Science News

Soft optoelectronic sensory foams with proprioception

In a step toward soft robot proprioception, and therefore better control, this paper presents an internally illuminated elastomer foam that has been trained to detect its own deformation through machine learning techniques. Optical fibers transmitted light into the foam and simultaneously received diffuse waves from internal reflection. The diffuse reflected light was interpreted by machine learning techniques to predict whether the foam was twisted clockwise, twisted counterclockwise, bent up, or bent down. Machine learning techniques were also used to predict the magnitude of the deformation type. On new data points, the model predicted the type of deformation with 100% accuracy and the magnitude of the deformation with a mean absolute error of 0.06°. This capability may impart soft robots with more complete proprioception, enabling them to be reliably controlled and responsive to external stimuli.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

A hierarchically patterned, bioinspired e-skin able to detect the direction of applied pressure for robotics

Tactile sensing is required for the dexterous manipulation of objects in robotic applications. In particular, the ability to measure and distinguish in real time normal and shear forces is crucial for slip detection and interaction with fragile objects. Here, we report a biomimetic soft electronic skin (e-skin) that is composed of an array of capacitors and capable of measuring and discriminating in real time both normal and tangential forces. It is enabled by a three-dimensional structure that mimics the interlocked dermis-epidermis interface in human skin. Moreover, pyramid microstructures arranged along nature-inspired phyllotaxis spirals resulted in an e-skin with increased sensitivity, minimal hysteresis, excellent cycling stability, and response time in the millisecond range. The e-skin provided sensing feedback for controlling a robot arm in various tasks, illustrating its potential application in robotics with tactile feedback.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

An integrated system for perception-driven autonomy with modular robots

The theoretical ability of modular robots to reconfigure in response to complex tasks in a priori unknown environments has frequently been cited as an advantage and remains a major motivator for work in the field. We present a modular robot system capable of autonomously completing high-level tasks by reactively reconfiguring to meet the needs of a perceived, a priori unknown environment. The system integrates perception, high-level planning, and modular hardware and is validated in three hardware demonstrations. Given a high-level task specification, a modular robot autonomously explores an unknown environment, decides when and how to reconfigure, and manipulates objects to complete its task. The system architecture balances distributed mechanical elements with centralized perception, planning, and control. By providing an example of how a modular robot system can be designed to leverage reactive reconfigurability in unknown environments, we have begun to lay the groundwork for modular self-reconfigurable robots to address tasks in the real world.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

Forceful manipulation with micro air vehicles

Micro air vehicles (MAVs) are finding use across an expanding range of applications. However, when interacting with the environment, they are limited by the maximum thrust they can produce. Here, we describe FlyCroTugs, a class of robots that adds to the mobility of MAVs the capability of forceful tugging up to 40 times their mass while adhering to a surface. This class of MAVs, which finds inspiration in the prey transportation strategy of wasps, exploits controllable adhesion or microspines to firmly adhere to the ground and then uses a winch to pull heavy objects. The combination of flight and adhesion for tugging creates a class of 100-gram multimodal MAVs that can rapidly traverse cluttered three-dimensional terrain and exert forces that affect human-scale environments. We discuss the energetics and scalability of this approach and demonstrate it for lifting a sensor into a partially collapsed building. We also demonstrate a team of two FlyCroTugs equipped with specialized end effectors for rotating a lever handle and opening a heavy door.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content

Robotic ecology: Tracking small dynamic animals with an autonomous aerial vehicle

Understanding animal movements that underpin ecosystem processes is fundamental to ecology. Recent advances in animal tags have increased the ability to remotely locate larger species; however, this technology is not suitable for up to 70% of the world’s bird and mammal species. The most widespread technique for tracking small animals is to manually locate low-power radio transmitters from the ground with handheld equipment. Despite this labor-intensive technique being used for decades, efforts to reduce or automate this process have had limited success. Here, we present an approach for tracking small radio-tagged animals by using an autonomous and lightweight aerial robot. We present experimental results where we used the robot to locate critically endangered swift parrots (Lathamus discolor) within their winter range. The system combines a miniaturized sensor with newly developed estimation algorithms to yield unambiguous bearing- and range-based measurements with associated measures of uncertainty. We incorporated these measurements into Bayesian data fusion and information-based planning algorithms to control the position of the robot as it collected data. We report estimated positions that lie within about 50 meters of the true positions of the birds on average, which are sufficiently accurate for recapture or observation. Further, in comparison with experienced human trackers from locations where the signal was detectable, the robot produced a correct estimate as fast or faster than the human. These results provide validation of robotic systems for wildlife radio telemetry and suggest a way for widespread use as human-assistive or autonomous devices.

Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content