RO, RO, ROBO BOATS
Yep, robot swarms are now taking over swimming pools.
Mark Yim and his students at the University of
Pennsylvania are trying to get this big fleet of small robotic
boats to cooperate to form all sorts of useful structures. By
coupling together, a large enough swarm would be capable of
forming bridges, runways, or even islands. UPenn has over 100
of them — each one of which is controlled with a Gumstix,
and uses four separate motors to enable omnidirectional
movement and zero-radius turns. According to a recent Daily
“The objective was to get the boats to form a bridge
across a corner of the pool and drive a car across the bridge.
The week before, the boats successfully configured themselves
into an island for one of Engineering professor Vijay Kumar’s
quadrotor drones to land on."
Now, that’s cool!
What DARPA would like to see happen is to (eventually) scale this system up to boats the size of
shipping containers, since shipping containers are cheap, everywhere, and easy to transport and manage.
You could fill a container ship with these modules and dump them all into the water near a disaster
zone, tell them you need a runway, and they'd all zip around and form a nice big flat stabilized platform
for you. When you're done — or need something else — the modules would unhook themselves and
either reconfigure into something different or queue up to get collected and moved on to the next
place they're needed.
Oh, and by the way, they named all the boats after period table elements.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW
Scientists and filmmakers love to deploy robots in
disguise to spy on real animals. They've sent drones to
film herds of elephants and zebras in Africa, armored
mobile robots to photograph Kenyan lions, and have
used animatronic apes to get close-up footage of
bonobos. Recently, the BBC sent 50 special cameras —
including robot penguins that can walk and swim — to
get inside penguin colonies and capture never-seen
footage of the adorable flat-footed, tuxedo-clad birds
in their natural habitats.
For their documentary "Penguins: Spy in the
Huddle," the BBC hired John Downer Productions to
build a variety of special penguin-cams to film three
different species. These spycams were not just the
typical remote controlled cameras hidden in a fancy case. One of them — the
RockhopperCam — is a walking penguin bot with 20 degrees of freedom that is
equipped with gyroscopes, accelerometers, and high-def cameras. According to
the producers, it can walk over different terrain, stand up if it falls over, and its
computer is preprogrammed with 75 different "penguin motions." Other
spycams included the EmperorCam, ChickCam, SnowCam, EggCam, Underwater
PenguinCam, and the SnowballCam.
22 SERVO 04.2013