3 Major Breakthroughs That Are Revolutionizing the World of Robotics
Computers have been doubling in their computing capacity every year and a half or less for decades; Moore’s Law not only remains in effect, but technology has sped up to the point that development is faster than that initial rate. However, the same breath-taking rate of change has reached robotics – and not just on the intelligence side. Here are 3 major breakthroughs that are revolutionizing the world of robotics. We’ll explain the origins and long-term ramifications and potential uses of each.
The Practical Applications of Origami
Folding robots neatly fold themselves into a very small package. This makes them much easier to transport after full assembly. The same designs allow someone to assemble the small main body of the robot and attach structural elements made onsite, reducing the transportation and manufacturing costs for the final product. In 2014, MIT demonstrated a self-folding robot that essentially assembles itself after being shipped flat-pack. In 2017, new designs of folding robots based on origami eliminated the need for wires and batteries because they rely on wireless magnetic field for power. Now you can have very small robots without any electrical components on them, reducing their cost and complexity. Folding robots have the potential of fitting into very small spaces whether working in maintenance or rescue operations.
Biologically Inspired Design
In an article that was published on lighthousenewsdaily.com, a new type of soft material that mimics muscle was demonstrated. The 3D printed material is actually dramatically improved over natural muscle, since it can lift three times as much weight as natural muscle and has far higher strain density. This technology would allow robots to be built that mimic human appearance down to the muscles on the skeleton-like frame. These biologically inspired robots are aside from the biobots that have an artificial controller relying on biological muscle tissue to move the polymer skeleton frame. This would allow the final robot to look and move more like a human being.
Robots that can self-assemble from generic individual pieces have already been demonstrated by MIT researchers. Inspired by self-assembly of DNA into cells, each little robot can take any position in the group and check against its neighbors to make sure it is in the right place as they assemble into a broader whole. This is the precursor to nanites that can assemble into any shape we want. And while the Singularity remains a long way off, scientists uploaded a worm’s brain into a robot back in 2015.
Lego robotic kits are not just inspiring a new generation to study robotics and engineering. It is leading to true revolutions in robotics itself. The open source code projects and millions collaborating with each other have led to homemade robots that can water plants and far more. For example, a Lego Mindstorms EV3 was designed to solve a Rubik’s cube faster than a human could and set a new world record in the process. Another inventor took the concept of chess against a computer to a new level, letting the computer decide not only what moves to make but used the Lego system to build a manipulator so the computer can actually move the chess pieces.
A set of robotic hands built from off the shelf components is able to play guitar. Lego robotics kits are being used to create working prototypes of bridge building machines and conveyor belt systems. One cool demonstration video involved a miniature factory made from Lego and controlled by the Mindstorm kit that could build smaller, less complex Lego cars.
The future’s looking bright for the world of robotics and we’re gradually moving towards more and more realistic machines. Biologically inspired robotics are slowly closing the gap between man and machine. This represents both a cause for concern and hope for many, but one thing is for sure, the trend towards anatomically and mentally realistic robotics shows no signs of slowing down.