Rebecca Northfield picks the top 10 robots appearing at the UK’s first Robotics Week, which will let you explore one of the most innovative branches of engineering.
From 25 June to 1 July 2016, events around the country will give non-specialists the chance to experience the weird and wonderful world of robotics and be inspired by the delights of engineering. From medical assistants to entertaining companions, there will be plenty to discover. Here are some robots that will make an appearance, and may even shake your hand
STIFFness controllable Flexible and Learn-able manipulator for surgical operations (STIFF-FLOP) is a soft robotic arm that can squeeze through tiny spaces, which means it can be used in minimally invasive surgery. Usually, there are limitations on modern laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgical systems because of restricted access through trocar ports (a trocar looks like a pen with a sharp triangular point at one end and is normally used inside a hollow tube, known as a cannula or sleeve), lack of haptic feedback and problems with rigid robot tools operating inside a small space full of organs.
STIFF-FLOP can get through a standard 12mm diameter trocar port, reshape itself and stiffen by hydrostatic actuation to perform compliant force control tasks while facing unexpected situations.
Flexible medical robot
A soft, inflatable robotic manipulator that works by using pneumatics and tendons. The two actuation mechanisms in this robot were inspired by the octopus, which uses its muscles to steer, elongate, shrink and stiffen its arms. Many motion patterns can be performed by the octopus by ‘activating’ all of its antagonistic muscle groups at once.
For 10 years, a robot receptionist called Inkha worked at King’s College London. After her retirement, a new robot took her place. The Centre for Robotics Research (CORE) created Kinba, who works as a receptionist at the Strand campus. Students and faculty developed Kinba, who has 3D colour vision that can recognise faces, speech recognition and limited speech.
The robot’s main occupation is to provide information on how humans react with robots, which will help advance developments in ‘social automated beings’.
Developed at Kings College London, this new robotic hand has an articulated palm that is made from a spherical metamorphic linkage, meaning it can alter its mobility, topology and configuration. The hand performs and mimics sophisticated grasping and nimble manipulation. It can also fold fully so it can move through tight spaces, and it can adapt to different tasks such as training programs in industrial service robots and production logistics.
The Djedi robot from Leeds is designed to explore ‘air shafts’ of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt. It can climb 70m within a small space of 20cm by 20cm and it deploys snake cameras and drills. The Djedi robot climbed the Great Pyramid’s southern airshaft, utilised its snake camera and discovered writing hidden for thousands of years.
This sweet-looking robot has been developed to operate like an animal - its senses, decision-making processes, body and behaviours have all been inspired by living creatures. MiRO is programmed to respond to sound, touch and visuals. It can adapt its emotional state and communicate through movement, sound and colour. The ‘brain-based’ biomimetic robot companion was made by UK company Consequential Robotics and further research will build on its already animal-like character.
This robot is a lightweight cost-effective drilling mechanism and was developed at the STAR Lab at the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey. The drill is inspired by a wood wasp and could well be used for future Mars missions. The development team won the COSPAR Outstanding Paper Award in 2016.
Another product of the STAR Lab at the Surrey Space Centre, the RoboSat space robot is built on nano-satellite platforms and has autonomous in-space navigation and manipulation capabilities. Its vision system spots anomalies on a spacecraft in orbit, giving fast solutions for theoretically repairing faults.
The Fantastic Professor Tickle Machine
University College London researchers are developing one of the longest anthropomorphic dexterous snake-like robots. Inspired by Mr Tickle from the Mr Men books, the robot can undertake nimble everyday tasks across long distances and can also move into hard-to-reach places. The ‘Mr Tickle’ is made from two robots supported by UK companies ShadowHand and OC Robotics.
Students at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory FARSCOPE Centre for Doctoral Training are building modern versions of William Grey Walter’s tortoise robots to introduce the principles of robotics. Walter, an American-born British neurophysiologist and robotician, built his tortoises nearly 70 years ago. They showed how simple machines could act in lifelike ways and could also be trained to perform simple tasks.