A Peek Inside Apple Durability Testing Labs

Apple is well-known for its secrecy, which is understandable given the high stakes in the high-end mobile phone industry. It’s interesting to get a glimpse inside its durability labs and see the equipment and processes it uses to support its IP68 ingress claims, determine drop ability, and perform accelerated wear and tear testing.

Check out these cool custom-built machines on display! They verify designs against a sliding scale of water ingress tests. At the bottom end is IPx4 for a light shower, but basically no pressure. Next up is IPx5, which covers low-pressure ambient-temperature spray jets from all angles – we really liked this machine! Finally, the top-end IPx7 and IPx8 are tested with a literal fire hose blast and a dip in a static pressure tank, simulating a significant depth of water. An Epson robot arm with a custom gripper is programmed to perform a spinning drop onto a hard surface in a repeatable manner. The drop surface is swapped out for each run – anything from a wooden sheet to a slab of asphalt can be tried. High-speed cameras record the motion in enough detail to resolve the vibrations of the titanium shell upon impact!

Accelerated wear and tear testing is carried out using a shake table, which can be adjusted to match the specific frequencies of a car engine or a subway train. Additionally, there’s an interview with the head of Apple’s hardware division discussing the tradeoffs between repairability and durability. He makes some good points that suggest if modern phones are more reliable and have fewer failures, then durability can be prioritized in the design, as long as the battery can still be replaced.

The repairability debate has been raging strong for many years now. Here’s our guide to the responsible use of new technology.

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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.

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Tabletop Handybot Is Handy, And Powered By AI

Decently useful AI has been around for a little while now, and robotic arms have been around much longer. Yet somehow, we don’t have little robot helpers on our desks yet! Thankfully, [Yifei] is working towards that reality with Tabletop Handybot.

What [Yifei] has developed is a robotic arm that accepts voice commands. The robot relies on a Realsense D435 RGB-D camera, which provides color vision with depth information as well. Grounding DINO is used for object detection on the RGB images. Segment Anything and Open3D are used for further processing of the visual and depth data to help the robot understand what it’s looking at. Meanwhile, voice commands are interpreted via OpenAI Whisper, which can feed prompts to ChatGPT for further processing.

[Yifei] demonstrates his robot picking up markers on command, which is a pretty cool demo. With so many modern AI tools available, we’re getting closer to the ideal of robots that can understand and execute on general spoken instructions. This is a great example. We may not be all the way there yet, but perhaps soon. Video after the break.

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Several video clips of a robot arm manipulating objects in a kitchen environment, demonstrating some of the 12 generalized skills

RoboAgent Gets Its MT-ACT Together

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have shared a pre-print paper on generalized robot training within a small “practical data budget.” The team developed a system that breaks movement tasks into 12 “skills” (e.g., pick, place, slide, wipe) that can be combined to create new and complex trajectories within at least somewhat novel scenarios, called MT-ACT: Multi-Task Action Chunking Transformer. The authors write:

Trained merely on 7500 trajectories, we are demonstrating a universal RoboAgent that can exhibit a diverse set of 12 non-trivial manipulation skills (beyond picking/pushing, including articulated object manipulation and object re-orientation) across 38 tasks and can generalize them to 100s of diverse unseen scenarios (involving unseen objects, unseen tasks, and to completely unseen kitchens). RoboAgent can also evolve its capabilities with new experiences.

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Arctos Robotics: Build A Robot Arm Out Of 3D Printer Spares?

ARCTOS is a 6-DOF robot arm based upon 3D printed mechanics running a modified version of GRBL firmware. Let’s get this straight now, the firmware is open source, but the hardware plans are a paid download, but for less than forty euros, we reckon the investment would be well worth it, judging from the quality of the build instructions and the software support already in place. Continue reading “Arctos Robotics: Build A Robot Arm Out Of 3D Printer Spares?”

$60 Robot Arm Is Compact

Thanks to 3D printing and inexpensive controllers, a robot arm doesn’t need to break the bank anymore. Case in point? [Build Some Stuff] did a good-looking compact arm with servos for under $60. The arm uses an interesting control mechanism, too.

Instead of the traditional joystick, the arm has a miniature arm with potentiometers at each joint instead of motors. By moving the model arm to different positions, the main arm will mimic your motions. It is similar to old control systems using a synchro (sometimes called a selsyn), but uses potentiometers and servo motors.

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How Home Made Robot Arms Used To Be Made

With laser cutters and 3D printers in our arsenal as well as the global toy shop of mass-produced parts and single-board computers, building a robotic project has almost never been easier. In times past though, there was more of a challenge, with a computer likely meaning a chunky desktop model and there being no plethora of motors at low prices, a robot arm required more ingenuity. [Marius Taciuc] shares with us an arm he built from the most minimal of parts back in 2003, and it’s a beautiful exercise in creative reuse.

The arm itself uses metal and FR4 for its structure, and borrows extensively from cassette tape mechanisms for motors and gears. The stronger motor for the forearm is a geared unit from a heating system, and to control all this, a relay board is hooked up to a computer’s parallel port. This last assembly is particularly ingenious, having no optocouplers handy he made his own by coupling LEDs to metal can transistors with their lids removed.

The arm was entered in a competition, and he relates a tale with which we’ll all be familiar — at the critical moment, it didn’t work. Fortunately a last-minute accidental covering of the board with a floppy disk solved the problem, as it turned out that enough light was leaking into those home-made optocouplers to trigger them. The prize was won not just on the strength of the arm, but on his explanation of the lessons learned along the way.

The once-ubiquitous parallel port is now absent from most computers, but there’s still plenty of scope for experimentation if you have one.