Telenoid, that strange teleoperated android shaped like an overgrown fetus? Now its creators, led by Osaka University roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, unveiled a simplified (emphasis on simplified) variant called the Hugvie. The Hugvie is basically a pillow "in a minimalist human form," as DigInfo puts it. You insert your mobile phone into a pocket on the Hugvie, which then uses a microcontroller and small vibrating motors to match the characteristics of the caller's voice, supposedly making your communication experience richer when talking on the phone with loved ones. Ishiguro explains that the motors produce a throbbing sound like a heartbeat, which can get faster and stronger, depending on the mood of the conversation. The Hugvie will be sold by Japanese robotics company Vstone for about US $60.

And finally, two words for you: Alien. Prequel. That's right, Ridley Scott is working on a prequel to his groundbreaking sci-fi horror movie. Well, looks like it's not exactly a prequel, but what it matters is that apparently there will be androids involved (and a stellar cast that includes Noomi Rapace). In the movie, called Prometheus, a team of scientists is journeying through the universe on a spaceship when—you guessed it!—they become stranded on a foreign alien world. The movie will hit theaters in June, and several trailers have recently been released, including this faux-ad featuring a humanlike robot named David manufactured by one "Weyland Industries." The visuals are striking, and the text brilliant.

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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

“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.

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

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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