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You might expect a book titled Robot Futures and written by a robotics researcher to be a whiz-bang prophecy of technologies that are the best thing since sliced bread. Soon we’ll be living to 200 while traveling from vacation to vacation in our flying cars. All the while, robots handle all the parts of our jobs that we hated anyway, right? Maybe, but this book isn't the place to find it. There’s plenty of speculation in it (I mean, we are talking about the future here) but it’s decidedly more pragmatic and sober than that.
<img class=" " src="http://www.wired.com/design/wp-content/gallery/3d-printed-plane/010.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="346" /> Professor Sheffler, with brothers/lab partners Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman, shows off the exoframe of “Wendy,” their 3D-printed plane. Photo: University of Virginia It was supposed to be a big moment for the two brothers — both University of Virginia engineering students — the culmination of months of designing and refining. On a sunny day last August, Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman stood in the middle of a verdant field at the Milton Airfield in Charlottesville, VA, and watched anxiously as their 6.5-foot-wingspan drone aircraft taxied toward takeoff position.
The software analyzes the figure to find where joints should go, and the user specifies what kind. Elbows and knees get hinges. Torsos, tails, and perhaps tentacles get ball and socket joints with what engineers call "three degrees of freedom." See below for the 3D-printed version of the hand.
Political magnates on their way to the G8 summit at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland today may barely notice the scenery —mostly freshly planted fields and historic homes—of a small town on a spring day. Yet there's one attraction designed to catch their eye: an activist "chalkbot" whose golden-hued messages about taking action on global poverty now coat the pavement leading to the presidential retreat and leaving from the White House. The "Street Tweeter" is the work of anti-poverty nonprofit ONE. A "hydraulic robot" towed by a pickup truck, the machine culls Twitter for messages that mention the handle @ONEStreetTweet , and uses 80 jets full of nontoxic paint to take the text to the streets. ONE is asking its supporters to send along 40-character notes encouraging the G8 to take a stand on poverty in Africa and throughout the developing world.
The robotic future is here, and it looks nothing like we thought it would. Instead of humanoid, highly-intelligent robots that do our bidding, the future is increasingly one of robotic swarms , robotic quadrotors , and tiny robots no larger than insects that perform surgery . The robotics revolution, in short, is fast, cheap and out of control . Just as the computer revolution started with massive mainframes and evolved to the personal computer and handheld tablets, the robotics revolution is taking the same path -- it is evolving from large, expensive industrial robots to vaguely humanoid robots to cheap, tiny robots that follow you everywhere, thanks to built-in swarm intelligence. The latest example comes from Planetary Resources' breakthrough initiative for commercial asteroid mining, in which hundreds of robots working together would participate as part of a collaborative swarm to mine asteroids for resources .
The first thing you notice when visiting the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Laboratory --General Robotics Automation, Sensing, And Perception--is that the robots are everywhere. Massive workrooms at the laboratory are filled with bots of all shapes and sizes, from tiny humanoids outfitted to play soccer to insect-like flying drones that operate in an intelligent swarm (you may have seen them in a recent TED talk by GRASP's Vijay Kumar). The lab is home to an interdisciplinary team of engineers, computer programmers, and mathematicians working together with Penn students to create robots that perform surgery, play sports, and fly without any human control. It's also an incubation space for startups. Daniel Mellinger's KMel Robotics specializes in autonomous flying robots, and experimental robotics in general. Another firm, Sandbox Innovations , leverages innovations from robotics to use in emergency first response products.
What's the Latest Development? Researchers are working to build technology that will allow anyone to design and print their own robot within 24 hours. Engineers at Harvard, MIT and the U of Pennsylvania have received a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to " create computer manufacturing files which would act as a recipe for a number of machines to build a robot from scratch with minimal human interaction." The intention of the grant is to develop technology that will democratize and personalize automation according to the demands of individual users.
3 April 2012 Last updated at 13:46 ET The MIT team have built test modules with microprocessors and magnets to prove their theory Tiny robots that can join together to form functional tools and then split apart again after use might be ready for market in little more than a decade, according to researchers.
MIT researchers from the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) are working on the very first steps towards nano-bot technology. In their “Smart Sand” project, the researches hope to make tiny, sand-grain-sized, self-contained computers that can duplicate any object. One day, the researchers imagine that you will be able to deposit an object into a box of sand-grain-sized computers and pull out a full-size replica of the original object a few seconds later. (3D printing, eat your heart out!)
4 April 2012 Last updated at 16:42 GMT A robotic gripper was built to show what the project could be capable of Printed-on-demand robots might be a reality before the end of the decade if a US-based project achieves its goals.
Jacob Aron, technology reporter Robojelly - a robot jellyfish that feeds on water - could aid in underwater search and rescue operations, say its creators. Researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at Dallas built Robojelly from materials known as shape-memory alloys, which return to their original shape when bent. Eight moving segments wrapped in carbon nanotubes and coated with a platinum powder replicate the jellyfish's natural opening-and-closing method of propulsion.
Both are early experimental forays in a new line of research aimed at creating tiny, self-powered animal/machine hybrids as an alternative to tiny robots. Instead of starting from scratch and having to solve all those pesky movement problems that plague roboticists, some researchers have asked, why not start out with living creatures that already know how to walk and fly? Then all we have to do is make them robotlike, outfitting them with the right technology so that we can enslave them and make them do our bidding — in search-and-rescue work, spying or attacking enemies with bug .
If there's one thing that you don't want happening on board a ship, it's a fire. People on board burning ships can't simply run out onto the streets, as they hopefully could in the case of a structural fire, plus many people caught belowdecks don't have windows nearby to climb out of. Then, there's also the fact that crew members fighting such fires have to work in narrow, claustrophobic passageways, instead of wide-open roads. Given that fires are particularly possible on military ships, due to attacks by enemy forces, America's Naval Research Laboratory is now developing a special something to help fight fires at sea - it's called SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot.