Pill Bugs And Chitons Get Jobs As Tiny Grippers

A research paper titled Biological Organisms as End Effectors explores the oddball approach of giving small animals jobs as grippers at the end of a robotic arm. Researchers show that pill bugs and chitons — small creatures with exoskeletons and reflexive movements — have behaviors making them useful as grippers, with no harm done to the creatures in the process. The prototypes are really just proofs of concept, but it’s a novel idea that does work in at least a simple way.

Pill bugs reflexively close, and in the process can grasp and hold lightweight objects. The release is simply a matter of time; researchers say that after about 115 seconds a held object is released naturally when the pill bug’s shell opens. While better control over release would be good, the tests show basic functionality is present.

The chiton — a small mollusk — can grip underwater.

Another test involves the chiton, a small mollusk that attaches to things with suction and can act as an underwater end effector in a similar way. Interestingly, a chiton is able to secure itself to wood and cork; materials that typical suction cups do not work on.

A chiton also demonstrates the ability to manipulate a gripped object’s orientation. Chitons seek dark areas, so by shining light researchers could control in which direction the creature attempts to “walk”, which manipulates the held object. A chiton’s grip is strong, but release was less predictable than with pill bugs. It seems chitons release an object more or less when they feel like it.

This concept may remind readers somewhat grimly of grippers made from dead spiders, but researchers emphasize that we have an imperative to not mistreat these living creatures, but to treat them carefully as we temporarily employ them in much the same manner as dog sleds or horses have been used for transportation, or carrier pigeons for messages. Short videos of both pill bug and chiton grippers are embedded below, just under the page break.

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Biological-inspired Robotic Eye Movements

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a biologically inspired system to control cameras on board robots that simulate the Saccadic optokinetic system of the human eye. Its similarity to the muscular system of the human eye is uncanny.

Joshua Schultz, a Ph.D candidate, says that this system has been made possible in part to piezoelectric cellular actuator technology. Thanks to the actuators developed in their laboratory it is now possible to capture many of the characteristics associated with muscles of the human eye and its cellular structure.

The expectation is that the piezoelectric system could be used for future MRI-based surgery, furthering our ability to research and rehabilitate the human eye.

[via engadget]

Ecce Robot


According to the video, Ecce Robot is a new paradigm in robotics. We don’t know if that’s true or not, but we really enjoy the drive system. They have mimicked the biological structures in humans using elastic cables and cheap drill motors as muscles. It is intriguing to watch the complexity that even a simple arm lift requires. This does show inefficient this type of set up is, but we still think it is cool. We don’t understand the desire to use cheap drill motors though. Cost aside, the control problem they mention seems like it could be resolved with a little better motor setup. Then again, we’re sure they thought of that. This seems like a perfect time to bring up a common question. Is it worth the inefficiency of trying to mimic our natural biological structures with hobby robotics pieces? What technology would have to be present to make it worth the complexity?

[via Engadget]