This soft robotic arm is straight out of Big Hero 6 (it’s even from Disney)

This soft robotic arm is straight out of Big Hero 6 (it’s even from Disney)
The charming robot at the heart of Disney’s Big Hero 6, Baymax, isn’t exactly realistic, but its puffy bod is an (admittedly aspirational) example of the growing field of soft robotics. And now Disney itself has produced a soft robot arm that seems like it could be a prototype from the movie.
Created by Disney Research roboticists, the arm seems clearly inspired by Baymax, from the overstuffed style and delicate sausage fingers to the internal projector that can show status or information to nearby people.
“Where physical human-robot interaction is expected, robots should be compliant and reactive to avoid human injury and hardware damage,” the researchers write in the paper describing the system. “Our goal is the realization of a robot arm and hand system which can physically interact with humans and gently manipulate objects.”
The mechanical parts of the arm are ordinary enough — it has an elbow and wrist and can move around the way many other robot arms do, using the same servos and such.
But around the joints are what look like big pillows, which the researchers call “force sensing modules.” They’re filled with air and can detect pressure on them. This has the dual effect of protecting the servos from humans and vice versa, while also allowing natural tactile interactions.
“Distributing individual modules over the various links of a robot provides contact force sensing over a large area of the robot and allows for the implementation of spatially aware, engaging physical human-robot interactions,” they write. “The independent sensing areas also allow a human to communicate with the robot or guide its motions through touch.”
Like hugging, as one of the researchers demonstrates:

Presumably in this case the robot (also presuming the rest of the robot) would understand that it is being hugged, and reciprocate or otherwise respond.
The fingers are also soft and filled with air; they’re created in a 3D printer that can lay down both rigid and flexible materials. Pressure sensors within each inflatable finger let the robot know whether, for example, one fingertip is pressing too hard or bearing all the weight, signaling it to adjust its grip.
This is still very much a prototype; the sensors can’t detect the direction of a force yet, and the materials and construction aren’t airtight by design, meaning they have to be continuously pumped full. But it still shows what they want it to show: that a traditional “hard” robot can be retrofitted into a soft one with a bit of ingenuity. We’re still a long way from Baymax, but it’s more science than fiction now.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Robot posture and movement style affects how humans interact with them

Robot posture and movement style affects how humans interact with them
It seems obvious that the way a robot moves would affect how people interact with it, and whether they consider it easy or safe to be near. But what poses and movement types specifically are reassuring or alarming? Disney Research looked into a few of the possibilities of how a robot might approach a simple interaction with a nearby human.
The study had people picking up a baton with a magnet at one end and passing it to a robotic arm, which would automatically move to collect the baton with its own magnet.
But the researchers threw variations into the mix to see how they affected the forces involved, how people moved and what they felt about the interaction. The robot had two types each of three phases: movement into position, grasping the object and removing it from the person’s hand.

For movement, it either started hanging down inertly and sprung up to move into position, or it began already partly raised. The latter condition was found to make people accommodate the robot more, putting the baton into a more natural position for it to grab. Makes sense — when you pass something to a friend, it helps if they already have their hand out.
Grasping was done either quickly or more deliberately. In the first condition the robot’s arm attaches the magnet as soon as it’s in position; in the second, it pushes up against the baton and repositions it for a more natural way to pull out. There wasn’t a big emotional difference here, but opposing forces were much less in the second grasp type, perhaps meaning it was easier.
Once attached, the robot retracted the baton either slowly or more quickly. Humans preferred the former, saying that the latter felt as if the object was being yanked out of their hands.
The results won’t blow anyone’s mind, but they’re an important contribution to the fast-growing field of human-robot interaction. Soon there ought to be best practices for this kind of thing for when we’re interacting with robots that, say, clear the table at a restaurant or hand workers items in a factory. That way they’ll be operating with the knowledge that they won’t be producing any unnecessary anxiety in nearby humans.
A side effect of all this was that the people in the experiment gradually seemed to learn to predict the robot’s movements and accommodate them — as you might expect. But it’s a good sign that even over a handful of interactions a person can start building a rapport with a machine they’ve never worked with before.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch