Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show


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

The US Navy's Octavia robot

If members of the armed forces are going to be regularly interacting with robots, and it seems likely that such will be the case, then they had better be comfortable around those robots. The last thing a soldier, pilot or sailor needs is to be staring at some creepy-looking humanoid machine, and saying, “Um, listen, I want you to... ah, screw it, I’ll do it myself.” That’s the thinking behind an initiative from the US Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence (NCARAI), which has been working on natural human-robot interaction. If sailors can communicate with a robot through human-to-human style speech and gestures, it is thought, then they will be able to concentrate more on the task at hand, and less on the interface. NCARAI’s latest attempt at an easy-to-relate-to robot, named Octavia, was presented to the public for the first time recently in New York City.  Read More

The International Food Machinery and Technology Exhibition (or Fooma for short) in Tokyo

The International Food Machinery and Technology Exhibition (or Fooma for short) took place last week at Tokyo Big Sight, where a number of companies were demonstrating more efficient ways of producing food. Regrettably, not all of them allowed for photography or video. But for anyone involved in food production, Fooma is definitely a worthwhile exhibition to visit if you can make the trip to Tokyo. Here are just a couple of the food production devices from Fooma 2010 that we found particularly eye-catching...  Read More

Autonomous underwater vehicle to study Deepwater Horizon oil spill

With the latest attempt to stem the oil flow from the Deepwater Horizon oil well by pumping heavy drilling liquids into the well having failed, there is still no end in sight to the disaster that began more than a month ago. To help shed some light on where oil is spilling beneath the ocean surface and to aid biologists and others understand the effects of this catastrophic event, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s (MBARI’s) Division of Marine Operations has sent a high-tech robotic submersible to the oily waters of the Gulf.  Read More

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