The biggest thing in operating rooms these days is a million-dollar, multi-armed robot named da Vinci, used in nearly 400,000 surgeries in America last year. But now the high-tech helper is under scrutiny over reports of problems, including several deaths that may be linked with it, and the high cost of using the robotic system. Is it time to curb the robot enthusiasm?
The biggest thing in operating rooms these days is a million-dollar, multi-armed robot named da Vinci, used in nearly 400,000 surgeries in America last year—triple the number just four years earlier. But now the high-tech helper is under scrutiny over reports of problems, including several deaths that may be linked with it, and the high cost of using the robotic system.
Surgical robots could make some types of surgery safer and more effective, but proving that the software controlling these machines works as intended is problematic. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Johns Hopkins University have demonstrated that methods for reliably detecting software bugs and ultimately verifying software safety can be applied successfully to this breed of robot.
Researchers in the U.K. have been working to program a group of 40 robots to carry out simple fetching and carrying tasks, by grouping around an object and working together to push it across a surface. Even after being scattered, the robots can group again and organize themselves by order of priority. The team says the ability to control robot swarms could prove hugely beneficial in a range of contexts, from military to medical.
Although bladder cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer in the U.S. and the most expensive to treat, the basic method that doctors use to treat it hasn’t changed much in more than 70 years. A research team may soon be changing that dramatically after having developed a prototype telerobotic platform designed to be inserted through natural orifices—in this case the urethra—that can provide surgeons with a much better view, making it easier to remove tumors.
Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers have unveiled a life-like, autonomous robotic jellyfish the size and weight of a grown man, 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighing 170 pounds. The prototype robot, nicknamed Cyro, is a larger model of a robotic jellyfish the same team unveiled in 2012. The earlier robot, dubbed RoboJelly, is roughly the size of a man's hand, and typical of jellyfish found along beaches.
It's a good bet that in the not-so-distant future aerial drones will be part of Americans' everyday lives, performing countless useful functions. A far cry from the killing machines whose missiles incinerate terrorists, these generally small, unmanned aircraft will help farmers more precisely apply water and pesticides to crops, saving money and reducing environmental impacts. They'll help police departments find missing people, reconstruct traffic accidents and act as lookouts for SWAT teams.
Robot butlers that tidy your house or cook you a meal have long been the dream of science-fiction writers and artificial intelligence researchers alike. But if robots are ever going to move effectively around our constantly changing homes or workspaces performing such complex tasks, they will need to be more aware of their own limitations, according to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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.