A few weeks ago, I was strolling with my family on a beach (in beautiful Rarotonga, if you must know, though only because our plane stopped there on the way to somewhere else). I was musing about robots, as usual, and my wife says, “You know what would really be impressive? If robots could walk on sand and rocks like this.”
She had a point — you can actually feel how hard your ankles and legs are working, and how actively you’re balancing, when navigating such rough terrain. I think I mumbled something about how someday in the future technology would get there, and probably changed the subject.
We’ve talked about use of the popular Raspberry Pi computer as a robot controller before. There’s the RAPIRO, a Japanese biped designed specifically for that; and then there’s the news that Mathematica is available on the Pi for free. But the Pi wasn’t really designed for this sort of use; it’s bigger and more power-hungry than we would like, and doesn’t have as many general-purpose I/Os (GPIOs) as we might want.
That’s about to change.
I’ve recently posted about the Z-Machines robot band, which follows in the footsteps of Compressorhead. The critical question is always raised: can these robot musicians really engage their audience the way a human performer does?
One researcher who has spent years studying that very question is Guy Hoffman. In addition to his robotics chops, Hoffman is also an accomplished animator and jazz musician. He’s been working for years to make robots that people will relate to at an emotional level, in contexts ranging from musical improv to factory work. He’s found that not with the right sensors and programming, not only is a robot more likeable and fun, but it can work more productively, too.
We’ve posted before about the NAO robot, made by French company Aldebaran Robotics. Yes, it’s a pretty advanced humanoid, standing up well even compared to most of those from Japan or Korea. But I haven’t shown them a lot of love, because until now, they haven’t showning much love to robot hobbyists; the NAO was available only to educational institutions, and then with a price tag of $16,000.
All that just changed.
Years ago, the Robo-One competition was mostly about the robots trying to stay on their feet. Given the slightest nudge, a humanoid robot would generally topple over, so no sophisticated attack strategies were needed — just bump into the other guy.
In recent years, though, robots have been getting better and better at staying on their feet (though they still fall flat for little or no reason from time to time). So attack strategies have been getting more sophisticated.
In the video below (thanks to Lem Fugitt at Robots-Dreams), you can see the top robots in the Japan 7 “Bantam Weight” (2-3 kg) competition. The silver robot, Bayonet Onyx, is equipped with large claws, which it successfully employs twice in the match to grab his opponent and literally grapple him to the ground.