For decades, science fiction writers have speculated on what will happen to humanity once robots become sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently easy to mass-produce. The scenarios are endless: robots replacing humans, robots killing humans, robots entertaining humans, robots protecting humans, and last but not least, robots becoming human.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, many researchers and engineers are focusing on robotic technology that can assist humans. These include intelligent prostheses, such as bionic hands or arms, and "rehab robots" that help stroke patients re-learn to walk.
Designing a robotic system that can assist humans is one thing; testing to see whether it is accomplishing its goals is another.
Enter Kinea Design, a UK-based firm that specializes in human interactive mechatronics, including bionic hands. To test haptic "tactors" that let bionic devices provide a sense of touch, Kinea created the Greenbox, a test instrument based on the QNX Neutrino RTOS. This instrument can calibrate load cells, check closed-loop responses of actuators, interface with a variety of sensors, and perform a host of other tasks necessary for testing and verification.
Testing and refining these haptic tactors is critical: By providing a sense of touch, the tactors free amputees from having to rely solely on visual input when manipulating objects. Moreover, they enable amputees to sense vibration, surface texture, friction, and other useful environmental cues.
I'm only scratching the surface of Kinea's technology. For a in-depth article on their testing methods and philosophy, including the Greenbox, click here. For more information on their products, click here.
For other examples of how QNX technology enables robotics and robotics research, click here.