Get Yourself A Pupper (For Education)

While the disquieting appearance of some of the robots coming out of DARPA and other labs might give us some reservations about how much intelligence we want to give to those robots, there’s a lot to be learned from them before their inevitable global takeover. This small quadruped called the Mini Pupper is just the robot for that job. With a low cost and familiar platform, it’s the ideal robot to learn some of the tricks of the trade.

For a quadruped so small, some unique changes had to be made to ensure the robot’s functionality. There have been a few developments since it was first shown over a year ago. The first was to design a custom servo that could handle the unique characteristics of this robot. From there, some other improvements were made to the robot chassis such as using threaded rods for ease of assembly and maintenance. Some other things have stayed the same though like using a Raspberry Pi to handle the control systems and self-navigation.

Of course everything needed to make this robot yourself is open source, from the code to the schematics. For experimenting with quadrupeds and even with automatic navigation, this would be a great way to get started, and the small size will also limit its ability for a Skynet-style takeover as well. That’s a nice bonus.

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Grab A Stanford Computer Science Education

There are two reasons to go to school: learn about something and to get a coveted piece of paper that helps you get jobs, or at least, job interviews. With so many schools putting material online, you can do the first part without spending much money as long as you don’t expect the school to help you or grant you that piece of paper. Stanford has a huge computer science department and [Rui Ma] cataloged over 150 computer science classes available online in some form from the University. Just the thing to while away time during the quarantine.

Apparently, [Rui] grabbed the 2020 course catalog to find on-campus classes and found the companion website for each class, organizing them for our benefit. The list doesn’t include the actual online class offerings, which you can find directly from Stanford, although there is another list for that.

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Roller-Based Robot Hand Grasps

In a recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation paper, [Shenli Yaun] and some others from Stanford discuss the design of a roller-based robot hand that has many features that mimic the human hand. The key feature is that each of the three fingers has a roller with a small geared motor.

The rollers allowed the hand to change an object’s orientation without losing its grasp. Of course, this works well with spherical objects like a ball. But the video shows that it can manipulate other items like a 6-sided die, a water bottle, or even a piece of paper. By spreading the fingers it can even hold large objects you wouldn’t expect at first glance.

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Almond: Open Personal Assistant From Stanford

The current state of virtual personal assistants — Alexa, Cortana, Google, and Siri — leaves something to be desired. The speech recognition is mostly pretty good. However, customization options are very limited. Beyond that, many people are worried about the privacy of their data when using one of these assistants. Stanford Open Virtual Assistant Lab has rolled out Almond, which is open and is reported to have better privacy features.

Like most other virtual assistants, Almond has skills that determine what it can do. You can use Almond in a browser, on a Google phone, or as a command line application. It all lives on GitHub, so if you don’t like something you are free to fix it.

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Silicon Valley Was Built On Tubes Of Glass

Lee de Forest

Bill Shockley brought the transistor to a pasture in Palo Alto, but he didn’t land there by chance. There was already a plot afoot which had nothing to do with silicon, and it had already been a happening place for some time by then.

Often overshadowed by Edison and Menlo Park or Western Electric and its Bell Labs, people forget that the practical beginning of modern radio and telecommunications began unsuspectingly in the Bay Area on the shoestring-budgeted work benches of Lee de Forest at Federal Telegraph.

As the first decade of the 20th century passed, Lee de Forest was already a controversial figure. He had founded a company in New York to develop his early vacuum tubes as detectors for radio, but he was not very good at business. Some of the officers of the company decided that progress was not being made fast enough and drained the company of assets while de Forest was away. This led to years of legal troubles and the arrest of many involved due to fraud and loss of investors’ money.

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Souped-Up, Next Gen Wearables

The biggest hurdle to great advances in wearable technology is the human body itself. For starters, there isn’t a single straight line on the thing. Add in all the flexing and sweating, and you have a pretty difficult platform for innovation. Well, times are changing for wearables. While there is no stock answer, there are some answers in soup stock.

A group of scientists at Stanford University’s Bao Lab have created a whisper thin co-polymer with great conductivity. That’s right, they put two different kinds of insulators together and created a conductor. The only trouble was that the resulting material was quite rigid. With the help of some fancy x-ray equipment, they discovered that adding a molecule found in standard industrial soup thickeners stops the crystallization process of the polymers, leaving them flexible and stretchy. Get this: the material conducts even better when stretched.

The scientists have used the material to make both simple, transparent electrodes as well as entire flexible transistor arrays with an inkjet printer. They hope to influence next generation wearable technology for everything from smart clothing to medical devices. Who knows, maybe they can team up with the University of Rochester and create a conducting co-polymer that can also shape-shift. Check out a brief demonstration after the break.

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Paper Toy Can Save Lives

Although there is a lot of discussion about health care problems in big countries like the United States, we often don’t realize that this is a “first world” problem. In many places, obtaining health care of any kind can be a major problem. In places where water and electricity are scarce, a lot of modern medical technology is virtually unobtainable. A team from Standford recently developed a cheap, easily made centrifuge using little more than paper, scrap material like wood or PVC pipe, and string.

A centrifuge is a device that spins samples to separate them and–to be effective–they need to spin pretty fast. Go to any medical lab in a developed country and you’ll find at least one. It will be large, heavy, expensive, and it will require electricity. Some have tried using hand-operated centrifuges using mechanisms like an egg beater or a salad spinner, but these don’t really move fast enough to work well. At the least, it takes a very long time to get results with a slow centrifuge.

[M. Saad Bhamla] and his colleagues at Stanford started brainstorming on this problem. They thought about toys that rotate, including a yo-yo. Turns out, those don’t spin all that fast, either. Then they considered a whirligig. We had forgotten what those are, but it is the real name for a toy that has a spinning disk and (usually) a string. When you pull on the string, the disk spins and the more you pull, the faster the disk spins. These actually have an ancient origin appearing in medieval tapestries and almost 2,500 years ago in China.

[Bhamla] found that how the toy worked was poorly understood (from a scientific standpoint)  and took pictures of one in operation with a high-speed camera. The team was able to create the “paperfuge”, a human-powered centrifuge that would spin at 125,000 RPM, enough to separate plasma from blood in under two minutes and isolate malaria parasites in 15. Some versions of the device could cost as little as twenty cents and don’t require anything more exotic than paper and string. You can see a video about the paperfuge, below.

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