Robotics: More—and More Serious—Stuff
By Mark Devlin
April 2, 2012
Last week, I took some liberties and had a bit more fun than usual with our robotics piece. No, I haven’t been reprimanded. The IEN gods are benevolent, blessing Mike and me with the flexibility to run where we see fit. That said, I feel a responsibility to build upon the lighter piece with more of what’s been going on in robotics—which has been quite a bit.
If last week’s Robojelly wasn’t creepy enough, consider…
More Biomimicry: the Cyberplasm Robot
This is certainly something that you don’t find every day: ‘a tiny biomimicking robot that functions like a living creature loaded with sensors derived from animal cells,’ called Cyberplasm, according to this PopSci article. Here’s a clip…
The whole Cyberplasm system would be modeled on the sea lamprey…
…[a rather unattractive, early Star Trek-esque] Atlantic-dwelling creature with a simple nervous system that should be relatively easy to mimic. Using the lamprey as a model, the researchers hope to produce a one-centimeter-long prototype capable of swimming around and sensing on its own. Future versions could be built at the nano-scale, perfect for swimming around inside the human body to detect and potentially treat diseases.
The project’s researchers are backed by the NSF and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
So, is this one decades away? Apparently not. Researchers are currently developing individual components and expect to have Cyberplasm working in the real world within five years.
(Now, can we have something like this for industry? Maybe a super-sized version that’ll feedback valuable data after letting it loose in a complex hydraulic or maybe petro-chem piping system?)
Sand Flea Robot: Jump Up, Jump Up, and Get Down!
From the amazing engineers at our favorite Cool Robotics company, Boston Dynamics (who brought us the Big Dog), comes the latest version of the Sand Flea jumping robot. (We covered its predecessor last November.) Difference between the two? The new one stops before jumping, setting itself up, apparently, for a more powerful launch, midair stability for better video, and better targeting. (Source: PopSci, via IEEE Spectrum and Geekosystem.)
Jump-bots aren’t all that new, but the latest Sand Flea doesn’t just hurl itself over fences; it leaps small buildings—of up to 30-ft-high—in a single bound (The video is safe for work and definitely worth watching.)…
Amazingly, it hits the roof and remains ready-to-go (unlike a bipedal jumping bot that seems to fall on its butt quite often. See the Athlete Robot here on IEN.).
Another interesting element about the new Sand Flea? It does, in fact, get down; watch the video at about 0:36 at which point it hurls itself back off of the building—and keeps going.
There’s a jumping piston in the Sand Flea’s tail, and the bot is powered—as was its predecessor—by pressurized carbon dioxide that’s said to be good for 25 jumps before refilling is required.
Sand Flea’s purpose in life? Military, of course. Jump up, look around, and get down.
We salute you, Mr. Building-Hopping Robot Designer.
Hello, Video Game. Meet Our Full-Sized Cars.
Apparently, there’s a popular video game for iOS and Android called Reckless Racing (which I’ll be trying later).
According to the developer’s website, Reckless Racing offers what is ‘possibly the most detailed 3D graphics yet seen on a mobile device,’ along with six RWD cars with different characteristics, and ‘proper’ 3D physics, culminating in a sliding, dirt-track, virtual racing experience.
Also, apparently, there’s a guy in the UK named James Brighton who creates “full-size, remote-control cars.”
What happens when you combine the two? Full-sized cars (in this case, both MGs) controlled by your iOS or Android phone.
Here’s the worth-watching video (If you’re tight on time, advance to about 1:42 for the good stuff.)…
According to the source article at Jalopnik, the combo was a way for Sony to show-off its new Xperia phone—chosen, interestingly, because it has actual buttons, not an exclusively-touch interface.
Yes, as Jalopnik points out, we’ve seen this done before (mostly in movies), but the above was accomplished with off-the-shelf technology and a bit of programming and wireless wizardry.
Robotics? No. Remote control. Close enough, nonetheless, to be interesting, fun, and inspiring in a technical context.
