bots IN BRIEF
WEEBOT FOR WEE ONES
This is a WeeBot, and it's one of the very rare times it's okay
to combine robots with babies. That’s because a WeeBot is
basically a way of turning a real baby into an unstoppable fusion of
biology and engineering.
Babies (as you may have noticed if you own one) like to get
into all sorts of mischief, and studies show that exploring and
interacting with the world is important for cognitive development.
Babies who can't move around as well may not develop at the
same rate as babies who can, which is why researchers from Ithaca
College in New York are working on a way to fuse babies with
robots to give mobility to all babies — even those with conditions
that may delay independent mobility, like Down syndrome, spina bifida, or cerebral palsy.
WeeBots are built with Adept MobileRobots Pioneer P3-DX bases. On top of the bases are Nintendo Wii balance boards
which are rectangular platforms with load sensors at the corners. A commercial infant seat is placed on top of the balance
board, and the robot can then be calibrated to move in whichever direction the baby leans.
To test the WeeBots, researchers borrowed five infants, ranging in age from six months to nine months. Each infant was
given five training sessions on the robot using a toy as bait, and by the end of those sessions, the babies were reliably able to
control the WeeBot in goal-directed movement during periods of free play. You might think that a six month old baby wouldn't
necessarily have the facility to control a robot like this, but they catch on surprisingly quickly. All of the babies in the study
were developing typically for their age; none of them had the ability to crawl, so the robots were their only means of
This was just a pilot study to make sure that the WeeBot worked, but recently published continuing research has also tried
using WeeBots with infants with mobility disorders. It's turning out to
be difficult for some babies to sit up enough to control the WeeBot by
leaning, but in at least one case, a 15 month old boy with cerebral palsy
was able to learn to control a WeeBot — after which he started to
develop crawling skills on his own.
Here’s a fully controllable robot arm that can be inflated and
deflated like a balloon.
The AIRarm is lightweight, inexpensive, and stows compactly. It's
inflated and deflated with an onboard pump, and uses actuators and
strings to move its joints without embedded motors. While regular
PackBot three-link arms are between 15 and 20 pounds, the AIRarm
system only weighs about a tenth of that — a fact that would be
appreciated by the soldiers that have to carry these robots around.
Despite its light weight, AIRarm is no slouch and can lift up to five
pounds or possibly more, depending on how much it’s inflated. By
varying the level of inflation, it's also possible to vary the level of
compliance of the arm; this makes the arm a little bit flexible when you
need it to be which, in turn, makes it safer and more durable. Since it's
mostly made of fabric and string, it's wicked cheap, at least compared to
a conventional arm.
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