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Russia may send a robot 'crew' to space in 2019

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Vyacheslav Prokofyev via Getty Images

Leveraging robotics to undertake dangerous missions has obvious benefits for mankind, and space travel is no exception. In 2011, NASA sent its dexterous assistant ‘Robonaut 2‘ on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) with the objective of working alongside presiding astronauts. Now a “source in the rocket and space industry” tells RIA Novosti that a Russian android duo could be following suit as early as next year.

According to Defense One, the FEDOR androids will, in an unprecedented move, fly on the unmanned Soyuz spacecraft not as cargo, but as crew members. The Roscosmos space agency has reportedly given the flight its preliminary approval. We’ve reached out for further confirmation on this front.

FEDOR, an abbreviation of Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, refers to a 2014 program that aimed to create a robot capable of replacing humans during high-risk scenarios such as rescue missions. The androids have been endowed with a number of abilities, including driving, push-ups, lifting weights, and, you guessed it, shooting. Former Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin then had to deny Russia was “creating a terminator”.

With rapid developments in the AI arena, the question of whether it will be used for destructive or benevolent purposes is always on the table, but Rogozin assured that FEDOR would have “great practical significance in various fields.” Backing up those comments is CNA associate research analyst Samuel Bendett, who points out that despite its military-ready build, FEDOR was designed to function in space from the beginning.

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Harvard's robot arm can grab squishy sea animals without hurting them

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Wyss Institute at Harvard University

As you might imagine, you can’t just grab extra-soft sea creatures like jellyfish or octopuses when you want to study them. Not if you want them to remain intact, anyway. Thankfully, researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have a far more delicate solution. They’ve created a robot arm (the RAD sampler) whose petal-like fingers can quickly form a ball shape around an animal, capturing it without risking any harm. It’s simpler than it looks — it uses just a single motor to drive the entire jointed structure, so it’s easy to control and easier still to repair if something breaks.

To date, the arm has only been useful for catch-and-release experiments. In the future, though, biologists could outfit the machine with cameras and sensors to collect information about whatever’s inside the sphere, whether it’s the material composition, size or the genetic sequencing. If that happens, researchers could study fragile undersea critters in their native habitats and glean insights that wouldn’t be available above water or with dead specimens.

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MIT's Cheetah robot doesn't need eyes to climb, run and jump

July 5, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

MIT

Many robots depend on cameras and other visual sensors to find their way around the world. But that’s not always realistic — it can be too dark, too chaotic or even play tricks. Thankfully, MIT is prepared. The latest version of its Cheetah robot, Cheetah 3, can run, climb and even jump using contact detection alone — effectively, while it’s blind. The cat-like automaton relies on a pair of algorithms to both ‘feel’ its way around (much as you would feel your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night) and figure out the best way to move forward.

The first algorithm uses accelerometers, gyroscopes and leg joint positions to calculate the probabilities of legs making contact, generating force and getting caught in mid-swing. If Cheetah steps on an unexpected obstacle, it can determine whether each leg should push down or lift away. The second algorithm, meanwhile, predicts the robot’s positioning so that it can quickly react to its situation. Even if you push the robot around, it’ll know how to get back on track.

MIT doesn’t expect robots to rely exclusively on this technology. Most likely, it would be used as a backup for moments when a robot either can’t see properly or hits an obstacle it wasn’t expecting (say, something interfering with its hind legs). That could make it useful for power plant inspections, remote rescues and other dangerous situations where there’s no help if a robot gets stuck or falls over.

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Harvard's tiny robot can swim and walk underwater

July 5, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Yufeng Chen, Neel Doshi, and Benjamin Goldberg/Harvard University

Harvard is developing a knack for tiny amphibious robots. Its researchers have upgraded the Harvard Ambulatory Microbot (HAMR) with the ability to swim and walk underwater, in addition to walking on land. Its foot pads use surface tension and related buoyancy to float on the water, while electrowetting (reducing the contact angle between a material and a water surface under a voltage) helps it break through the water and walk on the ground at the bottom. Its tiny size and 1.65-gram weight play a crucial role — significantly bigger and it would be hard for the robot to stay above-water.

When it needs to return to land, HAMR overcomes the surface tension force with a stiffened transmission and soft pads that redistribute the friction while it climbs out of the water. The mini machine is even something of a cargo hauler with support for a 1.44-gram payload.

There’s still work to be done, such as finding a way to return HAMR to land without needing a ramp. The team is considering solutions like a jumping mechanism or gecko-like adhesives. If they can make progress, though, you could see tiny robots deploying underwater sensors or otherwise performing feats that wouldn’t be practical for their much larger counterparts.

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Smart prosthetic ankle can adapt to uneven ground

June 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Vanderbilt

Prosthetic limbs have evolved considerably from the rudimentary wooden appendages of just a few decades ago. They can be bionic, brain-controlled and loaded with features — and even mimic the sense of touch. But they’re still a way off truly replicating the real thing, largely because of issues imitating the many subtle movements and sensations that come naturally to real limbs. Now, however, a new prosthetic ankle is overcoming these challenges.

Unlike existing prosthetic ankles, which work to passively absorb shock via springs and padding, the prototype can adapt to different ground surfaces and the way its user walks. And, it moves on its own in the style of a real ankle, controlling the tilt of the foot, lifting the big toe away from the ground and managing unstable or irregular surfaces.

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It works thanks to a motor and actuator inside the joint, which are controlled by a chip that senses motion and regulates each step. Vanderbilt’s mechanical engineering professor Michael Goldfarb — the man behind the invention — said that the device “first and foremost adapts to what’s around it,” adding that users can walk up and down slopes and stairs, and the device “figures out what you’re doing and functions the way it should.”

The ankle was tested by prostheses-wearer Mike Sasser. “I’ve tried hydraulic ankles that had no sort of microprocessors and they’ve been clunky, heavy and unforgiving for an active person. This isn’t that,” he said. The device is still in its very early stages and runs on wired power, but Goldfarb and his team plans to work that out and introduce the ankle to the commercial market in the next couple of years.