My Name Is E.A.R.L.
No, this has nothing to do with karma, unless you have a
spiritual bond with bowling. E.A.R.L. stands for Enhanced
Automated Robotic Launcher, a name somewhat tortuously devised
to honor bowler Earl Anthony, whose nickname was "The Machine."
It's a state-of-the-art bowling bot designed to "consistently simulate
any type of bowling style with an accuracy and consistency on the
lanes that no human bowler can achieve. Those qualities make
E.A.R.L. invaluable in the many studies necessary to keep up with
the ever-changing bowling ball industry." Indeed, E.A.R.L. can throw
right- or left-handed shots at speeds from 10 to 24 mph and with
spin rates from 50 to 900 rpm, and do so consistently, shot after shot. It also sports a computer and sensor system that
tracks the ball's location and speed as it moves down the lane, providing sophisticated ball-motion data. Although E.A.R.L.
has been known to bowl a 300, he was pitted against pro bowler Chris Barnes last year, and Barnes beat the bot 259 to
209. According to the US Bowling Congress ( www.bowl.com) — which uses E.A.R.L. for equipment specifications and
certifications — the relatively poor performance comes because the bot "lays the ball down in exactly the same spot every
time, so after only a couple of shots, the oil changes, and it's hard to strike consistently." Yeah, excuses, excuses.
The USBC’s E.A.R.L. bowling bot.
A WheeMe massage bot gives “Sharon”
WheeMe the Massage Bot
This month's most dubious robotic application takes the form of WheeMe —
a palm-size bot that "gently massages and caresses as it moves slowly across
your body." Slowly is right, with a top speed of only 1.6 ips. Given that it only
weighs about 11. 5 oz (330 g), you probably shouldn't expect it to feel much like
a deep tissue massage applied by Otto the Animal or even a Swedish massage
from Richard Simmons. Maybe the nylon fingerettes can penetrate deep enough
to have some effect. At least the gadget employs sensors that allow it to steer
itself over your body without falling off or losing its grip. If you want to try one
out, just log onto www.dreambots.com and be willing to pay $49.
The Bionic Handling Assistant (BHA) — developed by Festo ( www.festo.com) and
introduced at the 2010 Hanover Fair — should look familiar, especially if you have been
to the circus recently. Billed as an entirely new type of biomechatronic handling
system, its design was inspired by the workings of an elephant's trunk. Notably, it
differs from the usual heavy industrial robot in that machine-human contact is no
longer hazardous to the latter; in the event of a collision, the system immediately
yields without becoming unstable. In fact, the device is so revolutionary that its
designers received the "Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010" ("German Future Prize"), worth
EUR 250,000 last December. According to a press release, "there are roughly 40,000
muscles that make the elephant's trunk an extremely flexible gripping hand that can
move freely in any direction and can even rotate. A similar level of flexibility and gentle
performance is provided by the high-tech trunk developed by researchers at Festo ..." The device consists of three basic
elements: the hand axis, a ball joint, and the adaptive FinGripper which results in "smooth movement, more degrees of
freedom ( 11), and an unparalleled mass/payload ratio." Weighing only 1.8 kg ( 4 lb), the plastic arm can lift up to 500 g
( 17. 6 lb). Being powered by compressed air instead of mechanical devices, it is also relatively simple. Interestingly, the arm
is created by a 3D printing process, so there is no assembly — all components are formed in a single step. The BHA doesn't
appear in the current Festo catalog, but presumably it will be commercially available in the near future. SV
Festo’s Bionic Handling Assistant,
inspired by an elephant’s trunk.
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