Archive for the 'Healtcare and service robots' Category


A little lower please…

One of the few perks of being hospitalized is the sponge baths by beautiful nurses… I admit I have never tried it myself, but maybe that makes the thought even more appeling.

Now I could understand if a japanese company would come up with a sponge bath giving robot, since a lot of japanese people can be a little shy, but the americans came first. Georgia Institute of Technology have developed ‘a robot nurse’ that can give you a sponge bath. Compared to the airflow robot shower that will wash you all over with steam, soap and water, this is a probably further away from being used in real life, since the robot is able to wash the area of the patient pointed out by the operator… later it will probably be able to decide what parts to wash – or it could be equipped with an interface (eg. by speech recognition) so that you could control it yourself. Then I can see some real scenarious for use in daily life…. and the vivid imagination can think of other applications, but we will leave that to the more dubious companies in the robotics industry.

Read more about the sponge-o-bot at gizmag by clicking the picture.


coffee lends me a hand… litterally

I have seen many research projects concerned with how to create a gripping technology like an arUniversal gripper 2tificial hand. It is extremely difficult to do so. Tendrons, sense of feeling and many other factors needs to be taken into account before you can handle something without destroying it.

Sometimes though… there is a much simpler soloution. At Cornell University two guys have created a gripper, that can grap most things that the human hand can grab.. and it is made from… coffee… that is coffee grounds, a balloon and a vaccum pump. Stock items in most households… well at least two out three should be.

I t works by having the coffee wrap itself around the item you wish to pick up, and then remove the air in the balloon. Thereby causing the coffee grounds to become a solid structure instead of a semi liquid material. It is so simple it is close to genious.

In a previous post I wrote about a sweedish guy who had a robot hand as a replacement for his real hand which was destroyed in an accident… maybe in a not so distant future we can have prostetic hands build on this principle… that would be very practical, cheap and faster to implement – albeit not quite as pleasing to the eye. Nothing is said regarding the color of the balloon though, so you could choose a color that goes well with your outfit…


Next gen exo on the market

After I went to Japan about a year ago, I was phoned several times from people who had read an article about the HAL exo scheleton that my travel companions and I saw at Daiwa House in Japan. Most of these asked if I could tell them wether it was for sale in DK, what the price was, and if it could be helpful for them. Sadly I am not a doctor, so I am not qualified to judge each persons condition vis-a-vis the possible use of a HAL. Most of these people were paralysed for one of several reasons.. car accidents, schlerosis and other sad stories. Unfortunately most of the exo scheletons I had seen at the time were created to add extra power to the user, but relied on the user being able to move around to a certain extend by their own power.

Now it seems the next generation of exoscheletons are on their way. On Gizmag you can read about the Berkeley Bionic’s research in this tech which will allow the user to walk even if their own legs can provide any support. This might be great news for a whole new specter of people currently tied to a wheelchair or a bed. I cross my fingers and hope this will be one of those breakthroughs that will prove how robot technology makes our lives better. Click here to read more.

A similar trend is found (also at Gizmag) in the REX which is a sort of a blend between a segway, a pair of stilts and an exoscheleton… or more presicely.. a wheelchair with legs instead of wheels… a leg chair or a biped wheelchair… or something. There is no name for it yet in the common language, but there will likely soon be. This contraption is steered by a joystick but walcks around instead of having the user in a wheelchair. A bit clumsy still, but the potential is immense. In a few years we can only hope that the loss of function in our legs will not be the restraining factor it is today.


Lend a hand..

In this previous post I mentioned the work of making a robotic prostetic hand… just like the one Luke Skywalker gets in Star Wars episode IV. Now several companies have released commercial editions of prostetic robotic hands – one of them being the bebionic hand. This hand allows the user different types of grips and aut0matic adjustment of the grip in case what you are holding is slipping out of your fingers. Sort of like an intelligent power steering of the hand – and something I would love to have so that i would stop spilling coffee in my keyboard.It is also able to feed pressure information back to the owner/host or whatever the rigth term should be… and good news for the ladies.. it comes with a range of accessories.. unfortunately of a more technical nature – not rings, bracelets and replaceable nails.. maybe that will come in a later edition.  

Robots that move…

How should a robot move? The most famous example is R2D2 and C3P0 from Star Wars.. one biped humanoid walking robot, and one with wheels (and the occasional jet-burst). We also see examples of flying robots or authonumous devices – however the issue here is in a 2D situation.

Actually most robots don’t move around – but in case they need to, the easiest way is to equip them with a number of wheels or caterpillar tracks – as we know so well from playing around with Mindstorms. Walking on two or more feets introduce new balance issues but is possible. 

Once you got the moving part down – the next issue is to get the robot to go where you want it to go. In traditional robot education we have the task of following a line on the ground – thereby gathering information from the souroundings and adapting / steering accordingly. Simple but not always easy depending on the situation.

Now the same principle has been put into use in a nano-sice robot. Since this sice does not give you the possibility of wheels, the choice has fallen on legs – but with a ‘track’ or line with guidance information to guide the bot on it’s path.

