First the Fast Contorting Cat-like Robots:
Science fiction films have taught humans to fear robots taking over the world, but researchers at an international robotics challenge would be content to stop them from breaking things when they fall over.
To do this, scientists have studied the efficient movements of humans and even cats. This has enabled researchers to program the robots to catch themselves, so they can fall with something at least akin to the lithe grace of cats, reported CNET. Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Karen Liu incorporated her research in feline mechanics into the robot she and then-graduate student Sehoon Ha, now working for Disney Research Pittsburgh, presented at a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) event.
“From previous work, we knew a robot had the computational know-how to achieve a softer landing, but it didn’t have the hardware to move quickly enough like a cat,” Ms. Liu told CNET. “Our new planning algorithm takes into account the hardware constraints and the capabilities of the robot, and suggests a sequence of contacts so the robot gradually can slow itself down.”
Next up: DARPA is developing flying robot vehicles that can literally disappear
Building on its two-year-old Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, DARPA recently launched the Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program to test several materials which have this vanishing potential. Among them are the use of small polymer panels in the vehicles that shift from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use.
“Our partners in the VAPR program are developing a lot of structurally sound transient materials whose mechanical properties have exceeded our expectations,” said Troy Olsson, the program manager of VAPR and ICARUS, in a statement. The ICARUS program is set to run 26 months and has a budget of $8 million.
“With the progress made in VAPR, it became plausible to imagine building larger, more robust structures using these materials for an even wider array of applications. And that led to the question, ‘What sorts of things would be even more useful if they disappeared right after we used them?’” Olsson said. “In discussions with colleagues, we were able to identify a capability gap that we decided was worth trying to close.”