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[June 29, 2010]
Latest in robot technology on display at conference in Spain
Zaragoza, Spain, Jun 29, 2010 (EFE via COMTEX) -- Dancing like Michael Jackson, picking up an egg without breaking it, folding clothes or following mental instructions sent by a human are functions that can be performed by the latest generation of robots on display Tuesday at an international congress in this northeastern Spanish city.
The "Robotics: Science and Systems" conference brings together in the Zaragoza Auditorium some 300 robotics researchers from 25 countries and from companies like Google and Microsoft along with institutions like NASA. The participants are analyzing the latest developments in the field, according to what Professor Jose Neira, the president of the local organizing committee, explained at a press conference.
Although predicting the future in the robotics field is difficult, Neira acknowledged that movies and television, in many ways, decide what the advances in the sector are going to be.
He gave as an example the 2008 television series "Knight Rider," which is about an ultramodern automobile on which Volkswagen is already working and aiming to have a prototype ready by 2025, or the "Star Wars" saga, in which a prosthetic hand controlled by a person's mind is implanted onto one of the characters, an idea that is currently being researched.
For the present, however, the main uses of robots outfitted with sensors that allow them to see, hear, touch and move are to make the daily life of humans easier, help people with reduced mobility or perform dangerous tasks, and those abilities were on display at the conference on Tuesday.
For instance, and for the first time in Europe, the U.S. firm Willow Garage presented its android PR2, the most advanced personal robot in the world, demonstrating how it can help people with their domestic chores, including folding a pile of clothes, sorting them and storing them.
Nao, a 58-centimeter (22-inch) tall creation of the French firm Aldebaran Robotics, is designed to be a research and education platform, and it demonstrated that it could dance like in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, get up from the ground and even tell stories.
The small robot will have a successor in Romeo, a prototype 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall that the firm will have ready in October 2011 to help people with disabilities.
In addition, on display at the conference is the most advanced robotic hand in the world, produced by the U.S. firm Barrett Technology, which can pick up an egg without breaking it, and Summit, the latest robot developed by the Spanish firm Robotnik to have high mobility and the most sophisticated ability to deactivate explosives, according to Roberto Guzman, with the firm's engineering department.
The University of Zaragoza, the organizer of the event, presented a project whereby a human being can control a robot's movements with his or her mind alone.
Two young volunteers took turns wearing a cap with electrodes and then concentrated on the movements they wanted the robot to make, and the robot received the mental signals via a wireless communications network after they had been processed by a computer.
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