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MIT Robots: Now able to punch through walls and serve you beer


MIT robot rescue

Like the Kool-Aid Man, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's two new robots are here to save the day and quench your thirst. 

MIT's new humanoid robot can be used in rescue operations that might be too dangerous for humans, such as a building that might be at risk for collapsing, according to Popular Science.

HERMES has the strength to crush cans and punch through walls.

But it also has the dexterity to manipulate objects with its three fingers, like pour coffee or grab drills.

These aren't native awesome robot skills, though — a human pilot strapped into a exoskeleton remotely controls HERMES, combining the pilot's creativity and problem-solving with the strength of a robot.

"We want to take advantage of what humans can do and how humans can learn and adapt in order to face new challenges that we may not predict," said Joao Ramos, a mechanical engineer at MIT said in a video

Robots are still learning to walk on two legs, but robots need to be able to navigate a bipedal world. So MIT built HERMES to learn from the human's reflexes to keep this bipedal bot balanced. The robot's sensors feed data back to the human controller — the pilot can see what the robot sees, feel what the robot feels, and can correctly position the robot to ensure it doesn't topple over.

PhD student Albert Wang says a future version of HERMES would merge autonomous control with human intelligence, for scenarios where it may not be feasible to have a remote human controller.

Robots aren't just for crushing cans, though. MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab also developed a robotic system that can take orders and deliver beer to thirsty college students directly to their dorm rooms, according to Popular Science.

Two Turtlebots, which look like coolers on wheels, travel from room to room asking if anyone needs a beer. A thirsty student toggles a switch to make a request, and the Turtlebot travels back to a PR2 robot bartender.

The PR2 robot bartender senses the Turtlebot waiter nearby and drops the beer in the cooler for delivery.

The Turtlebot waiters can also coordinate with each other when they're in the same room to avoid collisions. When they're getting beers from the robot bartender, they autonomously line up and take turns.

Delivering cans of beer may not be seem sophisticated but getting robots to work around each other and around humans, called multi-agent planning, is no mean feat. Multi-agent planning requires robots to anticipate not just other robots movements, but that of humans, who tend to be more unpredictable.  

It remains to be seen if MIT plans to combine the two systems to create a Kool-Aid Man robot that can deliver beer, but they should know that we're all waiting. 

Watch a video of the bartending robots in action.

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