Students Design Robotic Gardeners for Deep Space

Graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder are designing robots to work in a deep-space habitat, tending gardens and growing food for astronaut explorers.The team's entry in the eXploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is called "Plants Anywhere: Plants Growing in Free Habitat Spaces." Instead of an area set aside just for vegetation, the approach calls for plants to be distributed in any available space in a deep-space habitat.In their new system, a Remotely Operated Gardening Rover, or ROGR, travels around the habitat tending to a fleet of SmartPots, or SPOTS, which would be distributed throughout the deep-space habitat's living space.The SPOTS facilitate plants growing in a small, custom- designed hydroponic growth chamber with computerized systems to monitor the vegetation's progress. Each has its own sensor run by an embedded computer."We envision dozens of SPOTS on a space habitat," said Dane Larsen who is working on a master's degree on computer science. "Telemetry in each SPOT provides data on plant condition to a computer display."The robots and plants are networked together, and the SPOTS have the ability to monitor their fruits' or vegetables' soil humidity and issue watering requests.As each SPOT monitors and supports its plants, it can determine when ROGR needs to perform plant maintenance tasks. ROGR, a robot on wheels, has a forklift to move SPOTS, a mechanical arm for manipulating the plants, and a fluid delivery system that can provide fresh water or water with nutrients.SourceAlso: Learn about a Dexterous Humanoid Robot.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Monitoring, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Synthetic Aperture Sonar Can Help Navy Hunt Sea Mines

Since World War II, sea mines have damaged or sunk four times more U.S. Navy ships than all other means of attack combined, according to a Navy report on mine warfare. New sonar research being performed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) could improve the Navy’s ability to find sea mines deep under water.

Posted in: Imaging, Sensors, Detectors, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, Defense, News


NASA Decelerators Slow Payloads Traveling at Supersonic Speed

What will it take to land heavier spacecraft on Mars? How will engineers slow large payloads traveling at supersonic speeds in a thin Martian atmosphere? The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) mission will seek to answer these questions.

Posted in: Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Power Transmission, Test & Measurement, Aerospace, Machinery & Automation, News


Mobile Robots Help Technicians Manufacture Airplanes

A new mobile assistant is being developed to support technicians in the airplane manufacturing industry when applying sealant, measuring, and testing — without putting them at risk. In the EU project known as VALERI (Validation of Advanced, Collaborative Robotics for Industrial Applications), a European consortium is engineering a mobile robot that operates autonomously and moves independently through a production hall, side-by-side with the engineers and technicians. It is not intended to replace the technician, but instead relieve them of stressful and monotonous duties and take over inspection duties.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Industrial Controls & Automation, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


New Strain Gauge Enables 'Soft Machines'

Purdue University researchers have developed a technique to embed a liquid-alloy pattern inside a rubber-like polymer to form a network of sensors. The approach may be used to produce "soft machines" made of elastic materials and liquid metals.Such an elastic technology could be used to create robots with sensory skin, as well as develop stretchable garments that interact with computers."What's exciting about the soft strain gauge is that it can detect very high strains and can deform with almost any material," said Rebecca Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. "The skin around your joints undergoes about 50 percent strain when you bend a limb, so if you wanted to have sensory skin and wearable technology that tracks your movement you need to employ soft, stretchable materials that won't restrict your natural range of motion."SourceAlso: Learn about Thermal Properties of Microstrain Gauges.

Posted in: Materials, Metals, Plastics, Motion Control, Sensors, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Lubricant Selection: What Every Design Engineer Needs to Know

Simply stated, lubrication refers to the age-old science of friction reduction. People have been using lubricants for thousands of years, experimenting with waxes and oils from vegetables, fish, and animals to move heavy materials with equipment designed to gain mechanical advantage. In more recent years, the discovery of petroleum oil in the 1800s ushered in a new era of lubrication developments as people learned how to refine this oil and use it for a variety of purposes. Machinery could now be developed to operate faster and under heavier loads by using lubricants to create a barrier that eliminates friction and metalon- metal contact.

Posted in: Materials, Mechanical Components, Machinery & Automation, White Papers


New Algorithms Enable Self-Assembling, Printable Robots

In two new papers, MIT researchers demonstrate the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed three-dimensional configurations.One paper describes a system that takes a digital specification of a 3-D shape — such as a computer-aided design, or CAD, file — and generates the 2-D patterns that would enable a piece of plastic to reproduce it through self-folding.The other paper explains how to build electrical components from self-folding laser-cut materials. The researchers present designs for resistors, inductors, and capacitors, as well as sensors and actuators — the electromechanical “muscles” that enable robots’ movements.“We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, ‘I want a robot that will play with my cat,’ or ‘I want a robot that will clean the floor,’ and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device,” said Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.SourceAlso: Learn about Self-Assembling, Flexible, Pre-Ceramic Composite Preforms.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Power Transmission, Sensors, Software, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Mathematical/Scientific Software, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News