Friday, May 10, 2013

More Mind-Blowing Robots Based on Nature

Have you ever noticed how similar things (topics, events, etc.) all seem to fall into your lap at the same time?  Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes, it's bad, and sometimes it's just really freaking mind-blowing.

I like the mind-blowing ones the best, personally.

Well, yesterday we discussed robotic insects, which really make me nervous.  I recognize their beauty, as well as their coolness, but I can't shake the worries about the future that race through my mind.

So, naturally...

More animalistic robots showed up on my monitor when I turned on the computer again later. 

How'd that happen?  Well, I have an NPR gadget on my desktop.  On that desktop, the words Wildlife That Isn't Wild and Isn't Alive caught my attention. Or, rather, those words screamed for my attention at almost the same mind-numbing levels as used by the ultra-awesome supervillain known as the Silver Banshee.

It's a good thing NPR uses its powers for good rather than evil, right?

The article, written by Robert Krulwich, talks about robots based on biology that I wouldn't have learned about, otherwise.  He begins by talking about a cargo carrying robot that's currently in a two-year test phase for DOD use.

The thing resembles one of those mechanical bulls that you see in the movies, and possibly at rodeos... I don't know about that rodeo part, though, since I've never been inclined to find a gigantic contraption to get myself thrown from.

This robotic rodeo toy was basically designed to carry supplies.  

Unlike the aforementioned mechanical bull, however, it doesn't start bucking and scattering items to the wind... although that'd be fun to watch!  Rather, the robot appears quite clunky and slow.  It does have the ability to navigate around obstacles, however, so I have to give it some credit.

Here's a video of it that I found on the Boston Dynamics site.  You guessed it - they're the designers. 

As if that's not enough, Krulwich succeeded in pointing me toward yet another robot whose design is based on nature.

Meet Salamandra Robotica.
She was designed at the Biorobotics Laboratory in Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.  She's an amphibious robot. Salamandra, that beauty, can walk and swim. 

Her purpose? It's actually twofold.
"The primary purpose of this robot is to serve as a scientific tool to test hypotheses about the neural circuits underlying locomotion in the spinal cord of vertebrate animals."
 "A second purpose of the robot is to pave the way for amphibious service robots that could be used for inspection tasks or for search-and-rescue missions (e.g. after an earthquake, flood, or mudslide)."  (source)
 I have to admit it...

I'm kind of in love with her.  I mean, I gave a robot a gender!  There's got to be some sort of infatuation if I'm doing that, right?

The thing is, she moves perfectly.  She's a beautiful, realistic, and dare I say elegant?

And right about now you're probably wondering why I'm not attaching a video like I did with RodeoBot, right?

Because I want you to go to the NPR piece I originally mentioned, written by Krulwich.  He has a video attached that you can watch - complete with music.  I want you to read what he has to say about all of this.

Because he brings up some questions about these robots at the end that are worth asking ourselves.

Because he worries.

Because we all should.

Besides...  I really want you to see that video so you can understand what caused me to become seduced by a piece of technology that so closely resembles nature.

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