Future Tense

The Week’s Best Robot Videos: An Exoskeleton and an Owl

The Owl Suit Robot Drummer

Still from YouTube

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, an owl takes center stage, tiny bots head toward the light, and a new suit helps you lift a few extra pounds.

The Owl Bot
At last, a robotic owl suit you can wear to your next rock concert. Wait, what? Tim Laursen is the artist behind Owl Suit Robot Drummer, and he says his goal is to “combine the feel of electronic music with the presence of something dangerous and wild on stage.” I say: Mission accomplished. Small levers move the wings and mask, and the lights give it an eerie glow reminiscent of a campfire scene. It’s more than just a visual prop—the suit also serves as a MIDI drum machine, giving the wearer some added musical functionality.Laursen says he was inspired by aboriginal masks, making this an impressive combination of arts, history, and robotics. I better leave it at that before I make some joke about the Who.


The Worker Bee Bots
It’s easy to compare swarms of robots to groups of insects, and these Kilobots make it an even more apt analogy. Created at Harvard’s Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, these 100 Kilobots are always moving toward the light. In this video, they’re forced to move as one unit by different shapes, and in another you can see the more eerie freeform blob marching  mindlessly toward the same point. The Kilobots are capable of more than just seeking out the light, though. Kilobots can play Follow the Leader, disperse across a given area, and even forage like ants. They’re designed as a relatively inexpensive way to test algorithms that require hundreds or even thousands of individual parts. They’re not exactly cheap—a Kilobot starter pack with three bots will set you back $1,200. But the developers have posted all the info you need to build your own buggy bots, in case you aren’t made of money. 

Via IEEE Spectrum, Gizmag.

The Effortless Bot
Exoskeletons are quietly becoming the next big thing in robotics. Some iterations have been around for years, like Honda’s robot legs, but in the last few months we’ve seen new space legs from NASA, a Japanese robo-suit for emergency response, and many more. The latest version is ActiveLink’s PowerLoader Light, a suit designed to connect people with the heavy machinery needed for construction or disaster response. The PowerLoader Light amplifies a person’s strength, receiving input from relatively natural human controls and turning it into heavy lifting. This is a smaller version of the original PowerLoader, and the goal is for this device to help a person carry up to about 125 pounds without breaking a sweat. There’s also a Big PowerLoader in the works that’s aiming to lift 220 pounds. If your goal in life is to do big things with little effort, the future might look a little brighter.

Via iO9.

Extra Bits

It’s not strictly robotics, but it wins the award for most precious item of the week: Students in a robotics club at Conifer High School in Jefferson County, Colo., built a set of wheels for a cat that can’t walk. Check it out on iO9 and get ready to feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Researchers are getting closer to crafting a higher-level robotic brain that lets robots learn like animals. Read more in Fast Company.

NASA is building a robot to extract water, ice, and fuel from the surface of the moon. Read more in the Atlantic.

This robot has the world’s worst job. On the bright side, it can rid us of dirty diapers. More from Gizmag.