Machinery & Automation

Robots Restore Electricity After Power Outages

A team led by Nina Mahmoudian of Michigan Technological University has developed a tabletop model of a robot team that can bring power to places that need it the most.“If we can regain power in communication towers, then we can find the people we need to rescue,” says Mahmoudian, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering–engineering mechanics. “And the human rescuers can communicate with each other.”Unfortunately, cell towers are often located in hard-to-reach places, she says. “If we could deploy robots there, that would be the first step toward recovery.”The team has programmed robots to restore power in small electrical networks, linking up power cords and batteries to light a little lamp or set a flag to waving with a small electrical motor. The robots operate independently, choosing the shortest path and avoiding obstacles, just as you would want them to if they were hooking up an emergency power source to a cell tower.“Our robots can carry batteries, or possibly a photovoltaic system or a generator,” Mahmoudian said. The team is also working with Wayne Weaver, the Dave House Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, to incorporate a power converter, since different systems and countries have different electrical requirements. SourceAlso: Learn about Locomotion of Amorphous Surface Robots.

Posted in: Batteries, Electronics & Computers, Power Management, Energy Storage, Solar Power, Energy, Communications, Wireless, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


Underwater Robot Skims for Port Security

MIT researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism — which leaves no visible wake — the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers and giving them the chance to jettison their cargo.Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, built the main structural components of the robot using a 3-D printer. Half of the robot — the half with the flattened panel — is waterproof and houses the electronics. The other half is permeable and houses the propulsion system, which consists of six pumps that expel water through rubber tubes.Two of those tubes vent on the side of the robot opposite the flattened panel, so they can keep it pressed against whatever surface the robot is inspecting. The other four tubes vent in pairs at opposite ends of the robot’s long axis and control its locomotion.SourceAlso: Learn about Underwater Localization for Transit and Reconnaissance Autonomy.

Posted in: Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Motion Control, Power Transmission, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


3D Printer That Could Build a Home in 24 Hours Wins Global Design Competition

New York, NY – Contour Crafting, a computerized construction method that rapidly 3D prints large-scale structures directly from architectural CAD models, has been awarded the grand prize of $20,000 in the 2014 "Create the Future" Design Contest. Contour Crafting automates the construction of whole structures and radically reduces the time and cost of construction. The large-scale 3D printing technology is revolutionary to the construction industry and could lead to affordable building of high-quality, low-income housing; the rapid construction of emergency shelters; and on-demand housing in response to disasters. NASA is looking at the technology for building moon and Mars bases. Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at University of Southern California, who invented Contour Crafting, views this invention as a proven concept. “Bringing 3D printing to construction is bringing a concept to a proven application. For many years, building has been done in layers – concrete foundation blocks, brick laying, structural framing, etc.” “I am very happy to receive this award and find it to be very timely as I am in the process of fund raising and I think this recognition will help me greatly in furthering the project,” said Khoshnevis. Contour Crafting was among the 1,074 new product ideas submitted in the 12th annual design contest, which was established in 2002 to recognize and reward engineering innovations that benefit humanity, the environment, and the economy. This year’s design contest was co-sponsored by COMSOL ( and Mouser Electronics ( Analog Devices and Intel were supporting sponsors. In addition to the grand prize of $20,000, first-place winners (of Hewlett-Packard workstations) were named in seven categories: *Aerospace & Defense: The Polariton Interferometer - a Novel Inertial Navigation System Frederick Moxley A stealth navigation system that provides precise course-plotting while operating independently from GPS. *Automotive/Transportation: Continuously Variable Displacement Engine Steve Arnold A continuously variable stroke engine that operates at 30% better fuel efficiency than conventional thick stroke engine designs. *Consumer Products: NanoFab a Box! Jonathan Moritz (Team Leader) An educational kit that brings nanomanufacturing out of the cleanroom and into the classroom. *Electronics: A Paradigm Shift for SMT Electronics Jim Hester (Team Leader) Micro-coil springs that provide flexible electrical interconnections for integrated circuit packages, preventing connection breaks due to heat and vibration. *Machinery/Automation/Robotics  – sponsored by Maplesoft: Automatic Eye Finder & Tracking System Rikki Razdan (Team Leader) Real-time point-of-gaze eye tracking system that allows users to control computer input through "Look and Click" applications.  *Medical: HemeChip for Early Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease Yunus Alapan (Team Leader) A biochip that can rapidly, easily, and conclusively identify the hemoglobin type in blood to diagnose Sickle Cell Disease in newborns. *Sustainable Technologies: Ecovent Systems - Making Every Room the Right Temperature Dipul Patel (Team Leader) A system of wireless vents and sensors that makes any forced air heating and cooling system smarter by directing conditioned air where it’s needed most. Finalists were selected by senior editors at Tech Briefs Media Group and judged by an independent panel of design engineers. Visitors to the contest Web site could vote on entries, with the 10 most popular designs awarded a Sphero mobile game system by Orbotix. For more information, visit          

