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The Squishy Future of Robotics 36

An anonymous reader writes "The field of soft robotics is fast growing and may be the key to allowing robots and humans to work side-by-side. 'Roboticists are prejudiced toward rigid structures, for which algorithms can be inherited from the well-established factory robot industry. Soft robots solve two huge problems with current robots, however. They don't have to calculate their movements as precisely as hard robots, which rely on springs and joints, making them better for navigating uncontrolled environments like a house, disaster area, or hospital room. They're naturally "cage free," meaning they can work shoulder-to-shoulder with humans. If a soft robot tips over or malfunctions, the danger is on par with being attacked by a pillow. The robot is also less prone to hurt itself.'"
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The Squishy Future of Robotics

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  • Leaps and bounds (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 12WTF$ ( 979066 ) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @03:35AM (#46777133)

    Yep, robotics is progressing in leaps and bounds...

    Behold the BionicKangaroo

    http://www.festo.com/cms/en_co... [festo.com]

    Just look at it!

    • I started thinking of the old joke about why women usually don't use Oder Eaters. After looking at the web page, it all seemed surreal.
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @03:41AM (#46777141)

    Sure.... attacked by a 500 lb Kevlar reinforced pillow that can wrap around a body and sqeeze it until it pops like a zit.

    OK, some of the search and rescue applications using the soft robots are a great idea; and, robots, in general, are useful tools. But a robot is a machine. Machines break. Computers malfunction. A small S&R robot has a small but measurable risk profile. If it's in a med-surgical application then it has the ability to do damage to the body of either the patient or the attending medical staff, should it malfunction. If it can perform industrial tasks, like lifting a car, then it can equally as well crush a person. One cannot say, "Look, it's soft and squishy" and ignore safety factors.

    • Shut up with your common sense and welcome your new cuddly overlords.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Machines break. Computers malfunction. A small S&R robot has a small but measurable risk profile. If it's in a med-surgical application then it has the ability to do damage to the body of either the patient or the attending medical staff, should it malfunction. If it can perform industrial tasks, like lifting a car, then it can equally as well crush a person.

      Nothing is ever safe, but if you are going to look at the absolutes you might just curl up in a corner and die right now.
      The thing you have to take into consideration is what we have now. Humans also break, they also malfunction. A human surgeon also makes mistakes. People tend to not handle extreme situations that well.
      The situation isn't that we can choose between having a human lift something heave to drag out a wounded after a building has collapsed. The situation is that we have to bring in machinery o

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Ah the posting of someone who doesn't understand what soft robotics* is, and then modded insightful by others who didn't RTFA.

      Hint: it's not a hard robot in a silicone sleeve.

      • I do... I've seen large industrial machines that use what are essentially soft robotics techniques and soft manipulators. The examples given in the article are all small and target search and rescue apps. That's great. I've seen a 4 story structure lifted on airbags and moved across a smooth surface by an automated system. Point was you can't assume it scales to industrial scales and assume everything will be soft and harmless. When the "soft" robotics moves up to the larger scales, as it is just as l
  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @03:56AM (#46777183)
    Coming to your office in the near future:

    Frank: Steve, did you fart?
    Steve: uh... no, must of been RB24-VQ11
    Frank: Jesus VQ, that's rancid.
  • What started out as an experiment in Progressive Rock turned into Jazz-Rock Fusion. If soft machines are the future, then the future is Out-Bloody-Rageous. [youtube.com]

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @04:46AM (#46777325) Homepage

    Every year, Festo, the German robotics company, builds an exotic new kind of robot as a demo. Many of their robots have been "soft".

    • The Festo Aqua Penguin [youtube.com] which, like a penguin, "flies" in water.
    • The Festo Air Jelly [youtube.com], a flying jellyfish. Lighter than air.
    • The Festo Air Penguin [youtube.com], another lighter than air flyer, with flapping wings and good control.
    • The Festo Bionic Handling Assistant [youtube.com], an air-driven flexible hand. Looks a lot like what these academics are trying to do, but it came out in 2010 and works fine.
    • The Festo Smart Bird [youtube.com], which looks like a bird and flies like a bird, very well.

    Here's their whole list of experimental projects [festo.com]. They've been doing "soft robots" since 2007. Others were doing "soft robots" before that, but the control usually wasn't that good. Festo builds soft robots with smooth, precise control. Festo's specialty is precise control of pneumatic systems, so they know how to do this.

    • by rioki ( 1328185 ) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @06:03AM (#46777511) Homepage

      The reason why Festo's robots are so different from other robots, is because Festo is not a robotics company, but a producer of pneumatic components. Many of their creations are along the lines, if all you got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Many of them are really interesting, because they are so radically different, simply because they approach the problems differently.

      • by Animats ( 122034 )

        Right. Traditional pneumatics is rather dumb - most of the time it's on/off, with air cylinders pushed up against hard limit stops. Positional control of pneumatic cylinders works fine, but it takes proportional valves, feedback sensors, and a fast control system. Until recently, industrial systems tended not to get that fancy.

        I was interested in using pneumatics for running robots back in the 1990s, but the available proportional valves back then were big and expensive. One useful model of muscles is tw

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2014 @05:06AM (#46777385)

    It's not a question of a robot being soft. It's a question of

    1) having force feedback and not exerting too much force,
    2) avoiding high energy collisions.

    Ergo, the robot should be light weigt, low power, and equipped with force sensors. There're robots like this on the market. And these robots are already certified safe to be used without a cage. Look for Universal Robots, for instance.

    The problem with such robots is very low payload. Typically, it's 3-5 kg max. It may be helpful in the kitchen, but not much elsewhere.

    On the other hand, equip a pillow with a 8 kW motor, and you have 10 horses kicking.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's 2014 dammit! Still waiting for my Cherry 2000...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anthropomorphizing already are we?

    Last line in the summary. Robots don't get hurt. They get damaged.

  • make for good porn.

  • They left off the most compelling example: Otherlab's inflatable arms. http://www.hizook.com/blog/201... [hizook.com]

"We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement." -- Richard J. Daley