by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
Mechanical Mule Off To Afghanistan
Back in August, we reported that Army research scientists had expressed
disappointment in the performance of autonomous vehicles deployed in
Afghanistan and were actually contemplating the use of pack mules instead.
Apparently, the Army Rapid Equipping Force isn't quite as pessimistic, as
they will be sending four Lockheed Martin ( www.lockheedmartin.com)
Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) vehicles for a three-month field
evaluation next month. The 11 ft SMSS — said to be the largest autonomous
vehicle ever deployed with infantry — can carry more than 1,000 lb (450 kg)
of a squad's equipment over rugged terrain — including through shallow
water — with a range of 125 miles. It features a choice of three operating
modes: supervised autonomy, tele-operation, and manual control. A sensor suite mounted on the front allows it to lock
onto a 3D image of a particular person and follow along, or it can navigate along a series of GPS waypoints. A fifth unit
will remain in the US for further analysis. At present, the SMSS is basically just an unarmed mechanical beast of burden,
but the Army says, "The long-term vision of this system can accommodate armed variants, while improving its
reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition capabilities within the concept of supervised autonomy."
Lockheed Martin's SMSS will be going to
Afghanistan for evaluation.
Straight from the Silicone Mouth
A bot doesn't have to be animal inspired to be creepy and
disgusting, as evidenced by a device concocted at Japan's Kagawa
University ( www.kms.ac.jp). At the last Robotech Expo in Tokyo, Prof.
Hideyuki Sawada demonstrated a mechanical mouth that is about as
near to the real thing as you would ever want to see. It has lips, eight
vocal chords, a tongue, a nasal cavity that provides resonance, and a
mechanical pump that supplies air to the vocal chords. The shape of the
mouth is manipulated by a set of actuators, allowing it to form words.
It can even listen to itself via a microphone and make adjustments to sound more "human." It seems a little odd to put
together something this elaborate when a cheap speech synthesis device would accomplish pretty much the same thing,
but it is more visually entertaining this way. You can check out the vid by aiming your browser at
www.jkeckert.com/freedownloads/robotmouth.mp4. It sounds even weirder than it looks.
Strange robot mouth developed at
Cannonball Bot to Inspect Nukes
One of the side effects of the Fukushima power plant disaster has been increased
concern about other nuke plants around the world, particularly those of venerable
vintage. This summer, the Associated Press said that a study of documents obtained from
the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed that tritium (a radioactive form of
hydrogen) has leaked from at least 48 or 65 commercial sites from corroded, buried pipes
that transport water to cool the reactor vessels. Many have gone uninspected for 30 to 40
years. The good news is that none of the leaks has reached public water supplies, but it
seems like a pretty good idea to start inspecting the piping. As it turns out, an AUV
system for doing just that is being developed at MIT's d'Arbeloff Laboratory
( darbelofflab.mit.edu) by Prof. Harry Asada. The tough part was designing an inspector
bot that can't get trapped in the reactor structures which eliminates standard designs that
use propellers or rudders. Hence, Asada's design uses a propulsion system that employs the force of water rushing through
the reactor. The unit is controlled via a network of Y-shaped valves embedded in the bot's skin that direct the water's flow
toward little windows that create a propulsion jet stream and propel the robot in the opposite direction. An onboard
camera takes photos of the pipe’s interior and uses a wireless system to transmit the images in real time. When fully
developed, the units are expected to be cheap enough to use as short-term disposable patrollers, not only for nuclear
facilities but for municipal sewer pipes and other difficult to inspect installations.
MIT's cannonball bot, intended
for nuke plant inspections.
8 SERVO 10.2011