It’s never easy to program a robot to perform a useful task. A person has to first attend a course or pick up some skills from a robotics manufacturer. There’s always a designated person in the factory that is able to program the robot and no one else. This is not true for a human operator as all we have to do is instruct the person to perform the task, and this is possible if you know the task to be accomplished.
Many researchers have worked on Learning by Demonstration and the following video is the work done at Willow Garage where they run trials on normal end-users. The end-users are able to physical move the PR2 to show it how to perform a particular task engaging the robot using speech recognition. This is one of the key things that will bring robots closer to a human centric environment.
Foxconn has been in the news lately plagued with the problems with human operators – under-aged workers, working condition and suicides. These will be a problem for any company and this situation will get worst as the cost of living in China is increasing. They decided to solve this problem by introducing robots into their lines. But rather than purchasing the robots from current manufacturers of robot, they have decided to start building robots themselves.
The robot in the picture is called the Foxbot and about 10,000 have been manufactured and deployed since 2011. These robots are pretty low cost priced at around $20k. According to International Federation of Robotics, there was a total sales of 160,000 robots in 2011. Their goal is to deploy 1 million robots by 2014 is 5 times that deployment. That’s an amazing feat by far and certainly good news for all robotists today. There’s going to be a growing demand for robots and all robotics related technologies in the near future.
Keepon has been around for a while and used in the research field for helping children with autism with social interaction. It’s a very engaging robot, having such lively dance moves in-sync with upbeat music using the MAX visual programming platform.
Here are a couple robots that have similar functionality.
There is a growing number of autistic children today. There are many established invention programs but there is limited progress in these methods. Different groups of researchers have been using robots as a tool to combat autism. Different robots have been used – mobile robots to teleoperated childlike robots to cartoon characters.
CHARLIE (Child Centered Adaptive Robot for Learning Environments) is the latest addition to this team of robots. Charlie was designed by Laura Boccanfuso of University of South Carolina. Charlie was create to improve communications skills of autistic children, in particular imitation and turn taking. Charlie has a camera that can do face tracking, IR sensors that measures the temperature of the subject and detachable arms to prevent damage in event the child gets a little rough.
This is not the first robot that is being introduced to elderly but it’s making an impact in Singapore. Paro, a japanese seal robot, has been named the “World’s Most Therapeutic Robot”. The bear is able to recognise emotion from the interaction. The bear has become a companion to the many elderly living in Singapore’s Villa Francis Home for the Aged. It’s good to see the smiles on the faces of the people interacting with the bear.
Grippers that conform to objects surfaces are really useful. Some have looked at hand designs as all manmade should be made for grasp of the human hand. but it’s not easy to teach human grasp to a robot as we do grasp objects differently, e.g. how one holds a pair of chopsticks. I have seen different people holding a pair of chopsticks differently but yet able to finish a meal with the grasp. Secondly, it’s easy for humans to know how we are holding an object but it’s difficult to determine the orientation of the object if we use a robotic hand to hold the object.
The 2/3 finger design is simple and it can work really well maybe 90% of the time, which is good enough. Velco 2G is a passively adaptive gripper. It’s gripper is able to conform to any object it grasp. This is similar to the Robotiq grippers as well. BarrettHand is another gripper that’s falls in this category but it’s better because 2 of the 3 fingers of the BarrettHand can rotate 2 of the fingers around the palm axis and that allows changing the grasping style of the gripper. I find this useful for some applications.
Having the Velo 2G on the PR2 is great. It’s improves the grasp of the PR2 and i hope to see some innovation outside of software that can reduce the computation power requirements of the robot. My belief is that we need to produce robo-humancentric objects to improve the way the robots is able to perform task in a human-centric environment.