Special Coverage

Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Using Microwaves to Produce High-Quality Graphene
Transducer-Actuator Systems for On-Machine Measurements and Automatic Part Alignment
Wide-Area Surveillance Using HD LWIR Uncooled Sensors
Heavy Lift Wing in Ground (WIG) Cargo Flying Boat
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space
Converting from Hydraulic Cylinders to Electric Actuators
Automating Optimization and Design Tasks Across Disciplines

Robotic Inspector Traverses Water Pipes

A compact robot can inspect water or gas pipes to find leaks from the inside.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control

Robotic Gripper Cleans Up Space Debris

Gecko-inspired adhesives and a custom gripper create a device for grabbing objects in zero-gravty settings.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control

Computational Tool Simplifies Creating Machines That Bend

Non-expert users can generate compliant versions of conventional, rigidly-articulated mechanisms, which are then readily produced via 3D printing.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control

Electromagnetic Actuator Decouples Linear and Rotary Motions

A lightweight module uses a novel electromechanical actuator for rapid, accurate, and versatile positioning of semiconductor chips.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control

Wireless Magnetic Field Powers Folding Robots

Electromagnetic fields and actuator “muscles” allow folding robots to move without batteries.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control

Harmonic Air Motor Offers Very High Efficiency

This motor can be used in environments too hazardous for electric motors or internal combustion motors, such as with flammable atmospheres or materials.

Currently available air motors have many advantages over electric motors. They are more compact, lighter-weight, instantly reversible without sparking, create no heat buildup, are undamaged by stalling or overloading, and supply extremely broad torque and speed range. Generally available commercial air motors, however, have only 5% to 20% of ideal efficiency. The Harmonic Air Motor developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has all these advantages of air motors, but also offers a proven efficiency more than 60% of ideal, higher low-end torque than available commercial air motors, and can be manufactured at lower cost.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion 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 obstacles and operates on a variety of terrains. The 3D-printed quadrupedal technology may someday support search-and-rescue missions requiring intelligent navigation capabilities.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control, Automation, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Terrain, Kinematics, Additive manufacturing, Robotics, Autonomous vehicles

High-Temperature Actuators Bend as They “Breathe”

The mechanical components are made from films that expand and contract as they let oxygen in and out.

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.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control, Automation, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Heat resistant materials, Materials properties, Test equipment and instrumentation

3D-Printed Tensegrity Object Can Change Shape

The technology creates a large, lightweight, strong object that can be flattened and then expanded to its full size when heated.

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 structural system of floating rods in compression and cables in continuous tension. The researchers fabricated the struts from shape memory polymers that unfold when heated.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control, Automation, Thermodynamics, Thermodynamics, Additive manufacturing, Fabrication, Materials properties, Polymers, Smart materials

Flat, Triangular Modules Connect to Form Origami Robot

Using two genderless mechanisms, module sides are connected and folded to create reconfigurable 3D structures.

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 reconfigure the overall shape and address diverse tasks. These robots are more flexible when it comes to shape and configuration, but they are generally bulky and complex.

Posted in: Briefs, Motion Control, Automation, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Fabrication, Robotics, Lightweight materials, Materials properties

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