Robotics Update: May 2, 2012

Current robotics research news includes particles that could sculpt themselves into any shape, robot squirrels that are helping to explain animal behavior, and desktop technology that may make it possible to design and print working robots. [Click the titles to explore the original sources.]

Self-sculpting Sand

Shown in this photo are dice-sized prototypes that represent self-sculpting sand particles under development at Harvard. The particles “can assume any shape, allowing spontaneous formation of new tools or duplication of broken mechanical parts.” [Photo: M. Scott Brauer]

“[The particles] have the ability to latch onto their neighbors; they have the ability to talk to their neighbors; they have the ability to do some computation. Those are all things that are certainly feasible to think about doing in smaller packages. It would take quite a lot of engineering to do that, of course.”

— Robert Wood, associate professor of electrical engineering, Harvard University

Navy’s new robotics lab will speed technology to the total force

The U.S. Navy’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) opened its doors to researchers in March. The facilities reproduce several of the Earth’s ecosystems, including southeast Asian rainforests, near-shore waters, and a desert-like environment. [Photo: John F. Williams/Released]

It’s the first time that we have, under a single roof, a laboratory that captures all the domains in which our Sailors, Marines and fellow DOD service members operate.”

— Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research

Robosquirrels vs. rattlesnakes

How rattlesnakes and squirrels interact is the subject of a study using robot squirrels built by UC Davis engineers. In lab experiments, the robot squirrels have helped researchers understand how squirrels behave in reaction to rattlesnakes.

The reason I’m so excited is that with robots we can really change how animal behavior studies are done.”

— Sanjay Joshi, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis

MIT project could transform robotic design and production

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing desktop technology that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize, and print a robot in a matter of hours. [Photo: MIT]

This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society. We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratize access to robots.”

— Daniela Rus, a principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

Robots fighting wars could be blamed for mistakes on the battlefield

Research findings suggest that as robots become more like humans, people may “hold them morally accountable for causing harm.” [Photo: University of Washington]

“We’re moving toward a world where robots will be capable of harming humans. With this study we’re asking whether a robotic entity is conceptualized as just a tool, or as some form of a technological being that can be held responsible for its actions.”

— Peter Kahn, associate professor of psychology, University of Washington

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

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