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New Robot Defies Gravity, Drops Jaws

Sure, Michael Jordan tricked everybody into thinking that he violated the laws of physics when he took off from the free throw line back when he was young and skinny and had hair. But not even His Airness could reproduce the kind of trickery the latest bot on the block can pull off.

The Robo-Air, designed by a grad students Aaron Becker and Robert Sandheinrich, uses a complex, computer-controlled system of air jets to do all sorts of crazy mid-air stunts with various household objects. As you can see in the video below, this bot can not only make ping-pong balls float in mid-air, but can send them through all sorts of sinuous trajectories -- even through hoops. Proving that it's a air-bot of all trades, the device can also non-spherical shapes, like apples and water bottles. In the immortal words of Tenacious D, now "that's levitation, Holmes."

The whole operation is pretty complicated to say the least, involving stereo vision cameras, control algorithms, fluid dynamics modeling, and a lot of other things we don't at all understand. The bottom line: it's way cool. But besides entertaining us, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students who designed this masterpiece suggest that their creation could be used for a variety of real applications -- sorting small parts, or handling delicate materials like clothes, paper, or fruit. We would like to see them take it one step further; put a Spalding in this bot's hands, teach it a couple low post moves, and let's see it get the Knicks in the playoffs. Have you seen its 3-point range? Kid's a stud. [From: IEEE, via: Gizmodo]

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