8 SERVO 07/08.2018
Quickly now: What’s approximately nine inches long,
operates via friction and internal pressure, and rapidly goes
from soft to rigid? No, it’s not that. Rather, it’s a new
robotic structure that its developers say, “mimics an
octopus’ kinematics, creating and eliminating joints on
The device is the brainchild of researchers at Harvard’s
Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and
Wyss Institute ( www.seas.harvard.edu and
wyss.harvard.edu). The objective is to allow robots to
rapidly change their stiffness, damping, and dynamics, thus
fostering a new generation of machines that are not really
“soft” or “rigid.”
The structure consists of multiple layers of flexible
material wrapped in a plastic envelope. These are
connected to a vacuum source. Without the vacuum, the
device bends and flops at will, but when you apply a
vacuum to it, it becomes stiff.
Its operation depends on a phenomenon called
“laminar jamming,” in which layers slide over each other.
When the layers are squeezed, however, they become
locked together by friction.
According to team member, Robert Howe, “We believe
that this technology will eventually lead to robots that can
change state between soft continuous devices that can
safely interact with humans, and rigid discrete devices that
can meet the demands of industrial automation.”
by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Job interviews are about as much fun as having a skin
abscess lanced. The interviewer — who is likely to keep you
waiting for an hour or so — will usually go over your
resume in advance and find at least a few of your
exaggerations, fictitious skills, and outright lies. Checking
with former employers may turn up that little incident
involving a secretary and the big bowl of Cool Whip.
Maybe if employers could eliminate the human factor,
it would be a lot less odious. That’s what Stafory (a Russian
recruitment outfit) is doing.
Meet Robot Vera ( ai.robotvera.com): Stafory’s virtual
robot interviewer. Although not born until 2017, Vera is
already conducting about 50,000 interviews per day (each
Vera can interview about 1,500 candidates) for mostly
large-scale blue-collar recruitment tasks for IKEA, Microsoft,
Burger King, and other operations in Russia.
In a three-step process,
sites, calls the
candidates to tell
them about the
conducts a video
interview of the
best ones. Candidates can even ask Vera questions,
although she reportedly gets the answers wrong 18
percent of the time. There’s no reference to any US
companies using Vera so far, so if she calls you, be careful.
You might end up with a job in a Siberian salt mine.
Personal Genius Available
Hanson Robotics ( www.hansonrobotics.com) is an
outfit that specializes in building expressive, lifelike, and
usually life-size robots that harness AI to behave with
kindness and empathy toward the humans with whom they
interact. (You might have seen their Sophia robot on Jimmy
Fallon’s show.) A departure from that approach is their
Professor Einstein robot, which looks like it stands only
about a foot tall, isn’t lifelike at all, and is missing Albert’s
German accent. However, you can ask the professor
questions, play brain games with him, and educate yourself
about astronomy, physics, biology, geology, and other
scientific disciplines. You also can sign
up for new app alerts so you’ll know
“whenever your personal genius is ready
to download a few more brain cells.”
Prof. Einstein offers dynamic
interaction with an iPad or Android
tablet via Wi-Fi. You can buy one at any
of several outlets, including the Robot
Shop ( www.robotshop.com) for $199.
The genius runs about three hours on a
charge and, yes, he can explain relativity
to you in about a minute.
Your very own Albert Einstein.
Robot Vera, human resources executive.