Evan is back! Sort of. Let's say he's 40 percent back. As I write this, he's in his pajamas in a Hong Kong hotel, getting ready for an insane week of robotics at ICRA, which officially kicks off on Monday. But being the awesome dude he is, he still helped me put together today's Video Friday post. Here we go!
Remember Otherlab, the design and engineering company that created those crazy inflatable robots—some so large people could ride on them? They've recently posted a series of videos on their YouTube channel showing some of their inflatable creations. These appear to be some old prototypes, but we hope Otherlab and other companies keep this technology ballooning.
[ Otherlab ]
Speaking of balloons, the jamming gripper is one of the strangest inventions we've ever seen in robotics. You fill a balloon with coffee grounds (or a similar coarse material), and when you pump air out of the balloon, it instantly hardens and you can use that capability to grasp a wide variety of things—including stuff that conventional grippers have a hard time picking up, like small parts and oddly shaped objects. It's a promising technology, and Empire Robotics is attempting to commercialize it with its VersaBall gripper, which you can see in action below, packing a toolbox.
[ Empire Robotics ]
iCub, the amazing child humanoid, is turning 10. The project started back in 2004, and over the years the many groups working with iCub made significant advances in humanoid technology. They taught iCub to crawl, move its head, listen to sounds, recognize people, manipulate objects. They even taught iCub things that should never be taught to robots, such as shooting arrows! Now with 25 iCubs around the world, we bet we'll see the robot doing many more cool things soon.
[ iCub.org ]
We told you we would see iCub doing more cool things soon. The video below shows iCub learning to stand and balance. Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology are using the robot's tactile skin and force sensors to measure external disturbances and allow the robot to keep itself stable and interact safely with people.
[ Titanoboa ]
That little robot gymnast can perform some incredibly impossible flips. But even a robot gymnast doesn't always stick the landing.
Robotics and biomedical technologies will hopefully help humanity end disability in the not-too-distant future. That's the theme of our colleague Eliza Strickland's fascinating article in IEEE Spectrum's 50th Anniversary Special Report. There are countless robotics projects contributing to that goal, and the next videos are two examples of that.
The first features the Walk Again Project, led by Professor Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University. The goal is developing a brain-machine interface and exoskeleton that will allow a person with spinal cord injury to perform the "first kick" at the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil next month. The video is in Portuguese, so hit the closed captions button on the player for the English translation.
[ Nicolelis Lab ]
The second video is about SynTouch's innovative tactile sensors, which are now being used in a wide range of robotic arms and hands. This is the first time we see it on a prosthetic arm, though. Vikram Pandit, a USC student and SynTouch researcher, who was born without one hand, shows how the sensors can help his prosthetic hand grasp a variety of things, including a taco.
[ SynTouch ]
Last week we saw drones delivering pizza and walking a dog. Today we give you...dancing with drones. A Japanese dance troupe teamed up with Daito Manabe (from Rhizomatiks), who programmed AscTec Hummingbird drones to perform along with the humans. Manabe says he used a motion capture system to track the position of the drones and pre-program their movements. And just in case, "manual operation is available at anytime."
We know that the food industry has embraced robots. We've seen robots handling, sorting, and packaging all sorts of food products. But now an Italian maker of frozen food is using ABB's FlexPicker robots to make pizza. Hmm, some will call this the robopizzalypse.
[ ABB ]
When people ask us what is a hot topic in robotics these days, one of the first things we mention is cloud robotics—the merger of robots and the cloud. If you're not familiar with the concept, check out this talk that UC Berkeley roboticist Ken Goldberg gave at Google as part of the company's "Academics at Google" series.
[ Ken Goldberg ]
If anyone doubts we should let robots invade schools, just listen to these kids talk about their experience with the humanoid NAO in their classrooms. Robots can help students learn math, physics, programming. But did you know they can help them learn Shakespeare?
The last two videos today are our humble attempt to pay tribute to a promising young roboticist, Mike Stilman, who passed away early this month. We'd long been following Stilman's work at CMU and Georgia Tech and were lucky to have met him at past IEEE conferences. The first video was put together by his colleagues at Georgia Tech and shows highlights of Stilman's career and many creations, including his self-balancing humanoid robot Golem.
The second video is a recording by Chad Jenkins from Brown, during a visit he did to Stilman's lab three years ago. Says Jenkins: "Reflecting upon Mike's passing, I came across a few videos of a Golem demo he did for me back in 2011. These videos made me smile because they show the fun and daring Mike, which was typical of our interactions."
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.