Read more about it at gizmags article.


When I get older…

Beatles asked a relevante question in their song “When I’m 64” – will you still care for me when I get older. If we give this question a reality-twist into the everyday we expect in a not so distant future – it becomes even more relevant. Many nations with Japan in a leading postion and Denmark closing in rapidly will shortly be forced to deal with the question of how to take care of those that require care and atention due to age or disabilities.

In this blog I have mentioned a number of robot technologies that are relevant in this area. The Airwater human ‘car wash’ shower robot for example and the robots created by RoboVieII and the TMSUK remote controlled shopping robots.

In Japan last november I experienced many interesting robot prototypes at places like the Panasonics development Lab and the University Hospital of Gifu. These are places where they develop robots that help us do the daily tasks with as little human help as possible, and that seems to be one way the robots are going. Our physical needs will clearly to a ever increasing level be taken care of by robots instead of by humans – thus freeing ressources for other tasks.

The other direction that robot technology take in the area of care taking is within the area of adressing our need for interaction with another intelligent beeing. Our social needs. The most notable example of a robot in this line of caretaking is seen with the Paro Robotic Seal. This is desribed further in this article from GizMag. Paro interacts with people that for example suffer from dementia by uttering small southing noices, expressing needs and providing comforting company. Like a puppy but without the messy details.

However for those of us that are still functioning in a way where we prefer social interaction with human beings the companies ZMP and TMSUK provide robots that will be the mechanical representation of your loved ones. For example by being an autonoumous telephone that will find you in your house when somebody calls you, or that will call for help if you are not responding to its signals as should be expected. This ties closely into the whole concept of the intelligent caretaking house with electronic beds that monitors your behaviour and strike an alarm if your pattern changes beyond the acceptable.

I have also described the Funktionoide create by Festo. A ‘blob’ or slug-like robotic creature that will provide some sort of companion in your house.

Now all of these different robots that are supposed to solve our social needs are the results of experiments designed to find the right mix between technology vs. organic design and human vs. artificial interaction. Some of them have as a purpose to create a situation as close to what we know as possible – others to create a completely new experience.

Right now – at the adult industries fair – a robot is being introduced to the market which tries to emulate real human interaction as closely as possible. Just google Roxxxy and see what I am taling about.

In conclusion – two areas of robots are being developed now: Robots to help us in the everyday tasks and robots to help us experience social interaction.

Within these areas extensive research is going on to find out how to create the proper blend between technology and naturelike experiences.

It is my prediction that this area is going to explode within the next couple of years.


Who wants to fold the laundry anyway

FINALLY somebody uses a robot to solve a problem that most people struggle with – folding the laundry. Definately one of the most tedious tasks of a household. Only thing is – it’s gonna run you up to 200K $ to buy one of FCons new laundry folding robots, and so far it can only handle towles. Nevertheless it is a hughe step in the right direction, and the combination of a standard low-cost robotic arm from Universal Robots and very cool vision technology that can ‘see’ the corners of the towle is really neat.  

You can read more at FCons homepage – allthough only in danish so far. The robot has been developed in cooperation with other parties such as the robotlaboratory at the university of Southern Denmark.

At about 600 towels pr. hour this machine can save a lot of labour intensive repetitive work that would otherwise be wearing the workers down.


I swear officer.. my car told me to do it…

Right – I know about a handful of guys who will swear that their cars have personality, and that they even on the rare occasion speak to each other… However it is nothing like the new MIT project that brings R2D2 into your car’s dashboard. Exactly why you would like your car to talk to you I don’t know, but it is a really cool concept. It kind of reminds me of the ship computer ‘Station’ in the ‘Lloyd in space’ series on Cartoon Network.

This should be the ultimate gadget for everybody that want to add a little more personality to your computer – and I want it…


Starwars being caught up?

In the second Star Wars movie (V) Luke receives a new hand after an encounter with Vader. It looked really cool and we all recognised it as the sci-fi it was.. however a sweedish guy has now received a hand pretty much like that. He can control it, and it can mediate sensation back to him through sensors. In a short set of years the first cyborg experiments by Kevin Warwick is now turning into a very promising area of cybernetics that can help us become more like we want to be. The next step will be someone actually exchanging a fully functionally limb with a (better) mechanical one… wonder how long before that happens. See more about this story in the video below.


100.000$ shower?

A lot of effort is being put into reducing the labor intesive tasks when it comes to taking care of the elderly and disabled – and so far robots have primarily been used in this area for vacuuming and for interaction (Paro). Now it seems though that we will kick it into a higher gear in Denmark.

One shower pod have been bought for experiments in Horsens, Denmark, and we are anxious waiting for the results. The robot is – of course – created in Japan.

While people of the newer generations might welcome this new contraption – it might prove to be too scary for the average elderly person, however a 1000 units are supposedly in use in Japan as of right now.

Read more about this (in Danish) by pressing this link.