Video Friday: Thought-Controlled Robot, PackBot With Jamming Gripper, Furby Teardown

In this edition of Video Friday, we bring you humans controlling robots, humans building robots, and humans tearing robots apart!

2 min read
Video Friday: Thought-Controlled Robot, PackBot With Jamming Gripper, Furby Teardown

In this edition of Video Friday, we bring you humans controlling robots, humans interacting with robots, humans building robots, and humans tearing robots apart!

Many research groups are developing brain-machine interfaces capable of controlling advanced prosthetics  such as bionic arms and hands. But how about using your thoughts to control a full humanoid robot? That's what French and Japanese researchers demonstrated recently. A team from the CNRS-AIST Joint Robotics Laboratory showed how a person, wearing a cap with electrodes, could control a HRP-2 humanoid and make it perform tasks such as grasping objects. Though the range of tasks the robot can perform appears limited—and controlling a robot this way might require significant mental effort—it's nonetheless an impressive demonstration of how the lines between humans and machines are blurring.

Via [ DigInfo ]


Automaton readers probably remember the fascinating (and totally weird) jamming gripper originally invented by a group from Cornell University, University of Chicago, and iRobot. It consisted of a balloon filled with a granular material like ground coffee; by applying vacuum to the balloon, researchers could make it harden and conform to the shape of objects, in effect working as a robotic gripper. Researchers have used the jamming approach to build elephant trunk-like manipulators, dart-shooting robot arms, and even creepy crawling hexapods. Now iRobot is finding some more useful applications for the balloon robot hand, such as opening doors.


Check out this little guy, a small Japanese humanoid called Robi. I know, we want one too! But apparently it's not for sale. You have to build your own, using parts that come with issues of a weekly Japanese hobbyist magazine you have to subscribe to. According to Gizmag, it will take 70 issues (at a cost of $25 apiece) to get all the parts. The fully-assembled Robi is about 30 centimeters (12 inches) tall and weighs 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). It's a creation of famous Japanese robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi of ROBO GARAGE, known for developing the Evolta humanoid robot for Panasonic. I hope more robots like Robi could be mass produced and sold for reasonable prices. Robot makers, what are you waiting for?

Via [ Gizmag ]


I don't know much about Aisoy Robotics. All I know is they're a Spanish start-up and have built a little robot  that loves to talk. They're offering it as a platform for AI research. The video below shows how to program the robot to understand speech, detect touch, and respond accordingly. It's all done through a browser-based visual interface. Like other modular robots such as the TurtleBot and Qbo, the Aisoy bot runs ROS and users can install "apps" to give the robot new capabilities. Developing easy-to-use, effective user interfaces is one of the biggest challenges for consumer robotics. Aisoy has a nice voice recognition and synthesis engine, so we'll keep our eyes on them. 

[ Aisoy Robotics ]


What's almost as cool as building robots? Tearing robots apart to see how they work, of course! The evil geek geniuses at Adafruit Industries got one of the new Furbies and took it apart "as much as possible while still keeping it (semi) functional." Poor robot owl. Or is it a hamster? Check out the vid below to see the result. And if you want to do the same to your Furby (don't!), check out their step-by-step "epidermectomy" tutorial

[ Adafruit Industries ]

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

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

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

“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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