Robots to the Rescue
UMass Amherst shapes the future of helpful machines
UMan, Dexter, and uBot: three robots created at UMass Amherst are poised to make all of our lives just a bit easier.
The first is the product of the department’s Robotics and Biology Laboratory. UMan (short for “UMass Mobile Manipulator”) has a digital camera that allows a robotic arm to “see” objects it encounters. The visual data it collects is algorithmically transformed to enable UMan to learn by trial and error. Once this technology is perfected, robots will be able to combine movement, perception, and object manipulation to work in unstructured, constantly changing environments.
Dexter, built by the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, has two arms and a two-camera head attached to a stationary torso. It has full-body motion and can pick up objects with one or both hands.
Another product of the laboratory, uBot, was born of a government-funded project to create small robots for mass deployment in searching emergency sites. It has now evolved into a balancing, two-wheeled mobile manipulator with a Skype hook-up “face” and a flat-screen head.
Professor Rod Grupen, the lab’s director, is particularly interested in how robotics can “bring the natural sciences together with computer science and the social and behavioral sciences to learn how humans really work” in perceiving information, modeling their surroundings, and making decisions. He playfully concedes that individual robots may indeed have megalomaniacal tendencies but—“just like human beings”—are probably too ornery to ever join forces, or else too difficult to organize.