Plus, it’s nice to see a mobile-based something—once in awhile, at least—not involving an iPhone.
Miniature Fighting Bots
For this one, I’ll leave you with the below video, and a link to the source article at The Verge.
(Please, for the love of stepper motors, bring back Battlebots.)
‘They’re All Moving Around Like Ants.’
Ever think that while watching a busy warehouse? You’re not alone, and you’re right: in this context, ants are inspirational.
According to this article at Gizmag (via Fraunhofer), the Ant Colony Optimization Model, developed by computer scientist Marco Dorigo, is…
…an algorithmic technique that can be applied to human endeavors, when efficiency is the order of the day. Scientists from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics have now applied these algorithms to a swarm of 50 autonomous shuttle robots working in a parts warehouse, in an effort to create a new and better type of materials-handling system.
The faux-warehouse pictured here…
…simulates an almost 11,000 sq ft distribution center with 600, shelf-based small-parts bins and eight picking stations. Sixty robotic shuttles called Multishuttle Moves are also integrated into the scenario. According to Fraunhofer, those already-available though modified shuttles…
…are locally controlled. The ‘intelligence’ is in the transporters themselves,“ Dipl.-Ing. Thomas Albrecht, head of the Autonomous Transport Systems department explains the researchers‘ solution approach. “We rely on agent-based software and use ant algorithms based on the work of Marco Dorigo. These are methods of combinational optimization based on the model behavior of real ants in their search for food.“ When an order is received, the shuttles are informed of this through a software agent. They then coordinate with one another via WLAN to determine which shuttle can take over the load. The job goes to whichever free transport system is closest.
Said to be more flexible and scalable than existing warehousing schemes, the Fraunhofer setup integrates localization as well as a variety of sensors including navigation, distance, acceleration, and laser scanners. Result? In combination with the ant swarm tech, shuttles navigate quickly and freely—without collisions or obstructions caused by the equipment itself—taking the shortest routes possible.
Here’s a paper (PDF) with more about the project. (Scroll to page 7.)
Human Health, Enhanced
Perhaps the smartest of this bunch, at least, is a new, tabletop robot designed for use in stroke rehabilitation. Developed by a University of Toronto team led by Associate Professor Alex Mihailidis, the ‘affordable and accessible’ technology can be used in hospitals, clinics, and at home.
Here’s a clip…
…the speed and intensity by which stroke patients begin rehabilitation exercises greatly increases patients' neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to reorganize itself around damaged areas by forming new neural connections—and mobility. But rehab exercises are often neglected in a home environment, either because those exercises are repetitive and boring, or because attendants and rehab machines are needed to oversee or complete the exercises.
Plus, it’s intelligent in that it “automatically learns about a user,” so a patient’s exercise regimen is personalized, making rehabilitation both more fun and effective for the patient.
For more, see this article at PhysOrg (Sourced from the University of Toronto).
Staying with medical, Singapore-based startup CtrlWorks’ Puppet mobile telepresence platform is connected and controlled via the Internet (using a Mac, or Windows or Linux PC), enabling users to ‘see and hear real-time from a distant location. The robot has an LCD ‘face,’ camera, microphone, speakers, and various sensors.
The company, according to this PopSci article, will soon release the Puppet into the wild of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore as a…
…remotely piloted assistant that will reduce doctor workloads, dutifully taking down case notes and filing them in the proper places as a doctor makes his rounds.
A doctor ‘can sit at a computer terminal in one place and make rounds via telepresence somewhere else.’ In next month’s hospital trial, however, ‘a junior doctor—the one who would usually be scribbling copious notes while the senior doctor examines the patients’ will control the Puppet while the robot follows the senior doctor. So, at least in the beginning, the doctor-patient relationship remains intact. For now.
Seems like this is another one with industrial applications, especially as an ‘assistant’ for plant maintenance personnel—either at their side taking notes, or for making their plant rounds remotely.
For more information, see PopSci’s Singularity Hub source.