Tech Talk #13: Robots & More

This Week: Robots! (…& Hover-Boards)

They Built A Transformer?

Okay, it’s not exactly Optimus Prime – but it’s a start! This tiny robot made in the US is able to change shape. Built at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it uses magnets to mimic molecules that fold themselves into complex shapes. The research could lead to robots that could be reconfigured to perform many different tasks – but clearly – a lot of work is still needed! Part-funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research was presented at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference. To fold itself into a new shape, the device uses an “electro-permanent” motor – similar to the electromagnets used in scrap yards to lift cars. It is composed of pairs of a powerful permanent magnet and a weaker magnet with a magnetic field that changes direction when an electric current is applied. The magnetic fields of each magnet either add up or cancel each other, making the robot move. The prototype comes a year after the same team published a theory it was possible to create any 3D shape by folding a sufficiently long string of sub-units. For more into see TreeHugger.

Android From Atlantis?

A self-controlled swimming robot has completed a journey from San Francisco to Australia. The record-breaking 9,000 nautical mile (16,668km) trip took the PacX Wave Glider just over a year to achieve. Liquid Robotics, the US company behind the project, collected data about the Pacific Ocean’s temperature, salinity and ecosystem from the drone. The company said its success demonstrated that such technology could “survive the high seas”. The robot is called Papa Mau in honour of the late Micronesian navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug, who had a reputation for finding ways to navigate the seas without using traditional equipment.Some of the data it gathered about the abundance of phytoplankton – plant-like organisms that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and provide food for other sea life – could already be monitored by satellite. However, the company suggested that its equipment offered more detail, providing a useful tool for climate model scientists. Liquid Robotics still has a further three robots at sea. A second is due to land in Australia early next year. Another pair had been heading to Japan, but one of them has suffered damage and has been diverted to Hawaii for repair. Each robot is composed of two halves: the upper part, shaped like a stunted surfboard, is attached by a cable to a lower part that sports a series of fins and a keel. They do not use fuel but instead convert energy from the ocean’s waves, turning it into forward thrust. Solar panels installed on the upper surface of the gliders power numerous sensors that take readings every 10 minutes. Papa Mau was the first of the firm’s four marine robots to complete its journey.

A Lot Less Bovver Than A Hover?

Everybody has their own favourite mode of transport from the movies, whether it be Bond’s Aston, or Batman’s Tumbler… trouble is, they are very rarely ever available or affordable. However, quite possibly on your list is Marty McFly’s HoverBoard from Back To The Future 2. Sufficed to say, it doesn’t actually work, although it did start me wondering just how much of a powerful magnetic repulsing field I could create with a shed load of speaker magnets, but this certainly looks the part (see photos at JoBlo). In fact, I did wonder if the makers haven’t missed a trick here, by licensing an add-on to the XBox Kinect, or Wii, and coming out with a retro interactive boarding game… anyway – it’s a little bit of 80’s nostalgia that proves the Mayans were wrong… Marty McFly does travel all the way to 2015 after all!

Sources: BBC News, TreeHugger, UPI, JoBlo
Reporter: SilverFox

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