The field of soft robotics is taking shape and researchers are developing technologies ranging from tattoo-like smartphones to squishy robots that can monitor your health. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: (UPSOUND - MOVIE TRAILER - BAYMAX ROBOT SAYING: 'HELLO. I AM BAMAX, YOUR PERSONAL HEALTHCARE COMPANION. ON A SCALE OF 1-10 HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR PAIN?) Disney's Baymax has enthralled millions. But while the health monitoring machine is a work of science fiction, Carnegie Melon University researchers are working towards making soft, human-friendly robots a reality. Chris Atkeson's soft robotics research inspired Baymax. He and researcher Yong-Lea Park say public perception is changing with the realisation that robots don't necessarily want to take over the world. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS ATKESON, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, CARNEGIE MELON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "I don't think you are ever going to stop Hollywood from making killer robot movies and that will also have an effect but I think people want technology to help them." (SOUNDBITE) (English) YONG-LAE PARK, ASSITANT PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, CARNEGIE MELON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "So ten years ago people were building robots but people were more interested in building robots from rigid materials and strong materials and powerful machines." Instead of steel, the robots in this lab are made of rubber and plastic making them safer for humans to interact with, while developments in material science are helping to give them a sense of touch. Mechanical engineer Carmel Majidi says the researchers are working on developing technologies that bridge the gap between soft materials and computer hardware. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MAJIDI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, CARNEGIE MELON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "There are going to be certain rigid components in these electronics and machines. And so a big goal for us is to develop materials simultaneously compatible with that kind of more mature established microelectronic hardware but is also compatible with natural human tissue." And while robots like Baymax are still far off, other technologies utilizing soft robotics aren't far away, especially in the field of wearable computing. (VIDEO OF MAN ANSWERING PHONE CALL WITH WEARABLE PATCH/WOMAN PLAYING MUSIC WITH WEARABLE PATCH) As for Baymax, further developments in machine learning are needed to make him a reality, but the robots' ability to interact with humans and monitor health are coming to fruition. Atkeson says technologies like the iPhone's Siri and wearable devices like Fitbit show this. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS ATKESON, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, CARNEGIE MELON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "I have heard from many many people talk about the positive impact that the movie Big Hero 6 has had on kids. And it has it in two ways, one it makes them like robots and two, it makes them want to be scientists and engineers." Atkeson says that is the most important element of making a real Baymax, inspiring the next generation to build him.