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: 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/

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: 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)