Robots that can adapt like natural animals

The video shows the Intelligent Trial and Error Algorithm in action for two different damage conditions: a leg that has lost power and a broken leg. Initially, when the robot is undamaged, a hand-designed, classic tripod gait, performs well. Once damage occurs, however, this reference gait no longer works. The Intelligent Trial and Error Algorithm is initiated and quickly finds fast, compensatory behaviors for both damage conditions.

Flying 3D printer could seal off nuclear waste

“BEWARE: WILD ROBOTS AHEAD” reads the sign on the cage. Inside, a hexacopter – a drone with six rotors – hovers menacingly. A quadcopter – with four – rests on the ground.

They aren’t really wild robots, of course, and the test arena isn’t much of an ecosystem, but the quadcopter in particular has a rather special skill: it can build its own nest out of foam. In effect, it’s the world’s first flying 3D printer. One day such drones might work together to help remove waste from nuclear sites or help patch up damaged buildings. Continue reading Flying 3D printer could seal off nuclear waste

Analyzing mechanics of butterflies in flight

An undergraduate engineering student at Johns Hopkins University, Tiras Lin, has used high-speed, high-resolution cameras to gain a new perspective on the mechanics of a painted lady butterfly’s flight patterns. Information gathered from his research may be used to construct better designs for micro-aerial vehicles that could be used by the United States military.

The butterfly research will aid the development of flying bug-size robots. Pictured is an insect-inspired flapping-wing micro air vehicle under development at Harvard University. Credit: Robert J. Wood, associate professor, and Pratheev Sreetharan, Microrobotics Lab, Harvard University

Read more: Studying butterfly flight to help build bug-size flying robots (

Robotic space explorers powered by bacteria

A tiny robotic explorer could use bacteria as a fuel source. Credit: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory

Today’s robotic space missions take careful steps to avoid carrying tiny bacterial life from Earth that could contaminate the surface of Mars or other planets. That may all change if a NASA-funded effort can harness microbes as an almost endless power source for the next generation of robotic explorers.

Such microbial fuel cells could power space robots almost indefinitely, as long as their bacteria have the tiny amounts of food needed to stay alive and create electricity through their chemical reactions. That would offer an alternative to space missions that rely upon either nuclear or solar power for their batteries — NASA’s Spirit Mars rover was officially declared dead last May after the Red Planet’s harsh winter deprived it of sunlight for its solar panels.
Whether you’re looking at satellites or planetary explorers, to have a power system that’s not reliant on the sun of the solar system, day or night cycles, and hazardous materials such as nuclear or other harsh chemicals, means you really open a lot of doors for expanding the duration of scientific missions,” said Gregory Scott, a space robotics engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

The microbial fuel cells won’t power huge robots such as NASA’s car-size Curiosity rover in the near future, even if the experimental technology might eventually scale up to do so. Instead, they would trickle small amounts of electricity that can slowly charge a battery until enough energy exists to power a scientific instrument or move a tiny robot.

That process could ideally keep almost any small space mission going for as long as necessary…..
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