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by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
No Humans Required
It's no secret that the US military makes extensive use
of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a variety of shapes,
sizes, and configurations. It is less widely known, however,
that the Navy and Northrop Grumman have long been
developing autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) technologies
aimed at in-flight servicing of UAVs by other UAVs. The
objective is to increase the endurance and range of
carrier-based unmanned aircraft, and the focus appears
to be on Northrop Grumman's X-47B — a tailless,
strike-fighter-sized warbird currently undergoing flight
testing. In a recent test, a research team installed X-47B
hardware and software on a Learjet and paired it with an
Omega K-707 tanker. Reportedly, the Learjet "successfully
completed multiple air-refueling test points autonomously while commanded by a ground operator." The test was limited to
verifying the AAR systems and navigation performance which is a sneaky way of saying that the K-707 didn't actually seal
the deal by poking its hose into the Lear. However, "The next big step for the program is to demonstrate this capability with
the unmanned X-47B and actually plug the aircraft autonomously," according to the Navy. That is scheduled to happen
sometime in 2014, so stay tuned.
A Learjet maneuvers into position beneath an
Omega K-707 tanker aircraft.
Good News on the Job Front
Things may be tough out there in the job market, but you're in luck if you have robotic skills. According to research firm
Wanted Analytics ( www.wantedanalytics.com), corporate recruiters and staffing organizations posted more than 2,100
online ads for robotic jobs in January alone, accounting for a 44 percent increase from January 2011 and more than double
the number in January 2010. The highest number of offerings were in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles,
so it may be time to pack your bags.
Bioservo's Johan Ingvast demonstrates
the SEM glove.
Get a Grip With Robotic Glove
The first product developed by Sweden's Bioservo Technologies
( bioservo.com) is the Soft Extra Muscle (SEM) glove, designed to add robotic
strength to hands that have been compromised by nerve injuries, weakened
muscles, or other problems. The device is worn pretty much like any other glove
except that the user also needs to wear a power unit on the upper arm or back.
The fingertips are equipped with force sensors that register when the user
grasps something, and a microcontroller decides how much extra force to add.
This regulates artificial tendons within the glove. Gripping power levels can be
adjusted for individual needs, and the device's lithium-ion batteries provide up to
three days of service, depending on how it's used. The SEM was given the 2012
Robotdalen Innovation Award which comes in at EUR6000 (about $8,000 at
current rates). If an assistive glove doesn't sound like earth-shattering news,
consider that the Robotdalen jury found the device "to be an excellent example
of non-invasive adaptive robot assistance under permanent and uncomplicated
user control finding it roots in the simplicity of Sir Isaac Newton's discoveries."
Wow. This thing is up there with universal gravitation, the laws of motion, and
the reflecting telescope. It doesn't appear that you can actually purchase one
yet, but it is said to be "ready for high-volume production."
8 SERVO 05.2012