Despite all the warning of a robot apocalypse in popular culture, there are still ample companies working at the bleeding edge of robotics. One day, the robots will take our jobs, but hopefully not our lives. Advances in robotics could also usher in a new era for humanity, freeing us from menial labor once and for all. These are the five most promising companies hastening that day. You probably haven’t encountered any robots from these firms, but it’s only a matter of time.
This former Google company (now owned by Japan’s Softbank) is probably the closest to being a household name. Boston Dynamics has made waves with its sometimes creepy but always fascinating walking robots. It has excelled at designing machines that can walk, run, and even jump like humans. You can give the Boston Dynamics Atlas robot a shove, and it won’t even fall over. This technology will be vital in the future if we want robots to operate reliably in a world built for humans.
It’s easy to get caught up in looking ar robots acting like humans and forget that robotics can also apply to human prosthetics. Touch Bionics is in the business of making incredible prosthetic upper limbs (i.e. hands) with individually articulating fingers called i-Limb Quantum. Some versions accommodate partial hand amputations, and others go all the way up to above the elbow. There are even smartphone apps for the limbs that can toggle different grip modes.
Many robots focus on the land, but most of the planet is covered with water. Liquid Robotics recognizes that, so it has designed autonomous, wave-powered ocean drones. In 2013, one of its vessels set a world record for the longest distance covered by an autonomous vehicle. It traveled all the way from California to Australia. Today, the company has hundreds of “Wave Glider” robots in its fleet, which customers contract to conduct environmental surveys, monitoring offshore installations, and more.
Finding parking spots can be a real nightmare, but a robot from Stanley Robotics might be able to solve this problem. The company is building giant autonomous forklifts that will staff parking garages to pick up and store cars with Tetris-like precision. The “Stan” robot works with all kinds of cars, and you don’t have to leave your keys with anyone. You just schedule a time to get your car back, and Stan will haul it over to the exit. The company says its robots will be able to increase parking capacity by 50 percent.
Some of those jobs robots take from humans will probably be in food service, and Miso Robotics is showing us how that could happen. Miso has designed a burger-flipping robot that goes by the incredibly appropriate name Flippy. The robot uses cameras and thermal sensors to identify burgers on its grill and figure out when they’re done. It can also add cheese and deposit the cooked patties in specific places for human workers to grab. The company expects to roll out 50 of the robots by next year.
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