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Making the Inanimate Mobile

Making the Inanimate Mobile

Redefining mobility may bring objects along for the ride. Image: Hyundai Motors
It’s an automated world, with machines to take much of the pain out of living. We’ve got cars and planes to take us where we want to go, computers that do our thinking for us, plumbing to bring us fresh water and take away our waste, and machines to wash our dishes and grind our coffee beans. Still,  there are still some tiresome areas of life that have yet to be solved by science and engineering. 
Despite all our technology, we still have to go get stuff. 
In our homes, our factories, our grocery stores, and big box stores, we must still move through space, retrieve objects, and carry them to their end destination. Now, perhaps, this inconvenience is about to come to an end. Thanks to the engineers at Hyundai, and their “Mobility of Things” concept, any object of a reasonable size can be made to move on its own. 

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The Mobile Eccentric Drone and Plug & Drive module are the stars of the MoT rollout. The MobED is essentially a platform with four incredibly versatile wheels. Each wheel “adapts to the ground with respect to the body platform such that the platform can maintain its flat orientation across rough terrains,” said Dong Jin Hyun, a Hyundai vice president and head of its robotics lab.
 Essentially, the vertical maneuverability of the platform—on all wheels or any combination of wheels—allows it to climb stairs while the surface remains parallel to the floor, like a waiter at one of the better restaurants. 
The PnD, on the other hand is a wheel with breaks, steering, and propulsion built into a single unit. They work alone or together. “The main challenge was in developing a compact but robust design that could serve multiple purposes,” said Hyun. 

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Aside from giving us the ability to put a box, or a suitcase, on an MoT device and have it follow us down the street, or outfitting snack bars so that they come to use while we’re sitting on the couch, the robots have some potential practical and productive applications. For example, shared office spaces could reconfigure themselves for the needs or preferences of different employees.
“Imagine a smart factory for tailored manufacturing, nursing home for the elderly, pop-up retail stores and many other sites that could be transformed with efficient human-centric space reconfiguration services” said Hyun. “Because of such reconfigurability, spaces can be connected to give rise to efficient and innovative space usage.” 

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When our inanimate objects have at last transformed into animate items, we may finally get some of that free time promised us by our dishwashers and computers.
“You can invest your time and efforts to more valuable pursuits while physically laborious activities such as loading/unloading/carrying will be delegated to robots with full autonomy or tele-operated robots,” said Hyun. “In our vision of an intelligent robot society where robots are ubiquitous, the word ‘robot’ might even be a thing of the past. When the automobile was initially invented, for all its strangeness, it could’ve been called a robot.” 
Whatever we end up calling these helpful movers, there’s one word for what they’ll enable: laziness.

Michael Abrams writes about engineering and technology in Westfield, N.J.

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