Innovative Robots That Will Make Our Lives Better


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[MUSIC PLAYING] [THEME MUSIC] How ya doing today? He won't have a conversation with me. MATT WEBER: Woah! Careful, Craig! You're getting pretty close to that robot. Don't worry. Those are cobots. They're there to help us. What's a cobot? Cobots are collaborative robots. They are designed to interact with and help humans at Carnegie Mellon University. They're actually making a lot of helpful robots there. Oh, really? Yep. Let's check it out. Carnegie Mellon University is home to a world-renowned robotics program where every day, scientists and students are pushing the boundaries of robotics and AI technology in an effort to design the next generation of human-assisting robots-- like the cobot. These guys roam the halls of the university dropping off packages, delivering messages, and escorting visitors. This cobot was guiding me and cobot programmer JoyDeep Biswas through the halls to a research lab. The robot, if it sees people in front of it, it won't run over them. If you move slightly to the side, it'll figure out that it can actually move past you. So if I go in front of it, it'll stop. Yep. OK. Hup. And in fact, if you just stay there for a long enough period of time, it'll just say, please excuse me. They're more polite than me. Yep. How do they work? Well they're completely autonomous. When you want something delivered to the office, all you need to do is go to the cobot's website, make a request. And minutes later, a cobot will show up to your door. MATT WEBER: That's cool. But how do they know where they're going? CRAIG BENZINE: The cobots use a laser range finder and a depth camera to create a 3D map of their environment to help them navigate and avoid obstacles. They also use Wi-Fi signal strength and a map of the building to coordinate their location. Of course, there are limitations. The cobots are designed for symbiotic autonomy, which means they sometimes need humans to help them out. THE COBOT: Can you press 7 and press my "Done" button when we get to that floor? JOYDEEP BISWAS: These cobots have recently reached a milestone. They actually drove over 1,000 kilometers autonomously. Having these robots be that capable, will open up a large area of applications. It can act as a robot nurse. It can act as a tour guide in a museum. It can help you do your shopping if you are unable to lift heavy things and so on. Or if I just don't carry anything? Or if you just don't want to carry anything. So there are many, many possibilities. MATT WEBER: That's pretty cool and all, Craig. But what's with the soccer field in the background? Soccerbot stuff. Soccerbots? Soccerbots. Biswas and other researchers wanted a novel way to help develop different aspects of artificial intelligence. JOYDEEP BISWAS: Robot soccer was a natural testbed to do this. It involves perception. It involves thinking about what to do. Involves actually kicking the ball and moving it around. And the goal is that by 2050, the team of robot soccer players should be able to defeat the World FIFA Champions at soccer. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] Well, there are a lot of challenges to overcome to get a world-class soccer team-- or football team, whatever. Our defense is very, very good. A little bit more challenging is offense, because offense is more creative. It's a job of responding to what the body of opponents are doing. You need to create opportunities, make plays, and so on. That's a little bit more challenging, and we're still working on that. So robot soccer is an excuse to be doing research. [BOTH LAUGH] It's a very good excuse, but it's still an excuse. OK, you got your cobots roaming the halls. Thank you, cobot. All done. You're not leaving. Don't make it awkward. MATT WEBER: And you've got your soccerbots playing football. What else have you got for me, Craig? Snake robots. Snake robots? What's that? Exactly what it sounds like. [MUSIC PLAYING] --[YELLS] Why on earth would we want a snake robot? That seems like a terrible idea. Actually, the complete opposite. They're going to be helpful to us. How would a snake robot be helpful? Well, I'll let robotics professor Howie Choset explain. The snake robot can use its many degrees of freedom to thread through tightly packed volumes and get to locations that people, machinery otherwise can't access. Now applications for snake robots, there are many. One that's near and dear to my heart is urban search and rescue. The idea is can we provide a tool to rescue workers that can allow the rescue worker to reach a little bit deeper into a collapsed rubble. And with a camera at the end of the snake robot, can that rescue worker locate trapped people that are in void spaces? CRAIG BENZINE: A snakebot can also climb poles or trees-- or in this case, my leg. So these things could be pretty dangerous, huh? HOWIE CHOSET: I mean, they can constrict with a pretty serious amount of torque. All right. Well, let's don't do that. [LAUGHTER] It can also navigate through other tight and dangerous spaces, like sewer lines or pipes or in a nuclear power plant. Basically, they can go where we can't and find potential problems that we can fix before they get worse. Another cool thing about snake robots is their modular design. You can take multiple units and combine them into a new kind of robot that can be programmed in a much shorter amount of time. Multiple snake robots combining to form a new robot? That's like some kind of horrible snake monster. That's exactly what it