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Robotics in mind

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technical & practice Intelligent and responsive technologies are being developed which are functional, frivolous or just plain fun

Only in America could you have a Robotics Institute. Established in 1979 at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, it is a practical and theoretical research facility examining the potential for robotics, both for individual and societal use.

There are scores of innovative programmes analysing the growth of robotic technology in subjects as diverse as sensory feedback, office management and technology transfer.

Schemes range from a desktop robot able to perceive, navigate and manipulate objects; to haptic (finger touch and force information) feedback to ease manipulation of a remote or virtual object in space. In this way, a human operator can 'feel' what the remote or virtual hand is grabbing. At the moment, this entails the use of vibrotactile feedback (using vibration to convey information) in the form of a glove which uses miniature voice coils (for example, small audio speakers) to produce vibrations on the wearer's fingertips and palm.

The Maglev (magnetic levitation) haptic is a further variation.A user interacts with the computer by grasping a rigid tool to interact with computed environments which are semantically meaningful in terms of the application.At the same time, the environment exerts realistic forces and torques on the tool's handle which are felt by the user (top left). The vision is of providing the computer user with immediate, high-fidelity and convincingly real interaction with computed environments.

For more everyday use, or as an executive toy, try the Palm Pilot Robot Kit. The software can be compiled on a Windows PC using the free Code Warrior Lite compiler and downloaded to the Palm. The robot can then drive itself around on flat surfaces, using optical range sensors to sense nearby obstacles and walls. The base uses three 'omni-wheels' which allow driving in any direction with independent control of rotation.What is it for? Who cares?

The licence to sell the PPRK has been taken up by Acroname Inc. They are selling a barebones kit with everything in it or a fast-build kit that just requires a screwdriver and an hour.

lFor more information e-mail robotics@ri.

cmu. edu or visit www. acroname. com

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