Using a combination of theory and experiment, researchers have developed a new approach for understanding and predicting how small-legged robots move on and interact with complex granular materials such as sand. The research could help create and advance the field of "terradynamics"—a name the researchers have given to the science of legged animals and vehicles moving on granular and other complex surfaces.
When a robot is moving one of its limbs through free space, its behavior is well described by a few simple equations. But as soon as it strikes something solid, those equations break down. Roboticists typically use ad hoc control strategies to negotiate collisions and then revert to their rigorous mathematical models when the robot begins to move again. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are hoping to change that, with a new mathematical framework that unifies the analysis of both collisions and movement through free space.
A 70-pound “cheetah” robot designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers may soon outpace its animal counterparts in running efficiency: In treadmill tests, the researchers have found that the robot, which is about the size and weight of an actual cheetah, wastes very little energy as it trots continuously for up to an hour and a half at 5 mph. The key to the robot’s streamlined stride can be found in the shoulders.
Software engineers at five European universities have developed a cloud-computing platform for robots. The platform allows robots connected to the Internet to directly access the powerful computational, storage, and communications infrastructure of modern data centers—the giant server farms behind the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon—for robotics tasks and robot learning.
A century after Western explorers first crossed the dangerous landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic, researchers funded by the National Science Foundation have successfully deployed a self-guided robot that uses ground-penetrating radar to map deadly crevasses hidden in ice-covered terrains. Deployment of the robot—dubbed Yeti—could make Arctic and Antarctic explorations safer by revealing unseen fissures buried beneath ice and snow that could potentially claim human lives and expensive equipment.
Many commercial robotic arms perform what roboticists call "pick-and-place" tasks: The arm picks up an object in one location and places it in another. Usually, the objects are positioned so that the arm can easily grasp them; the appendage that does the grasping may even be tailored to the objects' shape. General-purpose household robots, however, would have to be able to manipulate objects of any shape, left in any location. And today, commercially available robots don't have anything like the dexterity of the human hand. Until now.
Running cockroaches start to recover from being shoved sideways before their dawdling nervous system kicks in to tell their legs what to do, researchers have found. These new insights on how biological systems stabilize could one day help engineers design steadier robots and improve doctors' understanding of human gait abnormalities.
The strong, flapping flight of bats offers great possibilities for the design of small aircraft, among other applications. By building a robotic bat wing, Brown University researchers have uncovered flight secrets of real bats: the function of ligaments, the elasticity of skin, the structural support of musculature, skeletal flexibility, upstroke, downstroke.
Engineers at Harvard University have already shown that their unusual “soft” robots can already stand, walk, wriggle under obstacles, and change colors. Now, using small explosions produced by a mix of methane and oxygen, these researchers have designed a soft robot that can leap as much as a foot in the air.
A small, two-wheeled robot has been driven by a male silkmoth to track down the sex pheromone usually given off by a female mate. The robot has been used to characterize the silkmoth’s tracking behaviors and it is hoped that these can be applied to other autonomous robots so they can track down smells, and the subsequent sources, of environmental spills and leaks when fitted with highly sensitive sensors.
When satellites retire, certain parts—such as antennas and solar panels—often still work. There's currently no routine effort to salvage and reuse satellite parts once they're launched into space. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is spending $180 million to test technologies that could scavenge defunct communication satellites for their valuable parts and recycle them to build brand new ones for cheap.
Microbiologists who study wild marine microbes, as opposed to the laboratory-grown variety, face enormous challenges in getting a clear picture of the daily activities of their subjects. But a team of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently figured out how to make the equivalent of a nature film, showing the simultaneous activities of many coexisting species in their native habitat over time.
Michigan State University scientists have made a number of improvements on their robotic fish, which now has a name: Grace. The fish also now has the ability to glide through the water practically indefinitely, using little to no energy, while gathering valuable data that can aid in the cleaning of our lakes and rivers.
Not everything there is “high-tech”, but the annual Consumer Electronics Show is a great place to see the newest and most fanciful products to reach the market each year. From the iPotty for toddlers to the 1,600-pound (725-kg) mechanical spider and the host of glitch-ridden "smart" TVs, the International CES show is a forum for gadget makers to take big—and bizarre—chances.
Researchers with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley have developed an elegant and powerful new microscale actuator that can flex like a tiny beckoning finger. Based on an oxide material that expands and contracts dramatically in response to a small temperature variation, the actuators are smaller than the width of a human hair and are promising for microfluidics, drug delivery, and artificial muscles.
The Mars Science Laboratory is more than the biggest rolling science laboratory ever put on another planet. It's a systems engineering—and product development—triumph.
Using deceptive behavioral patterns of squirrels and birds, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed robots that are able to deceive each other. The researchers created these deceptive robots by reviewing biological research results on squirrels' behavior after gathering and storing their acorn loot and keeping it safe from others.
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.