Friday Gadget: The BIOSwimmer Fish Robot

BioSwimmer1The Biomimetic In-Oil Swimmer (BIO-Swimmer) is an robotic fish that has been under development the last 4-5 years by Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group in Waltham, MA, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is tasked with uncovering attempts to damage, disrupt, or illegally use the flow of commerce; without detection.  As you can imagine, this is a challenging process.  With regard to waterways, a balance needs to be maintained between monitoring ports, rivers and other waterways without slowing commerce.  The BIOSwimmer is being developed to help the U.S. secure and protect these very waterways.  It is a fish-inspired (it looks like a Tuna) robot that can be deployed rapidly.  It is designed to maneuver into locations previously inaccessible to current robots and provide security intelligence far beyond current capability.

The robot is a hybrid of the design features of a regular submarine (i.e. dive planes, thruster-powered locomotion, and a rigid hull) combined with the flexible keel of a fish.  The tuna is used as a biological model because its natural swimming gait holds the front 2/3 of the fish’s body rigid, while the rear 1/3 moves; this allows the robot to utilize the front 2/3 of its body as a rigid, watertight hull, while the rear 1/3 is converted into a flooded flexible structure. The robot uses hydraulic actuators to move the flexible tail structure from side to side and electric motors for dive plane control.

It is a drone that is controlled via laptop-based system, so it requires a human operator.  It uses an onboard camera and computer suite for navigation, sensor processing, and communications.  It has onboard sensors which are designed for the challenging environment of constricted spaces and high viscosity fluids that are found in crowded and active ports on our waterways.   

All this capability produces a robotic fish-inspired drone that can both move through the water quickly and turn on a dime, a set of traits not usually seen together in underwater vehicles of any type. 

The BIOSwimmer will be expected to perform tasks like conducting ship hull inspections; performing search and rescue missions; and checking cargo holds that may have toxic fluids.   It can inspect the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach external areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests.  It can also inspect and protect harbors and piers, perform area searches and carry out other security missions. 

Friday Gadget: The MAB Automated Cleaning System for your house

Gadget - MAB - Automatic Cleaning SystemIn my house, I am the one usually dusting, cleaning, and vacuuming.  It’s not that I like doing the cleaning…it’s just that the other family members never seem to do be interested in having a clean house.   So this Friday’s Gadget post is one that I really like as it paint’s a future where I don’t have to do the cleaning.  

The automated robotic cleaning concept system called MAB, relies on flying mini-robots.   The concept won the 2013 Electrolux Design Lab Competition.  Check out the video below.

The ‘Mab’ automated cleaning system uses hundreds of tiny robots that fly around and collect dust and dirt.   Designer Adrian Perez Zapata says he created the system with the idea that he could  free the human race from the tedious task of cleaning.  In his Mab design, micro-robots do the work to clean every surface of your house while you sit back and relax.   I love that idea. 

Here’s how his Mab concept works.  Think of the Mab core unit as like a beehive and the flying robots as the bees.  In this case, hundreds of tiny flying robots are loaded with drops of water mixed with soap.  The Mab core unit scans the room, identifies dimensions and potential problem areas.  It then releases the flying robots to clean.  As the robots touch surfaces, the cleaning fluid picks up dirt and then the flying robot returns it to the central unit.  Back at the Mab Core unit, the dirt is filtered out from the liquid, which is then then cycled through the Mab core unit for reuse.



Embedded in Adrian’s design concept is that the Mab could be powered through wireless energy or solar energy.   He also says the wings of each robot could have solar panels to collect energy.

Just think…in the future you may never have to clean again

Friday Gadget: Yotaro the baby robot

Yotaro is another interesting robot idea coming out of Japan.  This robot is designed to be a baby. 

It has baby blue eyes and it makes cute baby sounds.  It also cries, sneezes, smiles, has runny noses, and even sleeps.  It reacts to touch. Facial expressions change. In fact it shows all the emotions of a typical baby and communicates those emotions pretty effectively. 

The researchers behind Yotaro are hoping that the robot can be used to help young parents learn parenting skills before the real baby arrives.  For more on Yotaro and the researchers at Tsukuba University who created it, check out this article I found at Physorg

HorizonWatching: Top Ten Friday Gadget Posts From 2009

On Fridays I usually publish a post on some type of current gadget or prototype of an innovation.  The idea is to have a little fun on Fridays, but also take a time to think about how these innovations can make our lives easier in the future.   

