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Too robots to be true?

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A humanoid robot presented at the Web Summit in Lisbon, November 7, 2017

Exoskeletons, miniature, soft or wooden? The robots of the future will probably come out of the minds and labs of some 200 researchers who have just met in Biarritz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) for three days for their biennial.

“These National Robotic Research Days (JNRRs) are an important moment for our community, the opportunity to develop a + state of the art + research,” said David Daney of Inria (National Research Institute). in computer science and automation) from Bordeaux, co-organizer of the tenth edition.

The goal is also to “incite researchers to take into account new ideas. There are fundamental themes, but others much more forward-looking.”

Very popular nowadays, the “soft robots”, often inspired by nature, which act by deformation to create a movement whereas the classic rigid robots use their joints, explains Christian Duriez, director of research at Inria de Lille.

“And in fact, it changes a lot of paradigms of the robot: not only its structure but also the way we will control it,” says this specialist. “Rigid robots, we want them to avoid obstacles, but a deformable robot, it can bounce, and because it is flexible, it can go into contact with its environment and even use it to accomplish its task,” says he.

Trompe, octopus tentacle, crawler robot, most soft prototypes are still limited, recognizes Mr. Duriez. Who dreams of one day conceiving a “slug robot” able to sneak everywhere, even in every nook and cranny of the human body, without risk of hurting him: “It would be great for the surgery!”, He enthuses.

– ‘At the borders of the brain’ –

“To treat people in the least traumatic and invasive way possible” is precisely the field of experimentation of Nicolas Andreff, research institute Femto-st Besançon.

His robots are not soft but microscopic, to better creep into the delicate “natural ways” that are ours … After getting his hands on vocal cords in a conduit 2 cm in diameter, Mr. Andreff and his team are now preparing to dive – by the nose! – up to “borders of the brain”: in a space of only one millimeter in diameter leading to the olfactory bulb, the only nerve in the human body directly exposed to the open air.

Recent studies have shown a correlation between the loss of smell and the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease. The Nemro project must therefore enable 3D scanning of this microscopic area in patients, by handling the optical fiber with sufficient precision to provide a usable image.

In industry or personal assistance, the robots of our daily life may soon be “portable”, like motorized exoskeletons designed by Samer Mohammed, laboratory Lissi (University Paris-East Creteil).

The researcher has developed a device attached to the lower limbs, operated at the hips and knees to help the wearer to get up, walk, climb stairs by bringing – thanks to a series of sensors – exactly “the level of assistance that he needs according to the cycle of walking “(heel, sole of the foot, tip).

The machines of the future will not all be so spectacular. A kit recently developed by Marie Babel (National Institute of Applied Sciences of Rennes) and can transform (for about 3,000 euros) a classic electric wheelchair in “robot” able to correct its trajectory to avoid obstacles or negotiate difficult turns.

Finally, the robots of the future will have to be ecological, a dimension for a long time totally ignored in the laboratories, deplores Sébastien Briot (Laboratory of digital sciences of Nantes / CNRS).

To remedy this and test the concept, he teamed up with the Ecole Supérieure du Bois de Nantes to build RobEcolo, a beech robot specially treated to limit its vulnerability to moisture.

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