April 4, 2014


Cheaper Joints and Digits Bring the Robot Revolution Closer : Efforts to build robot hands and humanoids more cheaply could make them affordable enough for businesses and even homes. (Tom Simonite, April 4, 2014, Technology Review)

SRI won't talk about how that will be done. But the general approach will be to replace the power-hungry hydraulics that move Atlas's joints with a smaller number of lighter, more efficient, and cheaper electric components that can achieve the same thing.

Rethinking the components used in advanced prototypes such as Atlas to reduce cost and power consumption has become a major focus in robotics research as engineers seek to finally have these machines escape the lab, says Rich Mahoney, SRI's director of robotics. "We got things that are overdesigned because there's not been impetus for low cost and good design," he says.

For a long time researchers have been focused on simply answering basic questions of whether functioning, agile humanoids could be built, says Mahoney. "We were in the domain of 'Is this possible?' " He says this question has now been answered, so the time is right to drive down the costs of the components used in sophisticated robot legs, arms, and hands, making them affordable to small businesses and even consumers. "Manipulation is simply not available at that level now," says Mahoney. "But it can be." He says cheaper components would make it possible for humanoids like Atlas to become standard safety tools in places like oil rigs. "Instead of 'In case of emergency break glass,' and there's a hatchet, there would be a humanoid."

More immediately, these advances could help a market that Melonee Wise, CEO and cofounder of Unbounded Robotics, calls service robotics. "It's when you start looking at the robot doing human-scale tasks," she says. "That means having to sense and manipulate in complex ways in a complex workspace, like moving cans in a refrigerator."

Posted by at April 4, 2014 7:11 PM

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