The device doesn't look like much: a caterpillar-sized assembly of metal rings and strips resembling something you might find buried in a home-workshop drawer. But the technology behind it, and the long-range possibilities it represents, are quite remarkable. The little device is called a milli-motein, a name melding its millimeter-sized components and a motorized design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into complex shapes. The robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable.
Engineers at Carnegie Mellon University and Concurrent Technologies Corporation are working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Ogden Air Logistics Center 309 AMXG to develop and demonstrate a robotic system that uses high-powered lasers to remove coatings from fighter and cargo aircraft. The continuous-wave lasers should replace abrasives and chemicals used in traditional coating removal processes.
Engineers at Toshiba Corp. have developed a robot it says can withstand high radiation to work in nuclear disasters. The four-legged robot can climb over debris and venture into radiated areas off-limits to humans while keeping in wireless communication despite high radiation. But it's not yet clear what exactly the robot is capable of doing if and when it gets the go-ahead to enter Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
They're soft, biocompatible, about 7 mm long, and able to walk by themselves. Miniature "bio-bots" developed at the University of Illinois are making tracks in synthetic biology. Designing non-electronic biological machines has been a riddle that scientists at the interface of biology and engineering have struggled to solve. These bio-bots demonstrate the Illinois team's ability to forward-engineer functional machines using only hydrogel, heart cells, and a 3D printer.
Robots have the potential to help older adults with daily activities that can become more challenging with age. But are people willing to use and accept the new technology? A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates the answer is yes, unless the tasks involve personal care or social activities.
PaR-PaR, a simple high-level, biology-friendly robot-programming language developed by researchers at JBEI and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, uses an object-oriented approach to make it easier to integrate robotic equipment into biological laboratories. Effective robots can increase research productivity, lower costs, and provide more reliable and reproducible experimental data.
A research team from the University of Maryland has been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue developing a small robot that could one day be a huge aid to neurosurgeons in removing difficult-to-reach brain tumors.
Robots are increasingly being used in place of humans to explore hazardous and difficult-to-access environments, but they aren't yet able to interact with their environments as well as humans. If today's most sophisticated robot was trapped in a burning room by a jammed door, it would probably not know how to locate and use objects in the room to climb over any debris, pry open the door, and escape the building.
Using a novel method of integrating video technology and familiar control devices, a research team from Georgia Institute of Technology is developing a technique to simplify remote control of robotic devices. The researchers' aim is to enhance a human operator's ability to perform precise tasks using a multijointed robotic device such as an articulated mechanical arm.
A new underwater explorer hit the seas this summer, armed with cameras, strobes and sonar and charged with being a protector of sorts to a half-billion dollar resource—the Atlantic scallop catch. Developed by a former scalloper and researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the stainless steel Seahorse gives marine scientists a look at the seafloor they’ve never had before and offers uses beyond policing scallop grounds.
Many robotic designs take nature as their muse: sticking to walls like geckos, swimming through water like tuna, sprinting across terrain like cheetahs. Such designs borrow properties from nature, using engineered materials and hardware to mimic animals' behavior. Now, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania are taking more than inspiration from nature—they're taking ingredients.
What comes naturally to most people—to think and then do—is difficult for stroke patients who have lost the full use of their limbs. New research by Rice University, the University of Houston, and TIRR Memorial Hermann aims to help victims recover that ability to the fullest extent possible with a $1.17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the President's National Robotics Initiative.
Sandia National Laboratories has developed a cost-effective robotic hand that can be used in disarming improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The Sandia Hand addresses challenges that have prevented widespread adoption of other robotic hands, such as cost, durability, dexterity, and modularity.
Earthworms creep along the ground by alternately squeezing and stretching muscles along the length of their bodies, a mechanism called peristalsis, inching forward with each wave of contractions. Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Seoul National University have engineered a soft autonomous robot that moves via peristalsis, crawling across surfaces by contracting segments of its body, much like an earthworm.
After demonstrating more than 48 hours of continuous flight in a wind tunnel, Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive Inc. report they have completed a series of outdoor flight tests of the Stalker Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). These tests mark the first-ever outdoor flight of a UAS powered by laser.
When you're just a few microns long, swimming can be difficult. At that size scale, the viscosity of water is more like that of honey, and momentum can't be relied upon to maintain forward motion. Microorganisms, of course, have evolved ways to swim in spite of these challenges, but tiny robots haven't quite caught up, until now.
The first bio-inspired microrobot capable of not just walking on water like the water strider, but continuously jumping up and down like a real water strider, now is a reality. Scientists have developed the agile microrobot, which could use its jumping ability to avoid obstacles on reconnaissance or other missions.
Batoid rays, such as stingrays and manta rays, are among nature's most elegant swimmers. They are fast, highly maneuverable, graceful, energy efficient, can cruise, bird-like, for long distances in the deep, open ocean, and rest on the sea bottom. A team from the University of Virginia and other universities is trying to emulate the seemingly effortless, but powerful, swimming motions of rays by engineering their own ray-like machine modeled on nature.
To emulate the classical mechanics of physics found in space on full-scale replica spacecraft on Earth requires not only a hefty amount of air to 'float' the object, but a precision, frictionless, large surface area that will allow researchers to replicate the effects of inertia on man-made objects in space. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory recently got that capability with a one-of-a-kind 75,000 gravity offset table made from a single slab of concrete.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have designed algorithms that vastly improve robots' navigation and feature-detecting capabilities. Using the group's algorithms, robots are able to swim around a ship's hull and view complex structures such as propellers and shafts. The goal is to achieve a resolution fine enough to detect a 10-cm mine attached to the side of a ship.
Drivers can struggle to see when driving at night in a rainstorm or snowstorm, but a smart headlight system invented by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute can improve visibility by constantly redirecting light to shine between particles of precipitation. The system, demonstrated in laboratory tests, prevents the distracting and sometimes dangerous glare that occurs when headlight beams are reflected by precipitation back toward the driver.
Humans and animals have evolved to consume energy very efficiently for movement. If robotic actuation can be made to approach the efficiency of human and animal actuation, the range of practical robotic applications will greatly increase. To help this progression, DARPA has created the M3 Actuation program with the goal of achieving a 2,000% increase in the efficiency of power transmission and application.
What does a robot feel when it touches something? Little or nothing until now. But with the right sensors, actuators, and software, robots can be give the sense of feel—or at least to identify materials by touch. Researchers have shown that a specially designed robot can outperform humans in identifying a wide range of natural materials, paving the way for advancements in prostheses.
In today's manufacturing plants, the division of labor between humans and robots is quite clear. But according to an assistant professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the factory floor of the future may host humans and robots working side by side, each helping the other in common tasks.
Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers are working on a multi-university, nationwide project for the U.S. Navy that one day will put life-like autonomous robot jellyfish in waters around the world. The main focus of the program is to understand the fundamentals of propulsion mechanisms utilized by nature.