The Chilean and Pike River Mine disasters in 2010 highlighted the dangers of sub-surface mining and the difficulties faced in extracting those trapped beneath the Earth. Collapsed mines pose countless dangers, not just for those trapped but also those attempting to free them, such as poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors and unstable walls and roofs. Dealing with such potentially deadly conditions and unknown obstacles significantly slows the efforts of rescuers. To help speed rescue efforts, robotics engineers at Sandia Labs have designed a robot to provide that most valuable of commodities for first responders - information.
Swarms of small, intercommunicating robots are now being eyed up for all sorts of potential uses, including the creation of communications networks
for disaster relief, mapping out hazardous environments
, or even perhaps helping with the colonization of Mars
. Since 2007, a group of European research groups have been collaborating on the now-completed Swarmanoid project, in which a variety of purpose-specific mini robots where programmed to cooperate in order to accomplish a task. Although the bots have been perfecting their book-stealing routine since 2009, a video depicting the task won the Best Video award at last week's 2011 Artificial Intelligence Conference in San Francisco, and was many peoples' introduction to Swarmanoid.
Among the various scientific/industrial robots in the marketplace, Willow Garage’s PR2
is one that stands out. This is because both its hardware and software are open-source – users are encouraged to share their latest upgrades and customizations with one another. With various parties using a common platform, instead of all having to start from scratch, Willow Garage hopes to move the field of robotics forward faster than would otherwise be possible. To that end, the company recently gave ten PR2s
to groups involved in robotics research, to keep for up to two years. This Wednesday, commercial availability of the PR2 SE was announced. It costs US$285,000, which is significantly less than its sibling’s $400,000 price tag – users will just have to work around the fact that it only has one arm.
Chinese scientists have developed an aquatic microrobot that mimics the water-walking abilities of the Gerridae - a family of long-legged bugs commonly known as water striders that are able to run on top of the water's surface. The scientists say their bionic microbot incorporates improvements over previous devices that make it an ideal candidate for military spy missions, water pollution monitoring and other applications.
Disney went into robotic toys market with a remote-controlled WALL-E robot
back in 2008. Canadian-based robotics enthusiast DJ Sures was apparently not satisfied with the level of realism of the toy so he came with his own, customized version of WALL-E. Utilizing The U-Command Wall-E plastic toy, he modified it with EZ-B Robot controller hardware, voice recognition and a movement-tracking camera - but no trash compactor.
Some living organisms feature an unusual muscle structure, which allows them to control the stiffness of their body, or various parts of it. Examples include elephants' trunks
, our tongues
, and octopus tentacles. Researchers working on the Octopus Project have so far successfully designed a robotic tentacle, with the ultimate aim of creating a full-bodied robotic octopus.
According to the Associated Press, a recent study has revealed that three quarters of America's nuclear reactors have leaked radioactive tritium from buried pipes that transport water for the cooling of reactor vessels. This tritium could in turn find its way into the groundwater. While industry officials do reportedly check these pipes for leaks, they can only do so in either indirect or costly, labor-intensive manners. Now, however, researchers from MIT are developing tiny, spherical swimming robots that could check on the pipes directly, relaying their findings in real time.
According to UNICEF, there are currently over 110 million live land mines
buried in the soil of various countries around the world, left over from conflicts that occurred up to 50 years ago. While various organizations are working on locating and removing those mines, it’s proving to be a long and laborious process. Instead of precisely pinpointing and then disarming each device, however, one has to wonder ... wouldn’t it be easier to just go around thumping on the ground and getting them to go off? Well, it just happens that DIGGER DTR’s hulking D-3 robotic vehicle does exactly that.
"You know what your living room needs? A giant animatronic Triceratops." Should an interior designer ever offer you this advice, well, now you know where to find such a beast. Fancy goods-seller Hammacher Schlemmer is now offering a 20 foot (6 meter)-long, 1,345-pound (610 kg) model of everyone's favorite three-horned dinosaur, that moves and growls when human gawkers trigger its motion sensors. Its price tag might scare more people than its fearsome countenance, although at US$350,000, it's probably still cheaper than cloning your own real Triceratops from amber-encased dinosaur-blood-filled mosquitoes.
Humanoid robots are set to become a common sight in coming decades, but how can we improve the way we interact with our future robotic companions? Developing robots that - unlike the expressionless mask worn by the famous ASIMO
- can convey "emotion" holds one of the answers this question. That's why Polish researchers from the Wroclaw University of Technology have developed EMYS (EMotive headY System) - a turtle-like robotic head that attempts to mimic human emotions using an array of basic facial expressions.