NASA has issued a new contest for those who can create robots and the prizes are certainly worth the effort. Referred to as the Centennial Challenge there are three categories:
-Place a small satellite into Earth's orbit twice in one week in the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge and you win a cool $2 million.
-Create a solar-powered vehicle that can run on its own stored energy in the dark in the Night Rover Challenge and $1.5 million is yours.
-In the Sample Return Robot Challenge, if you can get one to fetch without humans, the prize is $1.5 million. (Pay attention, Willow Garage. This one may be right up your alley.)
Proposals are due by September 13 with more details to come.
What began as a prototype microchip for a thin printer, then became modified as a docking system for satellites, has morphed into a robot that resembles a centipede. University of Washington professor Karl Böhringer and team are working on the microbot that has 512 feet arranged in sets of four, with each foot an electric wire between two materials. When currents hit the wires, the feet curl and shuffle like cilia 20 to 30 times per second.
Where does all this lead? Perhaps to a mobile device that can travel through cracks to explore where larger bots cannot go as it is only about 1 x 1/3" and weighs about half a gram. More of Dr. Böhringer's research can be found in the June issue of the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems.
We are not sure if this is very kewl art or terribly wrong. Canadian Rob Spence lost an eye in his teens and now, with the help of some buds, has developed a prosthetic one that can broadcast video and will become a public feed. The device consists of a 1.5mm low-res cam, a small circuit board, video transmitter and a microbattery that Spence says can be recharged via his laptop's USB.
Harvard researchers have developed flat sheets of composite material that can fold themselves into shapes after receiving an electric current. Similar to origami, the "Programmable Matter By Folding" contains 25 actuators, split into 5 groups and the shape is produced when they are activated in a sequence.
Students of the Seibi Elementary School in Nara's Nishi-Kitsuji-cho district in Japan were introduced recently to Yae-chan, a two foot tall robot developed by the Nara National College of Technology. It was part of the elementary school's after school program designed to show how much fun science is. Apparently the introduction was a success as one of the students wanted to build his own in the future after playing with Yae-chan.
Scientists at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed a Distributed Flight Array that consists of individual bots that fly together in a swarm. The drones have infrared beams to find each other and then connect with magnets. While each quadrocopter is somewhat clumsy alone, when they dock they become a "sophisticated multi-propeller system." Even if one fails, the others can still function and, if attacked, can detach and later regroup.
NASA's newest astronaut will soon be taking off. R2, short for Robonaut 2, will start out by being tested by the ISS crew and will hopefully move up to performing real chores like cleaning and vacuuming. Weighing 310 lbs., R2 is set to launch this September.
University of Pittsburgh researchers have implanted sensors in a monkey, with the result being that he can control a 7-axis robotic arm with his brain. The two implants were placed in the simian's motor cortex, the part that controls the arm and hand. The team is hoping that their work will help those that are disabled or paralyzed but still has a long way to go.
Bandit was created to assist autistic children when family members may have problems in communication. Designed by researchers at the University of Southern California, the bot has camera eyes and has been programmed to make simplified facial expressions and movements. The hope is that he will help the kids become more socially active. They forsee that he will someday be able to play games, speak with them and modify behavior when needed.
NYU-Poly's Dynamical Systems Laboratory have discovered that fish will allow a robot the be the head of their school if the conditions are right. This fishbot uses ionic polymers to power its tail by swelling and shrinking. The team, headed by Dr. Maurizio Porfiri, claims that the technology could be used to steer schools away from hydroelectric turbines. Perhaps they could also help them avoid large oil spills.