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Studded with magnets and electronic muscles known as actuators, a prototype robot develope...

If they were real, the Transformers harking from Cybertron would be considered pretty remarkable pieces of machinery. But their transforming abilities are limited to just two forms. By combining origami and electrical engineering, researchers at MIT and Harvard are working to develop the ultimate reconfigurable robot – one that can turn into absolutely anything. To test out their theories, the researchers built a prototype that can automatically assume the shape of either an origami boat or a paper airplane when it receives different electrical signals.  Read More

ROCR features a tail that swings like a grandfather clock’s pendulum (Image: William Pro...

Engineers have used a variety of techniques to create robots that can scale walls – “the Climber” uses a rolling seal, while the insect-like robots from SRI have caterpillar tracks with electro-adhesive properties. While such robots generally focus on speed, adhering to the wall and deciding how and when to move, the creators of a small robot named ROCR say it is the first wall-climbing robot to focus on climbing efficiently. And it does so by using the momentum of a tail that swings like a grandfather clock’s pendulum.  Read More

Robot wrestling: Chrome Kid and Garoo

The main event of the Robotech exhibition held in Tokyo this past week featured the Robo-One Grand Prix event, pitting an assortment of bipedal humanoid robots against each other in an improvised octagonal wrestling ring. Many of you might have seen clips of Japan's rastlin' robots, but as there were more than a few impressive takedowns and attacks on show, I thought I'd share a few highlights.  Read More

Caterpillars' 'gut-sliding' method of locomotion could be applied to soft-bodied robots (P...

When a caterpillar crawls, its internal organs slide forward inside its body before its legs move. Does that matter? It does if you’re a caterpillar, but it also does if you’re a designer of soft-bodied robots. A team of researchers working at Massachusetts' Tufts University used an X-ray to observe large, opaque-bodied caterpillars, then backed up their findings by examining smaller, translucent caterpillars under a microscope. In both cases, it was observed that the caterpillar’s internal center of mass moved forward first, while its middle legs remained attached to the substrate. In a paper on their findings, the team wrote that the so-called gut-slide is “unlike any form of legged locomotion previously reported and represents a new feature in our emerging understanding of crawling.”  Read More

Cornell Ranger gets a walking buddy in Fatemeh Hasaneini, a daughter of one of the student...

It might not have been setting a cracking pace, but a Cornell University robot named Ranger set an unofficial world record on July 6 when it walked 14.3 miles in about 11 hours on a single charge. The untethered, four-legged robot was steered around the 1/8-mile indoor track in Cornell’s Barton Hall by a human operator using a standard toy remote control some 108.5 times. On its record setting journey Ranger made 65,185 steps, beating the former record for an untethered legged robot of 12.8 miles set by Boston Dynamics’ BigDog.  Read More

The no longer wheelchair-bound Hayden Allen puts REX through its paces

Seemingly simple things like talking to people at eye level and reaching things on shelves can be a huge drawback for those in wheelchairs. Sitting in a wheelchair for extended periods can also lead to the increased risk of certain infections and blood circulation problems. A robotic exoskeleton called REX puts wheelchair users back on their feet, enabling a person to stand, walk and go up and down stairs and slopes.  Read More

A fly being shown a striped LED pattern (left), and the area of the fly's brain that proce...

As anyone who has ever tried to swat a fly will know, the little beasties have almost impossibly-fast reflexes. It turns out, in fact, that they have a response time faster than that of any computer. If only we knew what their secret was, perhaps we could develop robots that could react just as quickly. Well, scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology are working on it. Since 1956, a mathematical model has existed that accurately predicts how a fly’s brain will recognize and process visual movements. What hasn’t been understood is how the individual nerve cells interact, to make that recognition and processing possible. Given that a fly’s tiny brain contains over 100,000 nerve cells per cubic millimeter, it would seem impossible to observe the reactions of any one of those cells. That, however, is just what the German scientists have done.  Read More

The pen assembly machine from Keyence

On display at the Design Engineering and Manufacturing Solutions Expo in Tokyo, this pen assembly machine is an impressive example of robotic multi-tasking and dexterity – albeit perhaps not that practical. So if you happen to work on a pen assembly line, you might now be redundant thanks to this robot. Or maybe not...  Read More

Mirko Kovac's perching mechanism, mounted on a micro glider

A young robotics engineer has developed a perching mechanism that could be invaluable to the field of Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs. Mirko Kovac, of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), envisions a system wherein swarms of tiny robotic gliders would be deployed over scenes of disasters, such as forest fires or earthquakes. The gliders would fly straight into the sides of vantage points, such as tall buildings or trees, whereupon they would perch on that surface and transmit data to remote observers via cameras or other sensors. They could even free themselves, to fly on to another location.  Read More

The CRB100 module

If the US Navy’s sociable Octavia robot is looking for a little synthetic companionship in the future, all she may have to do is plug a newly-developed electronic brain into the nearest vacuum cleaner, floor waxer, or other cleaning appliance. The CRB100 module, designed by researchers from Spain’s Universitat Jaume I (UJI), is intended to convert ordinary mobile machines into robots.  Read More

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