Towards Robots with Artificial Skin

“Sensitive synthetic skin enables robots to sense their own bodies and surroundings – a crucial capability if they are to be in close contact with people. Inspired by human skin, a team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed a system combining artificial skin with control algorithms and used it to create the first autonomous humanoid robot with full-body artificial skin.” (Press Release TUM, 10 October 2019) The robot skin consists of hexagonal cells which are about the size of a two-euro coin. Each of them is equipped with a microprocessor and sensors to detect contact, acceleration, proximity, and temperature. “Such artificial skin enables robots to perceive their surroundings in much greater detail and with more sensitivity. This not only helps them to move safely. It also makes them safer when operating near people and gives them the ability to anticipate and actively avoid accidents.” (Press Release TUM, 10 October 2019) The artificial skin could become important for service robots of all kinds, but also for certain industrial robots (Photo: Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Astrid Eckert).

Atlas Does a Handstand

In a new video, Boston Dynamics shows its humanoid Atlas performing various gymnastics exercises. This was reported by Heise on 26 September 2019 with reference to various sources. The well-known robot is 1.50 meters high and weighs 80 kilograms. It has two legs and two arms and the impression of a head. Among other things, it does a handstand and several somersaults, and it jumps with rotation around its own axis. Obviously, it can do crazy things that are actually reserved for human beings. According to Heise, a new optimization algorithm, which translates certain maneuvers into executable reference movements, enables this progress in movements. Boston Dynamics is part of SoftBank. The Japanese company also manufactures Pepper and Nao, the well-known robots of the formerly independent French company Aldebaran Robotics.

Robots for Climate

On 20 September 2019 FridaysforFuture had called for worldwide climate strikes. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to protest for more sustainable industry and long-term climate policies to fight global warming. Technological progress and the protection of the environment do not necessarily have to contradict. Quite the opposite, we will present 3 robots which show that technology can be used to achieve climate goals. Planting trees is the most efficient strategy to recover biodiversity and stop climate change. However, this method requires lots of human power. The GrowBot automates this task resulting in a planting rate that is 10 times faster than trained human planters. In contrast to planting drones, the little truck-alike robot not only spreads seeds, instead it plants small trees into the soil which gives them a better chance to survive and foster reforestation. The bio-inspired Row-bot converts organic matter into operating power just as the water boatman (a bug). The robot’s engine is based on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) which enables the robot to swim. Researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory developed the 3D-printed Row-bot for environmental clean-up operations such as harmful algal bloom, oil spills or monitoring the impact of (natural or man-made) environmental catastrophes. Next-level-recycling like in the movie WALL·E can be expected with the sorting robot RoCycle which is developed at MIT. Other than classic recycling machines the robot is capable of distinguishing paper, plastic and metal carbage by using pressure sensors. This tactile solution is 85% accurate at detecting in stationary use and 63% when attached to an assembly line. Through cameras and magnets, the researchers aim to optimise recycling to help cleaning Earth.

Talk to the Shuttle

Olli 2.0 is born. Local Motors and IBM had presented an autonomous shuttle in 2016 that reminded of the Smart Shuttle operated by PostAuto AG in Sion, Valais. Unlike this one, however, Olli 1.0 could not only think but also speak, both at a high level and with the help of IBM Watson. Passengers’ wishes are accepted, for example with regard to destinations, and these are even suggested; when it is hot, the car drives to the nearest ice cream parlour. Olli could also reassure passengers or passers-by: “For citizens of Maryland, many of whom have never seen a self-driving car, Watson’s reassuring communications could be critical to making them more comfortable with the idea that there’s no human being at the wheel.” (Information IBM) Olli 2.0, launched in 2019, can not only access IBM Watson, but also Amazon’s deep learning chatbot service Lex. Something else is different from the predecessor: Olli is now 80% 3D-printed. This was reported by Techcrunch on August 31, 2019. The magazine contains more interesting information about the shuttle. By the way, it is intended for small areas, especially for trade fairs and university campuses. But like the Smart Shuttle, it has already been tested in small cities.

An Exosuit for Walking and Running

“Walking and running require different gaits, with each type of motion putting a greater bias on different muscles and joints.” (Science 2019) Exoskeletons can support people in many ways. However, it is not easy for them to adjust to different types of motion. Jinsoo Kim and his co-authors discuss a possible solution in their article “Reducing the metabolic rate of walking and running with a versatile, portable exosuit”, published in the current issue of Science (16 August 2019). “They developed a soft, fully portable, lightweight exosuit that is able to reduce the metabolic rate for both running and walking by assisting each motion via the hip extension … A waist belt holds most of the mass, thus reducing the cost of carrying the suit. By tracking the motion of the user, the suit is able to switch modes between the two types of motion automatically.“ (Science 2019) There are many possible applications for the exosuit, both civil and military. The article can be downloaded here.

The Bartender Robot

The activities in a pub or a club are demanding. You have to take orders from guests, you have to understand them and be friendly to them, and you have to prepare drinks like Porn Star Martini or White Lady behind the counter. Then you must bring the bill, take money and give change. Robots are more or less good at these things. F & P Robotics has developed Barney, a complete and simple robotic bar solution. The Swiss company is known for its ambitious robots for therapy and care. Now it obviously wants to conquer the gastronomy. Barney offers an easy-to-use interface and a simple payment system. According to the manufacturer, the system impresses with elegant movements during the preparation of the drink. As a typical cobot, it can also work hand in hand with human bartenders. At Hotel Interlaken, Switzerland, you can see Barney in action from 13 August to 15 September 2019. You can form your own opinion and either come to the conclusion that this is the future – or that you still want a human service and a human smile. More information via www.barney-bar.com.