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Robots in History

Humans have long been fascinated by machines that mimic people and animals. These and several other technologies are the precursors of modern robots.  

Playing Catch and Juggling with a Humanoid Robot

Robots in entertainment environments typically do not allow for physical interaction and contact with people. However, catching and throwing back objects is one form of physical engagement that still maintains a safe distance between the robot and participants. Using an animatronic humanoid robot, we developed a test bed for a throwing and catching game scenario. We use an external camera system (ASUS Xtion PRO LIVE) to locate balls and a Kalman filter to predict ball destination and timing. The robot’s hand and joint-space are calibrated to the vision coordinate system using a least-squares technique, such that the hand can be…

Synthesizing Object Receiving Motions of Humanoid Robots with Human Motion Database

This project presents a method for synthesizing motions of a humanoid robot that receives an object from a human, with focus on a natural object passing scenario where the human initiates the passing motion by moving an object toward the robot, which continuously adapts its motion to the observed human motion in realtime. In this scenario, the robot not only has to recognize and adapt to the human action but also has to synthesize its motion quickly so that the human does not have to wait holding an object. We solve these issues by using a human motion database obtained…

PIXELBOTS – Interaction with mobile pixels

Interaction with a swarm of mobile robot pixels. Gesture-based, real-time drawing and with a hand-held tablet.   Collaborative project of Disney Research Zurich and the Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH Zurich.   See “Human – Robot Swarm Interaction for Entertainment: From animation display to gesture based control” – Javier Alonso-Mora, Roland Siegwart and Paul Beardsley, Proc. of the 9th ACM / IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), 2014.   MEDIA NOTES: Disney Research and ETH have created a new kind of display – the pixels are small colorful mobile robots which create cartoon-like images or animations. These are the ‘Pixelbots’….

Printing Teddy Bears: A Technique for 3D Printing of Soft Interactive Objects

This paper considers the design, construction, and example use of a new type of 3D printer which fabricates three-dimensional objects from soft fibers (wool and wool blend yarn). This printer allows the substantial advantages of additive manufacturing techniques (including rapid turn-around prototyping of physical objects and support for high levels of customization and configuration) to be employed with a new class of material.  

Interactive Air-Powered Robot Arm

We have developed a new method for puppeteers to remotely control mechanical characters without the use of motors. The pair of robot arms shown in this video are connected only by flexible pneumatic tubing. There are no pumps, valves, sensors, motors, or electronic controllers used. The passive connection between the two arms is made entirely by air pressure, allowing a large separation between the character and the puppeteer, and tight bends in the air control lines. The key technology is an ultra-low friction pneumatic transmission, enabled by the use of rolling diaphragm seals, instead of traditional sliding o-ring seals. If…

Beachbot

Conceived by Disney Research and working in partnership with a student team at ETH Zürich, the Beachbot is a mobile robot that can turn an ordinary beach into an artist’s canvas. Thanks to innovative balloon wheels, the robot is able to traverse sandy beaches without leaving any noticeable tracks. Drawing is achieved using a controllable rake at the rear of the robot, with individually controllable pins that can be raised and lowered to create thick or thin lines in the sand. The drawing area on the beach is defined simply using four vertical poles that define the corners of the…

A Layered Fabric 3D Printer for Soft Interactive Objects

We present a new type of 3D printer that can form precise, but soft and deformable 3D objects from layers of off-the-shelf fabric. Our printer employs an approach where a sheet of fabric forms each player of a 3D object. The printer cuts this sheet along the 2D contour of the layer using a laser cutter and then bonds it to previously printed layers using a heat sensitive adhesive. Surrounding fabric in each layer is temporarily retained to provide a removable support structure for layers printed above it. This process is repeated to build up a 3D object layer by…

Interactive Design of 3D Printable Robotic Creatures

We present an interactive design system that allows casual users to quickly create 3D-printable robotic creatures. Our approach automates the tedious parts of the design process while providing sample room for customization of morphology, proportions, gait and motion style. The technical core of our framework is an efficient optimization-based solution that generates stable motions for legged robots of arbitrary designs. An intuitive set of editing tools allows the user to interactively explore the space of feasible designs and to study the relationship between morphological features and the resulting motions. Fabrication blueprints are generated automatically such that the robot designs can…

VertiGo – A Wall-Climbing Robot Including Ground-Wall Transition

VertiGo is a wall-climbing robot that is capable of transitioning from the ground to the wall, created in collaboration between Disney Research Zurich and ETH. The robot has two tiltable propellers that provide thrust onto the wall, and four wheels. One pair of wheels is steerable, and each propeller has two degrees of freedom for adjusting the direction of thrust. By transitioning from the ground to a wall and back again, VertiGo extends the ability of robots to travel through urban and indoor environments.   The robot is able to move on a wall quickly and with agility. The use…

RapID: A Framework for Fabricating Low-Latency Interactive Objects with RFID Tags

RFID tags can be used to add inexpensive, wireless, batteryless sensing to objects. However, quickly and accurately estimating the state of an RFID tag is difficult. In this work, we show how to achieve low-latency manipulation and movement sensing with off-the-shelf RFID tags and readers. Our approach couples a probabilistic filtering layer with a monte-carlo-sampling-based interaction layer, preserving uncertainty in tag reads until they can be resolved in the context of interactions. This allows designers’ code to reason about inputs at a high level. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach with a number of interactive objects, along with a…

PaperID: A Technique for Drawing Functional Battery-Free Wireless Interfaces on Paper

We describe techniques that allow inexpensive, ultra-thin, battery-free Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags to be turned into simple paper input devices. We use sensing and signal processing techniques that determine how a tag is being manipulated by the user via an RFID reader and show how tags may be enhanced with a simple set of conductive traces that can be printed on paper, stencil-traced, or even hand-drawn. These traces modify the behavior of contiguous tags to serve as input devices. Our techniques provide the capability to use off-the-shelf RFID tags to sense touch, cover, overlap of tags by conductive or…

A Hybrid Hydrostatic Transmission and Human Safe Haptic Telepresence Robot

We present a new type of hydrostatic transmission that uses a hybrid air-water configuration, analogous to N+1 cable-tendon transmissions, using N hydraulic lines and 1 pneumatic line for a system with N degrees of freedom (DOFs). The common air-filled line preloads all DOFs in the system, allowing bidirectional operation of every joint. This configuration achieves the high stiffness of a water-filled transmission with half the number of bulky hydraulic lines. We implemented this transmission using pairs of rolling-diaphragm cylinders to form rotary hydraulic actuators, with a new design achieving a 600-percent increase in specific work density per cycle. These actuators…

Untethered One-Legged Hopping in 3D Using Linear Elastic Actuator in Parallel (LEAP)

Current and previous single-legged hopping robots are energetically tethered and lack portability. Here, we present the design and control of an untethered, energetically autonomous single-legged hopping robot. The thrust-producing mechanism of the robot’s leg is an actuated prismatic joint, called a linear elastic actuator in parallel (LEAP). The LEAP mechanism comprises a voice coil actuator in parallel with two compression springs, which gives our robot passive compliance. An actuated gimbal hip joint is realized by two standard servomotors. To control the robot, we adapt Raibert’s hopping controller, and find we can maintain balance roughly in-place for up to approx. 7…

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