News

Robotic Modules Transform into Configurable Furniture

EPFL scientists from the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) have developed small robotic modules that can change their shape to create reconfigurable furniture. Like Lego bricks, Roombots pieces can be stacked upon each other to create various structures. Each 22 cm-long piece, which looks like two large dice joined together, has a wireless connection. Inside are a battery and three motors that allow the module to pivot with three degrees of freedom. The modules have retractable "claws" that they use to attach to other pieces and form larger structures. With a series of rotations and connections, the modules can change shape and become any of a variety of objects and pieces of furniture. In order to metamorphose and to attach to passive elements, the Roombots need to anchor themselves to something, so the researchers developed a special surface with holes adapted to the Roombots' mechanical claws. Fixed to the walls, floor, and already existing pieces of furniture, these surfaces act as interfaces between the modules and their environment. The little robots can then climb the walls of a room, or attach themselves to "passive" elements on the furniture to form mobile tables or lamps that follow users around the room. "It could be very useful for disabled individuals to be able to ask objects to come closer to them, or to move out of the way," says Auke Ijspeert, head of the BIOROB.SourceAlso: Learn about a Kinetic Calibration Process for Flight Robotic Arms.

Posted in: Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News

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Creating Better Thermal-Imaging Lens From Waste Sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team has found. The team successfully took thermal images of a person through a piece of the new plastic. By contrast, taking a picture taken through the plastic often used for ordinary lenses does not show a person’s body heat.

Posted in: Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Optical Components, Materials, Plastics, News

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Pedestrian Detection System Captures Body Heat

Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) have designed a new pedestrian detection system for cars that works in low-visibility conditions using infrared cameras to capture body heat. The new driving-aid system uses images captured by far infrared with two thermal cameras to identify the presence of individuals in their field of vision. The objective is to alert the driver to the presence of pedestrians in the path of the vehicle, and in the case of cars with automated systems, actually stop the vehicle.

Posted in: Cameras, Imaging, Sensors, Detectors, Transportation, Automotive, News

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Will Robots Make Good Caregivers?

An EU-funded program, called the GiraffPlus Project, uses robotics to help elderly people who want to remain at home. The GiraffPlus robot is part of a system that includes environmental and physiological sensors, which feed back information about the inhabitants' movements and health. A recent Pew Research poll revealed that 65% of respondents thought it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.

Posted in: Question of the Week

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Unmanned Aircraft Tested as Tool for Measuring Polar Ice Sheets

Scientists studying the behavior of the world's ice sheets — and the future implications of ice sheet behavior for global sealevel rise — may soon have a new airborne tool that will allow radar measurements that previously would have been prohibitively expensive or difficult to carry out with manned aircraft.

Posted in: Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring, Aerospace, Aviation, RF & Microwave Electronics, News

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3D-Printing Aerial Robot Mimics Tiny Bird

Scientists from Imperial College London have developed a 3D-printing Micro Aerial Vehicle (MAV) that mimics the way that swiftlets build their nests.The MAV is a quad-copter, with four blades that enable it to fly and hover. The vehicle, made from off-the-shelf components, carries in its underbelly two chemicals that create polyurethane foam when mixed, and a printing module to deliver the foam. The foam can then be used to build simple structures or repair components.The texture of the polymer exuded from the 3D printer can also be used to create ’grippers,‘ which stick onto and transport objects to different locations. The MAV could therefore pick up and remove bombs, or dispose of hazardous materials without exposing humans to danger. The next step for the team is to enable the vehicle to fly autonomously in any environment. The scientists plan to incorporate high-speed cameras and sensors on board the MAV, which will act like a satellite navigation system for tracking and controlling of the flight trajectory.SourceAlso: Learn more about NASA's Robonaut 2.

Posted in: Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Materials, Plastics, Sensors, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, Defense, News

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OCULLAR Provides Around-the-Clock Ocean Measurements

A team led at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has developed an instrument capable of observing ocean color during normal sunlight conditions and under moonlight — a first-ever capability that will allow scientists to monitor the health and chemistry of the planet’s oceans literally around the clock.The prototype Ocean Color Underwater Low Light Advanced Radiometer (OCULLAR) has shown in field testing that it can measure ocean color under low-light conditions across multiple wavelength bands, from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared. In contrast, current remote-sensing instruments can obtain measurements — based on electromagnetic energy emitted by the sun, transmitted through the atmosphere, reflected off Earth’s surface, or upwelled from water masses — only during daylight hours, said Principal Investigator Stan Hooker.Of particular interest to scientists studying ocean color is phytoplankton, the microscopic ocean plants that form the base of the oceanic food web. The tiny plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce organic carbon. This process, called photosynthesis, is possible because plants contain chlorophyll, green-colored compounds that trap the energy from sunlight. Because different types of phytoplankton contain different kinds of chlorophyll, measuring the color of a particular area allows scientists to estimate the amount and general type of phytoplankton there. Since phytoplankton also depend on specific conditions for growth, they frequently become the first to be affected by pollution or some other change in their environment.Until now, however, obtaining these measurements was limited to daylight hours and only during the spring, summer and fall months in the polar regions — a problem Hooker sought to correct with OCULLAR. The successful OCULLAR demonstration leads the way to anticipated commercialization and creates a new capability for oceanographers, climate scientists, and others interested in quantifying, understanding, and monitoring the biological productivity of oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters.SourceAlso: Learn about a Data Assimilation System for Coastal Ocean Prediction.

Posted in: Photonics, Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring, News

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