Robotics and Autonomous System Boundary-Breakers

Enterprising startups and researchers envision robotic systems that can sense touch, enable telerobotic surgery, speak several languages, and more—and they are close to making that vision a reality.


The interventional cockpit, comprising a radiation shield, monitor, and control console. Image credit: Corindus.

“Every second matters for stroke victims, just as it does for those who suffer heart attacks. Our ability to treat patients wherever they are without remote robotic protocol is the wave of the future.”

Nicholas Kottenstette, Corindus

Patients suffering an acute heart attack or stroke need immediate treatment in a hospital. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have physicians trained in percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or neurovascular intervention (NVI) procedures, and not all patients have ready access to a critical care unit.

Corindus has developed a robotic platform that makes it possible for surgeons to perform PCI and NVI on patients located hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Dr. Tejas Patel recently used the CorPath platform to perform the first long-distance telerobotic-assisted PCIs, completing five successful procedures over two days at the Apex Heart Institute in Ahmedabad, India.


“If you want a robot around your house who can take out the garbage or do the dishes, it needs to interact with people on a much more natural level than we’re capable of right now. Sensing in all forms, but particularly touch, is a huge part of that."

Dr. Youngmoo Kim, Drexel University

Hubo’s touch-sensitive sleeve (left) and full-body protective clothing (right). Image credit: Drexel University.

Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interactions Technology (ExCITe) Center equipped their inhouse robot, Hubo, with padded, flexible outerwear to protect it from fall and collision damage.

Capacitive touch sensors in the sleeves give Hubo a sense of touch. The sensors are essentially circuits knitted with conductive yarn that acts as the wiring. When a person’s skin presses the bare conductive yarn, Hubo identifies the location and pressure of the touch, enabling it to distinguish, say, a gentle tap on the shoulder from an aggressive push.


Igor, a self-balancing two-wheeled robot built using the HEBI Robotics platform. Image credit: HEBI Robotics.

HEBI Robotics hardware and software tools enable academic and industrial roboticists to build professional-grade, customized robots in weeks, or even days. HEBI kits provide prebuilt robotic systems, including a six-degrees-of-freedom robotic arm, a self-balancing two-wheeled robot, and a hexapod, as well as MATLAB® scripts to control a single actuator or the assembled robot. After mastering the basics with a kit, researchers can quickly develop their own control applications by extending the example code or using it as a template.


A Robot That Walks, Talks, Dances, and Speaks 20 Languages

NAO is a two-foot-tall, humanoid robot designed by Aldebaran Robotics to interact in a natural way with humans. The robot can adapt to its environment; recognize shapes, objects, and even people; and speak clearly in more than 20 languages. NAO has been used in care homes and hotels, where it can greet residents, provide companionship, and perform tasks such as check-in and checkout. NAO also helps children with special needs. For example, therapists use it to teach social skills to autistic children, who are both reassured and engaged by the robot’s playful yet predictable behavior.

“The robot can provide guidance, motivation, and feedback, while creating a bond with the child who is using it.”

Dr. Yu-Ping Chen, Georgia State University

Published 2020


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