The holy grail of the whole soft robotics initiative that many
research groups are so interested in seems to be the octopus. Anyone
who has ever seen an octopus in action can certainly understand why.
They're capable of some extraordinary maneuvers, thanks to relatively
large brains, very fine motor control, and a near-total lack of bones. The
Octopus Project is a European collaboration that's working on
"investigating and understanding the principles that give rise to the
octopus sensory-motor capabilities and incorporating them in new
design approaches." Their newest design approach is this fully mobile
roboctopus with eight soft tentacles.
Those big tentacles at the front are called "SMA arms" which means they're actuated by a shape-memory alloy that
changes its length when heated, so no servos or anything is necessary. The other six arms are silicone with a steel cable inside,
and this steel cable is attached to a bunch of nylon cables. By manipulating those nylon cables, the tentacle can be made to
wiggle around and even grip things.
The ultimate plan is to have no rigid structures, so it can be an entirely soft robot with eight flexible arms, able to reach
impracticable places, and simultaneously showing manipulation capability which could open up new scenarios for marine
exploration and underwater rescue.
THE MIGHTY QIN
More details are emerging about BYD’s upcoming car model, “Qin.”
Named after China’s first empire, the vehicle is shaping up to be quite
groundbreaking on a number of fronts.
The “Qin” plug-in — like its poor-selling cousin, the F3DM — uses
BYD’s own LiFePo4 battery. The LiFePo4 battery has a high energy
density, can withstand up to 4,000 charges while still retaining 80%
performance, and is environmentally benign as it uses no toxic heavy
metals in its manufacture.
In the Qin, BYD opted for a smaller battery of 10 kwh instead of
the 16 kwh model used on the F3DM. Due to its smaller size and
improved design, the new battery is about 50% smaller and lighter than
the one used on the F3DM. This reduced size also translates into
reduced price, but does come at the expense of a slightly reduced
all-electric range. The Qin is said to be able to go 50 km (31 miles)
in all electric mode before the engine kicks in.
Besides more powerful electric motors (110 kw), the Qin dumps
its 1.0L engine in exchange for BYD’s own 1.5L turbo-charged
direct-injected engine. This allows the car to reach a rumored 185 kph
(115 mph) and accelerate 1-100 kph (0-60 mph) in just 6. 9 seconds — a
full two seconds faster than the Chevy Volt. Due to its smaller battery
and increased wheelbase, the Qin will have more interior space than its
The Qin has greatly improved styling over BYD’s earlier models,
most notably in the car’s interior which is impressive. The car features two large TFT LCD displays and a mysterious “robot”
on the dashboard. Details are sketchy at this time, but this robot appears to pop out from underneath the dashboard and is
outfitted with cameras. It is likely the terminal of BYD’s “i” networking system which handles everything from wireless Internet,
Cloud computing, location services, music downloads, driver fatigue detection, and voice control.
Ultimately, the success or failure of the Qin will depend on product quality and price. With its recent warranty extension,
BYD has leaped ahead of most of its Chinese rivals in the quality department. One thing is fairly certain — the Qin will not be
cheap. The price of the vehicle is expected to come in around $24,000 to $32,000 USD.
Continued on page 72
Cool tidbits herein provided by Evan Ackerman at www.botjunkie.com, www.robotsnob.com, www.plasticpals.com, and other places.
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