A New Approach to Robot Communication


Madeline Gannon is known as “the robot whisperer.” While many of us are getting excited about the possibility of communicating with industrial robots by way of a kiosk or tablet, Gannon has been communicating with them using gestures.

Gannon, who has no engineering backgroud, was frustrated by the experience of programming the industrial robots she works with. As an outsider, she was able to approach those frustrations with a completely new point of view.

For one thing, she finds the idea of working up close and personal with things that could crush her “intoxicating.” This may not be the attitude we look for when hiring engineers in a factory, but it has led her to find new ways to control the movements of the industrial robots she works with.

Your initial reaction might be that this would not be a practical way to get those new paper cups made at the best rate for profitable manufacturing, and you’d be right. Robot taming won’t be replacing servo motors in industrial motion control any time soon.

But this approach does have practical uses. For example, Gannon has figured out a way to allow patients to let patients know where they feel most pain with gestures. This information can translate into a 3-D printed wearable brace that provides support just where it’s needed. The patient can continue to let the robot know where tweaks are needed, producing a perfect brace in record time.


The method can also be used to create wearables, dramatic jewelry, and art pieces. Ordinary CAD is used in combination with gestures to design a prototype which can then be manufactured. This method bypasses a lot of the ergonomic guesswork, testing, and iterations normally required to create objects to be worn on the body. See the process and additional examples.

Servo motors come back in when it’s time to move from design to production.

The method has clear advantages in production of things like prosthetic body parts. It may also provide the spark for more new ideas.

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