Stupid Robot Tricks – Humans Need Not Apply

Mid-August is always a slow time in New York, and it seems as though the robotic  world has followed step.  So much of the news is about summer bot camps, world robot cups, and even origami robots (which I will discuss below).  Before illustrating how robots can do amazingly stupid pet tricks, like humans wrapping their tongue around their noses, I need to share with you the video below – Humans Need Not Apply.  This piece of propaganda provides an excellent history of robotics sans the paranoia.  Judge for yourself:

Now, the tricks from the Harvard yard.  A graduate student, Samuel Felton, last week made a robot out of a piece of paper and batteries.  His creation as reported last Thursday in the Science journal is the first robot that can fold itself and start working without any intervention from the operator.

“We’re trying to make robots as quickly and cheaply as possible,” Mr. Felton said.

Mr. Felton was obviously inspired by origami, the Japanese paper-folding art in his quest of making small folding robots.  He thinks that one day it could be use on future space missions or even for Ikea-like furniture, folding from a flat-packed board to a table in minutes (without the need for Allen wrenches or Swedish instructions).

What is Felton’s secret? Well, first off it is not simple paper but a composite made of layers of paper, then a flexible circuit board and drumroll please – Shrinky Dinks. Finally, he adds two motors, two batteries and a microcontroller for the brain. All of this totaling less than $100!

The idea for Felton’s robot was in response to his advisor’s, Robert Wood’s, research in building insect-size robots. However, there are no assembly lines for machines that small. Building small components on a flat sheet is easier. Over several years, Dr. Wood’s team built on his idea, producing a printed robotic inchworm and a self-folding lamp. The earlier projects, however, required human assistance during construction. With the process now fully automated by Felton, robots could be efficiently packed for travel and deployed in places where there are no people – space the final frontier. 

From robots that build themselves (without humans) to robots that need humans to survive – In my final post of stupid robot tricks, I would like to introduce you Gumdrop the auditioning robot. Do I hear an new Oscar category for best robotic actor…

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