May 4, 2011

The End

The semester is coming to an end and so is this blog. Over the course of the last few months I’ve posted on many different examples of how robotics is being used or will be used in society. Some have been interesting, others funny and admittedly a few have been a little boring. However, whether you are a loyal reader or simply stopped by every once in a while to get your robot fix I hope that this blog has helped to show you the many different ways that robotics can be used.

If you’re interested in learning about what robots are doing you should check out Automation, which is a blog on IEEE spectrum that discusses some of the latest in robotics and automation technology.

State of the Blog Address (self evaluation #3)

May 3, 2011

Dancing engineers and their robots

A while back I had a post about Robocup which is primarily a tournament for robot soccer teams. However, I have just recently found out that there is also a dance challenge as one of the categories in the junior Robocup competition. The idea is for a team of kids to build a group of dancing robots and then create a performance which includes both themselves and the robots.

The video shows some short clips of some of the finalists in the 2010 competition.

May 1, 2011

Robot Assisted Surgery

Using robots to perform minimally invasive surgery has become more common in the last few years. This article from MSNBS talks about several hospitals in Memphis which together perform about 1000 robot assisted surgeries each year. The costs and benefits of using the robot for surgery depend on the type of surgery but in most cases the patent has a faster recovery time, less pain and a shorter stay in the hospital.  The monetary cost, as compared to conventional methods, varies with the type of surgery and is sometimes less expensive and other times more. A downside to using the robot is for many surgeries the procedure takes longer than when using conventional methods. There are some exceptions though like the example discussed in the article where the conventional method would have required cutting open the jaw in order the access the throat. Using the robot not only allowed for a faster procedure but it also eliminated the future problems some patients have with speaking or swallowing as a result of the jaw has been cut open.

The diagram below shows the da Vinci Surgical System which is a popular example of a robot surgical system.

Another issue with this method is the steep learning curve associated with operating the robot. The surgeon uses hand controls to operate the robot and a camera for feedback. The robot itself has three or four arms each with a tool on the end. The controls are such that the robot is basically following the movements of the surgeon (it’s not really making any decisions on its own) but remove any shakiness from the motion. This also creates the possibility of slowing down the motion if necessary to increase precision.

Although this technology is already doing a lot to help surgeons, like most robots it still has room for improvement. Currently it’s only practical for some surgeries and the availability is limited but someday robots may be common place in operating rooms.

April 29, 2011


Keepon's turning motionKeepon's nodding motionKeepon's rocking motionKeepon's bobbing motion

Keepon is a robot designed for use by therapists to help children with social developmental disorders such as Autism. It is designed to interact with children by maintain eye contact and providing affirmative visual cues such as nodding or dancing. The simple design presents a friendly non-threatening face which helps make the child feel more comfortable.
Compared too many robots these days Keepon is pretty simple. It uses 4 motors located in the base to move and has a microphone in the nose and a camera in each eye. It can automatically follow people gaze and dance to a beat or be controlled remotely by a therapist for more complex interaction.

In case you’re wondering a commercial version of Keepon is going to be available soon at

April 22, 2011

NASA’s Six Legged Robot

Athlete is a six wheeled/legged robot being developed by NASA for use on the Moon or Mars. This robot has the ability to move quickly across smooth terrain by rolling or move over rough terrain by walking. It is still sable even if one of the limbs is not on the ground which gives it the ability to operate tools designed to fit in a special attachment on each limb. Athlete is just a prototype in the testing phase but NASA hopes it will be ready for a mission by 2015.
A second generation Athlete prototype was built in 2009 and has the ability to split into two independent 3 limb vehicles. This is a feature which makes loading and unload cargo more simple.
The video is of the original athlete prototype.

April 12, 2011

The Final Frontier

Space exploration relies heavily on robotics. At this point anything further away than the moon is strictly the domain of the robots and even when that changes the robots will still be a crucial component to the success of manned space exploration.

The Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled to launch in the fall of this year, is a neat example of what robotics can do. The primary goal of this mission is to assess the habitability of the planet. The following video is a cool animation done by NASA that shows the landing procedure along with some of the capabilities of the robot.

I realize this is an extremely brief look at robotics in space but I hope to be able to go more in depth for future posts.