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: Future Wearable Devices and Design Concepts

As mentioned in my post Friday Gadget: Rapport Device Detects and Reacts to Human Emotions I am resurrecting my series of Friday Gadget posts.

As I have been researching Wearables this past month, I thought I would provide a post about concept designs for future wearables

There is a ton of work going on by designers to make wearables more fashionable and functional.  The future looks bright for wearables!

Friday Gadget: Robonaut 2

Robonaut 2 (R2), a robot developed by General Motors and NASA, is scheduled to hitch a ride to the Space Station via the shuttle Discovery this September. 

The robot not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one.  With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crew members use.

For the mission in September, engineers plan to monitor him closely to see how he operates in weightlessness.  Plans eventually call for R2 to perform tasks that would normally require astronauts to take spacewalks.  The hope is that at some point in the future robots will be able to perform spacewalks and other tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans.  For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space.

For more, check out the page on Robonaut at http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/

Friday Gadget: Rotundus Robot

The GroundBot has been around a few years, but I thought I’d feature it this Friday. Groundbot is a spherical shaped robot that can roll up to 6 mph through indoor and outdoor spaces with relative ease.  In fact, outside it can roll through mud, sand, snow and even water.   Inside the ‘ball’ two gyroscopically steadied wide-angle cameras along with a bunch of sensors provides people monitoring the cameras with a real-time, 360-degree view of wherever the GroundBot happens to be.  Remote operators can use the cameras to zoom in on anything they may see.  Sensors also can detect gas leaks, radioactivity and biohazards.

To get rolling, the robot simply shifts its weight. Its center of mass is suspended from a pendulum inside the sphere, so motors just push the pendulum to the front, to the back, or to the side.   Lithium-ion batteries provide up to 16 hours of spy time.  GroundBot can be remote controlled by hand or programmed to navigate by GPS. 

GroundBot can effectively increase security and cuts costs at places such as airports, factories, warehouses, etc.   Check out this video from Popular Science and you’ll the Groundbot actually rolling through water.

For more on the GroundBot, see the website:  http://www.rotundus.se/video.html  and there are more videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/RotundusRobotics

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: 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 http://www.recon-scout.com

Friday Gadget: Pumpkin Sensor Project

imageFor those of you hackers out there looking for a Halloween themed project.

Here is a quick project for an electronic Halloween pumpkin that will scare your guests as they approach.  A sensor embedded in the nose detects when people get close and can do anything you tell the sensor to do.  The project site I found has the pumpkin playing scary sounds and lighting up LEDs on the face. 

The sounds are stored on an SD card (like the one you use in your digital camera) so its easy to change and customize what the pumpkin says.  The project site says the code is very easy to modify if you want to change what happens. 

The project instructions seem well written and comes with lots of pictures to help you along the way.  Looks like an easy project for first time sensor hackers/programmers.

Friday Gadget: Augmented Reality Business Card

As gaming technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, we will begin to see that gaming technology make its way into everyday applications.  Augmented reality is an emerging technology that I’ve been increasingly fascinated with as it will further blur the line between what's real and what is generated by computers by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell.  I fully expect future movie goers will be experiencing AR in local theatres.

So I was looking for an example of how AR technology could be applied in the business environment and found a neat video I’ll embed below.  In the video, you’ll see a cool augmented reality business card created by James Alliban

In the video James shows a business card with a distinctive pattern on it to a computer equipped with a cheap web camera.  Software on the computer automatically renders a simple 3D object (attached to the card as it moves around in 3D) and plays a short video about the person whose business card is shown.  A nice idea if you want to convey more information about yourself than can possible fit on a paper business card. 

AR Business Card from James Alliban on Vimeo.

If you know of other neat AR applications for business, please comment with a link….thanks!

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)

Friday Gadget: Anti-Paparazzi Clutch Bag

imageHey for you celebrities out there, I bet you just hate it when the paparazzi surround you and start taking pictures of you coming out of restaurants and clubs.  Fear no more.   The anti-paparazzi clutch is a wearable device designed to counter the attacks of flash photography from paparazzi.  It’s unique patent pending technology allows the celeb to block any number of incoming shots.   And in case you do like to be photographed the design allows you to control whether your flash is on or off by the way you hold the bag.  The innovation comes from NYU graduate student Adam Harvey.   Currently the gadget fits inside a ladies clutch, but Mr. Harvey hopes to shrink it down to the size of a pendant or a tie tack  For more information check out this article at pdngearguide.com

Friday Gadget: The Hummingbird Robot

AeroVironment has been designing and building small, portable, reliable, and rugged unmanned aerial platforms designed for front-line day/night reconnaissance and surveillance.   One of the projects they are working on now is  a tiny drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird, flapping its little robotic wings to stay in the air. 

Check out the video here at YouTube (2:18 minute video…hummingbird technology displayed 50 seconds into video)

Based on what I’ve read, apparently this first version of the ‘robot’ has only stayed aloft for 20 seconds at a time so far.  But that short flight was enough to show the potential of a whole new class of miniature spies, inspired by nature.  The news is that Darpa just handed AeroVironment, more money to research and develop a second version of this Hummingbird.  

The goals of Darpa’s NAV program ….

“The NAV program will push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability for very small, flapping wing air vehicle systems. The goals of the NAV program — namely to develop an approximately 10 gram aircraft that can hover for extended periods, can fly at forward speeds up to 10 meters per second, can withstand 2.5 meter per second wind gusts, can operate inside buildings, and have up to a kilometer command and control range — will stretch our understanding of flight at these small sizes and require novel technology development.” – Dr. Todd Hylton, DARPA program manager as quoted in AviationWeek

If you sit back and imagine where this technology is ultimately going, it’s fair to realize that we will end up with nano-sized hummingbirds loaded with all types of sensors and deployed all over the place for applications ranging from security surveillance to birds-eye view video coverage of sporting events.  Reminds me of the nano-bots deployed in Neal Stephenson's 1995 book, The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Friday Gadget: Microsoft Photosynth

Microsoft Photosynth is a free software application that analyzes a multitude of photos to create a browsable 3D model by identifying overlapping points in the images.  The tool allows you to stitch together dozens of photos to allow a place or event to be viewed from multiple angles. 

Photosynth works by analyzing each photo for similarities to the others, and uses that data to estimate where a photo was taken. It then re-creates the environment and uses that as a canvas on which to display the photos.   The result is a fresh way to organize and share photography — opening up new possibilities for a 180-year-old art form.   The potential uses of Photosynth can range from sharing experiences to storytelling and documentation

It takes 75 photos or more to get the optimal experience, but, with big events, one can also rely on crowdsourcing.  As an example CNN asked viewers to send in their photos of Barack Obama's swearing in.  See the resulting Inagural Photosynth.  You can check out other examples at the Photosynth website. 

The original announcement (last August) press release is here and some background is available at MS Live Labs

Microsoft has recently announced (May 2009) that they have integrated their PhotoSynth software into Virtual Earth, allowing users to flip between overhead satellite imagery and photographic stitches.  You can check that announcement out here