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.
Researchers have shown how to create morphing robotic mechanisms and shape-shifting sculptures from a single sheet of paper in a method reminiscent of origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The new method, called Kaleidogami, uses computational algorithms and tools to create precisely folded structures.
A recent finding suggests that prosthetic lower limbs and robots' legs could be made more efficient by making them less like human-like and more like the prosthetics used by 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius. Researchers found, strangely enough, that women walking in high heels offer an optimal model for economical and efficient movement.
Autonomous, self-replicating robots—exobots—are the way to explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life and perhaps clean up space debris in the process, according to a Penn State engineer, who notes that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—SETI—is in its 50th year.
An electric eel can generate enough current to stun its prey, just like a Taser. Weakly electric fish can also generate electricity, but not enough to do any harm. However, researchers have found that the animal’s ability to use an electric field to communicate, navigate, and hunt offers inspiration for a variety of engineering projects.
Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels when an Office of Naval Research-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer. Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker, the sensor is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors, and laser-radar technology.
An ambitious new project to reinvent how robots are designed and produced is being funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation. A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania aims to develop a desktop technology that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize, and print a specialized robot in a matter of hours.
Pouring juice into a plastic cup can be a great challenge to a robot, which must hold a glass bottle firmly, yet gently grasp the cup. Researchers at Saarland University in Germany together with associates in Bologna and Naples have developed a robotic hand that can accomplish both tasks with ease using a device scarcely larger than a human arm.
New algorithms developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers could enable heaps of 'smart sand' that can assume any shape, allowing spontaneous formation of new tools or duplication of broken mechanical parts.
A tiny prototype robot that functions like a living creature is being developed which one day could be safely used to pinpoint diseases within the human body. Called Cyberplasm, it will combine advanced microelectronics with the latest research in biomimicry.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have created an undersea vehicle inspired by the common jellyfish that runs on renewable energy and could be used in ocean rescue and surveillance missions. The robotic jellyfish, dubbed Robojelly, feeds off hydrogen and oxygen gases found in water.