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Untethered Soft Robot Walks Through Flames

Developers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have produced the first untethered soft robot — a quadruped that can stand up and walk away from its designers.The researchers were able to scale up earlier soft-robot designs, enabling a single robot to carry on its back all the equipment it needs to operate — micro-compressors, control systems, and batteries.Compared with earlier soft robots, which were typically no larger than a steno pad, the system is huge, measuring more than a half-meter in length and capable of carrying as much as 7½ pounds on its back.Giving the untethered robot the strength needed to carry mechanical components meant air pressures as high as 16 pounds per square inch, more than double the seven psi used by many earlier robot designs. To deal with the increased pressure, the robot had to be made of tougher stuff.The material settled on was a “composite” silicone rubber made from stiff rubber impregnated with hollow glass microspheres to reduce the robot’s weight. The robot’s bottom was made from Kevlar fabric to ensure it was tough and lightweight. The result was a robot that can stand up to a host of extreme conditions.SourceAlso: Learn about a Field-Reconfigurable Manipulator for Rovers.

Posted in: Materials, Composites, Mechanical Components, Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News

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Researchers Develop Solar Technologies, Origami-Style

As a high school student at a study program in Japan, Brian Trease would fold wrappers from fast-food cheeseburgers into cranes. He loved discovering different origami techniques in library books.Today, Trease, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, thinks about how the principles of origami could be used for space-bound devices.Researchers say origami could be useful one day in utilizing space solar power for Earth-based purposes. Imagine an orbiting power plant that wirelessly beams power down to Earth using microwaves. Sending the solar arrays up to space would be easy, Trease said, because they could all be folded and packed into a single rocket launch, with "no astronaut assembly required."Panels used in space missions already incorporate simple folds, collapsing like a fan or an accordion. But Trease and colleagues are interested in using more intricate folds that simplify the overall mechanical structure and make for easier deployment.Last year, Zirbel and Trease collaborated with origami expert Robert Lang and BYU professor Larry Howell to develop a solar array that folds up to be 8.9 feet (2.7 meters) in diameter. Unfold it, and you’ve got a structure 82 feet (25 meters) across.SourceAlso: Learn about Origami-Inspired Folding of Thick, Rigid Panels.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Solar Power, Renewable Energy, Energy Harvesting, Energy, Aerospace, RF & Microwave Electronics, Antennas, News

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Airbags Take the Weight in Load Tests of Aircraft

NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Flight Loads Laboratory completed structural evaluations on a modified Gulfstream G-III aircraft that will serve as a test bed for the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) project. The loads tests assisted engineers in predicting the levels of structural stress the airplane will likely experience during ACTE research flights. And for the first time, some unusual hardware aided the process: the aircraft was supported by three large inflatable airbags during the tests.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Test & Measurement, Aerospace, Aviation, News

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Aircraft Wings Change Shape in Flight

The EU project SARISTU (Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures) aims to reduce kerosene consumption by six percent, and integrating flexible landing devices into aircraft wings is one step towards that target. A new mechanism alters the landing flap’s shape to dynamically accommodate the airflow. Algorithms to control the required shape modifications in flight were programmed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS in Chemnitz, in collaboration with colleagues from the Italian Aerospace Research Center (CIRA) and the University of Naples."We’ve come up with a silicon skin with alternate rigid and soft zones,” Said Andreas Lühring from Fraunhofer IFAM. “There are five hard and three soft zones, enclosed within a silicon skin cover extending over the top.”The mechanism sits underneath the soft zones, the areas that are most distended. While the novel design is noteworthy, it is the material itself that stands out, since the flexible parts are made of elastomeric foam that retains their elasticity even at temperatures ranging from -55 to 80° Celsius.Four 90-centimeter-long prototypes — two of which feature skin segments — are already undergoing testing.SourceAlso: Learn about Active Wing Shaping Control.

Posted in: Materials, Mechanical Components, Aerospace, Aviation, News

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Motion-Sensing Keyboard Lets Users Hover and Swipe

Microsoft engineers have developed a new type of augmented mechanical keyboard, sensing rich and expressive motion gestures performed both on and directly above the device. A low-resolution matrix of infrared (IR) proximity sensors is interspersed with the keys of a regular mechanical keyboard. This results in coarse, but high frame-rate motion data.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, PCs/Portable Computers, Mechanical Components, Sensors, Software, Mathematical/Scientific Software, News

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