The Year of the Robot

  • January 7, 2021

Of all the things that the year 2020 may or may not be reminisced for, it will assuredly forever be remembered as nothing short of seminal for the world of robotics. From treating COVID-19 patients to dancing, herding sheep and even making perfect omelettes – robots did it all this past year, with recent developments promising a rather fruitful future in the offing as well.

Dancing Doctor

United States-based engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics decided to end 2020 with a bang – with all its robots participating in a dance ensemble set to the 1962 classic ‘Do You Love Me?’. The video envisages a mind-boggling depiction of Boston Dynamics’ state-of-the-art Atlas robots working together to stitch together and coordinate synchronised dance moves.

Image 1: Dancing Robots; Courtesy: Boston Dynamics

It demonstrates stunningly the eventual transition of the Atlas humanoid robots through the paste decade – from barely walking in 2013 to covering full-blown acrobatic moves in 2020. Boston Dynamics currently has only one commercially available robot – Spot – the robot dog that has been seen ‘herding sheep in New Zealand’, and ‘working on a Norwegian oil rig’. This however, is in no way the extent of Spot’s power.

‘Doctor’ Spot has also been deployed to remotely measure patients’ vital signs whilst maintaining a distance of over six feet. It iust currently is in use to ‘safely triage contagious COVID-19 patients’ (NewAtlas)

Image 2: Dr Spot; Courtesy: Boston Dynamics

According to NewAtlas, “Some patient vital signs are easier than others to measure remotely. Body temperature, for example, can be gathered relatively simply using an infrared camera. In this instance, the research team developed algorithms to more accurately use infrared camera data to measure body and skin temperature by incorporating factors such as ambient temperature and distance from the patient.”

Further analyses, such as tracking a patient’s breath rate by calculating temperature changes in a face mask and using specifically tuned monochrome cameras of specific wavelengths to detect patients’ pulse and blood oxygen levels have hypothetically made human monitoring a completely contactless affair.

Home Improvement

Dubbed the world’s first “mobile robotic blocklaying machine and system”, Australian robotics company Fastbrick Robotics (FBR) Hadrian X has been flexing its giant telescopic arm since 2015 – and today is being deployed in Western Australia to complete the walls of its first display home as part of residential development.

Image 3: FBR Hadrian-X in full flow; Courtesy: Fastbrick Robotics

It works by way of laying bricks through a large telescopic boom which mounts on top of a truck or an excavator. “By feeding the system a 3D CAD model of a house, the robot can then go to work placing bricks, along with the mortar and adhesive needed to hold it all together.”

According to NewAtlas, “not too long ago, the Hadrian X was capable of laying around 85 blocks an hour, but the team has made significant improvements to its control software that first saw that rate jump to 150 blocks an hour, and then last month to more than 200. This was considered a demonstration of the skills needed to compete with traditional bricklaying services, and now the team is seeing how its machine fares as part of a real-world construction team.”

It is not just building houses; robots are now tending to them too. Enter: the Yardroid. Dubbed  an ‘intelligent landscaping robot’, it uses artificial intelligence to autonomously handle certain tedious gardening tasks: rolling “along on tracks, with water, herbicide and pesticide chambers in the back, lawn-mowing blades on the underside, and a gimbal-stabilized pivoting turret in the front.”

 Yardroid uses computer vision and AI systems to autonomously mow lawns (even without perimeter wires, as is the case with most contemporaries), spotting plants for watering as per a schedule, identify weeds and pests on sight, responding with its inbuilt herbicide and pesticide facilities and ‘discourage’ certain unwanted pests such as raccoons, with squirts of water.

 

Image 4: The Yardroid demonstrating its pest-killing action; Courtesy: Yardroid and Whirly Max Inc.

 

 

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