Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NASA and Caltech Test Steep-Terrain Rover

PASADENA, Calif. -- Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and students at the California Institute of Technology have designed and tested a versatile, low-mass robot that can rappel off cliffs, travel nimbly over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters. This prototype rover, called Axel, might help future robotic spacecraft better explore and investigate foreign worlds such as Mars. On Earth, Axel might assist in search-and-rescue operations.
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Recipe for the Perfect James Webb Space Telescope Mirror

Mirrors are a critical part of any space telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope's mirrors are made of a special element that will enable it to withstand the rigors of space and see farther back in time/distance than any other telescope now in operation. Space telescope mirrors must endure the extremely frigid temperatures in space, be highly reflective, lightweight and tough. Those are exactly the qualities that make up the 18 mirrors being developed for the Webb Telescope.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Help Name This Robot!

NASA recently asked us for help in naming the next Mars Rover. Now Carnegie Science Center needs a name for their new robot, who will greet visitors at roboworld, the world's largest permanent robotics exhibit. You can vote for one of five preselected names in an online poll. Options include naming the robot Isaac after Isaac Asimov, Stanely after Stanely Kubrick, or three other names derived from technology jargon. Fortunately, they also have a small link below the poll where you can submit your own suggestion if you don't like any of the five preselected names. Oddly the winning name so far is Andy, which is short for Android (odd since the robot in question is not an android). In fact, the robot is a humanoid entertainment robot called the robothespian designed for theatrical use and built by Engineered Arts Ltd in the UK. You may have spotted it at recent Maker Faires where it was exhibited. (photo below is from the 2007 Maker Faire in Austin). Read on for the full press release.


Carnivorous Robots Terminate Domestic Pests

The prototype department of Material Beliefs is proposing to expand the growing do-list of household robots by including household pest eradication. While sharing some of the same vibe as your typical bug zapper, these devices are designed to provide both functional removal of pesky nuisances right along with a form worthy of interior spaces. On top of that, these concept machines can provide both conversation ideas and hours of viewing pleasure while entrapping and devouring their prey.


Rise of the Inspection Bots

Inspectorbots go beyond your typical RC chassis to conquer applications including security surveillance, building inspections, and the like. Several different models are offered to do everything from toting around a tiny wireless camera to carrying a human...

Industrial Surplus Transformed into Art Robots

Reader Doug Emes sent us a link to the Guy Robots website which contains a gallery of art robots built from industrial surplus and salvaged parts. Intrigued, I contacted Rich Muller, the artist, to find out a little more. He writes,

I work in the aerospace industry in Los Angeles, and I've been making robots for a few years. Los Angeles is a good place for finding raw material, there are flea markets, swap meets, and countless garage sales every weekend. There are also a number of surplus stores that sell old electronic and avionic equipment, not surprising considering the large amount of aerospace industry in Los Angeles. The old material gets sold to small businesses and garage tinkerers setting up laboratories as well as Hollywood set-decorators and artists. A favorite place is Apex Electronics, where you can find anything from bakelite knobs to a rocket nose-cone. I build and photograph the robots, and my brother, Eric, comes up with the names and bios.

Read on for more photos and here

Robotic Satellite's First Military Mission?

When the article hit in February describing the collision of Russian and US space satellites, I was both surprised and suspicious. The satellites shared a popular near-Earth orbit at around 500 miles, but still, it's like having two grains of sand meet in a football stadium. Not impossible, but very unlikely, especially since these multi-million-dollar satellites are tracked by several Earth-based stations. The position of nearly 1000 satellites are monitored along with thousands of tiny items - some as small as 5cm. Now, a Russian General is saying the collision might have been a military test to prove if a robotic satellite could be capable of disabling or destroying an enemy satellite. Whether any of this is true or not remains to be seen, but I don't think we've heard the end of this story.

Scientists Scan 300 Million Year Old Brain

Researchers using holotomography to create 3D images of fossilized fish have found a 300 million year old intact brain in a specimen from Kansas. This is the oldest known example of any type of brain and should providing some interesting new insights into brain evolution and function. The visual lobe and optic nerve look similar to modern brains but the area that regulates orientation and balance doesn't connect to three ear canal loops. Instead, the orientation sense is a flat plane, so the fish could sense side to side movements but not up and down. Also unusual, the brain is much smaller than the brain case. Could it be brain shrinkage after the animal's death? Alan Pradel, one of the researchers, says there is no sign of brain deformation that would result from shrinkage and some very old existing fish species such as coelacanths have a similar arrangement. Ironically, a Walmart store now covers the location where the Kansas fossil originated from but scientists plan to scan similar fossils found in Oklahoma and Texas. For more details see the 3D video of the brain scan after the break or the press release from ESRF, where the brain was scanned, or the recent Neurophilosophy or Neurobiotaxis blog posts. For all the technical details, see the paper on the find, Skull and brain of a 300-million-year-old chimaeroid fish revealed by synchrotron holotomography