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Robot Roundup

What if robots could run the way cheetahs do? Or take to the sky like a butterfly? Or clean out your fridge? For insights into those questions and more, here’s a quick summary of some of the most interesting robot-related research announced this week:

Floats like a butterfly…

By learning how butterflies get around with so much nimbleness and grace, Johns Hopkins engineers hope to help small airborne robots, commonly called micro aerial vehicles or MAVs, to imitate these types of movement and thereby prepare the way for a new generation of tiny flying machines.

The research is using three high-speed video cameras capable of recording 3,000 one-megapixel images per second to scrutinize painted lady butterfly flight dynamics. It may lead to the development of technology that will aid in supporting safer reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, and environmental monitoring missions.

…MAVs must be able to fly successfully through complex urban environments, where there can be tight spaces and turbulent gusts of wind. Flying insects are capable of performing a dazzling variety of flight maneuvers. In designing MAVs, we can learn a lot from flying insects.”

— Tiras Lin, undergraduate, Whiting School of Engineering

Run, robot! Run!

Working with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Delaware assistant professor Ioannis Poulakakis is working to develop “a family of systematic control strategies that work together with the robot’s natural dynamics to generate fast, reliable and efficient running motions.”

Poulakakis hopes his efforts might help to enable quadruped robots to move about quickly and effectively, avoid falls through self-correcting movements, and imitate the running motion of living animals. In addition, under the grant, Poulakakis is developing experiences for K-12 teachers that are intended to stimulate interest for budding engineers.

Biomechanics research demonstrates that springs and running are intimately related. When you run, the knee of the leg that is on the ground initially bends and then extends to prepare the body for take-off. During knee bending, energy is stored in elastic elements such as tendons or muscle fibers. Then, this energy is released during knee extension, pushing the body upward and forward.”

— Ioannis Poulakakis, assistant professor, University of Delaware

Cleans up after supper and puts the kids to bed…

A market research survey conducted in January indicates that the majority of people (68%) are in favor of domestic robots. In addition, nearly half of the respondents (41%) reported that they’d consider paying for such a robot with a loan.

Thinking about building the perfect robot? It should have a more humanlike voice that should sound not too young or too old. Interestingly, 51% also preferred that the voice wouldn’t sound too feminine or too masculine either. In terms of appearance, it would be more humanlike than machinelike, a little on the funny side, more colorful than metallic, more round than square shaped, and allow for personal design, perhaps like buying a car.”

— Press Release, Persuadable Research Corporation

The researchers uncovered a long list of desired abilities for domestic robots to help out with. It includes moving heavy things, providing home security, cleaning windows, doing laundry, and — my personal wish-list topper — washing floors and dishes.

So, what does your robot do?


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