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Photos: Robots through the ages: From lunar explorers to emotional machines

MIT showcases decades of robotic research
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1 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

MIT showcases decades of robotic research

For more than two decades the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been at the forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence research.

To mark the university's achievements, the MIT Museum is staging an exhibition called Robots and Beyond, which showcases the weird and wonderful machines that have come out of MIT's labs.

This endearing-looking robot was built to investigate ways that humans and robots could interact in the future.

Named Kismet, which means 'fate' in Turkish, it was built by MIT researcher Cynthia Breazeal, who believes people will eventually happily mingle with robots.

Modelled on a human head, it's able to communicate with people using human-like facial expressions and body posture, and a synthetic voice.

The robot is designed to learn from people who interact with it in a similar way to how infants learn when they communicate with their parents. Eventually, MIT researchers hope that insights gained from Kismet will help build social intelligence into future robots to help them integrate into human society.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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2 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

Also on show at the exhibition is Herbert, a robot able to gather cans from a wide area and then return them to a central location.

While it may appear to be a simple can-collecting machine, it was in fact developed using pioneering new ideas in artificial intelligence.

Created in 1986 by the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Herbert was designed to be able to examine the world around it and then decide what to do next.

To reduce the complexity of getting a robot to behave in this way, Herbert was designed to be controlled by a number of subsystems, rather than relying on one central computer system.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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3 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

This is one of the Ants, a series of small robots created to learn how to get robots to work co-operatively, which can be seen at the MIT exhibition.

The Ant robots have 17 sensors packed into the two antennae on their heads that help them communicate and co-ordinate their movements.

The research, undertaken at the MIT Media Lab in 1997, was inspired by the co-operative and social behaviours of real-life ant colonies.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This robot, seen without its outer casing, is programmed to advise people on how to lose weight.

Known as Autom, it was created within the MIT Media Lab in 2007 to investigate interactions between humans and robots.

The aim of building Autom was to see if a robot could be taught to coach people on how to behave.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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5 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

This is the head of a robot called Cog, which was built in MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to learn how machines can acquire the skills necessary to get by in the real world.

The head in the picture - the second that was fitted to Cog - has a neck and eyes that are capable of moving in three directions. It also has microphones mounted on each side to act as ears and two cameras in each eye allow the robot to see objects at a distance and at close range.

Cog is capable of carrying out simple tasks that require it to co-ordinate what it sees, hears and feels - such as reaching for objects, drumming or playing with a Slinky.

The Cog project began as a collaborative experiment in 1993. The robot started out as a partial head and has been built up to resemble a human from the waist up, with a head, neck, torso and arms.

The head shown above was fitted to Cog in the late 1990s and has since been replaced with a head that is able to reproduce a greater range of human movements.

Photo credit: Nick Heath

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6 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

This is Attila, a six-legged device built to test designs for robots that could be used for planetary exploration.

Attila was tested by traversing a sandy environment littered with rocks, designed to represent the surface of the moon.

To get Attila to cross the landscape without falling over, researchers had to overcome several challenges including avoiding computational bottlenecks that would hamper its ability to respond to hazards in its environment in real-time; being able to cope with electrical and software faults; and being able to master walking on legs.

Attila was designed in the early 1990s inside the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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This is Pebbles, another robot built for planetary exploration.

The vision system and the arm were built by the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, while the robot was built by IS Robotics, now iRobot Corporation.

Photo credit: Nick Heath

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8 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

This early robotics project is called the Minsky Arm, after one of its creators Marvin Minsky.

It was built at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1968 as part of a project to develop a computer system capable of manipulating objects without any human control.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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9 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

When it was built in 1982, the Salisbury Hand shown above was one of the most advanced robotic hands available.

The hand is able to handle objects of varying shapes and sizes. It was important at the time because it allowed the hand to perform complex assembly tasks without the need for grippers that were custom-made to hold different objects.

Such complex manipulations are made possible by sensors in the base of each finger on the hand, which allow it to monitor and control the forces it uses when handling objects.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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10 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

Another of MIT's robot arms, shown above, allows computer users to manipulate and feel virtual objects displayed on a computer screen.

By grasping the arm people can manipulate virtual objects and feel pressure from motors inside the arm.

The arm applies pressure to a person's fingers when they are manipulating a virtual object to create the illusion that they are handling a physical object.

The haptics feedback technology is suited to applications such as giving doctors feedback when they are carrying out surgery using a robotic arm.

This is a prototype of the Phantom Haptic Interface, that was developed by MIT researchers in 1993.

Photo credit: Nick Heath

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You might not be able to tell immediately but the robot pictured above was modelled after a kangaroo.

Known as Uniroo, the hopping robot is able to travel at up to 1.8 metres per second by jumping forward on its articulated leg.

The single leg - which is made up of three joints modelled after a hip, knee and ankle - allows Uniroo to jump forward in a smooth and natural-looking motion.

The robot was built and developed within MIT's Leg Laboratory between 1991 and 1993.

Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Another hopper robot, the 3D One-Leg Hopper, dates back to 1983.

The machine was designed to investigate how robots maintained their balance while moving forward.

It is able to hop forward at two metres per second, to traverse simple paths and to maintain its balance when disturbed.

The robot was built in both the MIT Leg Laboratory and at Carnegie Mellon University.

Nick Heath/silicon.com

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13 of 14 Nick Heath/ZDNet

This two-legged running robot once held the record for being the fastest legged land robot in the world.

The Planar Biped was designed to study robotic movement while moving over rough terrain, running at high speed or carrying out gymnastic manoeuvres.

It set the world record by travelling at a speed of 13.1mph.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Spring Turkey was MIT's Leg Laboratory's first walking robot when it was created in 1994.

The two-legged robot was used to pioneer new motion control techniques and software in order to try out different kinds of walking, and was capable of walking round a track at varying speeds.

Spring Turkey was eventually replaced with a new robot, Spring Flamingo, which is intended to be more mechanically reliable and can be equipped with feet and active ankles.

Nick Heath/silicon.com

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