Flying Bugbot Out of the Woods
Many flying robots employ sophisticated collision
avoidance systems but sometimes dumber is better, as
evidenced by a dual-propeller whirlybird recently developed
at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL,
www.epfl.ch). The "Gimball" — like a fly that keeps bumping
up against a window until it finds an open area — just collides
with obstacles, bounces off undamaged, and keeps going. The
key is a 34 cm ( 13. 4 in) spherical elastic cage that continuously
rotates and absorbs shocks while a gyroscopic stabilization
system keeps the robot inside vertically oriented. The lack of
the usual complex network of sensors also allows for a major
reduction in weight, with the Gimball tipping the scales at only
370 g ( 13 oz).
In a test, the unit managed to navigate through several
kilometers of Swiss pine forest using only a compass and
altimeter, even though it collided with several tree trunks along the way. It does sport an onboard camera
that can be used to relay information to personnel in earthquakes and other emergency situations but it
is not used for navigation, so Gimball can operate just fine in places like collapsed buildings and other
disaster areas — even if they are full of smoke. It's pretty impressive, but PhD student Adrien Briod had to
admit, "We're not ready to compete with our model [flying bugs]. Insects are still superior."
The Gimball flying bot crashes but doesn't care.
8 SERVO 01.2014
by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
In Your Face — and Beyond
This month's nominee for the creepiest robotic
breakthrough is a prototype intubation device that crawls
into an anesthetized or critically sick patient's lungs.
According to its developers at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem ( http://new.huji.ac.il), doctors who manually
insert plastic tubes into patients have to look down into the
trachea and "choose between two very similar holes: one
leading to the lungs, the other to the stomach. Failure to
identify the correct hole can lead to patient death." On top
of that, the process is even more difficult on the battlefield
or in other situations where the patient may have blood or
other liquids in the way.
Biodesign program students at the university have come
up with the "GuideIN Tube" which uses an infrared source to
identify the lung hole and navigate into it. Reportedly, it has
been tested successfully on cadavers, and clinical trials on live
subjects will begin this year.
"I strongly believe that GuideIn Tube represents the
future of intubation," observed Dr. Elchanan Fried, director of
the general intensive care unit in Hadassah Medical Center. The device targets a
$3 billion market which is expected to increase by five percent annually.
Video frame showing the GuideIN Tube being inserted into
a simulated patient's head.