by Jeff Eckert
Diggin' the ClamBot
Siliqua patula — or Pacific razor clam
— is the inspiration behind MIT's
ClamBot design. Courtesy of Oregon
Department of Fish and Wildlife.
These tasty treats are big (up to
seven inches [ 18 cm] long), fast (able
to travel 1 cm/sec through wet sand),
and highly desired for food (clammers
are generally limited to 15 per day
and must keep the first ones caught,
regardless of size or condition). But
as of lately, Pacific razor clams are of
particular interest to Anette "Peko"
Hosoi, an associate professor in
the Department of Mechanical
Engineering at MIT ( www.mit.edu),
for different reasons. With a little
support from Bluefin Robotics Corp.,
the Battelle Institute, and Chevron,
she has assembled a bunch of pressure regulators, pistons, and other
paraphernalia to create RoboClam.
RoboClam is designed to simulate
the razor's ability to dig deep into the
sand and lodge itself in place with 10
times the pull resistance of a standard
anchor of comparable size. It seems
that these guys do more than just dig
a hole with their "feet" and drop into
it. In fact, they also make rapid up-and-down movements and open and
close their shells, thereby temporarily
changing the composition of
surrounding terrain into something
resembling quicksand. This allows
them to quickly burrow up to about
28 in ( 70 cm) deep. ClamBot is only
entering the test stage, but the goal
is to develop a robotic anchor that
can be used for such things as tethering and releasing (it can operate in
reverse mode) small robotic subs and
safely detonating buried mines.
A UAV ready for launch from
a submarine mast.
Courtesy of EMT Penzberg.
Also aimed for sea duty is
VOLANS, a system developed by
German mast builder Gabler
. gabler-luebeck.de) and mini-UAV
specialist EMT Penzberg (
www.emt-penzberg.de). (VOLANS is tortuously
derived from "coVert OpticaL Airborne
reconnaissance Naval adapted
System,” in case you're wondering.)
What you get is a hoistable mast
that can launch three UAVs from a
submarine while completely
submersed at periscope depth,
typically 12 to 25 m ( 40 to 82 ft). The
UAV then relays sensory imagery back
to the sub in real time via an antenna
on the boat's communications mast.
The UAVs can operate at distances up
to 30 km ( 16 nautical mi), providing
vital information for special forces
teams before they go ashore. The
only drawback is that the spy planes
cannot be recovered unless the sub
surfaces; they would normally be
picked up by friendly forces on land
or intentionally crashed.
Multipurpose Yard Bot
Meanwhile back on land,
students at the LSU Department of
Computer Science ( www.csc.lsu.
edu) have upped the ante in
automated yard care with AgBot: a
The AgBot uses an autonomous
GPS system to map out your yard.
Courtesy of LSU Robotics Lab.
prototype multipurpose agricultural
care machine. Unlike the current
single-function lawnbots (usually
mowers), AgBot is a fully
customizable, solar-powered machine
that includes a seed dispenser, high-torque auger, and fertilizer tank. An
autonomous GPS system plots out
the coordinates of your yard, maps
the bot's path, and stores the data
for future operations.
The solar-powered machine can
travel at 6 MPH for at least four
hours at a time. In addition, it is
fitted with a 360° night vision
camera, motion sensor, and alarm
system, allowing it to double as a
guard dog at night.
According to LSU, "The end goal
is for AgBot to be completely
customizable, as if buying a computer
and selecting only the desired components versus a package that includes
unnecessary options. With minor
adjustments, AgBot would be capable
of supporting five or six different
applications," hopefully including
pizza delivery, rat-catching, and
scaring away door to door salesmen.
Yes, I Do Windows
Also created to eliminate work
around the house and render you
even more useless than you already
are is Winboni: a window-washing
robot that won first place at last
November's International Student
Design Competition of the American
Society of Mechanical Engineers.
8 SERVO 02.2009