Judgement Day Update: The Robotic Bartender and DARPA’s Latest Hand

robot_bartenderRobots 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.

robot_bartender1While 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.”

robot_bartender2Inspired 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:

fastcoexist.com, singularityhub.com
, makrshakr.com

The Future is Here: The RP-VITA Robo-doc


Just to put some fears to rest right away, I should inform you that the RP-VITA, aka. the robo-doc, is not actually a robotic doctor. What it is is a revolutionary new telepresence robot that allows doctors to examine and treat patients from a distance. Earlier this year, the design received approval from the FDA, and has since been picked up by seven hospitals across the United States and one in Mexico City.

RP-VITA, which stands for Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant, was developed collaboratively by iRobot and InTouch Health. InTouch Health specializes in telemedicine, the pursuit of bringing telepresence technology to medical centers all around the world. As for iRobot, they are predominantly known for making the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, not to mention the Robotic Fabricator – the world’s first robot-assisted 3D printer.


As seen in the pics above, the 5-foot robot is basically a roving Webcame that projects a remote doctor’s face and voice for interaction with patients, doctors and nurses. It is also iPad-controlled, but can navigate hospital wards autonomously and even find patients on its own, since it has a map that’s integrated with hospital wards. This makes it the first telepresence robot that’s functions promise not to disrupt existing hospital procedures.

rp-vita_portraitAnd since the RP-VITA was designed with telepresence in mind, it has had no trouble merging in with existing programs such as TeleStroke, TeleICU, TelePsych, and TelePediatric. All of these programs specialize in connecting medical specialists to patients even though they are not on sight. But by adding mobility to the equation, the robot offers a good deal of enhancement to these programs by being able to go where its needed and free up patient care space.

In a press release statement, iRobot and InTouch quoted Paul Vespa, director of neurocritical care at the Reagan Center, citing the benefits of this new robot:

During a stroke, the loss of a few minutes can mean the difference between preserving or losing brain function… The new technology enables me to concentrate on caring for my patient without being distracted by the need to set up and manage its technological features.

So for those fearing that this was the beginning of the end, or that robots were being entrusted with life and death decisions effecting human being, rest assured that this is merely an example of enhancing patient care and that human controllers are still (largely) in control of the process. We’re safe for now…

Source: news.cnet.com


The Autonomous Robotic 3D Printer!

Robo-printerTechnophiles and fans of post-apocalyptic robo-fiction, your attention please! As if the field of 3D printing was not already impressive and/or scary enough, it seems that patents have been filed for the creation of a machine that can perform the job autonomously. It’s called the Robotic Fabricator, a robot-assisted all-in-one design that can print, mill, drill, and finish a final product — and all without human intervention.

Typically, 3D printers require human handlers to oversee the production process, removing unwanted materials such as burrs on plastic and metal parts, repositioning and removing printed objects, getting rid of powdery residue from the interiors of intricate structures. But this machine, once complete, will take away the need for an operator entirely.


The company responsible for this new concept is iRobot (no joke), the same people who brought us the Roomba vacuum robot. It features a flexible pair of robot arms and grippers that exhibit an impressive six degrees of freedom. And the platform is equipped with a series of sensors that tells the computer where it’s at in terms of the production, and when to employ the additive technique of 3D printing or the subtractive technique of milling and drilling.


Naturally, iRobot plans to make the machine readily available to industries for the sake of producing and repairing a wide-range of consumer products. In terms of materials, the company claims it will be able to handle everything from ABS, polycarbonate, and silicone rubbers, to urethane rubbers, plastics, and low-melting-temperature metals, as well as combinations of these. What’s more, it will even be able to manufacture components for more autonomous 3D printers!

Picture it, if you dare. If this machine proves successful, it may very well become the precursor for a new breed of machinery that can assemble just about anything from scratch – including itself! As Futurists and Apocalyptics love to point out, machines that are capable of self-replicating and producing new and ever-increasing complex forms machinery is the key to the future, or to Armageddon.

Both fine choices, depends on what floats your boat!

Source: IO9.com, www.3ders.org