Robots have come a long way in recent years, haven’t they? From their humble beginnings, servicing human beings with menial tasks and replacing humans on the assembly line, they now appear poised to take over other, more complex tasks as well. Between private companies and DARPA-developed concepts, it seems like just a matter of time before a fully-functioning machine is capable of performing all our work for us.
One such task-mastering robot was featured at the Milan Design Week this year, an event where fashion tales center stage. It’s known as the Makr Shakr, a set of robotic arms that are capable of mixing drinks, slicing fruit, and capable of making millions of different recipes. The result of a collaborative effort between MIT SENSEable City Lab and Carlo Ratti Associati, an Italian architecture firm, this robot is apparently able to match wits with any human bartender.
While at the Milan Design Week, the three robotic arms put on quite the show, demonstrating their abilities to a crowd of wowed spectators. According to the website, this technology is not just a bar aid, but part of a larger movement in robotics:
Makr Shakr aims to show the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ paradigm through the simple process design-make-enjoy, and in just the time needed to prepare a new cocktail.
In a press release, the company described the process. It begins with the user downloading an app to create their order to the smartphone as well as peruse the recipes that other users have come up with. They then communicate the order to the Makr Shakr and “[the] cocktail is then crafted by three robotic arms, whose movements reproduce every action of a barman–from the shaking of a Martini to the muddling of a Mojito, and even the thin slicing of a lemon garnish.”
Inspired by the ballerina Roberto Bolle, whose “movements were filmed and used as input for the programming of the Makr Shakr robots”, the arms appear most graceful when they do their work. In addition, the design system monitors exactly how much booze each patron is consuming, which, in theory, could let the robot-bartenders know when it’s time to cut off designers who have thrown back a few too many.
Check out the video of the Makr Shakr in action:
Another major breakthrough comes, yet again, from DARPA. For years now, they have been working with numerous companies and design and research firms in order to create truly ambulatory and dextrous robot limbs. In some cases, as with the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), this involves creating a machine that can carry supplies and keep up with troops. In others, this involves the creation of robotic hands and limbs to help wounded veterans recover and lead normal lives again.
And you may recall earlier this year when DARPA unveiled a cheap design for a robotic hand that was able to use tools and perform complex tasks (like changing a tire). More recently, it showcased a design for a three-fingered robot, designed in conjunction with the firm iRobot – the makers of the robotic 3D printer – and with support from Harvard and Yale, that is capable of unlocking and opening doors. Kind of scary really…
The arm is the latest to come out of the Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program, a program designed to create robots that are no longer expensive, cumbersome, and dependent on human operators. Using a Kinect to zero in on the object’s location before moving in to grab the item, the arm is capable of picking up thin objects lying flat, like a laminated card or key. In addition, the hand’s three-finger configuration is versatile, strong, and therefore capable of handling objects of varying size and complexity.
When put to the test (as shown in the video below), the hand was able to pick up a metal key, insert it into a lock, and open a door without any assistance. Naturally, a human operator is still required at this stage, but the use of a Kinect sensor to identify objects shows a degree of autonomous capability, and the software behind its programming is still in the early development phase.
And while the hand isn’t exactly cheap by everyday standards, the production cost has been dramatically reduced. Hands fabricated in batches of 1,000 or more can be produced for $3,000 per unit, which is substantially less than the current cost of $50,000 per unit for similar technology. And as usual, DARPA has its eye on future development, creating hands that would be used in hazardous situations – such as diffusing IEDs on the battlefield – as well as civilian and post-combat applications (i.e. prosthetics).
And of course, there’s a video for the ARM in action as well. Check it out, and then decide for yourself if you need to be scared yet: