A Soft Jumping Robot


Japanese researchers have created prototypes for “soft” robots that can jump, crawl,  and roll (even uphill).  A detailed summary of their work can be seen in this pdf file.  The prototype uses Shape Memory Alloys, or SMAs, by Toki Corporation.  By applying a pulse-width modulated signal the alloy is heated and deforms to a predefined shape.  Multiple SMAs allow the overall circular form of the robot to be deformed allowing rolling and jumping shapes to be created.  A more 3-dimensional version, where multiple circles are used to create a spheroid shape, can also crawl.

Most mobile robots use wheels or legs to create ground locomotion, so this concept is a unique departure from those ideas.  Like a lot of research ideas the actual practical applications are limited.  Currently SMA are not very energy efficient and have quite a bit of hysteresis in their pre-formed shape.  This means your power supply (batteries) and controller may not be able to reside on the mobile shape and that the shapes you form may have a lot of variability.

But imagine thousands of miniature strips of SMAs each receiving tiny currents from a central controller and you’ve pretty much modeled a human joint.    You can also imagine how useful robots based on this technology could be in places where energy is readily available and gravity is not a force to be reckoned with.  Satellite technology and space exploration might benefit from the ideas proposed by these researchers.

Picking a new processor

I have been struggling trying to get a secret project going. However, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments my original design will not work. So I now need to move on and figure out a new microprocessor to get the project working. I’ve been doing some research looking for something that will work. I haven’t come up with an exact plan, but I have definitely ruled out this one!

crab picture

That’s right, I will NOT be using a computer built out of crabs. There are the obvious size constraints, I would have to deal with, along with food issues. However, the biggest problem I foresee with this approach would be the smell. It would be tough living with thousands of crabs just to have a low-cost piece of consumer electronics. I will continue the search though, and hopefully I will be able to come up with a better option.

High Art


Great photo from the International Space Station of the robotic cargo vehicle ATV-3 docking.

NASA’s page.

Robots in your blood stream

In the story linked below an engineering professor discusses creating electronics small enough to travel through the blood stream.  The prototype is not really very small as far as electronic things go.  It looks to be a single IC on a 3mm x 4mm PCB,  so the story is a bit on the vaporware side of things. But the idea of powering small electronic devices with electromagnetic fields is interesting. This is how some early RFID tag (radio frequency identification) systems were designed to work.  You move the RFID through an energized loop antenna (for example something around the perimeter of a warehouse door) and the field creates electron flow in a small antenna on the RFID.  This powers the RFID and initiates an exchange of information again using the antennae.

The idea always struck me as elegant, in part because no battery was on the RFID tag.  You can imagine the RFID connected to products or pallets moving through a factory, and the location or assembly state being reported to a central database whenever the tag moves through a portal.  Trucks, boats, and cargo aircraft could be configured to read the RFID tags.  I’m sure technology has changed quite a bit, and I’m also sure companies like UPS and FedEx have figured out better ways to do this (bar codes Smile).  But I still fancy the idea.

Anyway here’s the story, if you are also intrigued..

“Free” energy

I am always amazed when a new product comes along that solves a problem that I did not know even existed.  But after seeing the product, I realize that a very real issue has been addressed.  Here is one such example:  energy soccer ball.  After seeing the elegant design and reading about the issues it addresses and the novel manner in its approach, I am in awe of the overall approach.  This is neat engineering at its best.