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.
I've been anticipating the release of practical head mounted display for years since they have tremendous potential for robot and remote telepresence applications. So far all of the designs have either been obtrusive and block the wearer's vision somehow, or they have had limitations that have precluded commercialization.
Now Brother Industries has announced they will roll out their AiRScouter transparent LCD display this Fall for business/industrial applications and hope to follow up with a commercially available version in the near future.
’Head Mounted Display Set To Roll Out (Video)’ continues
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.
The IEEE Spectrum Automation blog just published a really amazing report that includes photos, videos, and detail blog entries from an anonymous worker responsible for operating robots at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
The original Japanese language blog posts have disappeared from the internet, though remnants still exist online thanks to Google cache. It's not clear what rights the IEEE has to translate and publish the source material, and that isn't likely to become clear in the immediate future.
Nevertheless, it is fascinating reading. There's a lot to be learned from the pages of material about conditions within the reactors, how the robots have performed, ways that they need to be improved to do their job better in the future, and of course the feelings and experiences of the human workers exposed to the extremely hazardous nuclear environment.
If you have any interest at all in rescue or surveillance robotics in real world situations, this is an absolute must read.
Technology development today faces some serious limitations that constrains its application and successful deployment, especially in non-traditional sectors. The two biggest limitations, at least from my perspective, are battery capacity/life and sensors. While there has certainly been a lot of progress in both areas over the past two decades, the core technology and design approach hasn't really changed very much.
In order to achieve radical improvements in the way we put technology to practical use some significant breakthroughs in both areas will be critical. Along those lines, one of the most interesting and surprising "thinking out of the box" sensor developments I've run across recently is the FuwaFuwa sensor module developed as a part of the Igarashi Design Interface Project under the auspices of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) ERATO.
"FuwaFuwa" in the Japanese language is a kind of onomatopoeic word that roughly translates as light/airy/fluffy, and that's exactly what the FuwaFuwa sensor module does.