Here’s my top ten favorite Friday Gadget posts from 2009

  1. Friday Gadget: ProDigits – The Partial Hand Solution – A Bionic Hand solution that works
  2. Friday Gadget: Solar Impulse Plane – A plane that runs on solar power
  3. Friday Gadget: The Recon Scout Rescue Miniature, Mobile Reconnaissance Device – A small robot with camera and sensors for disaster relief
  4. Friday Gadget: City-Sheet e-paper concept  -  epaper will become a reality someday.  This is one idea how we’ll use it.
  5. Friday Gadget: High Speed Robot Hand – Research into sensors, using a robotic hand.
  6. Friday Gadget: i-Real Personal Mobility Device – Say goodbye to wheelchairs.
  7. Friday Gadget: Disaster Relief Quadcopter Robot – Deploy a communication network in an instant with miniature helicopters
  8. Friday Gadget: The Snuza Halo – Protecting babies in their cribs
  9. Friday Gadget: The Hummingbird Robot – Research is progressing into smaller and smaller flying robots.  The nano helicopter is around the corner.
  10. Friday Gadget:  Terrafugia's Transition Car Plane – Great idea for those who live in rural areas with big ranches and farms.

So there you have it.  I’ll be continuing to feature feature these types of posts in 2010.  Come to the blog on a Friday and you will usually see a Friday gadget post.

Friday Gadget: ProDigits – The Partial Hand Solution

1260210057ProDigits Finger_600 It has been estimated that the world's current "partial hand amputee" population is about 1.2 million worldwide.

A new device, called ProDigits and developed by Touch Bionics, is perhaps the "world's first bionic fingers" controlled by brain signals from the user. 

Until now, the options available to people who have lost fingers or been born without them have been fairly limited.  Prosthetics are often cosmetic in nature and have minimal mobility.

Those fitted with the device can "bend, touch, pick up and point", all very simple actions which are made impossible without fingers and thumbs. Also, because of a special sensor which the device is fitted with, which let the fingers detect when they have closed around something, people can also write and grip objects.

Check out this video (found on YouTube) 

The ProDigits device work in two ways: 

  • Myoelectric sensors can be used to sense electrical signals from the muscle to help the fingers move; or
  • Sensitive touch pads can use pressure from remaining fingers or tissues near bone to activate prosthetic finger movement.

The cost depends on the number of missing fingers, but a prosthetic is estimated to run between $60,000 and $75,000.

For more information go to

Friday Gadget: Solar Impulse Plane


I think we all agree that we need to figure out how to harness more of the sun’s energy, but I’m wondering how many of you would get on a plane powered by the sun?  Solar power has already been used to power unmanned aircraft, but the challenge of hauling a heavy human up into the atmosphere remains more daunting.  

There’s a company by the name of Solar Impulse is currently testing their solar-powered plane they call HB-SIA.  Solar Impulse’s stated goal is to build and fly a human piloted solar powered plane around the world. 

The current HB-SIA prototype features four electric motors.  The aircraft’s wingspan is as wide as a jumbo jet (to provide maximum solar panel space), but thanks to space-age carbon-fiber materials only weighs as much as a mid-sized car.

In a few weeks the plane is scheduled to attempt a very short flight where it will lift off the runway no more than 10 feet and then land again, to see how it behaves at the beginning of the flight.”  Then in February the plan is to take the plane up for a full flight.   After that, there are plans for some longer flights. 

Still there is lots of testing before an around the world flight can be attempted.  For the plane to make it around the world, it will have to fly at night.  Batteries are charged during the day by the sun and then used to power night time flight.  

For more, see   For videos, check out

Friday Gadget: The Recon Scout Rescue Miniature, Mobile Reconnaissance Device

Here’s a simple looking device with a wireless-transmitting camera that can go where people can’t…or where it is safe to go.

TheRecon Scout Recon Scout® Rescue is a miniature, mobile reconnaissance device that will add greater safety and speed to search and rescue and hazmat operations. According to the company, using it requires no special training, making it a great for firefighters, disaster responders, and public safety professionals.

For example, a firefighter using would just pull the activation pin and throw the device through a doorway or over a wall, or drop it down a vertical shaft using a tether.   Then by using a joystick on a handheld control, the firefighter can then direct the device to move through.   Equipped with an infrared optical system that automatically turns on when the ambient light is low, the Rescue can see in complete darkness and can transmit video up to 100 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors.  Additional accessories allow it to transmit video to an incident command post that can be located up to 1,000 feet away.

The performance characteristics of the Recon Scout Rescue make it ideally suited to this task:

  • The Recon Scout Rescue is just seven inches long and weighs just one pound, making it extremely easy to carry and throw.
  • Deploying the Rescue takes less than 15 seconds and requires no special training.
  • The device is equipped with sophisticated infrared optical systems that can see in complete darkness and automatically turn on when the ambient light is low.
  • The Rescue transmits clear, crisp video through walls and debris up to 100 feet to a handheld Operator Control Unit (OCU) or up to 1,000 feet to a Command Monitoring Station.
  • The device can withstand throws of 120 feet and it can be tossed through windows or doors, over walls, or down a flight of stairs.
  • It can also be dropped down a vertical shaft or into a void using a provided tether.

I am thinking future version of these devices can be fitted with all types of sensors to measure things like temperature, air quality, water quality, etc.

Check out more on the website

Friday Gadget: The Spruce Whale – An aircraft we’ll see in 2095?

