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EASE Hovercraft

The existence of flight robotics is tenuous at best. Its primary problem comes from finding ways to fuel the robot efficiently while still maintaining functionality, which has caused problems in the past. But this newest creation by CyPhy Works takes an innovative and yet somehow also strange perspective on this issue.

The EASE robot hovercraft is actually pretty cool as a robot itself. It can fly through doors and windows, and uses a ducted-fan design. This basically means that it uses a fan/propeller mounted within a cylinder or duct-like area. This sort of design allows the EASE to takeoff and land vertically, as well as hover in air. In addition, the EASE hovercraft is portable too, with a diameter of only 12 inches and height of 16 inches, this robot can easily be carries in a backpack.

Unfortunately, the EASE otherwise suffers from short-term battery problems. If using the on-board batteries, it can only last for a little less than an hour. Although hot-swapping (the ability to replace the battery without having the shut down the system) alleviates this problem a little bit, it’s still not a very efficient solution, especially if you need to use it for a long time and can’t afford to carry around hundreds of batteries. EASE solves this by having a microfilament that connects to the ground control system, and thus keep the robot powered through a power grid. This microfilament is even thinner than a headphone cable! In addition, the microfilament is spooled, adjusting to just the right quantity to feed out so the line will never be stressed or strained.

What do you use this amazing movement capabilities for? You could use them for search and rescue, with their ability to maneuver through difficult terrain and human buildings. And with two on-board HD cameras, (one front looking and other down looking) with an optional thermal camera, you can take pictures constantly as you drag the robot around like a balloon. Even better, the microfilament connection allows 720p video at 30 fps to be monitored in real time, because there is an actual physical connection between the robot and control system.

Of course, some would argue that this UAV can be used to track down people in the apocalypse no matter how much we blockade our buildings. Let’s be optimistic  can’t we?

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Kenshiro: The Robot with Muscles

We’ve seen a wide arrangement of biologically-inspired robots lately. But this next one might scare you a bit, since it does take a substantial leap into the robopocalyptic future. This robot, made by the University of Tokyo and coined Kenshiro, has human-like bones and muscles, one step closer to having humanoid robots that move just like us.

Kenshiro is made to mimic the body of the average Japanese 12-year-old male, with a height of 158 cm (5’2″) and a weight of 50 kg (110 lbs). His body is built to mimic almost all of the muscles found in the human body, using 160 pulley-like “muscles” to move its joints all around. These are no ordinary pulleys, though. While most usually follow the conventional point-to-point system that stretch only between specific points, larger planar (sheet-like) muscles are used that are flatter and wider. These planar muscles only require one motor to control, making the entire robot much stabler and more freedom of movement.

Also, Kenshiro’s bones are quite a spectacle. Made of aluminum, they are sturdier than their prototypes, and feature numerous improvements, such as an incredible rib cage and better knee joints (with the cruciate ligament and the kneecap). Such bones will eventually make the robot to be able to sustain injury better and with more support.

With improvements in muscle torque and joint speeds, Kenshiro can almost do everything that humans can, such as the gymnastics-like leg stretching in the video. Still, Kenshiro’s joint angular speed isn’t as fast as a humans, with only 70-100 degrees per second. Before this is solved, robots will probably not be physically superior to humans in a humanoid state, but they’re catching up quickly.

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HyTAQ, The Robot That Could Fly (And Roll)

For most aerial vehicles, it is difficult to maintain energy efficiency when they have to work against gravity. On the other hand, most ground-restricted vehicles do not have the freedom that aerial vehicles do. At the same time, it seems difficult to combine the two.

HyTAQ hybrid quadrotor robot travels by air and land, leaves us no place to hide video

The HyTAQ (Hybrid Terrestrial and Aerial Quadrotor) is unique in that it has four rotors for stable flight, but is also surrounded by a cylindrical cage made of polycarbonate and carbon fiber. Additionally, HyTAQ uses the same actuators for flying as for moving on the ground, so no extra actuators need to be carried.

But why have something that can move in the air as well as the ground? Well to start off, as mentioned in the beginning, it’s more efficient. It can operate six times more than an aerial-only plane, while still maintaining the ability of aerial movement. By having both aerial and terrestrial mobility, a robot can change its movement depending on the situation, and traverse obstacles that terrestrial-only vehicles can’t. The cage acts as a shock absorber when the robot moves in the air and might crash into things, and also allows the robot to fly even in difficult wind situations. Of course, its terrestrial functions also allow it to move on the ground and avoid strong winds at the same time.

The cage also allows the robot to move irregardless of rotational position. The cage itself is held loosely onto the quadrotor, so no matter how much the cage spins, the rotors stay parallel to the ground, allowing for maximum stability.

All in all, HyTAQ is revolutionary because it increases efficiency and is a much less complex robot than another aerial and terrestrial hybrid machine would be. Plus, it looks really cool, bouncing along erratically while its center stays strong and balanced.

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Blind Juggler Robot

A few articles ago I wrote about a robot for Disney that can juggle balls with people. Well, this robot is a bit lonely, maybe because of its lack of eyes (visual sensors), and its talent would never have been discovered had it not been built by two members of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich.

Raffaello D'Andrea and juggling robot

Well, I suppose you might try to argue that it’s not really blind, since robots don’t always have visible “eyes.” But this robot is uniquely “blind” because it has no visual sensors, relying solely on mechanical sensors on the paddle to detect trajectory, spin, and force.

To prevent the robot from hitting the ball too hard  in any direction, the paddle is slightly curved. Each time the ball hits the paddle, the robot uses the data it receives from the mechanical sensors to speed up or slow down the paddle’s motion and hit the ball in a stable arc. This allows the robot to juggle multiple balls around for hours in a regular manner.

So far testing has shown that the robot can handle many different kinds of balls. But I don’t think that professional jugglers need to worry yet. The robot can’t throw around bottles or even shoes (and thus anything not remotely ball-shaped), which are simple enough for regular jugglers.

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Water Pipe Inspector

Robots that inspect the insides of water pipes usually use rubber wheels and treads to grip the pipe, which ends up dislodging rust particles that end up in peoples’ taps.

To combat this problem, the European Union TRACT project is developing a propeller-driven robot that keeps the pipe-touching to a minimum. Developed by Norway’s SINTEF research group, the current 3D-printed prototype has a segmented body, with propellers at each end and spring-loaded fins to lightly brush against the pipe. It also uses ultrasound transducers the pick up on how much of the pipe has been eroded.

The robot can get through pipes as small as 10cm (3.9 inches) and can make 90 degree turns, and can travel up to 150 meters.

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