Robots: Walking, Hunting, and Eating
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BY STEVEN SPARKMAN
Here's your latest update in "Robot takeover of Earth" news. Two robots are getting blog chatter this week for inching closer to mimicking living organisms -- one step at a time.
First, the Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan developed this ramblin' man, BlueBiped. It's a walking robot which mimics the human gait, and has no motors or electricity. It takes a small downhill grade to keep it going, and in tests it's walked for 13 hours -- more than nine miles -- with no external power source.
It works entirely through the potential energy of a downhill slope, making use of its momentum with carefully articulated joints. A writer for Popular Science praises the BlueBiped for its simplicity.
"This type of forward falling motion is not exactly a new concept -- when I was your age, I had a Slinky, too -- but it's an interesting reminder that robotic technology doesn't necessarily need tons of servos and articulated limbs to accomplish a complex task."
The researchers tout their robots' environmental friendliness, since it uses no fuel to move around. A writer for Wired UK explains some of their big plans for the bot.
"There are two big ideas on the horizon: one is to transform the BlueBiped into some kind of exoskeleton to help people who have trouble walking. Another idea is to make the robot help out with sports equipment. Could be handy on the golf range, as long as it's all downhill."
Another robot getting attention this week -- how about a robot that eats living organisms?
Two new prototypes destined for sci-fi horror are designed to mimic the venus fly trap and its lure-and-trap method of fly catching.
Scientists in Maine created their carnivorous bot out of materials that mimic muscle fibers. Discovery News explains.
"Touching the trigger hairs activates a solid-state relay and a small dynamic voltage generator causes the lobes to close quickly. The robot actually works. To test it, [the researcher] flicked the trigger hairs several times with a long stick and ... the small Venus flytrap robot ensnared it. ... he said the robot also successfully closed around a hapless fly."
A team in Korea were able to build the same sort of robot using shape memory materials. But neither of these fly traps actually digests the bug. But what do you know -- that technology also already exists.
New Scientist spoke to a researcher at Bristol Robotics Lab, whose fly-digesting machine seems destined to join the fly traps.
"Ecobot uses bacteria to break down a fly's exoskeleton in a reaction that liberates electrons into a circuit, generating electricity. But without a way to catch prey, the researchers either manually feed Ecobot with dead flies or use an ultraviolet bug lure -- like those used in restaurants. ... 'We'd be happy to talk to these groups about their flytraps.'"
It's a match made in heaven.