Where humans, animals and robots meet

Swarm Tech

To meet our everyday needs in an increasingly multifaceted technological world is a challenge that pushes researchers to find innovative tools using a multidisciplinary approach. We inhabit a globalized planet, made up of complex systems, where domains such as communications, business, healthcare, energy or transportation converge, interact and integrate. Read More →

Robots in the Workplace

Robot031314

Small, mobile robots will learn to take over the tasks in the automotive industry that have not yet been possible to automate. This challenge is part of a 47 million kroner EU funded research project aimed at making robots available to small and medium-sized companies without the need of robotics expertise. Read More →

Riding Hexapod Walkers on Dusty Alien Worlds

Hexapod Walker

Speculative fiction is the home of countless machines that fly in space, yet resemble humanoid lifeforms. Scientists are now working on the next generation of robots that will blaze a trail in space by going where humans simply can’t maneuver on their own. Like so many things in the field of space exploration, the descendents of those working on these projects will be the ones to really reap the benefits of this research.

That being said, some scientists and engineers are beginning to consider the possibility of new types of craft that use human pilots while incorporating robotic structures to facilitate planetary exploration. Numerous remotely tele-operated vehicles like the Lunakhod and the Sojourner have already been used with great success to explore extraterrestrial surfaces. The use of human pilots in these past missions would of course been foolish, however, as  technology advances it’s somewhat easier to believe that such endeavors in the future may be realistic. Robotics will undoubtedly become increasingly important as space travel becomes commonplace in the years ahead. Automatic piloting aren’t the only thing that these units will be useful for, however. Semiautonomous navigation devices are old news. Treads won’t be able to explore extremely treacherous terrain on rocky worlds. We need to figure out ways to get humans involved in planetary surface exploration.

One viable option to accomplish this may involve hexapod walkers similar to the one shown above. These units would be far more stable over irregular terrain than treads or wheels. Astronauts landing on other planets wouldn’t be able to work with equipment that’s as straightforward as the buggy used on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. By using six symmetrical legs, new robotic vehicles could descend vast gorges without tumbling the way conventional vehicles do.

Robotic algorithms can do more than merely pilot units as well. As brain interfaces become safer, astronauts may be able to directly interface with their vehicles. Hexapod legs could actually become extensions of their physical bodies. Some people have proposed constructing piloted robotic vehicles that look like some form of giant humans in order to speed up the learning process. Nevertheless, the human body isn’t exactly a great thing to model a machine after. While the human body might be balanced in its organic form, it wouldn’t really work as a machine. Humans require liquid in the inner ear canal to remain balanced. Hexapod units derive balance from their structure.

Interestingly, not all of a six-legged robot’s legs are necessary to remain upright. If a few of the legs were damaged, it might be able to still move. That makes this design particularly useful for astronauts who would be operating away from technical crews in extremely hazardous environments. Training problems might still be pretty serious, which is why some people have proposed chicken walkers and numerous other sophisticated designs as alternatives.

Conclusion

Industrial robotics have been used in spacecraft rendezvous and docking simulation conditions so these may be the best approach in the future once we figure out how to get humans to planetary bodies. It’s not hard to believe their use will continue to grow as we continue to push the boundaries of space exploration in the future. As we continue moving forward with our space exploration efforts, the involvement of humans should be considered as increases in our technological capabilities are realized.  Brain interfaces and walker units may be integral components in these future planetary exploration efforts.

Reference:

Toralf Boge, & Ou Ma (2011). Using Advanced Industrial Robotics for Spacecraft Rendezvous and Docking simulation Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 1-4 DOI: 10.1109/ICRA.2011.5980583

Wilcox, B. (1992). Robotic vehicles for planetary exploration Applied Intelligence, 2 (2), 181-193 DOI: 10.1007/BF00058762

Meet Baxter – the $22,000 Robot

Baxter

Realistic views of robots are usually centered on grappling arms hidden behind safety cages, but Rethink Robotics is working to change that. The Massachusetts-based company produces the Baxter line of robots shown above. These machines are designed to adapt to their local environment so that even unskilled labor can train them to do work. Perhaps equally important, they’re affordable and designed with simplicity in mind. Read More →

Why Robots Scare Their Masters

One of the most talked about subjects in robotics today is the uncanny valley hypothesis. So many works of speculative fiction feature robots in relationships with humans that it’s become a cliche, but this idea states that there’s a dip in the graph of human comfort levels when they approach machines that look too much like people. Devices that are disturbingly close to organic life forms often repulse human observers. However, the emotional response becomes far more positive as the machine becomes even closer to humanity. Read More →

Artificial Cerebellum in Robotics Developed

University of Granada researchers have developed an artificial cerebellum (a biologically-inspired adaptive microcircuit) that controls a robotic arm with human-like precision. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain that controls the locomotor system and coordinates body movements. Read More →

Robot Reveals the Inner Workings of Brain Cells

Gaining access to the inner workings of a neuron in the living brain offers a wealth of useful information: its patterns of electrical activity, its shape, even a profile of which genes are turned on at a given moment. However, achieving this entry is such a painstaking task that it is considered an art form; it is so difficult to learn that only a small number of labs in the world practice it. Read More →

Robots in Prisons [Video]

Most people interested in futurism have already heard that Korean prisons have been experimenting with robotic prison guards. Robots have largely replaced humans in extremely repetitive jobs throughout the world. Even people that lack a general interest in robotics have seen the mechanical arms used in automobile factories. While prison detail is rather repetitive, it isn’t the sort of thing that usually gets associated with automation. Read More →

Robotic Companions of the Future

Many articles that focus on the increasing similarities between organic life and machines focus purely on the ways that humans are becoming increasingly mechanized. It can be assumed that people will become even more like machines as the collective human consciousness moves towards a single technological singularity. However, what might be more startling is the way in which machines are often beginning to resemble other animals aside from humans. Read More →

Remembering the Walking Robot of 1969

Each morning I pick a random music station on Netflix and enjoy some oldies but goodies while catching up on the news and downing my Starbucks-Red Bull combo. This morning I heard Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69 (still a great song). I started thinking about robotics and just how far we’ve come in the past two decades and wondered what kinds of robotic projects were around in 1969. Honestly, I had no idea what I’d find (or if I’d find anything at all). Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the 3000 lb. monster above (actually built in 1968). Naturally, I had to research it and post my findings. Enjoy, and let me know if you would drive this beast if given the opportunity. Read More →