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University of Pennsylvania

Muscle cell undergoing light activation (Image: MIT)

In Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama, the explorers of a seemingly deserted alien spaceship passing through our Solar System encounter a strange three-legged creature that turns out to be an organic robot. In the ‘70s, this seemed so incredible that it could only be the product of an alien civilization thousands of years ahead of us. In 2012, scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are proving otherwise by starting work on organic robots here on Earth. Using genetically engineered muscle tissue that responds to light, they are blurring the line between animal and machine at the cellular level.  Read More

The RepRap printer, using molten sugar to create the vascular network's mold and filaments...

For a great number of people, the idea of being able to use a patient’s own cells to create lab-grown replacement organs is very appealing. Already, researchers have had success growing urethras (which are essentially hollow tubes), and miniature human livers. Before large, solid, three-dimensional organs can be grown, however, scientists must figure out a reliable way of incorporating blood vessels into them – if the lab-grown organs simply take the form of a block of cells, the cells on the inside won’t be able to receive any nutrients, and will die. Now, a team from the University of Pennsylvania and MIT has devised a way of building such vessels, using sugar.  Read More

An MIT-led research team has already created this insect-like 'printed' robot as an exampl...

Already, people are pretty excited at the idea of being able to create inanimate objects using a 3D printer. Imagine, though, if you could create and print an actual moving robot, using a printer-like device in a store. If a group of scientists taking part in a new project are successful, that’s exactly what you will some day be able to do.  Read More

SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is being developed to help put out fi...

If there's one thing that you don't want happening on board a ship, it's a fire. People on board burning ships can't simply run out onto the streets, as they hopefully could in the case of a structural fire, plus many people caught belowdecks don't have windows nearby to climb out of. Then, there's also the fact that crew members fighting such fires have to work in narrow, claustrophobic passageways, instead of wide-open roads. Given that fires are particularly possible on military ships, due to attacks by enemy forces, America's Naval Research Laboratory is now developing a special something to help fight fires at sea - it's called SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot.  Read More

Some of the musically-gifted GRASP quadrotors

When we last heard from the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab, researchers there had provided video of a swarm of quadrotor robots, which they had programmed to perform some pretty impressive precision flying. Well, now the GRASP quadrotors are back, performing a feat that’s certainly much more ... entertaining. In a video that was presented yesterday at the TED2012 conference in California, a group of the little guys are shown performing the James Bond theme on musical instruments.  Read More

Students at the University of Pennsylvania have come up with an idea to install waterproof...

A pair of students at the University of Pennsylvania have an audacious suggestion should rising sea levels make their presence felt in Manhattan, New York. Their scheme would see the installation of waterproof canopies to the lower stories of skyscrapers. Tingwei Xu and Xie Zhang say their idea has an "irreducible integrity," thanks to the canopies' various functions which, the students say, are each of equal importance. So in addition to keeping water out, these canopies provide additional structural support against lateral forces, provide green or agricultural space, and, judging by the visualizations, provide living and working areas in their own right.  Read More

The autonomous squadron made up of 20 quadrotor robots from KMel Robotics (Photo: Kmel Rob...

Remote-controlled quadrotor robots have been around for some time, but in the following video just released by a research team at the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab, science fiction edges much closer to science fact. Displaying complex autonomous swarm behavior, the miniature craft perform some astounding maneuvers and provide an interesting glimpse into what the future may hold for surveillance, search and rescue, light construction and warfare.  Read More

FoamBot built this quadruped robot out of electromechanical modules and self-hardening foa...

Appealing though general-purpose humanoid robots like C-3PO may be to many of us, real-life robots are usually most effective when they're designed for one specific purpose. In some situations, however, that purpose might not be known until the robot is in the field - at a disaster site, for instance, an autonomous robot might discover that it needs to squirm through debris, even though it wasn't designed to do so. One attempted solution to this problem has involved creating modular robots, that can take themselves apart and then reconfigure themselves as needed. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania's Modular Robotics Laboratory, however, are taking a slightly different approach. They've created a robot that can build other purpose-specific robots, using electromechanical modules and self-hardening foam.  Read More

A prototype haptic feedback system lets golfers experience what it feels like to perform a...

Golfers, are you still trying to perfect your putt? Well, you could try a five-minute lesson from the RobotPutt machine, have your technique analyzed by the iClub system, or download the iSwing app. Someday soon, you might also be able to use a new system developed by Katherine Kuchenbecker, an assistant professor of Innovation Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her system guides the user's club into delivering the ball straight to the hole, with the intention that golfers will develop a muscle memory for what it feels like to execute that "perfect putt."  Read More

Scientists have grafted olfactory receptors onto carbon nanotubes, in a step towards produ...

While people may have laughed at the mechanical-nose-bearing Odoradar device that Elmer Fudd once used to track Bugs Bunny, the development of real devices that can "smell" recently took a step forward, as researchers from the University of Pennsylvania grafted olfactory receptor proteins onto carbon nanotubes. These proteins are ordinarily located on the outer membrane of cells within the nose. When chemicals that enter the nose bind with the proteins, a cellular response is triggered, that leads to the perception of smell. It is hoped that a synthetic version of that same response could be possible, within sensing devices incorporating the nanotubes.  Read More

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