THE EYES HAVE IT
Meka Robotics is based in San Francisco, CA, and they're probably
best known for their underactuated, compliant hand (and the arm that
goes with it), and now more recently for their humanoid head. The S2
head is notable because it manages to maintain a high degree of
expressiveness (those eyes are amazing) while entirely avoiding the
Uncanny Valley effect, thanks to its vaguely cartoonish look.
Meka is offering an entirely new system consisting of an arm, gripper,
sensor head, and mobile base for $200,000. It's no coincidence that the
one-armed PR2 SE costs the exact same amount; the NSF's National
Robotics Initiative provides research grants, including up to $200k for
research platforms. Yep, the government is basically giving these things
away for free. All you have to do is convince them that you deserve one,
and then pick your flavor.
UC Berkeley has a long history of developing innovative legged robots. There was
ROACH, BOLT, and there was DASH. DASH — a cockroach-inspired design — was a
very simple, very fast hexapedal robot that could scuttle along the ground at 15 body
lengths per second.
Now, meet the latest addition to this family of robot bugs: CLASH. CLASH is a
vertically-enabled successor to DASH, and it's designed to zip up vertical or near-vertical cloth surfaces with the aid of tiny little spiny toes. It's sort of like what you'd get if you put DASH and SpinyBot
together in a dark room along with a 3D printer and some Barry Manilow (or whatever it is robots are listening to
For a vertical climbing robot, CLASH is surprisingly quick. It may actually be one of the quickest climbing robots in
existence — it’s able to move upwards at 24 centimeters per second, which is really a lot faster than it sounds.
Part of the reason that CLASH can scramble around so fast is that
it's small and lightweight with a simple, but clever, design. CLASH is 10
centimeters long and weighs only 15 grams. The back-and-forth climbing
motion of four legs (the back two are passive) is entirely driven by one
single motor that gives CLASH a gait frequency of a brisk 34 strides per
The actual gripping and climbing technique is integrated into the
beautiful series of linkages that connect CLASH's legs to its motor and
to each other, making the mechanism completely passive all the way from
initial grip to retraction. The battery and electronics are all onboard, and
are located in the tail to help keep the robot balanced.
Next up is to endow CLASH with the ability to turn (which will
likely involve the addition of a second actuator somewhere) and a
modification of the rear legs to allow the robot to scamper along
horizontal surfaces too. While CLASH is currently restricted to climbing things like fabric and carpet that it can sink its
claws into, other methods of passive adhesion (like some of that gecko tape) might give CLASH a little extra versatility.
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