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


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


New Rotary Sensor Keeps Conveyor Belts Running Smoothly

Rotary sensors can help determine the position of a moveable body in relation to an axis. They are essential to the smooth running of car engines in the automotive industry, for example. In factories, goods and products are transported from one processing station to the next via conveyor belt. For the transfer from one belt to the next to run smoothly, it must take place precisely at a specific position, which means knowing the relative position of objects on the conveyor belts as they move towards each other. This can be determined from the angle of rotation, which refers to the position of a moveable body to an axis.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Photonics, Optics, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Industrial Controls & Automation, Consumer Product Manufacturing, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, News


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


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


With New Sensors, NASA's Morpheus Preps to Land on its Own

A test flight will challenge a set of sensors to map out a 65-yard square of boulder-sized hazards and pick out a safe place to land. Mounted to an uncrewed prototype lander called Morpheus that flies autonomously several hundred feet above the ground, the sensor system will have 10 seconds to do its work. The sensor system is a 400-pound set of computers and three instruments called ALHAT (Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology).

Posted in: Sensors, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, News


Pocket-Sized Anthrax Detector Aids Global Agriculture

A credit-card-sized anthrax detection cartridge developed at Sandia National Laboratories and recently licensed to a small business makes testing safer, easier, faster and cheaper.Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals. The bacteria can survive in harsh conditions for decades. In humans, exposure to B. anthracis may occur through skin contact, inhalation of spores or eating contaminated meat.The new device, which is more like a pocket-sized laboratory, could cost around $5-7 and does not require a battery, electric power, or other specialized tools to operate.SourceAlso: See other Sensors tech briefs.

Posted in: Green Design & Manufacturing, Sensors, Detectors, Defense, News