Robotics Meets the Biological Forces of Nature

Excellent article on how robotic engineers are influenced by the abilities of living beings, providing fruitful ground for biologically inspired technologies.

Nature just does things better than humans. It is a galling fact for engineers, but it is very often true and, in all honesty, not surprising; given millions of years to work on a problem, the random mutations and gradual change of evolution will often find a solution where mere human ingenuity, even assisted by computers, cannot.

“the combination of systems of sensors, muscles and brain – that allow a squid to control its tentacles are still beyond us. All we’re doing is trying to understand the mechanics of a tentacle to the extent that we can mimic some of its characteristics.” – George Whitesides, Harvard University

Mimicking nature’s solutions has, therefore, always been a part of the job of an engineer; and robotics, possibly the most important field where engineers try to copy the abilities of living beings, is providing fruitful ground for bioinspired technologies.

Investigating nature’s solutions is the preserve of biologists, but their insights into the often surprising and even seemingly perverse ways that organisms achieve what might seem impossible — such as climbing a sheer, smooth surface — can often give engineers ideas for how to solve completely different problems. For example, no starfish has ever tried to lift a pumpkin, but studying how their feet work and allow them to grasp and maneuver their limbs over the complex and textured topologies of coral reefs can lead to robots that can handle awkwardly shaped, delicate objects.

Read the full article.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he find it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir

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MIT Origami Robot Can Walk, Swim, Self-Destruct

MIT researchers have designed and built a programmable origami robot that folds itself up from a flat sheet of plastic when heated, and can then perform tasks, and when completed can self-degrade.

Measuring about a centimeter from front to back and weighing only a third of a gram, the robot’s only component is a permanent magnet affixed to its back. Its motions are controlled by programming external magnetic fields. The robot can swim, climb an incline, traverse rough terrain, and carry a load twice its weight.

Motion is achieved by applying a magnetic field to the permanent magnet on the robot’s back. This causes its body to flex. The friction between the robot’s front feet and the ground is great enough that the front feet stay fixed while the back feet lift. Then, another sequence of magnetic fields causes the robot’s body to twist slightly, which breaks the front feet’s adhesion, and the robot moves forward.

None of this works with the robot in its unfolded, flat configuration: it has to be folded into this shape to walk at all.

MIT researchers say that possible in the near future will be integrating self-folding sensors into the body of the robot, which could lead to autonomous operation.

Scire quod sciendum

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Huge Discount on Raspberry Pi Training

Master the Raspberry Pi with an extreme savings offer on Udemy instruction from Stackhouse.
For just $39, the Raspberry Pi Hacker Bundle offers a $625 value in Raspberry Pi training. The Intro to Raspberry Pi course ($199 value) ensures that even beginners can benefit from this deal.

Included for the low price is instruction in Pi-controlled devices, practical hardware projects, Python programming, hardware designs, and actually building your own Pi-powered robot.

As we write this the Udemy instruction offer is valid for another 5 days (the offer has since been extended, click thru to see if it might still be running) so don’t delay. Click Here to get $625 worth of Raspberry Pi training for just $39.

ipsa scientia potestas est

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The Amazing Veronda’s and Their Battling Robots

With BattleBots a week from finishing up a successful return to television, and the Kuratas v. MegaBots giant robot rumble on the horizon, we got to wondering how long we humans have been in love with the idea of robotic gladiators battling for our pleasure.

The January, 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics magazine ran a short story about the visionary Veronda brothers in cutting-edge California who had created a robotic boxing match.


The Veronda Bros fought their metal Mike Tysons for a solid six rounds, relaying commands with state-of-the-art shortwave radio telemetry. With a right, then a left, another right and another, RLRR LRLL, until finally…

“With smoke rising from their innards the fighters lost their heads and began lashing out wildly, dealing terrific clouts with both fists. Finally one robot went down and the other collapsed on top of him”

Not much is known of further robot fighters from the Veronda brothers, but William Veronda of San Marino, CA was issued a patent for a tabletop boxing game in 1930. You can bet these guys, if alive today, would be mixing it up in the BattleBox with Ghost Raptor and Biteforce.

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OWI 14-in-1 Solar Robot Kit

This is an amazingly fun way to introduce robotics to your kids. Learn by building up and tearing down 14 different solar-powered robots. Novice roboteers, ages 8 to 12, will love the OWI 14-in-1 Kit!


Click Here for the OWI 14-in-1 Solar Robot Kit and get your young robotic engineer started!

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Your New Best Buddy Around the House

French startup Blue Frog Robotics has launched a 35-day crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for its Buddy robot. Early signs are good for the 22-inch, 11-pound personal robot.

BuddyBuddy is promoted as not only a companion, but also as a “robotic modular platform that can be expanded infinitely with new applications and accessories like a projector, arms, inductive charging tray, side table … to make your daily life easier, safer and with a little bit of fun.”

The Indiegogo campaign is seeking $100,000, and it has already raised over twice that amount in the first week and a half. For $549 plus shipping, supporters can get the “classic edition” and a basic software tool kit. Early developer releases have already sold out, and for $6,490, academic supporters can get up to 12 developer versions of Buddy.

You can expect to see even more personal robots like Buddy hitting the market in the near future. The biggest question for all of these social robots, though, is whether they’re going to be able to deliver on everything that they’re promising in these promotional videos. The ease of operation, flawless voice recognition and user interaction, advanced mapping and navigation capabilities, the wide assortment of “apps,” are yet to be proved out.

The list of service features being touted for Buddy include some highly desirable functions, including interfacing with your automated home devices, light security functions, and elder care and companionship.


The Indiegogo campaign for Buddy

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