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Entries in Robotics (69)


Wall-crawling Gecko Robots Could Revolutionize Space Travel

The European Space Agency has found that climbing robots inspired by gecko lizards have the potential to change the way humans function in space.

These potential "hull-crawling automatons" could be used to maintain and repair the exterior of spacecraft, using gecko-like "feet" to stay put, even in extreme temperatures and in the vacuum of space. The so-called Abigaille crawling robots worked better in ESA tests than those that used wheels to move; with six legs, each enjoying 4 degrees of motion, the gecko-like robots are much more dexterous than wheeled models.

The implications for space travel are exciting. With the robots patrolling the exterior of a ship, astronauts could avoid dangerous and time-consuming space walks for spacecraft upkeep. Abigaille robots could help to keep spacecraft, and even satellites, in working condition for longer. The robots could even be useful on Earth, cleaning and maintaining skyscrapers, large aircraft and other difficult-to-maintain structures.

We can't wait to see what other nature-inspired robots emerge in the coming years. In the meantime, check out the gecko robots in the video above.


Researchers Developing Highly Sensitive ‘E-whiskers' for Robots

The world of robotics is advancing at break-neck speed these days, with researchers working on robots that are more mobile, more intelligent and, increasingly, more tuned in to their environments through advanced sensors and other technology. And, like many other advancements, the newest one is inspired by the animal kingdom.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab and the University of California Berkeley have created tactile sensors from composite films of carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles. The result is similar to the highly sensitive whiskers of cats and rats, according to R&D Magazine. Their extreme sensitivity enables the e-whiskers to detect pressure as slight as a single Pascal – “about the pressure exerted on a table surface by a dollar bill” – which helps them to, in essence, “feel.”

“Whiskers are hair-like tactile sensors used by certain mammals and insects to monitor wind and navigate around obstacles in tight spaces,” said the leader of the research, Ali Javey, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “Our electronic whiskers consist of high-aspect-ratio elastic fibers coated with conductive composite films of nanotubes and nanoparticles. In tests, these whiskers were 10 times more sensitive to pressure than all previously reported capacitive or resistive pressure sensors.”

Javey hopes to eventually develop e-whiskers that could spatially map nearby objects and even be used as wearable sensors for measuring human heartbeat and pulse. The implications for "helper" robots and other human-robot interactions would be incredible.


Unbounded Robotics Announces 'Affordable' Autonomous Robot, UBR-1

Your dreams of owning a robot-servant could soon be a reality—if you have an extra $35,000 laying around, that is.

Unbounded Robotics, a spinoff company of Willow Garage—the creators of the PR2 robot—have released the UBR-1, a smallish one-armed autonomous robot that’s being billed as “affordable” at $35,000. Of course, everything’s relative; the PR2 costs between $285,000 and $400,000.

With UBR-1, you get a lot of bang for your buck, though. The bot can detect where it’s going, see what’s around it and manipulate objects with its arm. Better yet, its designers say it was modeled to interact closely with humans. So, it has the basics covered, and then some. Let's just say, it could fetch you a beer from the fridge.

UBR-1 has a telescoping spine that lets it “stand up” to 52 inches tall. It weighs 150 pounds, and its arm can lift up to 1.5 kilograms. It uses two PrimeSense sensor bars to gather data on and move within its surroundings. To think through its tasks, UBR-1 features an Intel Core i5 CPU with 8GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard drive. It runs open-source ROS software platform developed by Willow Garage, so users can program the bot as precisely as they want. They can also control it in two different ways: with a PS3 controller to manually drive it around, or via its software.

Another interesting tidbit lies in the reason UBR-1 was created in the first place: Melonee Wise, the CEO of Unbounded Robotics, split from Willow Garage with three coworkers specifically to design the UBR-1. After working on PR2, Wise had seen an opportunity to make a robot for the everyman—and at a fraction of the cost. They planned to forego many of the expensive, unnecessary hardware on board many robots (including a second arm—genius!).

The result is UBR-1, which will be available to buy in summer of 2014.


Will Robots of the Future Be Flexible?

This short, simple video is much more than it seems. It demonstrates new material created by U.S. researchers that moves in response to light. Soft and flexible, the stuff could be used one day to manufacture robots.

Today's robots are limited by their stiff, heavy components. They certainly don't move "naturally," and sometimes their range of motions and portability is limited. And, so far, they also require an onboard energy source, which adds even more weight.

So, a team at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio has created a series of cantilevers made from azobenzene liquid crystal polymer networks that can twist and coil -- and is powered only by a change in the polarity and intensity of an external light source -- all in an effort to rethink the movement of robots and make them more lifelike. One day, they may even be able to mimic animal movements, thanks to the flexible materials.

The next step for the researchers is to create more complex material that can move better and be used in larger-scale applications. Stay tuned for more.


Want to Work in Health Care? Better Bone Up on Robotics

For doctors and nurses, a bedside manner isn't the only thing you need these days. More and more, people in health care need to be familiar with robotics, believe it or not.

During June 2013, more than 3,400 jobs for healthcare professionals in the United States included requirements for robotics skills and experience, according to WANTED Analytics™ a source of real-time business intelligence for the talent marketplace. As more surgeries and medical procedures use robotic tools, demand in health care now outpaces all other fields that require this skill set, including technology, production, and engineering – incredible! The number of healthcare related jobs requiring robotics grew 32 percent year-over-year when compared to June of 2012 and 375 percent in the past 4 years.

With demand for healthcare professionals with robotics qualifications growing steadily, it's likely to be fairly difficult to source potential candidates. As demand continues, conditions and the level of difficulty may increase. According to the Hiring Scale™, this occupation scores a 41 on average across the United States. (The Hiring Scale ranges from 1 to 99, with 99 representing the most difficult conditions.)

So what does this mean for the field of robotics? Even greater demand in the coming years – especially for easy-to-use systems that have a short learning curve.

For details, click here.