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25 news posts in Frontiers in Robotics and AI


18 Oct 2023

Do humans get lazier when robots help with tasks?

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ ‘Social loafing’ is a phenomenon which happens when members of a team start to put less effort in because they know others will cover for them. Scientists investigating whether this happens in teams which combine work by robots and humans found that humans carrying out quality assurance tasks spotted fewer errors when they had been told that robots had already checked a piece, suggesting they relied on the robots and paid less attention to the work. Now that improvements in technology mean that some robots work alongside humans, there is evidence that those humans have learned to see them as team-mates — and teamwork can have negative as well as positive effects on people’s performance. People sometimes relax, letting their colleagues do the work instead. This is called ‘social loafing’, and it’s common where people know their contribution won’t be noticed or they’ve acclimatized to another team member’s high performance. Scientists at the Technical University of Berlin investigated whether humans social loaf when they work with robots. “Teamwork is a mixed blessing,” said Dietlind Helene Cymek, first author of the study in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. “Working together can motivate people […]



17 Jul 2023

Soil dwellers thrive in between solar panels: Here are five Frontiers articles you won’t want to miss

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, it’s impossible to cover all of them. Here are just five amazing papers you may have missed. Solar parks can house semi-natural grassland communities Solar parks are sustainable ways to ensure clean energy. The ecosystems in which they are built are often sites that are excessively managed and affected by habitat destruction. This land management, however, also offers opportunity to restore or even create semi-natural grasslands. Researchers in France have studied 10 solar parks in the south of the country to examine plant community composition, soil biodiversity, and soil functioning under and outside of solar panels to test whether they hamper soil health. They have now published their results in Frontiers in Environmental Science. Their results indicate that the microclimate under panels influenced the abundance of soil megafauna, fungi biomass, and bacteria. Plant communities under panels tended to be made up of more shade-tolerant species, which reduced plant diversity and vegetation cover. Between panels, however, the researchers found more trophic interactions than outside or under solar panels. This suggested […]

The soft smart hand exoskeleton. Image credit: Dr Maohua Lin et al

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29 Jun 2023

Soft robo-glove can help stroke patients relearn to play music

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer The soft smart hand exoskeleton. Image credit: Dr Maohua Lin et al Researchers have developed the prototype of a comfortable and flexible ‘soft smart hand exoskeleton’ or robo-glove, which gives feedback to wearers who need to relearn tasks that require manual dexterity and coordination, for example after suffering a stroke. The present study focused on patients who need to relearn to play the piano as a proof-of-principle, but the glove can easily be adapted to help relearn other daily tasks. Stroke is the most important cause of disability for adults in the EU, which affects approximately 1.1 million inhabitants each year. After a stroke, patients commonly need rehabilitation to relearn to walk, talk, or perform daily tasks. Research has shown that besides physical and occupational therapy, music therapy can help stroke patients to recover language and motor function. But for people trained in music and who suffered a stroke, playing music may itself be a skill that needs to be relearned. Now, a study in Frontiers in Robotics and AI has shown how novel soft robotics can help recovering patients to relearn playing music and other skills that require dexterity and coordination. “Here we […]


16 Nov 2022

Smart ‘Joey’ bots could soon swarm underground to clean and inspect our pipes

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Joey’s design. Image credit: TL Nguyen, A Blight, A Pickering, A Barber, GH Jackson-Mills, JH Boyle, R Richardson, M Dogar, N Cohen Researchers from the University of Leeds have developed the first mini-robot, called Joey, that can find its own way independently through networks of narrow pipes underground, to inspect any damage or leaks. Joeys are cheap to produce, smart, small, and light, and can move through pipes inclined at a slope or over slippery or muddy sediment at the bottom of the pipes. Future versions of Joey will operate in swarms, with their mobile base on a larger ‘mother’ robot Kanga, which will be equipped with arms and tools for repairs to the pipes. Beneath our streets lies a maze of pipes, conduits for water, sewage, and gas. Regular inspection of these pipes for leaks, or repair, normally requires these to be dug up. The latter is not only onerous and expensive – with an estimated annual cost of £5.5bn in the UK alone – but causes disruption to traffic as well as nuisance to people living nearby, not to mention damage to the environment. Now imagine a robot that can find its […]

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27 Oct 2022

How do we stop ‘robot evolution’ from spiraling out of control? Two essential articles on the future of robotics and AI

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers Science Communications Manager Image: Robotics and AI have quickly outgrown as tropes of science fiction and are almost ubiquitous in our daily lives, even if we don’t realize it. Now, Frontiers highlights just some of the latest top articles in this fascinating field. Whether it’s wheeled robots whizzing around city-sized warehouses, or if it’s just a smart assistant in your phone, robotics and AI has quickly become integral technologies in our lives. And while big tech companies and gadget lovers are quick to speak of its enormous benefits, those closely studying the field are calling on more caution. These technologies are working well now, but can we allow them to develop indefinitely? That’s among the questions being asked by some of the largest governmental bodies in the world – such as the EU and UN – who believe stricter rules and regulations are needed to keep technology not only within the realms of rapidly-outdated laws, but make sure they don’t eventually lead to our downfall. To that end, here are some of the latest articles published to Frontiers authored by some of the top researchers in their field as part of the research topic ‘Horizons […]

