Robots are coming. Are they overlords or friendly companions designed to help us perform the mundane tasks of our respective days? Perhaps it’s both. Whatever the purpose, they’re no longer part of some vague future we can’t quite fathom. They’re here now, and we got to meet a few of them at TC Sessions: Robotics at UC Berkeley.
Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert announced onstage that the company’s 66-pound SpotMini robot will be available for purchase by the normals in 2019. Yes, one day you, too, will be able to have a dog robot perform services for you at the office or home.
This cute little robot from Mayfield Robotics can blink, play music, turn its head and recharge itself. It can also just stay put to take pictures of you and live-stream your daily life. Yep. It watches you. Its name is Kuri and it can be your little buddy to always remind you that you never have to be alone.
Agility Robotics’ bipedal humanoid robot was designed with bird legs in mind. But it wasn’t yet designed with arms. The company’s CTO Jonathan Hurst says those are to come. It’ll cost you $35,000 when it’s in full production mode. Custom deliveries started in August 2017 to a select few universities — University of Michigan, Harvard and Caltech, and Berkeley just bought its own.
Although we didn’t see an example of this application, Cassie can apparently hold the body weight of a reasonably sized human. No thanks. Below you can see Cassie make an appearance with Andy Rubin.
Dennis Hong, professor and founding director of RoMeLa (Robotics & Mechanisms Library) of the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department at UCLA, presented the humanoid robots he and his team developed in their lab. They set out to solve a common problem robots have: walking.
Humans are bipedal, so why is it so hard to replicate that in a robot, Hong asks. One of the reasons he said is because the distance between the left and right legs creates a twisting movement that renders forward and backward movement difficult. The resolution is to have them walk sideways. No twisting. So the team developed NABi (non-anthropomorphic biped), a bipedal locomotion robot with no “feet” or “shins.”
To extend the admittedly limited functionality of NABi, the team then created ALPHRED (Autonomous Legged Personal Helper Robot with Enhanced Dynamics). ALPHRED’s limbs, as the team calls them (“not legs, not arms”), form to create multimodal locomotion, because of its multiple types of formations. Depending on the type of movement required of the robot, the limbs change configurations to that of a dog or a horse, or to more of a humanoid, bipedal type.
SuitX develops robotic modules that assist humans in performing everyday actions, such as walking, lifting, bending over and squatting. While you won’t suddenly possess the strength and agility of a Marvel superhero, wearing these modules can help you lift things that are ever-so-slightly heavier than you might be used to. The BackX, LegX and ShoulderX serve to minimize the stress we humans tend to place on our joints.
But infinitely more impressive during the conversation with company co-founder Homayoon Kazerooni was the application the audience saw of the company’s exoskeleton. Arash Bayatmakou fell from a balcony in 2012 which resulted in paralysis. He was told he would never walk again. Five years later, Arash connected with SuitX, and he has been working with a physical therapist to use the device to perform four functions: stand, sit and walk forward and backward. You can follow his recovery here.