by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Real Transformers in Phase 1
No, it’s not an illustration from a toy package or a movie
poster. This is the desired end product of the Transformer (TX)
program kicked off by the folks at the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA, www.darpa.mil) last fall.
Some $3 million in funding has been awarded to several
research participants — notably AAI Corp.
( www.aaicorp.com) and Lockheed-Martin
( www.lockheedmartin.com) — to look into the concept of
building a sort-of Humvee/jump jeep/gyroplane concoction
that can travel over any kind of terrain. Basically, a
CarterCopter driven by a gas turbine propeller and fitted with
foldable wings and rotor mast. The guidance and flight
control systems are to allow semi-autonomous flight, so even
someone with no pilot training can perform VTOLs, transition
to forward flight, and modify the flight path as needed.
Specs call for the vehicle to travel at least 250 nautical miles in any land/air combination while carrying up to 1,000 lb.
Phase 1 involves 12 months of conducting “trade studies to develop and mature propulsion systems, adaptable wing
structures, advanced lightweight materials, the advanced flight control system, the air/ground configuration designs, and
energy distribution systems.” If all goes well, the project will move on to an unspecified second phase.
Artist’s concept of the Transformer vehicle. Source: DARPA.
This Gripper Sucks
Every once in a while an idea
comes along that’s so simple it’s
brilliant, and a case in point is a
universal robotic gripper emerging
from researchers at Cornell
University, the University of
Chicago, and iRobot Corp. Whereas
most gripper designs tend to be
variations on the human hand
and fingers, this one is basically a
vacuum cleaner attached to a
balloon filled with ground coffee.
In operation, you just press the
balloon against an object which
causes it to deform and fit around
a portion of the target. You then
suck the air out of the balloon, and the coffee undergoes a
“jamming transition” that turns its behavior from that of a fluid to
that of a solid, i.e., the grounds can no longer slide past each other.
The result is a gripping action that works with virtually any shape.
Releasing the object is simply a matter of turning off the vacuum.
According to Prof. Hod Lipson, the universality of the gripper makes
future applications seemingly limitless, including implementation as
feet on a bot that can walk up walls.
So, why didn’t you think of that?
For a more detailed explanation of this gripper, check out the
GeerHead column in this issue.
This robotic gripper conforms to
the shape of virtually any object.
Photo by John Amend.
Free Robot Art
My Red Tie, one
of many pieces
As occasionally noted in these pages, when
artists and robots tangle, the bots usually come
out on top. An exception, however, is some
pretty neat images collected and posted by
graphic designer Eric Shafer at creativefan.com/
40-brilliant-robot-artworks/. No copyright
information is included for most of them, but it’s
a fair guess that you can download anything you
like and use it as a desktop theme or something
8 SERVO 01.2011