05-29 soft social robots

[Image above] Robots do not need to be white and plasticky—they can be homely and cozy instead! Credit: Michael Suguitan, Cornell University

From cute, helpful companions such as WALL-E and Baymax to morally complex creations such as Sonny and the Terminator, robots capture the imagination of children and adults alike. Though real-life robots have not reached the human-level processing capabilities depicted in these fictional examples, they are far more advanced and essential to our everyday lives than many people may realize.

In 2009, Congress established the second week of April as National Robotics Week in recognition of the growing robotics sector. Since then, robotics experts across industry and academia have used this week as a platform for getting students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.

We at CTT also enjoy talking about robots when the opportunity arises. To celebrate this year’s National Robotics Week, we have curated some of our past stories on this topic, which you can read below.

Robots for recycling

Recycling robot aims to generate separate material waste streams, right in your kitchen

Challenges with recycling systems have resulted in a dead end for many materials. But a new robotic kitchen concept called Lasso has a solution—the appliance can clean, sort, process, and store recyclable materials, generating highly pure recyclable waste streams right at their point of use.

Robot uses capacitive sensors in soft hands to separate recyclable materials

Researchers at MIT developed a robot that can effectively separate mixed recyclable materials, using two flexible silicone “hands” to feel the difference between paper, metal, and plastic.

Animal-themed robots

Video: Is it a fish? Is it a bird? It’s a flying squid robot!

A vehicle that moves in both air and water presents fundamental physical challenges, particularly during the transition from water to air. Imperial College London researchers, inspired by flying squid, developed a robot that handles the water/air transition exceptionally well.

Video: Collecting data in granular environments—turtle-inspired robot can swim untethered under the sand

Robots cannot move easily in granular environments, such as sand. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, designed a robot inspired by sea turtle hatchlings that can swim untethered through sand. This robot could improve the ability of researchers to collect data in granular environments.

Next-generation robots

Video: I “Spot” a new application—novel uses of robots during the COVID-19 pandemic

When Boston Dynamics premiered their dog-like robot Spot in September 2019, they imagined the robot being used in hazardous environments, such as construction and electric utility. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spot has stepped into some unusual roles that previously were not considered primary applications.

Video: Robot dance party kicks off 2021

What better way to celebrate the start of 2021 than with a dance party—for robots? Engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics posted a new video that showcases the best of their robots’ abilities and offers a lighthearted way to celebrate the start of 2021.

Robots at home

Video: Knit yourself a robot

To engage non-engineers in the creation of robots, researchers at Cornell University created Blossom, an expressive and inexpensive robot platform that can be made from a kit and creatively outfitted with handcrafted materials.