The secret to robots with good balance? Shakira-level gyrating hips

As much as we might worry about what robots are going to do to humankind, they’ve got plenty of their own to be concerned about when it comes to how they are treated by members of the public. Whether it’s mean-spirited shoves or kicks or simply just the odd accidental bump, robots are going to have to get better at retaining their balance when they’re suddenly faced with an unexpected force without warning.

That’s where Mercury, a new bipedal robot created by roboticists at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, comes into play. Mercury is designed to exhibit an impressive dynamic, human body-inspired ability to stay balanced when encountering these scenarios. It does this using a smart system that lets it quickly work out the best possible move to make following a collision. Unlike other attempts to solve this problem, it reacts by adjusting its whole body — including some Shakira-style hip wiggling — rather than just readjusting its feet.

“What we’ve developed is a computational process by which bipedal robots can quickly recover from continuous disturbances, like those endured by people walking in crowds, without ever falling,” Luis Sentis, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, told Digital Trends. “Such technology opens up the possibility that humanoid robots [can] walk and operate nimbly alongside us — for instance, during crowded sport events, getting inside transportation vehicles, holding groceries while shopping, or even dancing salsa with us.”

The team next plans to continue testing Mercury under additional experimental conditions to see how it copes under situations like carrying furniture, guiding a person by holding hands, or potentially playing soccer. Given that even the smartest robots can easily lose their balance, a more robust method for keeping robots upright would certainly be welcomed by the robotics community.

“One of the key questions we are considering is what capabilities and morphologies will allow robots to increase human comfort and productivity,” Sentis continued. “We believe that in addition to nimble locomotion and dexterous manipulation, endowing anthropomorphic attributes to robots increases our understanding of their behavior, much in the same way that we require artificial intelligence to respond to our questions in human-like ways.”

Emerging Tech

Robot janitors will soon be scrubbing the floors at your local Walmart

Hundreds of robot janitors will soon be working at Walmart stores across the U.S. The company says the autonomous floor scrubbers will free its human staff from monotonous tasks so they can spend more time helping customers.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Gaming

These are the best Xbox One games available right now

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Features

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

New experiment casts doubt on claims to have identified dark matter

A South Korean experiment called COSINE-100 has attempted to replicate the claims of dark matter observed by the Italian DAMA/LIBRA experiment, but has failed to replicate the observations.
Emerging Tech

White dwarf star unexpectedly emitting bright ‘supersoft’ X-rays

NASA's Chandra Observatory has discovered a white dwarf star which is emitting supersoft X-rays, calling into question the conventional wisdom about how X-rays are produced by dying stars.
Business

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.