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by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
From Tsunami to Sukiyaki
A pertinent question these days is, "What do you do when a huge chunk
of your country is leveled by a 9.0 earthquake, swamped by a tsunami, and
damaged by fallout from a nuclear plant meltdown, leaving fields inundated
with salt, oil, and radiation?" If you're Japanese, the answer is, "Send in some
robots." The country's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries ( www.maff.
go.jp/e/index.html, if you really want to know) recently announced that a
program called the "Dream Project" will be implemented over the next six years
in the Miyagi prefecture which was flooded by seawater and hit by fallout
from the Fukushima plant a little over a year ago. The first step in the six-year
project is to research how to bring a 600 acre site back to an arable condition.
Long term, the ministry hopes to create a patch of farmland that is totally
worked by unmanned tractors where CO2 generated by the machinery will be channeled back into crops thereby reducing the reliance
on fertilizers, and pesticides will somehow be replaced by LEDs that keep "rice, wheat, soybeans, fruit, and vegetables safe until robots
can put them in boxes." The project will receive government funding of about four billion yen ($52 million), and high tech companies —
especially bot builders like Panasonic — are being invited to jump in with another six billion yen of private investment capital. Land
management during the six year period will be turned over to local farming corporations, and production will begin after they have
figured out how to get rid of the salt. Once the project is up and running, local farmers will be encouraged to consolidate
their own land under these corporations, eventually putting as much as 90+ square miles of once-fertile land back into production.
Japan's Dream Project aims to reclaim
devastated Miyagi prefecture areas as farmland.
Moving from silliness to psychopathy, consider the latest product
from Lovotics ( www.lovotics.com) — a company dedicated to the
research of human-to-robot relationships and "new possibilities for
exploring the concept and possibilities of human love." No, it's not
what you're thinking, but the company's Kissenger telepresence
product is almost as creepy. The product consists of artificial lips
attached to a pair of pig-like interactive devices that are supposed to
provide "the convincing properties of the real kiss" with your partner over long distances. No price tag was cited, and it
doesn't look like they are for sale online yet. No matter. I'm waiting until the version with a tongue is available. For a demo,
Kissenger V. 1.0 provides long-distance kissing for
Recommendation for Bots: Get a Little Tail
Also inspired by the world of reptiles is a robotic car named Tailbot,
developed at Berkeley's Mechanical Systems Control Lab ( msc.berkeley.edu).
It seems that Prof. Robert Full has spent the last 20 years researching how
the toe hairs of geckos help them climb smooth, vertical surfaces and how
their tails keep them from falling and allow them to right themselves in mid
air. He recently tested a 40 year old theory that two-legged dinosaurs used
their tails as stabilizers while running or evading predators. Not having any
live dinosaurs on hand, some students used high speed videography to see
how a red-headed African Agama lizard avoids spinning out of control when
it leaps around. Sure enough, tails are pretty useful for controlling roll, pitch,
and yaw (as any squirrel can tell you). The researchers proceeded to create a
mathematical model of the lizard and Tailbot (a toy car equipped with a tail and a small position-sensing gyroscope). With
the tail and no sensory feedback, Tailbot took a nose dive when driven off a ramp, but with feedback, it stabilized itself by
using the tail to redirect its angular momentum. No practical applications of the concept were mentioned, but you have to
figure that a dune buggy employing this form of "inertial assisted robotics" could be fun and pretty cool looking.
An Agama lizard provided inspiration for the
UC Berkeley Tailbot.
8 SERVO 04.2012