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Robot army holds Lyon in its thrall

posted 15 Mar 2012, 07:30 by Mpelembe   [ updated 15 Mar 2012, 07:30 ]

An army of robots has descended on the French city of Lyon for "Innorobo", a conference and fair showcasing the latest developments in domestic, military and industrial robots.

Robots have invaded the French city of Lyon this week for Innorobo, a conference and fair celebrating the latest innovations in robotic technology. Robots developed for domestic, military and industrial use have all been showcased at the event, hosted by Lyon for the second time.
Robots created for use in military contexts feature highly. Hercules is a robotic exoskeleton developed by the company RB3D which, when fitted to a human, increases stamina and strength.

Using advanced robotics and a central control unit, RB3D's president, Serge Grygorowicz explained how Hercules could be put to use during battle.

"With this system, it is possible for soldiers to carry heavy loads over difficult terrain, for the last few kilometres where you have to break through enemy lines with heavy artillery without being noticed," he said.

Robots capable of working in environments which would be dangerous for humans also featured at the event.

Groupe Intra develops robots that can withstand high levels of radiation and operate in environments which would kill their human masters, such as nuclear power stations after an accident.

Michel Chevallier, from the Groupe Intra describes how they were developed "for filming, for taking measurements of things like radioactivity". They also have certain human features. "They are equipped with an arm, they can open doors and pick objects up from the floor, they can open or close taps and valves, so they can do a certain number of operations that are normally carried out by people", Chevallier added.

Increasing human interaction is an important goal for technology researchers who are still a long way from bringing humanoid robots into all of our homes.

Italy's Institute for Technology in Genova have developed a robot which has an artificial skin capable of the sense of touch all over its body.

"The robot is not only interacting with its fingers, but with its entire body. This is important if it needs to interact with people, or be in a place where there is a lot of people or cooperating with other human beings", said Professor Giorgio Metta from the university.

Some of the domestic robots have more practical uses. The Canadian company Kinova has developed a robotic arm to help disabled people with some simple manual tasks.

Jaco, the robot, can pick up a flimsy plastic bottle, usually very tricky for a robotic hand to gauge, and pour its contents into a glass.

Francois Boucher from the company operated Jaco with a joy-stick, but says it can be controlled by other devices, depending on the disability of the user.

"The arm has been designed mainly for disabled people, people who have upper body disabilities. Imagine for example you have a spinal cord injury and you can just move your neck to control your electric wheelchair. Now with the arm you are able to drink by yourself and to feed yourself, so it is giving autonomy back to the disabled person", he said.

The applications also have their fun side.

Robothespian is one of the all-singing, all-dancing stars of the show. Designed to give information out at visitor attractions, he can perform soliloquies from Hamlet, as well as songs from Singing in the Rain.

Will Jackson from Engineering Arts Limited, who developed Robothespian, explained that given the robot has been developed for interacting with people, his human characteristics are crucial.

"It is very important that Robothespian moves in a human way and he has facial expressions like a person and makes eye contact with you, so you feel engaged with him", Jackson said.