The Week’s Best Robot Videos: Shooting Hoops and Taking Flight

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us.

This week we see some space-bound bots, and another that’s always on the ball.

The Rocket Bot
Robots can now play the classic lunar lander arcade game in real life. This test flight shows the successful operation of the autonomous GENIE system from Draper Laboratory. The rocket rises to 50 meters above ground and hovers in place before traveling 50 meters sideways and landing neatly on a target. A smooth and autonomous landing system like this is essential if NASA wants to continue sending robots to other planets. In landing situations, where every second counts, it takes far too long for a signal to travel to Mars from Earth, meaning the rockets cannot be controlled remotely. In past landings, like the Opportunity rover, NASA’s costly equipment hurled toward the Martian surface surrounded by airbags and bounced up to four stories high upon impact. The Curiosity rover, scheduled to reach Mars in August, has a much more sophisticated landing system that hopefully works as well as this test of the GENIE.

Via Scientific American.

The Gripping Bot
This robot that can shoot hoops, clean up around the shop, and hit a perfect bull’s-eye three times in a row—what else do you need to know? The robotic arm, and more importantly its gripping device, comes from a project by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Chicago. The gripper is something like a stress ball that the arm presses against an object. To pick it up, a vacuum sucks the air out of the gripper, forming a tight hold. The arm sets its aim and propels the object by pushing air back into the gripper, reportedly hitting the intended target with 85 percent accuracy. The researchers say they used this approach to show that robotic gripping need not be as complex or costly as robotic re-creations of the human hand.

 Via PCMag.

The Well-Balanced Bot
This seems like one of the most complicated ways to put a robot in motion, but it the result strangely simple. Four students at Southern Polytechnic State University created this bot for their senior design project, sustaining the bot’s delicate balancing act with an on-board computer and an open-source Arduino processor that’s popular in do-it-yourself robotics. While it’s a pretty cool demonstration, this isn’t the first bot of its kind. A Japanese team showed off a similar project in 2010, and last year Rezero showed just how elegant this type of robot can be.

Via Make.