Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Conventional two- or
three-;ngered robot grippers struggled to gently
pick up objects of substantially di;erent sizes and
weights. ;e Versaball does the job with a balloon-shaped gripping mechanism that can carefully pick
up objects ranging from heavy bricks to broken glass,
then set those objects delicately inside a toolbox. One
of the company’s customers uses the Versaball to put
parts into a box at the end of an assembly line. It’s a
classic robot task, but in this case the challenge is that
the parts to be placed in the box change every week.
Expensive, traditional solutions couldn’t adapt, but
the reprogrammable Versaball can.
“;e programming is getting easier, which makes
the technology more accessible because there’s not
as high a level of training required. It also makes the
robots easier to repurpose,” says Bill Culley, presi-
dent and co-founder, Empire Robotics.
;e technical burden of overseeing robotics projects has lessened with the latest generation of machines.
Robots are getting so good
at understanding voice commands, for example, that soon
people with no robotics experience will be able to program
robots and integrate them into
industrial processes, Ms. Litzenberger says.
While some technical hur-
dles may be decreasing, the
project teams creating and
“The programming is
getting easier, which
makes the technology
more accessible because
there’s not as high a
level of training required.
It also makes the robots
easier to repurpose.”
—Bill Culley, Empire Robotics, Boston,
2002 iRobot deploys its multi-mission robot, the PackBot, with U.S.
troops for the first time. The robot
analyzes suspicious objects, like potentially explosive material, allowing
soldiers to remain at a safe distance.
2010 The first learn-
is launched by Japan’s
Fanuc Robotics. The
allows the robotic arm
to reach higher speeds
and faster accelerations by intuitively
resulting in a r
eduction in cycle time.
THE FUTURE Researchers from
the Chinese University of Hong
Kong are building prototype
microbots, each the size of a
human cell, to deliver medicine
into the body and eliminate the
need for some surgical procedures. The miniature robots will
be injected into a body without
leaving wounds and will be con-
trolled by electromagnetic fields.
2015 Pepper is the first
robot that can read and
respond to human emotions. Slated for release in
1,000 Nestlé stores across
Japan by the end of the
year, the humanoid robot
will help sell Nescafé
coffee machines by suggesting products based on