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Team Designs Robots to Build Things in Messy, ­npredictable Situations

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A robot (below) tows a sack of rice.

Researchers are developing robots that can function outside of ideal, predictable environments.

Credit: Nils Napp

Researchers at Harvard University and the State University of New York at Buffalo are developing robots able to function outside of ideal, predictable environments.

Instead, the new robots will be able to work in places where predictive algorithms cannot be used to plan several thousands steps ahead.

The researchers note these "builder bots" are designed to be disaster relief agents. One robot deposits expandable, self-hardening foam, while another drags and piles up sandbags. The materials are useful in a range of real-world environments, but they are highly unpredictable.

The researchers dealt with this unpredictability by equipping the robots with an infrared sensor that takes scans and assesses the environment. The robots rely on an algorithm that functions as a loop to build as they go, accounting for any changes in the environment, as well as changes to the material.

The researchers currently are focusing on using their adaptable robotic system for building ramps. Going forward, the researchers plan to develop robots that can build in situations in which they do not know what materials will be available.

From Technology Review
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Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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