The sweet robot can play Super Mario Bros.

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The idea that robots will one day become aware of themselves and start a war to annihilate humanity is laughable. Instead, they will slowly take over all jobs until the world’s population is unemployed and unable to shop in automated grocery stores, then we will all starve and starve. And not even those who love make a living on Twitch speed video games will be safe, it seems now.

Another hypothesis on the future of automatons, based on films like Star wars and The Terminator, is that the robots will always be made of metal and will look like walking armor. It’s an approach that makes them durable and strong, ideal for waging war in space or time, but not exactly safe when interacting with humans. Visit a factory that uses robotic arms for various tasks and you will find barriers that prevent human workers from approaching them, because if a robot collides with a human, the bag of skin is full of flesh and blood. bone loses every time.

A team of researchers from University of Maryland is working on an entirely different approach to robotics which constructed them from materials similar to the soft, spongy human body. It is an area known as soft robotics, and it’s slowly starting to catch on in the mainstream media. In the animated film, Great hero 6, an inflatable robot known as Baymax was designed to deliver medical diagnoses and treatments and interact with patients without ever putting them in danger, in the same way that a hit with a beach ball will not put you in harm’s way. to emergencies.

Where researchers at the University of Maryland have advanced the field of soft robotics is by 3D printing a fully assembled and fully functional flexible robotic hand that allows individual figures to be articulated using a single operating mechanism. Your typical robot uses either a series of servo motors or pneumatic pistons to activate each pivot point. This approach allows for precise controls and movements, but it also requires a lot of power, a lot of programming, and a lot of complexity, which often leads to a lot of failures.

The 3D printed hand created at the university Advanced Bioinspired Manufacturing (BAM) Laboratory exits the printer with a full fluidic path inside, allowing the fingers of the hand to actually move. Similar to inflating a long, soft balloon to make it stiff enough to transform into a balloon animal, the fluid pumped through the fluid circuit of the hand brings it to life. Typically, in soft robotics, a separate pump is needed to pump fluids through each moving part, but that hand is powered by one, and by simply changing the pressure of the pump, specific fingers can be moved.

Image from the article titled Robots are Coming for Speedrunners Now They Can Play Super Mario Bros.

The application of a low level of the pressure moves the first finger, and applying increasing pressure levels from there, the other fingers of the hand can also be moved one by one. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the new approach, the researchers paired the hand with an NES controller and used the fingers to press various buttons, including the directional pad. By programming a pattern of low, medium and high pressure actuations, the robotic hand was able to successfully complete the first level of Super Mario Bros. on the NES in less than 90 seconds.

The world record for completing the first level of Super Mario Bros. is less than 12 seconds, so the speedrunners people have nothing to fear for the moment from this new robot. But it demonstrates another radical way of thinking about robots. Through the use of 3D printing and flexible materials, a the bot can not only be done quickly but affordable too — and without necessarily sacrificing functionality. If all the robots in the world are ever as soft as a rotten banana, they’ll also be a lot less scary to interact with, and movies like The Terminator will seem ridiculously outdated.


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