Robots Adopt Human-Like Anatomy

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Robots Adopt Human-Like Anatomy

Starting as far back as the 1970s, robots invaded the factory floor in huge numbers, transforming the manufacturing environment. On the contrary, service robots in hospitals, nursing homes, stores, and private residences have yet to make even a marginal impact.

Originally, it was expected that the greatest challenge in creating a world in which robots smoothly interacted with humans would be to create a machine that could think intuitively as we do. As it turns out, great strides in processing power as well as breakthroughs in neural networks, which mimic the neuron structure and operation of the human brain, have enabled the "thinking" component of robots to progress quickly. As IBM's Watson machine demonstrates, we've actually made big strides in getting computers to give the appearance of human-like cognition.

However, getting machines to move and manipulate objects as effortlessly as humans do has proven more daunting. Simply the fact that we still label public speakers who gesture stiffly as "robotic" tells us that robots have a ways to go before they master "natural movement." In fact, one of the key identifying characteristics of robots has been the precise, mechanical, and even somewhat abrupt way in which they move.

Artificial Muscle Technology is Finding Its Way Into Consumer Electronics As Well As Robotics

Artificial Muscle Technology is Finding Its Way Into Consumer Electronics As Well As Robotics

This is largely due to the hydraulics and gears that are used to perform the functions of muscles in robots. The resulting jerky movement can be thought of as "digital," whereas the smooth movements of humans are "analog." It's the difference between the way a digital clock moves from one second to the next in distinct jumps, as compared to the smooth, sweeping second hand of an analog clock.

But now, thanks to new breakthroughs in computing and materials science, robotic movement may soon be improving. Several new approaches to artificial muscles for robots are offering the prospect of smoother, more human-like movement.1

One method is being developed in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute's Biomimetics Lab in New Zealand. These new robotic muscles wobble like jelly and are composed of electroactive polymers...

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