Twelve pink tentacles are wrapped around a small, green succulent plant. The leaves seem relatively undisturbed. They are dangling from brass and white plastic pressure fittings attached to a brass circle.

Tentacle Robot Wants To Hold You Gently

Human hands are remarkable pieces of machinery, so it’s no wonder many robots are designed after their creators. The amount of computation required to properly attenuate the grip strength and position of a hand is no joke though, so what if you took a tentacular approach to grabbing things instead?

Inspired by ocean creatures, researchers found that by using a set of pneumatically-controlled tentacles, they could grasp irregular objects reliably and gently without having to faff about with machine learning or oodles of sensors. The tentacles can wrap around the object itself or intertwine with each other to encase parts of an object in its gentle grasp.

The basic component of the device is 12 sections “slender elastomeric filament” which dangle at gauge pressure, but begin to curl as pressure is applied up to 172 kPa. All of the 300 mm long segments run on the same pressure source and are the same size, but adding multiple sized filaments or pressure sources might be useful for certain applications.

We wonder how it would do feeding a fire or loading a LEGO train with candy? We also have covered how to build mechanical tentacles and soft robots, if that’s more your thing.

Continue reading “Tentacle Robot Wants To Hold You Gently”

An illustration of jellyfish swimming in the ocean by Rebecca Konte. The jellyfish are wearing cones on their "heads" to streamline their swimming that contain some sort of electronics inside.

The Six Million Dollar Jellyfish

What if you could rebuild a jellyfish: better, stronger, faster than it was before? Caltech now has the technology to build bionic jellyfish.

Studying the ocean given its influence on the rest of the climate is an important scientific task, but the wild pressure differences as you descend into the eternal darkness make it a non-trivial engineering problem. While we’ve sent people to the the deepest parts of the ocean, submersibles are much too expensive and risky to use for widespread data acquisition.

The researchers found in previous work that making a cyborg jellyfish was more effective than biomimetic jellyfish robots, and have now given the “biohybrid robotic jellyfish” a 3D-printed, neutrally buoyant, swimming cap. In combination with the previously-developed “pacemaker,” these cyborg jellyfish can explore the ocean (in a straight line) at 4.5x the speed of a conventional moon jelly while carrying a scientific payload. Future work hopes to make them steerable like the well-known robo-cockroaches.

If you’re interested in some other attempts to explore Earth’s oceans, how about drift buoys, an Open CTD, or an Open ROV? Just don’t forget to keep the noise down!

Continue reading “The Six Million Dollar Jellyfish”

A line-art diagram of the microfluidic device. On the left, in red text, it says "Fibrillization trigger (CPB pH 5.0). There is a rectangular outline of the chip in grey, with a sideways trapezoid on the left side narrowing until it becomes an arrow on the right. At the right is an inset picture of the semi-transparent microfluidic chip and the text "Negative Pressure (Pultrusion)." Above the trapezoid is the green text "MaSp2 solution" and below is "LLPS trigger (CPB pH 7.0)" in purple. The green, purple, and red text correspond with inlets labeld 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Three regions along the arrow-like channel from left to right are labeled "LLPS region," "pH drop," and in a much longer final section "Fiber assembly region."

Synthetic Spider Silk

While spider silk proteins are something you can make in your garage, making useful drag line fibers has proved a daunting challenge. Now, a team of scientists from Japan and Hong Kong are closer to replicating artificial spider silk using microfluidics.

Based on how spiders spin their silk, the researchers designed a microfluidic device to replicate the chemical and physical gradients present in the spider. By varying the amount of shear and chemical triggers, they tuned the nanostructure of the fiber to recreate the “hierarchical nanoscale substructure, which is the hallmark of native silk self-assembly.”

We have to admit, keeping a small bank of these clear, rectangular devices on our desk seems like a lot less work than keeping an army of spiders fed and entertained to produce spider silk Hackaday swag. We shouldn’t expect to see a desktop microfluidic spider silk machine this year, but we’re getting closer and closer. While you wait, why not learn from spiders how to make better 3D prints?

If you’re interesting in making your own spider silk proteins, checkout how [Justin Atkin] and [The Thought Emporium] have done it with yeast. Want to make your spider farm spiders have stronger silk? Try augmenting it with carbon.

A human hand holds a stack of several plexiglass sheets with needles glued into the ends. Very faint lines can be seen in the transparent stackup.

Biomimetic Building Facades To Reduce HVAC Loads

Buildings currently consume about 50% of the world’s electricity, so finding ways to reduce the loads they place on the grid can save money and reduce carbon emissions. Scientists at the University of Toronto have developed an “optofluidic” system for tuning light coming into a building.