BlueWhaleI’ve been doing these Friday gadget posts for almost three years now.  For me, these Friday gadget posts are not only about having fun on a Friday, but have always been about imagining the future.  What types of products will future generations have that will make their life easier?  In addition, how will emerging technologies play?

For this week’s post, I found a concept by designer Reindy Allendra for an aircraft we might see in 85 years.  Randy calls it the WB-1010 but affectionately also calls it the Spruce Whale (named after the famous Spruce Goose).  He’s entered the design into a KLM design contest.

According to the design specs, the WB-1010 (named after the Wright Brothers)  will be constructed from material made of thin layers of metal and glass fibre. Other featured include:

  • Ability to harvest wind energy into electricity.
  • An extractable robotic stand would also be used during the craft’s vertical landings.
  • Seats for more than 1500 people.
  • It can reach speeds of over 600mph
  • Helium injected in the body makes the plane lighter

For more, see Randy’s post at Yanko Design here

Friday Gadget: City-Sheet e-paper concept

Every once in a while I go check the red dot award site (  The red dot awards are given out annually for excellence in design.  On my visit today I came across the City-Sheet concept design submitted by Yeon Haejung.  City Sheet

The City-Sheet is portable device designed for travellers who today can be seen carrying travel guidebooks while they are touring.   They use guide books and maps to help them plan out their day and provides more detailed information on tourist sites, public transportation, and restaurants. 

The City-sheet concept is an electronic ‘book’ that contains five ‘e-paper’ sheets that can display information.  While attached to a computer via a USB connection, users download information to the City-sheet.  The user can customize their route for the day, including potential sites they will see, stores they want to visit, museums, sporting events, and restaurants.  The City-sheet can rolled and perhaps placed in a bag or large purse. 

See more at

While this concept design is certainly interesting, I think in the end it will not be successful in the market.  With the flurry of activity surrounding Google-Map mashup mobile applications along with recent augmented reality apps for i-phones and Android devices, I think in the end users will end up preferring to get their city travel information on their mobile device.

Friday Gadget – Layar’s Mobile Augmented Reality Browser

Layar is an Android-based, augmented reality browser from SPRXMobile based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.   Check out the following video.

The Layar Reality Browser displays real time digital information on top of reality in the camera screen of the mobile phone.  Users can pan their cell phone cameras around and see nearby buildings and spaces tagged with information from the web. While looking through the phone’s camera lens, a user can see houses for sale, popular bars and shops, tourist information of the area, play a live game, etc.. 

Layar currently is only available in the Netherlands.  SPRXMobile plans to bring the browser to international markets and develop an iPhone application as well.  The company is based in Amsterdam.

The Layar platform serves as an enabler for mobile location services – any database with geo-location information can easily be turned in a content layer.

Friday Gadget: i-Real Personal Mobility Device

toyota-irealToyota has been experimenting with Personal Mobility devices for some time (i-unit and i-swing concepts).  Their latest prototype is called i-REAL.  It is a personal mobility vehicle which uses three wheels (two at the front and one at the back).  The ‘driver’ sits in a chair when operating the i-Real.

It operates in both low-speed and high-speed modes.  When operating in low-speed mode, it shortens its wheelbase to allow it to move naturally among pedestrians (and at a similar eyesight height) without taking up a large amount of sidewalk space.  In high-speed mode, the wheelbase lengthens to provide a lower center of gravity and better driving performance.  The i-Real is like a three-wheeler Segway and hits 20mph.

Watch the 4 minute video from BBC here.  Interesting part of demo starts about 2 minutes into the video.

Toyota says the i-REAL ensures safe handling [both to the driver and those around the vehicle] by employing perimeter monitoring sensors to detect whenever a collision with a person or object is imminent.  It alerts the driver through noise and vibrations and alerts people around it of its movements through the use of light and sound.   The i-Real concept car is designed to communicate with other i-Reals, allowing you to find and navigate to them on command.

Friday Gadget: Disaster Relief Quadcopter Robot

Earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones — disasters like these make a normally natural environment hard to navigate and dangerous for human search-and-rescue teams.

However, there is a growing number of robot rescue devices being created to help those search-and-rescu teams.

For example, a team of researchers led by Professor Andreas Mitschele at Germany’s Ilmenau University of Technology are developing flying quadcopter (an aircraft that is lifted and propelled by four rotors) robots that can be used to form an ad-hoc wireless network during the post disaster time when communications are critical.  

Built with off-the-shelf parts (including VIA’s Pico-ITX hardware and a GPS unit) the robots are designed to provide both mobile phone and WiFi access.   Since the robots can be deployed quickly, a network can be established far more quickly than a technician on the ground might be able to.   The robots are dropped off at a disaster area, take off, create a self-organizing mesh network, and locate landing spots to afford maximum coverage.   The current prototype robot has only a 20 minute flying time but can power the communications gear much longer after landing.

For more info see the research poster (pdf file) or the video of the Quadrocopter robot (mp4)