Baxter Meets VR

Baxter Meets VR

Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot (on right) was designed to work collaboratively with people in manufacturing and assembly, but the company also makes a research robot. Here students at the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) center at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell are testing how a virtual reality headset can be used to provide instructions to Baxter from a remote location. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Soft Robotics picker

Soft Robotics picker

Soft Robotics came out of stealth mode at the RoboBusiness conference, showing prototypes of its gripper technology, which has roots at Harvard University. Rather than use electronics to control how a machine picks up something, Soft Robotics relies on pneumatics and carefully chosen materials, says CEO Carl Vause. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Brain Corp. Demo bot

Brain Corp. Demo bot

Brain Corporation, which is funded by Qualcomm, is making hardware and software to allow third-party developers to rapidly create their own robots. This demo robot can learn instructions by using a remote control to show what actions the user wants it to take, rather than through software programming. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Harvest Automation bot

Harvest Automation bot

Harvest Automation’s first product uses the same basic chassis to move potted plants from one location to another at nurseries and greenhouses, autonomously. Now it’s working on a machine to collect bins, such as this milk crate-like box, in e-commerce warehouses. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Empire Robotics gripper

Empire Robotics gripper

Empire Robotics demonstrated its first product: a gripper that’s an alternative to conventional robotic pickers that pick up devices with finger-like grips. Instead, Empire Robotics’ device uses a balloon-like bag filled with a sand-like material. It’s filled with air and then, to pick something up, the air is sucked out, which creates a surprisingly strong grip. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Vecna healthcare robot

Vecna healthcare robot

Healthcare company Vecna showed off its QC Bot, which is designed to help nurses by transporting goods through hospitals. As a sign of how vital robotics is to the healthcare industry, both in hospitals and in homes, Vecna is hosting a robotics incubator as part of the MassRobotics cluster initiative. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Telepresence VGo robot

Telepresence VGo robot

One of the most compelling applications for mobile robots is telepresence. Here a person is using the VGo robot to stroll the conference floor. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Velodyne Lidar

Velodyne Lidar

One of the most important tasks for mobile robots is to build maps of its environments on the fly. This tank-like robot has been equipped with a lidar system, the same used in robotic cars. Credit: Martin LaMonica

NERVE center

NERVE center

The NERVE center at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell has several test beds to run mobile robots through different terrains. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Aldebaran humanoid robot

Aldebaran humanoid robot

Humanoid robots, while cool-looking, are used primarily for research and in specialized situations. NASA, for instance, has human-shaped robots in the International Space Station because all the controls and switches were designed for people. Credit: Martin LaMonica

Even roboticists still debate exactly what a robot is. Is it a computer that moves, or a machine that can operate autonomously in reaction to its environment? What can be said for sure is that robotics is a set of technologies, often used for automation, and that humanoid robots are just one of many forms robots take.

Take a look at some of the machines on display at the RoboBusiness conference, which was in Boston last week, and the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) center at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, to get a sense of where commercial robots are going.

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  • Rho Velasco

    I we look past beyond what a robot is or what it should do and look for the true purpose of robotics, one of the keyword that keeps on coming is “Automation”.

    Think about it. If you put Anthropomorphism aside and forget about the A.I. what’s left is something that should do some meaningful work in the real world.

    I strongly believe that the main purpose of robotics is to assist humans.