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Green Design & Manufacturing, Software, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Medical, Diagnostics, Machinery & Automation, Semiconductors & ICs, Nanotechnology, News, Automotive


Robotic Fabric Moves and Contracts

Researchers are developing a robotic, sensor-embedded fabric that moves and contracts. Such an elastic technology could enable a new class of soft robots, stretchable garments, "g-suits" for pilots or astronauts to counteract acceleration effects, and lightweight, versatile robots to roam alien landscapes during space missions.The robotic fabric is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy. The strands return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move."We have integrated both actuation and sensing, whereas most robotic fabrics currently in development feature only sensing or other electronic components that utilize conductive thread," said Rebecca Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. "We also use standard sewing techniques to introduce the thread-like actuators and sensors into the fabric, so they could conceivably be integrated into the existing textile manufacturing infrastructure."SourceAlso: See other Sensors tech briefs.

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


Researchers Equip Robot with Novel Tactile Sensor

Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University have equipped a robot with a novel tactile sensor that lets it grasp a USB cable draped freely over a hook and insert it into a USB port.The sensor is an adaptation of a technology called GelSight, which was developed by the lab of Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, and first described in 2009. The new sensor isn’t as sensitive as the original GelSight sensor, which could resolve details on the micrometer scale. But it’s smaller — small enough to fit on a robot’s gripper — and its processing algorithm is faster, so it can give the robot feedback in real time.A GelSight sensor — both the original and the new, robot-mounted version — consists of a slab of transparent, synthetic rubber coated on one side with a metallic paint. The rubber conforms to any object it’s pressed against, and the metallic paint evens out the light-reflective properties of diverse materials, making it much easier to make precise optical measurements.In the new device, the gel is mounted in a cubic plastic housing, with just the paint-covered face exposed. The four walls of the cube adjacent to the sensor face are translucent, and each conducts a different color of light — red, green, blue, or white — emitted by light-emitting diodes at the opposite end of the cube. When the gel is deformed, light bounces off of the metallic paint and is captured by a camera mounted on the same cube face as the diodes.From the different intensities of the different-colored light, the algorithms developed by Adelson’s team can infer the three-dimensional structure of ridges or depressions of the surface against which the sensor is pressed. Source Read other Sensors tech briefs.

Posted in: Photonics, Optics, Materials, Motion Control, Sensors, Lighting, LEDs, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


New Algorithm Lets Cheetah Robot Run

Speed and agility are hallmarks of the cheetah: The big predator is the fastest land animal on Earth, able to accelerate to 60 mph in just a few seconds. As it ramps up to top speed, a cheetah pumps its legs in tandem, bounding until it reaches a full gallop.Now MIT researchers have developed an algorithm for bounding that they’ve successfully implemented in a robotic cheetah — a sleek, four-legged assemblage of gears, batteries, and electric motors that weighs about as much as its feline counterpart. The team recently took the robot for a test run on MIT’s Killian Court, where it bounded across the grass at a steady clip. In experiments on an indoor track, the robot sprinted up to 10 mph, even continuing to run after clearing a hurdle. The MIT researchers estimate that the current version of the robot may eventually reach speeds of up to 30 mph.The key to the bounding algorithm is in programming each of the robot’s legs to exert a certain amount of force in the split second during which it hits the ground, in order to maintain a given speed: In general, the faster the desired speed, the more force must be applied to propel the robot forward. In experiments, the team ran the robot at progressively smaller duty cycles, finding that, following the algorithm’s force prescriptions, the robot was able to run at higher speeds without falling. Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the team’s algorithm enables precise control over the forces a robot can exert while running. SourceAlso: Learn about Hall Thrusters for Robotic Solar System Exploration.

Posted in: Motion Control, Motors & Drives, Software, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News


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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