Robotics Tech Digest - April 2017


Researchers at the North Carolina State University have developed soft robotic devices that can be actuated by magnets. The team embedded iron microparticles into a liquid polymer solution then applied a magnetic field to cause the particles to form parallel chains. The device was then dried leaving a thin film with the aligned magnetic particles. The researchers created three robots to demonstrate the principal. The first is a cantilever that can lift 50 times its own weight. The second is a corrugated strip that expands and contracts like a muscle. The final device is a tube that acts as a peristaltic pump (it contacts from one end through to the other like a worm). 


DHL Supply Chain, part of the DHL logistics group, announced that it will be trialling the use of robots to help in the company’s order fulfilment process. The test which will happen at a life sciences facility in Tennessee, USA, will use Locus Robotics’ LocusBots to help human pickers hold and transport picked items around the warehouse. The test will assess the robots’ ability to communicate with the picker and warehouse management system, its navigational ability, and general versatility. If the pilot proves successful DHL says it may use the system in other warehouses in the future. 

A fishy robot from Zhejiang

Scientists at Zhejiang University, China, have developed an untethered soft robotic fish that can swim at speeds of 6.4 centimetres per second. It is made of a near transparent gels and plastics. The robot is self-powered by a soft electroactive structure of dielectric elastomers and ionically conductive hydrogels – when the attached battery sends power through the hydrogel the robot’s fins flap. The robot has been tested in a range of temperatures. It can work for three hours on a single charge. The scientists believe with further development that the robot will be capable of deep sea exploration owing to its soft body being deformable.

Gun toting Russian robot

Russia’s deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has posted a picture of FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research), a Russian bipedal robot on Twitter. The robot is seen holding two handguns and the – google translated – text reads “Robot platform F.E.D.O.R. showed the skills of shooting with two hands. There is work on fine motor and decision algorithms.” The robot developed by Android Technics and the Advanced Research Fund will reportedly be sent into space in 2021 and can be seen in a YouTube video displaying various skills such as using keys, a selection of power tools, screwing in lightbulbs and driving a car. 

Not so fast Cheetah bot

Roboticists from the University of Twente have demonstrated their cheetah robot. While the robot is not as fast as a cheetah – moving at only one kilometre per hour – it is replicating the energy efficient locomotion of a cheetah – using, relatively, only 15% more energy than the big cat. The speed and efficiency of the cheetah’s movement comes from its ability to bend and extend its spine while running. The researchers mimicked this by including springs in the ‘spine’ of the robot, and springs to store energy for quick release – similar to muscles – in the legs. 

University surveillance 

Cornell University researchers are working on a system that enables a team of robots to work together to conduct surveillance. The work, supported by a four-year USD1.7 million US Navy research grant, will use computer vision to match and combine images of the same scene from different angles, identify objects and track them from place to place. The difficulty of the work lies in combining the images from multiple angles and agents – that could be aircraft, drones, on the ground roving robots, surveillance cameras etc. A test of the system will be carried out on the Cornell campus using images from existing webcam feeds. 

Construction robot

Researchers at MIT Media Lab have developed a robotic arm system that can construct a liquid polyurethane house in 13.5 hours. The Digital Construction Platform (DCP) uses additive manufacturing methods to construct a building on site. The DCP is powered by battery but also takes advantage of solar power with an array of solar panels on the mobile robot’s chassis. The robot’s long arm has 4 degrees of freedom (DoF) and the smaller attached arm is capable of more refined movement having 6 DoF. It works by printing two walls of foam between which it leaves a cavity into which concrete can be poured to strengthen the structure.  The construction robot works with multiple printing materials, such as powdered glass, thermally deposited ice, and compressed earth. 

Industrial drilling for the skull

Researchers from the University of Utah have developed an automated drill that can perform one type of cranial surgery 50 times faster than standard procedure, reducing the time needed from two hours to two and a half minutes.  The drill’s computer software is programmed by the surgeon who uses CT scan data of the patient to work out what sensitive areas need to be avoided during the procedure. The drill has a safety stop. According to the researchers, the method’s speed, safety and cheapness could democratise health care. They are looking at ways to commercialise the drill. 

Disney robot patent

Disney recently filed a patent application for soft bodied robots that would be safe to physically interact with humans. The robots would be controlled by a human controller. The robots would have soft skins that would feel pressure applied to the robot and allow the controller to compensate appropriately. 


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