Here are the best robotics and robotics projects of 2020

It’s hard to think of anyone who considers 2020 to have been a brilliant year. However, things are a bit different in the robotosphere. In fact, the last 12 months have provided us with many examples of innovative robots.

Objectively selecting which robots have had the biggest impact in the last year is difficult (especially since many of them have been around for a few years already, but have gained additional momentum in 2020). Nonetheless, we have created seven of the best new robot projects that Digital Trends covered in 2020.

Meet the robber-barber

John peter whitney

Most robotics specialists would tell you that they have faith in their creations. But when the time comes to push (or the blade hits the neck), it takes a certain type of person to willingly receive a shave from a robot. John Peter Whitney, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University College of Engineering, is one of those people and, according to the evidence, he has every right to have that kind of superhuman faith.

“Razor shaving is extreme in [its] lawsuits, ”Whitney told Digital Trends. “We need the ability to provide high stiffness in some directions and very low stiffness in other directions, and these directions continually change as blade position and orientation change. In addition, we need the ability to have a quick “reflex” to back off if safety limits are violated. The only way to achieve this is to build a system in which each joint is extremely light and with extremely low friction. “

Does the TL version; DR? Whitney and Ph.D. Student Evelyn Mendoza created a robot setup that allowed Whitney to be shaved by a robot that was remotely controlled by a barber. And surprisingly, it didn’t end up looking like a scene from a Nightmare on Elm Street movie.

Robot tour guide

With museums and art galleries closed due to the coronavirus this year, an enterprising gallery in the UK chose to continue to allow visitors to browse its exhibits, by partnering with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory to offer real-time guided tours in the style of Zoom with the help. of two-wheeled telepresence robots.

“Our initial idea was to help people who lived in places like nursing homes to access the gallery,” Will Barrett, Hastings Contemporary manager of communications and marketing, told Digital Trends. “When the pandemic began to spread, we thought it would be good to advance this and accelerate its use.”

Robotic Turbine Inspectors

Chances are you’ve never given too much thought to the best way to inspect and maintain wind turbines. The folks at BladeBUG haven’t just thought about it; They’ve built a suction cup-equipped robot bug to help make it easier.

“This opens the door to autonomous inspection and repair of wind turbines, improving blade efficiency and reducing risk for rope access technicians,” Chris Cieslak, Founder and Director of BladeBUG, told Digital Trends. “[Our robot] uses a patent-pending six-legged design with suction cup feet, which means that each leg can be moved and folded independently. This is important because it allows the robot to walk on the changing curved surface of the blade, as well as inside the turbine blade, tower or hub. “

Disney’s strange robot

The House of the Mouse is not best known for scaring people. So why exactly did he build a robot with dazzling human-looking eyes staring out of a skeletal robot face with rows of clenched teeth into a lipless mouth? No, it is not to chase the dreams of anyone who has written nasty things about new Star Wars movies on the internet. Instead, it’s research that could one day result in more realistic animatronic robots for Disney theme parks.

“The look is an important part of the interactions between people; a lot of information is transmitted through eye movements, ”Matthew Pan, a Disney Research postdoctoral associate, told Digital Trends. “We wanted to try to emulate this communication in a robot by designing eye-watching behaviors using animation principles. We have superimposed these behaviors using a subsumption architecture proposed more than 30 years ago by Rodney Brooks to create complexity and realism. “

Robot masseuse

After the year we’ve all had, who wouldn’t want a relaxing massage? And with social distancing and all that, we might have to settle for the masseuse in question being a bit robotic. Created by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK, this masseur robot is built with the KUKA LBR iiwa robotic arm.

The arm can be taught a variety of movements, with articulating torque sensors that allow it to detect contact and instantly reduce force and speed levels. Because no one wants a massage robot that, like some kind of candle-scented aromatherapy Terminator, never stops until you’re relaxed.

“If the robot arm’s force sensor detects a force value that we define in advance, the whole system will stop working,” Chunxu Li, a professor at Plymouth School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, told Digital Trends. “In addition, the stiffness value of each joint of the robotic arm can be configured in the interactive interface to guarantee the force output.”

Everyone hails the tortilla maker robot

Once you’ve gotten up from your robot-massage, wearing your monikered robe and a pair of comfortable slippers, what could be better than devouring an omelette, made to your liking? (By a robot, of course). Created by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the UK, this robot omelette chef can do everything from cracking eggs to shaking salt and pepper containers, manipulating the pan, and preparing a finished dish. This involves a variety of challenges in robot manipulation, computer vision, sensing, and human-robot interaction.

“We did this project as [a] collaboration with the appliance company Beko to [explore] the future of kitchens and the use of robots in this context, ”Fumiya Iida, a researcher at the Cambridge Department of Engineering, told Digital Trends. “There are many ways these technologies can be exploited for commercial products in the near future, from smart kitchen appliances [to] assistive technologies for the elderly [people and those with disabilities.]”

Robot dolphin

Notwithstanding the great conservation work many zoos do, keeping animals in captivity simply for the benefit of a viewing public seems, well, the wrong thing to do. Which is the answer? According to San Francisco-based engineering firm Edge Innovations, the answer is robot animals. With that in mind, Edge has developed an 8.5-foot-long, 550-pound robot dolphin that can swim for up to 10 hours on a single charge, and looks and acts almost eerily like its real-world inspiration. It can operate in standalone “show” mode or in “show” mode where it is controlled by a joystick.

“A woman in the audience ran out of the pavilion, went through an emergency exit, activated an alarm and used her cell phone to call Orlando [Florida] the police and the Orlando SPCA, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ”Roger Holzberg, creative director of Edge Innovations, told Digital Trends, regarding a first trial with robot dolphins. “[She told them] that Disney had put a real dolphin in the Living Seas Pavilion, that they had screwed a camera to its head, put a cable on it and put a costume on it, and that someone had to come there now and arrest people for cruelty . to this animal “.

Believe it or not, things have gotten significantly more advanced on the robot front since then.

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