Top left of image shows a picture of a purplish-grey sea cucumber. Above the cucumber is the word "bio-inspiration." Arrows come from the cucumber to anthropomorphized cartoons of it saying "rigid" at the top with a cartoon sea cucumber standing straight up with spikes and the arrow captioned "soft" pointing down showing a crawling sea cucumber that looks more like a slug. To the right of the cucumber images is a set of three images stacked top to bottom. The top image is of a silver sphere with a zoomed-in atomic diagram with aligned magnetic poles next to it saying "solid state." The middle image shows arrows going up and down next to a snowflake and an artistic rendering of magnetic fields labeled "transition." The bottom image of this section shows a reddish sphere next to a zoomed-in atomic diagram where the magnetic poles are not aligned labeled "liquid state."

Phase Change Materials For Flexible And Strong Robots

Shape shifters have long been the stuff of speculative fiction, but researchers in China have developed a magnetoactive phase transitional matter (MPTM) that makes Odo slipping through an air vent that much more believable.

Soft robots can squeeze into small spaces or change shape as needed, but many of these systems aren’t as strong as their more mechanically rigid siblings. Inspired by the sea cucumber’s ability to manipulate its rigidity, this new MPTM can be inductively heated to a molten state to change shape as well as encapsulate or release materials. The neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) microparticles suspended in gallium will then return to solid form once cooled.

An image of a LEGO minifig behind bars. It moves toward the bars, melts, and is reconstituted on the other side after solidifying in a mold.

Applications in drug delivery, foreign object removal, and smart soldering (video after the break) probably have more real world impact than the LEGO minifig T1000 impersonation, despite how cool that looks. While a pick-and-place can do better soldering work on a factory line, there might be repair situations where a magnetically-controlled solder system could come in handy.

We’ve seen earlier work with liquid robots using gallium and bio-electronic hybrids also portending the squishy future of robotics.

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Hackaday Links: February 12, 2023

So, maybe right now isn’t the best time to get into the high-altitude ballooning hobby? At least in the US, which with the downing of another — whatever? — over Alaska, seems to have taken a “Sidewinders first, threat identification later” approach to anything that floats by. The latest incident involved an aircraft of unknown type, described as “the size of a small car” — there’s that units problem again — that was operating over Prudhoe Bay off the northern coast of Alaska. The reason that was given for this one earning a Sidewinder was that it was operating much lower than the balloon from last week, only about 40,000 feet, which is well within the ceiling of commercial aviation. It was also over sea ice at the time of the shootdown, making the chance of bothering anyone besides a polar bear unlikely. We’re not taking any political position on this whole thing, but there certainly are engineering and technical aspects of these shootdowns that are pretty interesting, as well as the aforementioned potential for liability if your HAB goes astray. Nobody ever really benefits from having an international incident on their resume, after all.

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Those Bullet Effects In Terminator 2 Weren’t CGI

Remember Terminator 2? Guns were nearly useless against the murderous T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Bullets fired at the “liquid metal” robot resulted only in a chrome-looking bullet splash that momentarily staggered the killing machine. The effects were done by Stan Winston, who died in 2008, but a video and short blurb shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts revealed, to our surprise and delight, that the bullet impact effects were not CGI.

How was this accomplished? First of all, Winston and his team researched the correct “look” for the splash impacts by firing projectiles into mud and painstakingly working to duplicate the resulting shapes. These realistic-looking crater sculpts were then cast in some mixture of foam rubber, and given a chromed look by way of vacuum metallizing (also known as vacuum deposition) which is a way of depositing a thin layer of metal onto a surface. Vacuum deposition is similar to electroplating, but the process does not require the object being coated to have a conductive surface.

These foam rubber splash patterns — which look like metal but aren’t — were deployed using a simple mechanical system. A variety of splashes in different sizes get individually compressed into receptacles in a fiberglass chest plate. Covering each is a kind of trapdoor, each held closed by a single pin on a cable.

To trigger a bullet impact effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable, which pulls its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms forth in an instant, bursting through pre-scored fabric in the process. Sadly there are no photos of the device itself, but you can see it in action in the testing video shared by the Stan Winston School, embedded below.

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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.

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Laser Dog Goggles Make Halloween A Nice Night For A Walk

Sure, you could dress your dog up for Halloween in some pre-fab hot dog costume or a little French maid outfit, but what’s the fun in that? Hilarious as it may be, there’s no hack there. [Becky Stern] will help you out of your pet costume rut with the tutorial for her latest creation, laser dog goggles.

First things first: the laser she uses is fairly benign. You can safely stare it down for just under 30 seconds, so your pet should be okay. [Becky] offers other helpful safety suggestions, like covering the delicate battery pack with fabric to avoid scratching damage, and waiting until the adhesives are completely dry before outfitting Rover. But hey, if your dog isn’t into eye wear, don’t force it.

These are based on Doggles brand dog goggles and the Adafruit Trinket. The laser is mounted on a micro servo so that it pivots back and forth, allowing your dog to scan the ground like RoboCop or Terminator. As you might expect, [Becky]’s tutorial includes a comprehensive list of tools and great documentation. Check out her video overview after the break.

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Dollar Store Terminator Replica

Okay, now we think [James] is just on a mission to see what he can build using the dollar store as his parts bin. This is the nearly finished replica of the cyborg skeleton from the Terminator franchise. It’s made mostly from things that cost $0.99.

Actually we’ve got that a bit wrong. [James] is really shopping at the £0.99 store but the concept is basically the same. He’s already shown us that he’s a pro at this with the arc reactor replica we recently saw from him. This time around a set of speakers donate their enclosures to build up the spinal column supporting the skull. Fittingly these are glued together using a hot glue gun from the store. The sides of the skull are carefully crafted from a set of four plastic bowls. The jaw comes together thanks to the corners of a plastic box’s lid. And finally the majority of the face is from a golden skull costume mask. Spray it all grey and pop in some LEDs for the eyes and he’s done it! He show’s off his final creation in the video after the break.

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