Muscle Wire Pen Dances to Duke Nukem

[serdef] is clearly just having a little bit of fun here. One never needs a whiteboard pen that’s syncronized by MIDI to dance along with the theme from Duke Nukem.

But if you had all of the parts on hand (a highly liquid MIDI-driven relay board that connects straight up to a soundcard, some muscle wire, tape, and a whiteboard pen, naturally) we’re pretty sure that you would. You can watch the dancing pen in a video below the break.

The project is really about documenting the properties of [serdef]’s muscle wire, and he found that it doesn’t really contract enough with a short piece to get the desired effect. So he added more wire. We’ve always meant to get around to playing with muscle wire, and we were surprised by how quickly it reacted to changing the voltage in [serdef]’s second video.

Now the dancing pen isn’t the most sophisticated muscle wire project we’ve ever seen. And that award also doesn’t go to this Nitinol-powered inchworm. Did you know that there’s muscle wire inside Microsoft’s Surface?

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Microsoft Surface Book Teardown Reveals Muscle Wire Mechanism

It’s hard to resist the temptation to tear apart a shiny new gadget, but fortunately, iFixIt often does it for us. This helps to keep our credit cards safe, and reveal the inner workings of new stuff. That is definitely the case with the Microsoft Surface Book teardown that they have just published. Apart from revealing that it is pretty much impossible to repair yourself, the teardown reveals the mechanism for the innovative hinge and lock mechanism. The lock that keeps the tablet part in place when in laptop mode is held in place by a spring, with the mechanism being unlocked by a piece of muscle wire.

We are no strangers to muscle wire (AKA Nitinol wire or Shape Metal Alloy, as it is sometimes called) here: we have posted on its use in making strange robots, robotic worms and walls that breathe. Whatever you call it, it is fun stuff. It is normally a flexible wire, but when you apply a voltage, it heats up and contracts, much like the muscles in your body. Remove the voltage, and the wire cools and reverts to its former shape. In the Microsoft Surface Book, a single loop of this wire is used to retract the lock mechanism, releasing the tablet part.

Unfortunately, the teardown doesn’t go into much detail on how the impressive hinge of the Surface Book works. We would like to see more detail on how Microsoft engineered this into the small space that it occupies. The Verge offered some details in a post at launch, but not much in the way of specifics beyond calling it an “articulated hinge”.

UPDATE: This post was edited to clarify the way that muscle wire works. 11/4/15.

Earthworm robot does what earthworms do

This earthworm robot comes to us from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is made up of mostly soft parts and manages to inch its way along the ground.

The robot’s “skin” is made from a tube of polymer mesh that will hold up to an awful lot of bending and stretching. As with its biological namesake, locomotion is facilitated by circular muscles. In this case muscle wire, when stimulated with electricity, contracts around the mesh casing. By coordinating these contractions the robot is able to inch its way along.

But it’s not just the method of travel that makes this research project interesting. The bot is also extremely resistant to damage. The video after the break shows the device withstanding several whacks from a mallet and being stepped on by the team that created it.

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DASH: clever construction and resilience in robotics

Behold the Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod (DASH). The video above was presented at the 2009 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. In it we see the toils of a team from UC Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. They’ve developed a robot propulsion system that mimics some of the best aspects of cockroaches and other insect bodies: speed, economy of motion, ability to survive large falls without damage, and the capability to traverse obstacles. Let’s take a look at how they put this together after the break. Continue reading “DASH: clever construction and resilience in robotics”