This Week In Bots: The Locomotion Edition

Roving robots are something we take for granted. But the tech that makes robots mobile (and soon, robot tech that moves us, too) is clever stuff. Here’s what’s been happening in the world of robo-motion.

water strider



Check out this research by the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, which was based on an analysis of how a waterstrider moves across the surface tension of a pool of water. 

Learning that the strider’s skills are all about the angle of its fine legs to the surface and the tiny hairs that dot each leg (which create vortices that trap air so it doesn’t sink), scientists built their own robotic version. It measures a tiny 24 mm across, comes with two tiny “propellers” and motors, weighs about 300 times as much as the insect does, but still manages to remain safely poised above the surface of a pool.

What’s it for? An exercise in science for one, but also handy for future robot design. One can imagine all sorts of spying or environmental monitoring, or even wildlife filming purposes for a fleet of tiny robotic waterstriders.

Swarmbots Dance To Make A Landing Pad

Coordinating the moves of a single robot is tricky enough, but how about a swarm? And then how about getting that swarm to move in an organized fashion so they can build a mobile landing pad for a hovering quadrocopter robot to settle on? That’s what the team at Georgia Robotics and Intelligent Systems lab is up to with their Kephera swarm bots


Impressive, and could be extremely useful for all sorts of remote robotic operations–perhaps even when it comes to exploring Mars in the future.

Darwin-OP Does Dance Dance Revolution

Darwin-OP is a diminutive research-centric android robot, useful for scientists to work out how best to make robots move and interact in our complex environment. Which is why a scientist at Purdue University has taught a Darwin to make all the right steps to play Dance Dance Revolution on a home-brewed dancemat controller. 


It’s not frivolous though–the idea is to give robots the ability to make complicated fast moves in time to real-time events (the Purdue team wants to give the bot the ability to watch the screen to detect the dance commands from the game, and possibly to remove the need for his resting arm-bar too), and by honing the algorithms behind this, the science will eventually help people-sized androids deftly avoid bashing into things, cross busy roads, and so on.

At Volkswagen, Robot Cars Drive You

Volkswagen scientists have been quietly designing a robot driven car, and announced the resulting Temporary Autopilot System (TAP) last month. Now they’ve brought it to near production level. It’s not a substitute for a real person, and it’s not as future-facing or eerily freaky as Google’s self-driving cars–instead it’s more of an advanced cruise control. The TAP system is all about enabling the car to take control in case of an impending accident, so it’s got a sensor array and can control steering, throttle and breaking, all the while commanding the driver to pay attention to the developing incident with voice messages. 


Volkswagen has installed it in a production car, and it’s actually more likely to be something you experience sooner than riding in a fully robotic Google vehicle. 

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.


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