bots IN BRIEF
PICK UP STICKS ROBOT STYLE
One way of making a simple robot more capable is to give it the
capacity to modify its environment. We've seen this in practice in the
last year or two with robots that have the ability to create tools, build
buildings, and even manufacture other robots. This concept can be taken
even farther, though, with robots that can construct large structures out
of amorphous materials like glue, foam, and toothpicks.
Robots are fairly decent at using prefabricated materials to build
things, but when you get out into an unstructured environment
(whether it’s somewhere like a forest or a city after a major disaster), it
doesn't really make sense to bring anything prefabricated because you
have no idea what you’re going to need. What makes more sense is to
bring along building materials that can be adapted to whatever you want
onsite, which means large amounts of stuff you can use to build up into
exactly what you need.
Researchers from Harvard University and Worcester Polytechnic
Institute have taken inspiration from animals like weaver birds, termites,
and beavers, and have developed robots capable of using cheap materials
to build large structures. Beavers (and weaver birds), for example, build things by sticking together large
amounts of sticks. This new robot can do something very similar with prefabricated sticks (toothpicks) and
glue.At this point, the robot in question has a deposition mechanism with which it just “flings" individual
toothpicks after adding glue to them. While it has approximately zero control over placing the toothpicks
into any sort of arrangement that would make structural sense, the sheer number of toothpicks (plus a
generous helping of glue) means that eventually, the bot can build ramps or anything else that is basically a
random pile of wood and glue.
Termites, on the other hand, build structures out of mud without any underlying framework. Robots can
do something similar with urethane casting foam. By successively depositing layers of liquid that puff up as
they dry, a robot can build ramps or any anything else that consists of a random blob of foam.
The researchers suggest that it might be possible to build things like arches and bridges with the
toothpick-flinging method, once they figure out how to get the targeting down to something a little more
accurate than the aforementioned random piles.
Future research also hopes to make the ramp building both autonomous and adaptive, meaning that the
robots will be able to look at an obstacle, figure out on their own what sort of structure they need to
create to get over it, and then build that structure by themselves.
PARO TURNS 10
Paro has officially been certified “the world’s most therapeutic
robot” by the Guinness Book of World Records, and is celebrating
its 10th birthday this year with limited edition colors.
The robot — which was modeled after a baby harp seal — has
totaled about 2,200 sales in its first decade (1,800 in Japan and
about 400 in 30 other countries). Only about 200 units will feature
the two new colors,“Charcoal” gray and “Sakura” pink. They retail
for around 350,000 JPY ($4,500 USD), or about $1,000 more if you
want a three year warranty.
SERVO 12.2012 21