think of robots, we all too often anthropomorphize them by giving them eyes in
their heads, fingers on their hands, and toes on their feet. But just because
this is the way humans evolved doesn’t make it ideal. Robots with eyes where
they need them most, for example, could be much more efficient than just having
them restricted to one place. In this vein, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University
(CMU) recently developed a tri-fingered robotic hand with numerous inbuilt optical detectors to act as adjunct sensors. At the same time, they also fashioned
a new type of stretchable optical sensor to accompany such devices.
As we learned earlier this year, researchers at ETH Zürich's institute for Dynamic Systems and Control are looking at ways in which flying construction robots can be programmed to autonomously build tensile structures. Now it appears they've taken a significant step forward. Literally. The team has demonstrated a rope bridge built by drones that can support the weight of an adult human as they walk across it.
Anyone who's had to take on job responsibilities from someone who left the company months ago will appreciate this robotic system designed with the International Space Station (ISS) in mind. With the design challenge of retaining important experiential information between rotating crews of astronauts, French researchers used the popular Nao robot to form an "autobiographical memory" of human interactions and pass on the know-how to new crew members.
Working outside in space is a tall order. The environment is hostile, even the smallest job takes hours instead of minutes, and everything has to be done in either bulky suits or through robotic arms. It's a challenge that will become even more difficult when future astronauts are controlling robotic rovers from orbit, so ESA is getting in a bit of practice. Next month Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will take control of a rover in the Netherlands while orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station.
The United States boasts some of the most advanced multi-mission combat aircraft in the world, but this can be a liability as well as an asset. True, each aircraft can outperform an entire squadron of a few decades ago, but they're also very expensive, incredibly complex, and not exactly expendable. For these reasons DARPA has launched the Gremlins program, which aims to develop swarms of cheaper, smarter aircraft that can be deployed and collected in midair.
The mechanical button or switch is that most simple of user interfaces. So simple that just about every electrical device in the home, from lights to coffee machines, will have one. With the goal of letting these legacy devices join the home automation bandwagon, South Korean startup Naran has come up with Microbot Push – a wireless robotic "finger" designed to operate standard buttons and switches.
A robot-assisted system developed at the University of Twente promises
to make medical procedures that use needles more precise. The system
allows flexible needles to be steered in real time to their target,
which negates issues with tissue and organs deforming from the contact
pressure or from any unforeseen obstacles that lie between the needle
and its target.
With their precise mechanical movements, robots seem like the most efficient of workers, but they can actually waste a good deal of energy. Chalmers University of Technology is developing a new optimization tool that acts like an efficiency expert for industrial robots by smoothing their movements to reduce their energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.
Robotics research is moving along at such a fast pace that it can be difficult to spot the major milestones of innovation in the technology as they go by. One significant step forward is in evidence at MIT in the form of Hermes. Physically it's all robot, but its actions and reflexes are controlled by a human being.
The whiskers that help rats find their way around dingy sewers has inspired a tactile sensor that could be used for navigating all manner of dark conditions. Scientists have developed a device capable of generating images of obscured environments by monitoring both air and fluid flow, and which could find its way into biomedical applications.