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14 Oct 2022

New walking robot design could revolutionize how we build things in space

By Suzanna Burgelman, Frontiers science writer Image: Researchers have designed a state-of-the-art walking robot that could revolutionize large construction projects in space. They tested the feasibility of the robot for the in-space assembly of a 25m Large Aperture Space Telescope. They present their findings in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. A scaled-down prototype of the robot also showed promise for large construction applications on Earth. Maintenance and servicing of large constructions are nowhere more needed than in space, where the conditions are extreme and human technology has a short lifespan. Extravehicular activities (activities done by an astronaut outside a spacecraft), robotics, and autonomous systems solutions have been useful for servicing and maintenance missions and have helped the space community conduct ground-breaking research on various space missions. Advancements in robotics and autonomous systems facilitate a multitude of in-space services. This includes, but is not limited to, manufacturing, assembly, maintenance, astronomy, earth observation, and debris removal. With the countless risks involved, only relying on human builders is not enough, and current technologies are becoming outdated.  “We need to introduce sustainable, futuristic technology to support the current and growing orbital ecosystem,” explained corresponding author Manu Nair, PhD candidate at the University of […]

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15 Sep 2022

Sharing a laugh: Scientists teach a robot when to have a sense of humor

By Peter Rejcek, science writer ERICA being trained on how to have a sense of humor. Image: Inoue et al No one can really agree on what makes each of us laugh, so designing an artificial intelligence (AI) system with a sense of humor is enormously challenging. Researchers at Kyoto University laughed off the challenge by developing an AI that appropriately detects and responds to human laughter at a shared moment during a conversation. This shared-laughter model is another step toward creating more natural interactions between humans and robots. Since at least the time of inquiring minds like Plato, philosophers and scientists have puzzled over the question, “What’s so funny?” The Greeks attributed the source of humor to feeling superior at the expense of others. German psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed humor was a way to release pent-up energy. US comedian Robin Williams tapped his anger at the absurd to make people laugh. It seems no one can really agree on the question of “What’s so funny?” So imagine trying to teach a robot how to laugh. But that’s exactly what a team of researchers at Kyoto University in Japan are trying to do by designing an AI that takes its […]

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27 Jul 2022

Key to life found at the centre of our galaxy and bee ‘waggle dances’: Most viewed articles of July 2022

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science communications manager Image: Each month, Frontiers shines a spotlight on some of the leading research across a wide range of topics. Here are just some of the highlights that resonated strongly with readers on our news site in the month of July. Building blocks for RNA-based life abound at center of our galaxy Nitriles, a class of organic molecules with a cyano group, that is, a carbon atom bound with an unsaturated triple bond to a nitrogen atom, are typically toxic. But paradoxically, they are also a key precursor for molecules essential for life, such as ribonucleotides, composed of the nucleobases or ‘letters’ A, U, C, and G, joined to a ribose and phosphate group, which together make up RNA. Now, a team of researchers from Spain, Japan, Chile, Italy, and the US show in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences that a wide range of nitriles occurs in interstellar space within the molecular cloud G+0.693-0.027, near the center of the Milky Way. Article link: 2. Bees’ ‘waggle dance’ may revolutionize how robots talk to each other in disaster zones Where are those flowers and how far away are they? This is the […]


07 Jul 2022

Bees’ ‘waggle dance’ may revolutionize how robots talk to each other in disaster zones

By Conn Hastings, science writer Image credit: rtbilder / Honeybees use a sophisticated dance to tell their sisters about the location of nearby flowers. This phenomenon forms the inspiration for a form of robot-robot communication that does not rely on digital networks. A recent study presents a simple technique whereby robots view and interpret each other’s movements or a gesture from a human to communicate a geographical location. This approach could prove invaluable when network coverage is unreliable or absent, such as in disaster zones.   Where are those flowers and how far away are they? This is the crux of the ‘waggle dance’ performed by honeybees to alert others to the location of nectar-rich flowers. A new study in Frontiers in Robotics and AI has taken inspiration from this technique to devise a way for robots to communicate. The first robot traces a shape on the floor, and the shape’s orientation and the time it takes to trace it tell the second robot the required direction and distance of travel. The technique could prove invaluable in situations where robot labor is required but network communications are unreliable, such as in a disaster zone or in space. Honeybees excel at […]

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11 Aug 2021

Tiny ‘maniac’ robots could deliver drugs directly to central nervous system

By Conn Hastings, science writer Image credit: Life science / A new study investigates tiny tumbling soft robots that can be controlled using rotating magnetic fields. The technology could be useful for delivering drugs to the nervous system. In this latest study, researchers put the robots through their paces and showed that they can climb slopes, tumble upstream against fluid flow and deliver substances at precise locations to neural tissue.     Would you let a tiny MANiAC travel around your nervous system to treat you with drugs? You may be inclined to say no, but in the future, “magnetically aligned nanorods in alginate capsules” (MANiACs) may be part of an advanced arsenal of drug delivery technologies at doctors’ disposal. A recent study in Frontiers in Robotics and AI is the first to investigate how such tiny robots might perform as drug delivery vehicles in neural tissue. The study finds that when controlled using a magnetic field, the tiny tumbling soft robots can move against fluid flow, climb slopes and move about neural tissues, such as the spinal cord, and deposit substances at precise locations.              Diseases in the central nervous system can be difficult to treat. “Delivering drugs orally or […]