Joanne Pransky was at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' (IAAPA) annual trade show in Orlando in November, pitching park operators and editors alike on the cool features of Robocoaster, one of the industry's newest and most novel rides. "It kind of reminds me of Faye Wray in King Kong's hand," she said. That was an apt description of the servo motor-controlled ride. Because it relies on no defined path or track, engineers are able to thrill riders with a series of loop-the-loops, double-back somersaults, figure eights, and other unpredictable motions more closely resembling that of a Hollywood animatronic than a conventional amusement park ride. A consultant, humorist, and self-proclaimed "Robo-psychologist," Pransky herself is a well-known personality in the robotics world, partly because of her quirky personality and mostly because of her passionate desire to bring robots to the masses—or rather prepare them for it. "Industrial robots are in wide use, and most engineers understand the underlying technology. But your average person on the street hasn't had much opportunity to interact with robots, outside of what they've seen on TV," says Pransky, who just bought a Rhoomba robotic vacuum cleaner to clean her 1,700 sq-ft house. To get the word out, she does marketing and public relations work for robotics companies, did a stint as a commentator on Comedy Central's Battlebots show, runs a website (www.robot.md) about robotics, and performs the occasional publicity stunt. One of her latest stunts: Entering her AIBO robot in a dog show in Florida. Next up: Getting robots on late-night television, a mission Asimov himself certainly would have appreciated.
One way to keep a Formula One racing team moving at breakneck speed in the pit and at the test facility is to bring CAD drawings of the racing vehicle’s parts down to the test facility and even out to the track.
Most of us would just as soon step on a cockroach rather than study it, but that’s just what researchers at UC Berkeley did in the pursuit of building small, nimble robots suitable for disaster-recovery and search-and-rescue missions.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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