Motion Control

Vacuum System Powers Modular Soft Robot

Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have created the first functional robot powered entirely by vacuum. It is made of soft building blocks that move by having air sucked out of them. The robot can be reconfigured to perform different tasks, like climbing vertical walls and grabbing objects.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control
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Soft Robotic Gripper Manipulates Objects Without Training

An engineering team at the University of California San Diego has designed and built a gripper that can pick up and manipulate objects without needing to see them and without being trained. The gripper is unique because it brings together three different capabilities; it can twist objects, it can sense objects, and it can build models of the objects it’s manipulating. This allows the gripper to operate in low light and low-visibility conditions, for example.

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Multi-Legged Robot Reconfigures in Real Time

Scientists at Disney Research have developed a modular, reconfigurable legged robot named Snapbot that can move forward, interact with its environment, and perform other tasks based on a number of possible configurations. This system identifies its current configuration using only internal sensors, and utilizes a corresponding motion strategy to complete its task. The motion strategy changes as it is physically reconfigured in real time.

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Paper-Folding Techniques Expand Compacted Spacecraft

Origami has once again inspired engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Besides aesthetic beauty, the Japanese tradition of paper-folding addresses a persistent problem faced by JPL engineers: how do you pack the greatest amount of spacecraft into the smallest volume possible?

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Webb Telescope Actuators Move with Microscopic Accuracy

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. With a 21-foot diameter, the telescope’s primary mirror is six times larger than the one used by the Hubble Space Telescope. In order for such a large mirror to travel into space, it has to be broken up into multiple segments; in this case, 18 of them. But for the 18 to act as one primary mirror, they have to be adjusted while in orbit.

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Robotic Inspector Traverses Water Pipes

Today's water distribution systems lose an average of 20 percent of their supply because of leaks. Current leak-detection systems are expensive and slow to operate, and they don't work well in systems that use wood, clay, or plastic pipes. A robotic system developed by researchers at MIT could provide a fast, inexpensive way to find even tiny leaks with pinpoint precision, no matter what the pipes are made of.

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Robotic Gripper Cleans Up Space Debris

Large amounts of existing space debris pose a threat to satellites, space vehicles, and astronauts aboard those vehicles. However, cleaning up the debris is problematic. For example, suction cups don't work in a vacuum, and traditional sticky substances like tape are largely useless because the chemicals they rely on can't withstand extreme temperature swings.

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Computational Tool Simplifies Creating Machines That Bend

Replacing rigid joints and linkages with mechanisms that bend offers a number of potential advantages, even as it makes designing devices more difficult. A computational design tool developed by Disney Research promises to make this transition from rigid to compliant mechanisms easier. The tool can take a design for a conventional, rigidly articulated device and automatically substitute parts that achieve the same function through flexibility, drawing from existing catalogs of compliant mechanisms.

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Electromagnetic Actuator Decouples Linear and Rotary Motions

A lightweight module for rapid, accurate, and versatile positioning of semiconductor chips features a novel electromechanical actuator that can move objects both linearly and rotationally. The technology was developed by researchers at the A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (A*STAR SIMTech) and National University of Singapore (SIMTech-NUS) Joint Lab.

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Wireless Magnetic Field Powers Folding Robots

Folding robots based on origami have emerged as an exciting new frontier of robotic design. However, they generally require onboard batteries or a wired connection to a power source, making them bulkier and clunkier than their paper inspiration and limiting their functionality. A team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has created battery-free folding robots that are capable of complex, repeatable movements powered and controlled through a wireless magnetic field.

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