The researchers devised a biomimetic system inspired by the multi-layered skins of squid and chameleons for active camouflage to be able to actively control light intensity, spectrum, and scattering independently. While there are plenty of technologies that can regulate these properties, doing so independently has been too complicated a task for current window shades or electrochromic devices.

To make the prototype devices (15 × 15 × 2 cm), 3 mm PMMA sheets were stacked after millifluidic channels (1.5 mm deep and 6.35 mm wide) were CNC milled into the sheets. Fluids could be injected and removed by needles glued into the ends of the channels. By using different fluids in the channels, researchers were able to tune various aspects of the incoming light. Scaled up, one application of the system could be to keep buildings cooler on hot days without keeping out IR on colder days which is one disadvantage of static window coatings currently in use.

If you want to control some of the light going OUT of your windows, maybe you should try building this smart LED curtain instead?

Continue reading “Biomimetic Building Facades To Reduce HVAC Loads”

Record-Setting Jumper Tosses Biomimicry Out The Window

How can a few grams of battery, geared motor, and some nifty materials get a jumping robot over 30 meters into the air? It wasn’t by copying a grasshopper, kangaroo, or an easily scared kitty. How was it done, then?

It’s been observed that of all the things that are possible in nature, out of all the wonderful mechanisms, fluid and aerodynamics, and chemistry, there’s one thing that is so far undiscovered in a living thing: continuous rotation. Yes, that’s right, the simple act of going roundy-round is unique to mechanical devices rather than biological organisms. And when it comes to jumping robots, biomimicry can only go so far.

With this distinct mechanical advantage in mind, [Elliot Hawkes] of the University of California Santa Barbara decided to look beyond biomimicry. As explained in the paper in Nature and demonstrated in the video below the break,  the jumping robot being considered uses rubber bands, carbon fiber bows, and commodity items such as a geared motor and LiPo batteries to essentially wind up the spring mechanism and then, like a trap being sprung, release the pent up energy all at once. The result? The little jumper can go almost 100 feet into the air. Be sure to check it out!

Continue reading “Record-Setting Jumper Tosses Biomimicry Out The Window”

Miles The Spider Robot

Who doesn’t love robotic spiders? Today’s biomimetic robot comes in the form of Miles, the quadruped spider robot from [_Robox].

Miles uses twelve servos to control its motion, three on each of its legs, and also includes a standard HC-SR04 ultrasonic distance sensor for some obstacle avoidance capabilities. Twelve servos can use quite a bit of power, so [_Robox_] had to power Miles with six LM7805 ICs to get sufficient current. [_Robox_] laser cut acrylic sheets for Miles’s body but mentions that 3D printing would work as well.

Miles uses inverse kinematics to get around, which we’ve seen in a previous project and is a pretty popular technique for controlling robotic motion. The Instructable is a little light on the details, but the source code is something to take a look at. In addition to simply moving around [_Robox_] developed code to make Miles dance, wave, and take a bow. That’s sure to be a hit at your next virtual show-and-tell.

By now you’re saying “wait, spiders have eight legs”, and of course you’re right. But that’s an awful lot of servos. Anyway, if you’d rather 3D print your four-legged spider, we have a suggestion.

Robotic Biped Walks On Inverse Kinematics

Robotics projects are always a favorite for hackers. Being able to almost literally bring your project to life evokes a special kind of joy that really drives our wildest imaginations. We imagine this is one of the inspirations for the boom in interactive technologies that are flooding the market these days. Well, [Technovation] had the same thought and decided to build a fully articulated robotic biped.

Each leg has pivot points at the foot, knee, and hip, mimicking the articulation of the human leg. To control the robot’s movements, [Technovation] uses inverse kinematics, a method of calculating join movements rather than explicitly programming them. The user inputs the end coordinates of each foot, as opposed to each individual joint angle, and a special function outputs the joint angles necessary to reach each end coordinate. This part of the software is well commented and worth your time to dig into.

In case you want to change the height of the robot or its stride length, [Technovation] provides a few global constants in the firmware that will automatically adjust the calculations to fit the new robot’s dimensions. Of all the various aspects of this project, the detailed write-up impressed us the most. The robot was designed in Fusion 360 and the parts were 3D printed allowing for maximum design flexibility for the next hacker.

Maybe [Technovation’s] biped will help resurrect the social robot craze. Until then, happy hacking.

Continue reading “Robotic Biped Walks On Inverse Kinematics”