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Human-like Robot Could Tackle Dangerous Situations

2013-9-15
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Researches at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory [APL] in Laurel, Maryland have designed a new humanoid or human-like robot. Its name is Robo Sally. The machine can be controlled from a distance and can be used to do work that is dangerous for human beings.

Robo Sally has two long arms with human-like hands. She can use her fingers to pick up small objects, examine them in detail and do most things that human hands can do. Each finger contains a tiny motor, capable of squeezing 20 pounds of pinch force, enough to defuse a bomb under the direction of an operator.

She sits on a metal base with wheels that let her move around, turn in tight spaces and climb over small objects.


Robo Sally

Mike McLoughlin is the main investigator for the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Prosthetics Program.

"The purpose of that program is to develop prosthetic arms that have all the capability of your natural arms, and you do all the complex motions that we can do with the natural arm - with the robot. So we had this idea if we did this for prosthetics for humans, we could also put these on robotic platforms and enable the robots to go out into dangerous situations."

It was a difficult job. Mr McLoughlin says the device had to have many small motors to have the ability to do what a human hand does. It also need to have human-like strength. The thumb was especially difficult because it permits the hand to hold objects. And everything had to fit into a space about the size of a human hand.

The next problem, he says, was to figure out how to control the artificial hand. "So we had to figure out how to make the connection between the brain and this arm. We’ve done that for spinal injury patients, where we can actually interface with the brain and use the patient’s thoughts to control the arm."

For search-and-rescue duties, Robo Sally will be operated by a human being using a wireless machine that is far from the robot. The operator will also wear special gloves and glasses. The glasses were permitted the operator to see the robot’s hands, even though they are far away.

Mr McLoughlin says this kind of robots could be used in what he calls "dull, dirty or dangerous" situations where fine human finger movements are required.

"Opening a door, or turning the valve of, you know, a factory or a power plant like Fukushima, that was all designed for humans. You need to be able to go in and have the human-like capabilities in order to be able to work in that environment."

Mr McLoughlin says the technology is not ready for everyday application, but he predicts that within five years we will see some wonderful improvements.

And that’s the Technology Report from VOA Learning English.