Robotics, Automation & Control

Access our comprehensive library of technical briefs on robotics, automation & control, from engineering experts at NASA and government, university, and commercial laboratories.

Briefs : Mechanical & Fluid Systems
Hydraulically Amplified Actuators

Soft robots are made from soft materials that react to applied voltage with a wide range of motions. Such soft robots contain tremendous potential for future applications, as they adapt to dynamic...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Flexible “Skin” Senses Shear Force

To date, it has been difficult or impossible for most robotic and prosthetic hands to accurately sense the vibrations and shear forces that occur, for example, when a finger is sliding along a tabletop,...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Software Improves Ability of Robots to Communicate with Humans

A software system was developed that helps robots more effectively act on spoken instructions — no matter how abstract or specific those instructions may be — from people who...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Transparent, Hydrogel-Based Robots Move When Inflated with Water

Engineers have fabricated transparent, gel-based robots that move when water is pumped in and out of them. They are made entirely of hydrogel — a tough, rubbery, nearly...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
System Enables Robots to Understand Contextual Commands

Today’s robots can accomplish many repetitive tasks, but their inability to understand the nuances of human language makes them mostly useless for more complicated requests. For example, if a specific tool is placed in a toolbox and a robot is asked to “pick it up,” it would be...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Controlling Soft Robots Using Magnetic Fields

A fundamental advance in controlling soft robots involves using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices. Several devices have been developed...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Evolving and Controlling Behaviors in a Computation-Free Robot Swarm

Flocks of birds, schools of fish, and colonies of ants exhibit a remarkable robustness and resilience, despite the limited capabilities of each individual. Recently, research into bio-inspired swarm robotics has been gaining popularity due to the low-cost, robust, redundant,...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Piezoelectric Actuator with Dual Horns Separately Controllable to Drive Miniature Vehicles Along a Single Axis

Actuators are a critical driver of all the mechanisms used in space, and improvements of their operation mechanism enhance mission...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Crab Crawl Maneuver for Independently Steerable Wheeled Platforms

An industrial-class excavator was developed for use on the Moon and perhaps on Mars. The model mobility platform uses Ackerman Steering with active drives on all six wheels, and steering on the corners. A faulty sequence of wheel steering and driving commands resulted in...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Continuous Diagnostic System Predicts Industrial Robot Faults

Robots in production lines work with micrometer precision, unless a component fails. If, for example, the linear actuator used to precisely position a car body in front of an...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain

Traditional robots often feature isolated mechanical joints. These discrete components limit a rover’s ability to traverse sand, stone, and other challenging environments. A team at the University of California San Diego has demonstrated a more flexible option: a soft robot that lifts its legs over...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
High-Temperature Actuators Bend as They “Breathe”

Extreme temperatures are hard for mechanical components to endure without degrading. To address the problem, researchers at MIT worked with several other universities to develop a new way to make actuators that could be used in exceptionally hot environments.

Briefs : Manufacturing & Prototyping
3D-Printed Tensegrity Object Can Change Shape

A team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a way to use 3D printers to create objects capable of dramatic expansion. The technology could someday be used in applications ranging from space missions to biomedical devices. The new 3D-printed objects use tensegrity, a...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Flat, Triangular Modules Connect to Form Origami Robot

Origami robots are composed of thin structures that can fold and unfold to change shape. They are compact and lightweight, but have functional restrictions related to size, shape, and how many folds can be created. On the other hand, modular robots use large numbers of individual entities to...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Straws Help Create Simple Robot Joints

Inspired by arthropod insects and spiders, Harvard professor George Whitesides and Alex Nemiroski, a former postdoctoral fellow in Whitesides’ Harvard lab, used ordinary plastic drinking straws to create a type of semi-soft robot capable of standing and walking. The team also created a robotic water...

Briefs : Aerospace
Machine Vision System

A number of instruments have been built to obtain range images — a two-dimensional array of numbers that gives the depth of a scene along many directions from a central point in the instrument. Instead of measuring the brightness of many points in a scene, as in a television camera, these instruments measure where each...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Autonomous Combustion-Powered Hopping Robot

Robots are conventionally made mobile by rolling on wheels; however, wheeled robots have limited ability to traverse large obstacles. Obstacles much taller than the robot's wheels can prevent passage, and obstacles with significant horizontal gaps, such as trenches, can also prevent passage. One...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Omnidirectional Mobile Robot with Two Moving Parts

SIMbot is an updated version of the ballbot, an elegantly simple robot whose tall, thin body moves on top of a sphere slightly smaller than a bowling ball. SIMbot features a motor with just one moving part: the ball. The other active moving part of the robot is the body itself.

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Interactive Robot Control System and Method of Use

Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), in collaboration with General Motors and Oceaneering, have designed a state-of-the-art, highly dexterous, humanoid robot: Robonaut 2 (R2). R2 is made up of multiple systems and sub-components: vision systems, image-recognition systems, sensors,...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Integrated High-Speed Torque Control System for a Robotic Joint

Researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), in collaboration with General Motors and Oceaneering, have designed a state-of-the-art, highly dexterous, humanoid robot: Robonaut 2 (R2). R2's nearly 50 patented and patent-pending technologies have the potential to be...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Developing a Satellite-Based Autonomous Vehicle Control System

The rapid rise of global interest in the field of autonomous driving is ushering in a new era of automobiles. With many vehicles already offering autonomous preventative safety systems, the addition of improved road infrastructure could increase the reliability and maturity of...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Wearable Robotic System for Minimally Invasive Surgery

Researchers developed a wearable robotic system for minimally invasive surgery (also known as keyhole surgery) that will offer surgeons natural and dexterous movement, as well as the ability to sense, see, control, and safely navigate through the surgical environment. The need for better...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems

Multi-robot systems deployed in real-world applications are exposed to the same issues that computer systems face. A cybersecurity attack on a robot has the consequences of an attack on a computer system, with the added risk that the robot could be controlled to take potentially damaging...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Linear Rope Brake System for Aerial Delivery

There are instances when items (e.g., supplies) need to be lowered from an aerial vehicle to the ground. For example, the United States military often lowers supplies from a rotary winged aircraft (e.g., a helicopter) to ground troops. In some instances, there is even a need to deliver mission...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Origami-Inspired Robot Fits in Tight Spaces

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were inspired by origami when they developed the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER). Its lightweight design — which can hitch a ride aboard a rover — can flatten itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places that larger robots...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Software Interface Simplifies Robot Control

The traditional interface for remotely operating robots works well for roboticists. They use a computer screen and mouse to independently control six degrees of freedom, turning three virtual rings and adjusting arrows to get the robot into position to grab items or perform a specific task. But for...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Composite C-Channel Incrementally Adjustable Fluid Control System

The ability to selectively adjust levels and flow rates in fluid control systems is a fundamental aspect of dredged material and fluid management, and necessary to numerous farm and industrial processes. Historically, fluid management structures such as gates and weirs offer...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Exo-Brake Enables Safe Return for Small Spacecraft
Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Mechanical Metamaterials Block Symmetry of Motion

Engineers and scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and the AMOLF institute in the Netherlands have invented mechanical metamaterials that easily transfer motion in one direction while blocking it in the other. The material can be thought of as a mechanical one-way shield that blocks...

Briefs : Robotics, Automation & Control
Portable Superconductivity Systems for Small Motors

Superconductivity, where electrical currents travel unhindered through a material, has many practical uses. It is used in applications extending from MRIs in hospitals to the cavities of particle accelerators. However, practical exploitation of superconductivity also presents many...

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