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Boston Dynamics Towed a Box Truck with 10 Robot Dogs

But what happened to the other 19? Also, generating power from snow and a new drone inspired by insects.

Prototype Harvests Energy from Snow

Researchers from UCLA have created a prototype that creates electricity from snowfall. They call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator (snow TENG).

Essentially, the prototype seems like an interesting energy harvesting application that generates charge through static electricity and produces energy from the exchange of electrons.

Right now, the Snow-TENG can produce an open circuit voltage up to 8 V, and it is designed to work like a self-powered weather station to monitor snowfall, accumulation depth, wind direction, and speed in snowy/icy environments.

Basically, snow is positively charged; silicone is negatively charged; and when falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, it produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.

According to the researchers, it could be particularly useful in areas that have a tendency to render solar panels useless. About 30 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by snow each winter, and during that time solar panels often fail. Snow accumulation reduces the amount of sun that reaches the arrays.

The team 3D printed the prototype, which includes a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge. Because silicone is widely available, and 3D printing is relatively low cost, the researchers believe that it could remain fairly low-cost to product.  

Because the sensor is small, it also has potential in the wearable market.

Drones Inspired By Insects

Researchers from Purdue University has discovered a way to improve drone maneuverability with new arms inspired by insects.

If you've ever flown a drone in the wind, or subtle breeze, you know that a little bit of wind can cause a lot of problems that stem from the drone’s fixed-arm design.

So, the team of researchers designed and patented a drone with arms that automatically fold to make in-flight adjustments.  According to the researchers, it was inspired by the wings and flight patterns of insects, though they didn’t share any specific species..

The folding arms make it possible to change the center of gravity in flight which also increases the drones stability and efficiency. The technology could also make it possible for drones to carry heavier payloads.

In the future, the new arms could be useful for search-and-rescue drones because they can morph to fit through narrow spaces and help navigate harsh and unpredictable airspace.

Next, the team is looking for researchers as well as potential partners to license the technology.

Robot Dogs Pull Box Truck

Back in June 2016, Boston Dynamics introduced the world to the SpotMini, a smaller version of the BigDog that was more geared to the consumer industry. The thought was that it could perform up to 90 minutes of chores on a single charge, everything from loading the dishwasher to fetching snacks.

Over the last two years, the robot dog has received some upgrades and has, according to the company, begun production.

Now that Spot is preparing to come trotting off of the production line, Boston Dynamics wanted to show off some of the robot's capabilities -- doing so in dramatic fashion seems to be a particular skill for the company.

Boston Dynamics tethered 10 Spot robots together and had them pull a box truck across the company's parking lot in Massachusetts.

The two SpotMinis in the lead include the arm attachment that adds five-degrees of freedom - as well as about 11 pounds to the frame. Each pup includes a sensor suite helps it navigate.

What I found interesting is that they are numbered anywhere from 5 to 29 (28, 23, 9, 5, 7, 24, 20, 29, 27, 1 unknown) which makes me wonder about what happened to the other 19 robot dogs. 

While the company claims that Spot is in production, a price hasn't been made public and the website doesn’t contain any information on potential pre-orders.

This is Engineering By Design.

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