Video Friday: How Robots Are Helping to Fight the Coronavirus Outbreak

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!): DARPA SubT Urban Circuit – February 18-27, 2020 – Olympia, Wash., USA HRI 2020 – March 23-26, 2020 – Cambridge, U.K. ICARSC 2020 – April 15-17, 2020 – Ponta Delgada, Azores ICRA 2020 – May 31-4, 2020 – Paris, France Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

A New Kind of Wing Dramatically Improves Flight for Small Drones

Drones of all sorts are getting smaller and cheaper, and that’s great—it makes them more accessible to everyone, and opens up new use cases for which big expensive drones would be, you know, too big and expensive. The problem with very small drones, particularly those with fixed-wing designs, is that they tend to be inefficient fliers, and are very susceptible to wind gusts as well as air turbulence caused by objects that they might be flying close to. Unfortunately, designing for resilience and designing for efficiency are two different things: Efficient wings are long and thin, and resilient wings are short and fat. You can’t really do both at the same time, but that’s okay, because if you tried to make long and thin wings for micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) they’d likely just snap off. So stubby wings it is! In a paper published this week in Science Robotics, researchers from Continue reading A New Kind of Wing Dramatically Improves Flight for Small Drones

Giving cryptocurrency users more bang for their buck

A new cryptocurrency-routing scheme co-invented by MIT researchers can boost the efficiency — and, ultimately, profits — of certain networks designed to speed up notoriously slow blockchain transactions.   Cryptocurrencies hold promise for peer-to-peer financial transactions, potentially making banks and credit cards obsolete. But there’s a scalability issue: Bitcoin, for instance, processes only a handful of transactions per second, while major credit cards process hundreds or thousands. That’s because the blockchain — the digital ledger cryptocurrencies are built on — takes a really long time to process transactions.  A new solution is “payment channel networks” (PCNs), where transactions are completed with minimal involvement from the blockchain. Pairs of PCN users form off-blockchain escrow accounts with a dedicated amount of money, forming a large, interconnected network of joint accounts. Users route payments through these  accounts, only pinging the blockchain to establish and close the accounts, which speeds things up dramatically. Accounts can Continue reading Giving cryptocurrency users more bang for their buck

Apex.OS: An Open Source Operating System for Autonomous Cars

The facets of autonomous car development that automakers tend to get excited about are things like interpreting sensor data, decision making, and motion planning. Unfortunately, if you want to make self-driving cars, there’s all kinds of other stuff that you need to get figured out first, and much of it is really difficult but also absolutely critical. Things like, how do you set up a reliable network inside of your vehicle? How do you manage memory and data recording and logging? How do you get your sensors and computers to all talk to each other at the same time? And how do you make sure it’s all stable and safe? In robotics, the Robot Operating System (ROS) has offered an open-source solution for many of these challenges. ROS provides the groundwork for researchers and companies to build off of, so that they can focus on the specific problems that they’re interested Continue reading Apex.OS: An Open Source Operating System for Autonomous Cars

Sea Jellies Triple Swimming Speed Through Cybernetic Implants

It’s going to be a very, very long time before robots come anywhere close to matching the power-efficient mobility of animals, especially at small scales. Lots of folks are working on making tiny robots, but another option is to just hijack animals directly, by turning them into cyborgs. We’ve seen this sort of thing before with beetles, but there are many other animals out there that can be cyborgized. Researchers at Stanford and Caltech are giving sea jellies a try, and remarkably, it seems as though cyborg enhancements actually make the jellies more capable than they were before.

At halfway point, SuperUROP scholars share their research results

MIT undergraduates are rolling up their sleeves to address major problems in the world, conducting research on topics ranging from nursing care to money laundering to the spread of misinformation about climate change — work highlighted at the most recent SuperUROP Showcase. The event, which took place on the Charles M. Vest Student Street in the Stata Center in December 2019, marked the halfway point in the Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (better known as “SuperUROP”). The yearlong program gives MIT students firsthand experience in conducting research with close faculty mentorship. Many participants receive scholar titles recognizing the program’s industry sponsors, individual donors, and other contributors. This year, 102 students participated in SuperUROP, with many of their projects focused on applying computer science technologies, such as machine learning, to challenges in fields ranging from robotics to health care. Almost all presented posters of their work at the December showcase, explaining Continue reading At halfway point, SuperUROP scholars share their research results

Soft Robot Fingers Sweat to Cool Themselves

When the going gets tough, future soft robots may break into a sweat to keep from overheating, much like marathon runners or ancient hunters chasing prey in the savannah, a new study finds. Whereas conventional robots are made of rigid parts vulnerable to bumps, scrapes, twists, and falls, soft robots inspired by starfish, worms, and octopuses can resist many such kinds of damage and squirm past obstacles. Soft robots are also often cheaper and simpler to make, comparatively lightweight, and safer for people to be around. However, the rubbery materials that make up soft robots often trap heat, exacerbating problems caused by overheating. Moreover, conventional devices used to control heat such as radiators and fans are typically made of rigid materials that are incompatible with soft robotics, says T.J. Wallin, a co-author and research scientist at Facebook Reality Labs.

Engineers design bionic “heart” for testing prosthetic valves, other cardiac devices

As the geriatric population is expected to balloon in the coming decade, so too will rates of heart disease in the United States. The demand for prosthetic heart valves and other cardiac devices — a market that is valued at more than $5 billion dollars today — is predicted to rise by almost 13 percent in the next six years. Prosthetic valves are designed to mimic a real, healthy heart valve in helping to circulate blood through the body. However, many of them have issues such as leakage around the valve, and engineers working to improve these designs must test them repeatedly, first in simple benchtop simulators, then in animal subjects, before reaching human trials — an arduous and expensive process. Now engineers at MIT and elsewhere have developed a bionic “heart” that offers a more realistic model for testing out artificial valves and other cardiac devices. The device is Continue reading Engineers design bionic “heart” for testing prosthetic valves, other cardiac devices