NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory breathed a collective sigh of relief on Friday when the Phoenix Lander was able to move its robotic arm. At first the concern was that a piece of plastic protective casing that did not fully unwrap after landing would prohibit use of the arm, but those fears proved to be unfounded.
The 7 ft arm is needed for planned drilling experiments which will dig beneath the Mars surface. It is believed that an ice layer exists a few inches below the surface in the northern plains, and the data from the Phoenix Mission experiment could show a wetter and warmer Mars in recent history. Such an environment would have been more conducive to sustaining life. With luck the drilling will start sometimes next week.
Although it is hard to tell from the photographs, the conditions at the Mars polar cap is not that inviting – Phoenix reports a temperature high of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of minus 112. Even in those conditions the photographs from the mission are inspiring. If you are interested in more media please check out the Phoenix Mars Mission website.
Spider Bot, Spider Bot. Does whatever a Spider bot can.
Far from just creative writing, the wall climbing robot is a reality. This device, designed by non-profit group SRI International, uses electroadhesion to to stick to the wall. If you are anxious to see it for real, you may have to wait until the unveiling at the International Conference of Robotics and Automation. Until then, the closest you are going to come is a video of it at Popular Mechanics.
If you are not familiar with electroadhesion, that is the electrostatic effect used now to pick up silicon wafers on assembly lines, keep paper on plotter surfaces, and apparently robots stuck to walls. Now you know why the big treads look rather like foil.
Imagine the security that can be had by a swarm of these in a typical building, watching from every nook and cranny (literally). Given the nature of electrostatics it will be interesting to see how they manage the power to weight ratio for a decent runtime, but they do have it running. Cool stuff.
Aloha from the Beach
It is a beautiful sunny morning, and I breathe deep, enjoying the feel of the air expanding my chest. I strap on the lightweight robotic exoskeleton (a recent find from the Cyber Sea) and start the climb on the cliffs close by the surf. After about an hour into the effort, I stop to look out to sea, marveling as always the way the curve of the flat horizon shows how small of a planet we live on. I still feel fairly fresh, thanks to the mechanical assist from the device. I figure I have about an hour of charge left, so I plan on using the lightweight exoskeleton for the climbing up portion of my little adventure this morning. The coming back down part I can manage just fine on my own.
The promise of the robotic full body exoskeleton, giving the wearer inhuman powers and endurance, is becoming closer to fact every day. However, it is still years away from being widely available. In the meanwhile smaller units,which are designed to assist, are to the point of being almost practical today. Take, for example, the Honda “Experimental Walking Assist Device”, a unit that can run for 2 hours at a pace of 4.5 km/h on its self-contained charge, thanks to a brushless DC motor design and careful but practical engineering. The unit, which naturally features an on-board CPU, uses hip angle sensors to drive the assist motion. Weighing in at 2.8kg, the Honda device is planned to be available in three different sizes. That is, if it does make it to market, and eventually a robotic exoskeleton will do so. This design, with its emphasis in practicality, would make a great market entry device.
It is not often we see a squirrel wash up on the Beach (no offense to any squirrels out there), but here is one that is worth a second look. Rocky the robotic squirrel is being used to study the local squirrels, interacting with them through tail and body movements, even playing pre-recorded Squirrel talk (I hope they did not record anything offensive to another Squirrel without knowing it). The goal of the study is to help determine how animals communicate, and so far Rocky has been a big hit with the local squirrel gang, fitting in just fine. I wonder if they could do a beach animal study and design a robotic starfish? We could name it Patrick and have it interact with the locals while looking for treasure.
Aloha from the Beach,