Ellie works on a car engine assembly line. Despite her best efforts, she occasionally forgets to screw in one of the bolts, but a laser beam from the ceiling highlights the loose piece as the engine passes, reminding her to tighten it.
This imagined scenario could soon be reality. A robot called Watch-Bot can watch people work, learn the steps that make up the task, then remind people when they forget a step. In 24 trials watching humans at work in the office and kitchen, Watch-Bot was about 60 per cent accurate in shining a laser pointer at the missed task, such as returning milk to the fridge.
It’s enough to put a spring in your step. A soft robotic suit has helped three people recovering from a stroke to walk better.
The suit, developed by a team led by Conor Walsh at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, is made of flexible fabric that attaches to the waist, thigh, calf and shoe. Cables fastened to the outside of the suit can contract in the same directions as muscles, helping to move the legs.
This robotics researcher might have something in just your size.
Most robotics labs don’t contain sewing machines. But there’s a room full of them in Conor Walsh’s lab, along with three full-time textile experts and a wall of fabrics in neat plastic bins. There’s a rack that looks as if it belongs in a sporting goods store, with a row of what could be some new kind of running shorts in an array of sizes.
For Walsh, a robot is not necessarily a rigid metal machine. He’s working on robots that are soft, lightweight, and flexible so people can wear them to enhance their abilities.
The latest in assistive technology is a lightweight glove that helps patients with limited mobility grab and pick up objects.
The motor hummed like a belt sander, and without any help from me, my fingers and thumb curled together in a grasping motion. It felt as if someone else’s hand were underneath mine—someone stronger, moving my fingers for me.