Building a future where robots work alongside humans relies heavily on soft robotics. Typically this means there will be an air compressor or a hydraulic system nearby, taking up precious space. But it doesn’t have to.
Engineers at the UC-San Diego Jacobs School have created a soft robotics system that uses electricity to control flexible actuators, much like our brains move our muscles. It works like this: sheets of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer are sandwiched between two layers of standard elastomer. These layers are rolled into cylinders that can twist and bend in different directions depending on which of its six element(s) get electricity. Light up all six, and the tube contracts, forming the foundation for a good gripper. The team also built a tiny walker, pictured above.
The project is still in its infancy, so the actuators are slow to bend and even slower to return to their original shape, but it’s still a great start. Imagine all the soft robotic projects that can get off the ground without being shackled by the bulk and weight of an air compressor or fluid handling system. Watch it do various sped-up things after the break, like claw-machine gripping a bottle of chocolate rocks.
The glove uses an Arduino’s analog to digital converter to read some flex sensors. Commercial flex sensors are pretty expensive, so he experimented with some homemade sensors. The ones with tin foil and graphite didn’t work well, but using some bent can metal worked better despite not having good resolution.
Each module has 3D printed gears (with an anti-backlash flex spline), an RGB LED for feedback, integrated homing, active cooling, a slip ring made from copper tape, and a touch sensor dial on the back for jogging and training input. The result is a low backlash, low cost actuator that keeps external wiring to an absolute minimum.
Originally inspired by a design named WE-R2.4, [John] has added his own twist in numerous ways, which are best summarized in the video embedded below. That video is number three in a series, and covers the most interesting developments and design changes while giving an excellent overview of the parts and operation (the video for part one is a basic overview and part two shows the prototyping process, during which [John] 3D printed the structural parts and gears and mills out a custom PCB.)
While autonomous robots have been the subject of some projects in the past, this particular project takes a swing at building a robot that can teach children about controls and robotics.
The idea is to mimic a space mission on the dark side of the moon, where radio contact is nearly impossible. The students learn to program and debug embedded devices and sensors, even before some of them have learned the alphabet!
The material for the challenge allows the microcontroller to be programmed in a simple Arduino program (Blink) as well as lower level languages like C++ or Java. The main hardware consists of an Arduino Uno R3-based rover controlled over WiFi by an ESP8266. The sensor data from the robot is gathered from an ultrasound distance sensor an a camera, as well as a SIM7000E GSM+GPS. Commands are polled from a server, sent via a web page and REST interface.
The rover responds to commands for directions, takes pictures, and scans its distance remotely. Some custom libraries are written for the serial communication and camera to account for spotty communication. The latest challenge expansion is a probe that pays attention to battery life and power consumption, challenging students to account for power usage during the robot’s lifetime.
Since the project’s conception, the rovers have already been used in schools, and we’re excited to see a new approach for younger students to learn controls and programming.
Some electric cleaners are effective and some hardly even seem to make a difference. The ILIFE V7s may be a robot cleaner, but even with its cleaning modes and anti-collision system, it still requires IR signals to complete any tasks. Tired of having to be physically in the same place as his robot cleaner, [pimuzzo] decided to take matters into his own hands and build a RESTful remote control to send IR signals from afar.
The IR signals are a bit funky – as one user highlighted, finding the IR protocol is a nontrivial task that can be accomplished by recording the IR signals from the original remote with a IR receiver and matching the marks, spaces, and carrier frequency with those of known protocol codes. [Oitzu] was able to match the timing to the NEC 32 bit protocol and find the exact codes on an oscilloscope, which simplified the translation of the codes for the remote.
Sometimes when life gives you a robot cleaner, it’s your job to make it smarter.
One of the challenges with humanoid robots, besides keeping them upright, is finding compact combinations of actuators and joint mechanisms that allow for good range of smooth motion while still having good strength. To achieve that researchers from the IRIM Lab at Korea University of Technology and Education developed the LIMS2-AMBIDEX robotic humanoid upper body that uses a combination of brushless motors, pulleys and some very interesting joint mechanisms. (Video, embedded below.)
From shoulder to fingers, each arm has seven degrees of freedom which allows the robot to achieve some spectacularly smooth and realistic upper body motion. Except for the wrist rotation actuator, all the actuators are housed in the shoulders, and motion is transferred to the required joint through an array of cables and pulleys. This keeps the arm light and its inertia low, allowing the arms to move rapidly without breaking anything or toppling the entire robot.
The wrist and elbow mechanisms are especially interesting. The wrist emulates rolling contact between two spheres with only revolute joints. It also allows a drive shaft to pass down the centre of the mechanism and transfer rotating motion from one end to the other. The elbow is a rolling double jointed affair that allows true 180 degrees of rotation.
We nearly passed over this tip from [xoxu] which was just a few links to some AliExpress pages. However, when we dug a bit into the pages we found something pretty surprising. Somewhere out there in the wild we…east of China there’s a company not only reverse engineering the Mini Cheetah, but improving it too.
We cover a lot of Mini Cheetah projects; it’s a small robot that can do a back-flip after all. When compared to the servo quadruped of not so many years ago it’s definitely exciting magic. Many of the projects go into detail about the control boards and motor modifications required to build a Mini Cheetah of your own. So we were especially interested to discover that this AliExpress seller has gone through the trouble of not just reverse engineering the design, but also improving on it. Claiming their motors are thinner and more dust resistant than what they’ve seen from MIT.
To be honest, we’re not sure what we’re looking at. It’s kind of cool that we live in a world where a video of a research project and some papers can turn into a $12k robot you can buy right now. Let us know what you think after the break.