The desire to make robots seem gentle and appealing is not foremost among Boston Dynamics’ priorities. Its thuggish looking creations, usually inspired by an animal, have largely been developed for the US military, for purposes which are delicately described as “search and rescue” tasks. Boston Dynamics has also developed a humanoid prototype called Atlas, which is able to, in the company’s words, “lift, carry and manipulate the environment”
If Meka is providing the foundations for the top half of Google’s robot, Schaft may offer the bottom. The Japanese designed robot, which stays balanced even when jostled, trounced its rivals at a recent robotics competition held by the US department of defence. It made light work of rugged terrain and even nimbly climbed up and down a ladder
Comprising of the amalgamated expertise of three major developers, including Meka, focused on the elusive goal of developing a fully functioning robotic arm. The arms Redwood is developing will draw on the advances already made by Meka in the area of compliant arms and hands. These already feature a jointed thumb and fingers and nimble elbow and shoulder joints, which regulate their grip and movement in response to human contact.
Using a unique variety of infra-red vision, IPI equips robots with the ability to see in three dimensions, differentiate between objects and colours, and be more aware of its surroundings than any robot before. Industrial Perception has so far been applied to warehouse robots to aid them handling packages more accurately, but this technology will likely form the eyes for Google’s robot.
The Meka M1 Manipulator is a humanoid torso, head and arms amalgamated into an approachable and friendly looking robot that uses complex series elastic motors to control its fluid, familiar movements. This human approach may be what makes Meka so valuable to Google; the company has also designed a “sociable humanoid head” named Dreamer, with appealing, oversized doe-eyes and colour-changing ears
For its robots’ general movement, Google has hedged its bets by acquiring Holomni, a company that focuses solely on wheels and castors with 360-degree powered movement. Google may have in mind a variety of potential robots – some walking, some wheeled, or perhaps even a robot that combines both approaches to movement
Bot & Dolly
Bot & Dolly’s robots are used in film and TV – for instance in Gravity and Adidas ads. They not only film but also move actors and props in a frame. “If you want to move a cup six inches at two metres per second and have it stop on a dime, we want to give you a tool,” says co-founder Jeff Linnell.