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.
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.
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.
My personal fascination with electronics and technology started at a very early age when Santa brought a simple electronics experimenter kit one Christmas Eve. All the components were laid out on a board and each one had small wire springs for terminal contacts. The instruction book included diagrams showing how to hook up the wires to complete each circuit.
I can't remember all of the experiments exactly, but I do know there was a switch triggered burglar alarm, some light circuits, and a crystal radio, among others. The 'radio' used a rough crystal with a cat's whisker probe with no application. Luckily we were living in Southern California at the time with at least one 50,000 watt broadcast radio station that I could pick up.
I was very intrigued, and pleased, to discover Andrew Alter, a leading humanoid robot designer, Mech Warfare organizer, and RoboGames champion, explaining the Electronic Brick Starter Kit, since it shows that the same basic approach is still very much in use today.
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Without exception every robot distributor that we've had the pleasure of talking to over the years has expressed a strong commitment to school education and encouraging young people to get involved with science, technology, and robotics. Most of them have special programs, educational discounts, or actively participate in school events donating their time and effort to the cause.
A good example is Michael Gruber with the RoboteShop located in Australia. There's a major School Education Expo coming up in Sydney next month, so the company decided to design a very simple, low cost hexapod robot to dramatically get the message across that robot education doesn't have to be expensive. It can be accomplished with parts and tools as basic as ice-cream sticks, a glue gun, and a few items 'borrowed' from an off the shelf kit.
Humanoid robot motion sequences are difficult to create, especially when they require moving several different degrees of freedom at the same time. More often than not, the robot will lose it's balance and go crashing over. Turns involving twisting the upper body via the limited number of servos in a humanoid robot is really tricky to do well. That's why we were a bit surprised, and impressed, by the slick turn executed by robototakuTEAM's design below.
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