During IREX 2011, I had the opportunity to check out the Omni-Crawler robot developed at Osaka University. Conceptually, it's pretty amazing. It can 'turn on a dime', or more correctly, it doesn't need to turn at all. The unique Omni-Ball drive enables it to move in any direction in its plane of operation, and can make those moves almost instantaneously.
The Omni-Crawler approach will definitely be a significant benefit in some applications that can be improved by it's capabilities, and some applications that were previously impossible. At the same time, the overall complexity of the design and implementation, at least in the research lab prototype stage, raises some questions about how effectively it could be commercialized. The robot has tremendous potential, if it can be production engineered to become a reliable, cost effective subsystem.
’IREX 2011: Omni-Crawler Robot (Video)’ continues
I'm so incredibly jealous. Lady Ada over at AdaFruit Industries has all these great toys to play and experiment with, and she's figured out how to do it while enriching all of our hacker lives and making a little money to find more great stuff.
The 'toy' that triggered this post for me is some conductive rubber stretch cord that acts as a sensor. It's like being able to pull on the end of a resistor and have it's characteristics change linearly as it gets longer and shorter. Way cool! And it is incredibly cheap. She's priced it at less than ten dollars for a full meter and even includes a pair of alligator clips and a 10k resistor. Science teachers, for example, could dice it up and have enough for each student to have a piece for experiments.
The only drawback that I can see is that the sensor takes a little while to recover after being stretched, though I guess that could be compensated for in some applications by using two sensors in opposition.
As usual, the AdaFruit website has a great related tutorial page so you can learn while having fun.
If you want to get a broad overview and understanding of sensor technologies you might as well learn from the best. Luckily, the MIT OpenCourseWare program is dedicated to making the same educational material, including course outlines, readings, lectures, assignments, and often videos, that are used to teach MIT students both at undergraduate and graduate levels.
For example, one of the program's current offerings is "MAS.836 Sensor Technologies for Interactive Environments:
"This course is a broad introduction to a host of sensor technologies, illustrated by applications drawn from human-computer interfaces and ubiquitous computing. After extensively reviewing electronics for sensor signal conditioning, the lectures cover the principles and operation of a variety of sensor architectures and modalities, including pressure, strain, displacement, proximity, thermal, electric and magnetic field, optical, acoustic, RF, inertial, and bioelectric. Simple sensor processing algorithms and wired and wireless network standards are also discussed. "
The MIT OpenCourseWare program material is covered by their Creative Commons License, and the best part is that it's absolutely free. All you have to do is bring your own intelligence, curiosity, and dedication. You can't beat that.
Kondo Robot announced two new multi-legged robot kits expanding their already impressive line of high performance, and highly modifiable, robots. Famous for introducing the first hobby humanoid robot kit, the KHR-1, and the most popular platforms of choice for ROBO-ONE competitors, Kondo has recently branched out into multi-legged robots.
In addition to robot fans and hobbyists, Kondo kits have become extremely popular among technical high schools, colleges, other academic institutions, as well as research facilities here in Japan. Both of the two new robot kits are likely to attract a strong following, particularly since their price/performance is expected to be improved over existing products already on the market.
Michael Overstreet has been a good and respected friend since the first time we hooked up several years ago at RoboGames in California. So, I hope he doesn't mind if I make some frank, and well deserved, comments.
When we first met Michael seemed like a typical robot geek, very talented with lots of expertise, but a bit shy and withdrawn. You really had to push him to get him to tell you what he thought. I'm sure he had lots of valuable and useful things to share, but they didn't flow easily.
Over the years, with experience, learning, and success, Michael has really blossomed and come out of his shell. He's become a key member of the Cowtown Computer Congress - Kansas City's leading hackerspace, a frequent exhibitor and participant in Maker Faire events all over the US, and a strong proponent of the DARwin-OP humanoid robot platform.
The original Keepon robot, developed by Hideki Kozima at Miyagi University in Japan, was incredibly cute and engaging, to the point that people just couldn't help smiling, laughing, and moving in sync while the robot danced to music or used it's built-in sensors to interact realistically with them.
The Keepon design concept was intended to explore the possibility that a simple emotive robot could help autistic children with communication and learning challenges. Most autistic children tend to be completely overwhelmed by the volume of input and sensory data involved in even the most basic social interactions. It's kind of like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose. Kozima's insight, which turned out to be right on the money, was to reduce the flood of inputs to a minimum while packaging the robot in an appealing, friendly body.