is. How did you know? [MUSIC PLAYING] [YELLS] Snake robots and now a snake monster? What is this world coming to? Actually, it looks more like a spider. Yeah, it does. But the guys at Carnegie Mellon call it a snake monster. Would it make you feel better if I physically assaulted it? Yeah. I'm going to kick it, if that's OK with you. By all means. And no one's controlling that? Yeah, so it's happening autonomously. So it is-- basically it can sense. I mean, it can feel that you actually kicked it. And what it's always trying to do is basically maintain its balance. So is there anything less terrifying that snakebots can do? How about surgery? Hmm. We've developed a small, surgical snake robot that allows the physician to make a small incision-- make, say, a 1/4-inch turn one way, a 1/4-inch turn another way. And you can be behind the heart where you can deliver a whole host of diagnostics and therapies without, say, cracking the sternum. Recently, Professor Choset's medical snake robot passed the CE mark, which is the European equivalent of FDA approval. Since then, they've been performing surgery on live patients-- removing cancer from the base of the tongue and throat by having a snake robot slither down the mouth and chomp out the cancer. No incision necessary. HOWIE CHOSET: With our robots, they're literally able to get their problem solved as if it was day surgery. Getting robots into dangerous places and performing surgery is all well and good, Craig. But, as you know, I'm super lazy, and I just want a robot to help me around the house. And I'd rather it not look like a snake monster. Me neither, Matt. So I talked to Chris Atkeson, another robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon, and he has a unique approach to robots. CHRISTOPHER ATKESON: Here's the big problem. For years and years, we've been building very strong, stiff robots so they could be very accurate in manufacturing and putting things together. CRAIG BENZINE: This kind of strength and accuracy is great when you're trying to build a Volkswagen. But it's maybe not the best kind of technology for interacting with soft, fleshy humans. CHRISTOPHER ATKESON: I have some robots that I work with that have weight problems. One of them weighs 300 pounds. The first thing that happens when I show a robot like that to a bunch of schoolchildren is they run up and grab its legs and try to tackle it. And if that 300-pound robot falls on them, it will squish them. We have to find a way to make them safe. We think the way to be safe is to have soft robots. One way to have a soft robot is to have an inflatable robot. Wait, that's not a robot. That's just an inflatable punching clown. Let's just listen to the man's story. CHRISTOPHER ATKESON: I'm particularly interested in helping people who have disabilities or older adults who might need help living in their own home for longer rather than go into assisted living. My grandfather had ALS, that was the disease everybody was doing the ice bucket thing for. As his motor control degraded, he would slide out of this chair and end up on the floor or simply fall down. My grandmother was not capable of picking him up. She'd pick up the phone, call us. I just had my license, so I'd drive over. I'd do whatever she told me to do. I was her robot, and I would pick my grandfather up. You see, wouldn't it be nice to have inflatable robots in the home to help us? I guess. But how do these inflatable robots actually work? Wouldn't you need a bunch of gears and hydraulics inside of it? And wouldn't that make it really heavy and defeat the purpose? Two words-- air muscles. Hmm. So whichever joint I want to move, I inflate those muscles. And it causes that joint to move. Well, that's amazing. What we're trying to do here is merge elements of soft robots and conventional robots. That way, we can get the best of both worlds. We can have the safety of soft robots, but we can still hope to have the same level of precision and load-bearing capacity as a conventional robot. Hit me in the face. OK. Yeah, that's very safe. Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like a recent Oscar-winning animated feature. Didn't they just take this idea from "Big Hero 6"? CRAIG BENZINE: Actually, the other way around. Disney came to them when they were doing research for the film. CHRISTOPHER ATKESON: We told them, well, if you're really going to have a robot that gets close to people, it needs to be safe. The inflatable robot from their point of view was a fantastic idea-- not because it's a technically good idea, but because it gave them a robot that their animators could have a lot of fun with. In the movie the butt wiggles, and the light goes through the robot. And it also gave them a unique robot. It sounded like a crazy idea. But using this kind of technology, I think we can get robots safely in the home. So I guess robots really can be helpful. Yep. It won't be long before we see snake robots in the hospital, crawling around buildings; soft robots in the home; cobots getting me a beer; soccerbots dashing our hopes of getting a World Cup victory and getting me a beer. Yep, it's a bright robot-filled future where absolutely nothing can go wrong. Nothing. In our next video, we'll talk about what can potentially go very, very wrong. You can click on that when it's available tomorrow. Also, if you like this video, you can click down there on the "Like" button. There's a "Subscribe" button up there, if you want to be updated about more videos. And if you want to support our show, there's a "Patreon" link. Thank you.