Robots, hands-free wizardry wows at high-tech fair

Mar 11, 2014 by Kate Millar
The lifesize humanoid robot "RoboThespian" interacts with visitors to the Engineered Arts stand at CeBIT on March 11, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany

A "toddler" robot that sees red, a digital master chef and a suitcase that never gets lost—new technology at the world's biggest high-tech fair has the potential to change lives.

The gadgetry ranged from time-saving to life-saving in the buzzing CeBIT halls in the northern German city of Hanover.

Robots never fail to pull in the crowds, and they set the scene at the official opening of the five-day showcase of what's new and ueber-hot in the IT and high-tech world.

RoboThespian, a life-sized humanoid , delivered an articulate welcome address to guests, among them Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Both leaders went on to shake the bionic i-limb hand that has 24 different grips, produced by prosthetics company Touch Bionics, on a joint tour of the stands from CeBIT's 2014 partner country, Britain.

While pole-dancing robots "Lexy" and "Tess" were on hand for pure entertainment, two others, including one-year-old "Roboy", which has bones and muscles, pave the way for possible future developments in medicine or even Moon exploration.

"I can be happy," says Roboy, pulling the appropriate facial expression. "I can be angry," it says, its face turning red.

Resembling a small child, Roboy can move its limbs thanks to its 48 muscles, which are being further developed by the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence of the University of Zurich and the EU research project Myorobotics.

"It was built in nine months like a human baby," project manager Rafael Hostettler said.

The goal is to simply better understand how we work and use the lesson to improve industrial production, he said.

"There might be applications in prosthetics," Hostettler said, saying simulating illnesses could help to bring down the cost of teaching doctors.

An engineer looks over Roboy, a humanoid robot developed at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the University of Zurich, at CeBIT on March 9, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany

'Back in 10'

Meanwhile "Charlie", an ape-like robot with an flexible spine and feet that "feel", can crawl and balance on a tilting surface.

Developed by the German Center for Artificial Intelligence with Bremen University, it raises hopes that Charlie's descendants will one day explore craters on the Moon.

Back down to earth and "Kochbot" (German for "cook-bot") not only selects a recipe from among its library of 30,000 to suit whatever ingredients the cook has at home, but also reads it aloud and monitors the cooking time.

The Kochbot app means that sticky fingerprints on the pages of recipe books are a thing of the past and it will even repeat quantities or detailed prepping notes.

Further hands-free gadgetry at CeBIT gave new hope for frequent travellers.

At a mock-up of an Airbus cabin, there was a close-up look at "Bag2Go", a suitcase that is equipped with a SIM card, transmission module and display, to ensure it never gets lost.

Roboy, a humanoid robot developed at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the University of Zurich, mimics a kiss at CeBIT on March 9, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany

"You always know where the bag is because you have an app, you can control it by GPS," said Torsten Chudobba, account executive for Airbus group, which together with T-Systems and luggage company Rimowa, is behind "Bag2Go".

Good news perhaps for skiers comes in the form of "Airwriting", developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which will mean not having to take off your gloves to write a short message via a mobile phone.

"Home in 10 minutes" for example can simply be spelled out on the palm of the user's hand and a sensor attached to the wrist records the hand movements for a computer to write out the message.

And with the soccer World Cup on the horizon, software giant SAP has the ultimate in analysing the beautiful game.

It has teamed up with the German national football squad to produce a touchscreen tool with a panoramic view of past matches that digitally analyses team and individual performances, such as distances between players, passing frequency or possession of the ball.

"Here you can see the tactic, whether it works, how the opponent reacts," explained project manager Christoph Jungkind.

"So this is the basis for a good performance evaluation."

Explore further: Under shadow of spy scandal, Merkel, Cameron head to tech fair

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