Archive for September, 2017

New Home Delivery Drone

Once Amazon announced that it would begin using quad drones to deliver packages, the designs of drones have undergone many modifications. The latest one here is from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). The drone can deliver a package that weighs 500 grams or less.

The Pack Drone developed at EPFL is a fold-able design which comes with it’s own protective cage around it. The drone wraps itself around the package like a mail package, plus the cage made out of carbon fiber protects the package and the drone in case of a collision or a fall.

The package recipient can catch the drone mid-flight without being injured by the propellers, as these are located inside the cage. The propellers are also programmed to stop running as soon as the cage is opened. Once the package is removed, it can be flattened thanks to it’s origami inspired design structure. It can literally be folded and put away into a backpack.

The four propeller using drone has a distance restriction of 2 kilometers in addition to not being able to carry very heavy parcels. As the researchers working on it say, this is a science project in progress. There is much more to be done before the drone begins making it’s own deliveries.

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Music From Your Brain

Brain Computer Interfaces or BCI are a direct communication method bwteen the brain of a human being with an external electronic device. A computer will get brain signals from the wired individual and then analyze them to understand what commands the individual wishes to give the device.

BCIs have been used for people who suffer from paralysis in the past. The direct connection to the computer has been used to allow them to direct the device to do what they want done. Simple tasks like surfing the internet and writing emails was made possible using this system, making them more independent than previously thought possible.

Needless to say it is a revolutionary technology, and now it’s branching out by making it’s musical debut. Researchers at the Graz University of Technology have come up with a brain computer application that allows users to compose music using the power of thought.

To make your own musical score you will need a special cap to measure your brain waves, the BCI method called P300, a music composing software, some knowledge of music and of course your very own medley in your brain waves. The science project has been tested on 18 people so far, with mixed results.

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Solar Power from Bacteria

Photosynthesis performed by green leafy plants has been the primary source of harvesting solar energy and converting it into a form that can be used by humans. The food that the plants provide us is a fuel that allows human beings to generate enough energy in their bodies to perform daily tasks.

Photosynthesis takes place due to the green pigment known as chlorophyll. However scientists have found that chlorophyll is not the most efficient at gather and converting solar energy. They have been using techniques to enhance the ability of some bacteria to gather and convert solar energy.

The bacteria have been trained to grow and cover their bodies with tiny semiconductor nanocrystals. Peidong Yang, Ph.D. scholar said that these nanocrystals are much more efficient than chlorophyll and can be grown at a fraction of the cost of manufactured solar panels. The experiments are being conducted at  Yang’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers fed cadmium and the amino acid cysteine to the bacteria to help them develop the nanocrystals which function as solar panels on their surfaces. The experiments of this science project are still in the nascent stage, but the ramifications will prove to be interesting to the entire scientific community.

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iRobot’s PackBot and SeaGlider

iRobot is a pioneer in military robots. The American advanced technology company founded in 1990 by three MIT graduates. They first grabbed the commercial market’s eyeballs with Roomba, the vacuuming robot, but their primary focus has always been on developing cutting edge technology that can be adapted to practical use, especially in space exploration and by the military.

The PackBot is a series of military robots that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unmanned robots that may be sent into locations which are not safe for humans to enter. The PackBots were also used to explore the nuclear radiation debris in Fukishama, Japan and to search for survivors in the debris of the World Trade Center after the terror attack of 9/11. the technology of the PackBot is also used by NASA in it’s space rovers. The science project to improve functioning and increase applications is a constant one.

The SeaGlider is a battery operated AUV or Autonomous Underwater vehicle. The AUV is able to monitor physical, chemical and biological conditions in the ocean. This including hydrocarbon monitoring at up to 10 months and thousands of miles in the ocean. It can operate at depths up to 1,000 meters. The deep diving, unmanned vehicle was first developed at the University of Washington, but iRobot got a five year exclusive license to produce the vehicle which can be used for a number of purposes. They range from research vehicles  used by Oceanographers to more covert and tactical assignments with the U.S. Navy.

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Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider

The ocean may make up bulk of our planet Earth, but human beings have barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring them. The primary hold back has been the inability of the human body to stay submerged for long duration of time that detailed explorations would usually take. With the invention of underwater robots, this limitation has been addressed and we now know a lot more about what goes on under the surface of the water than we did before.

Liquid Robotics is a company which has pioneered this exploration. The star of the American marine robotics corporation is the Wave Glider. This is an unmanned surface vehicle which is powered by wave and solar energy. The robot uses the motion of waves to propel itself forward along the surface of the ocean. It literally can roam the oceans unhindered for periods of time as long as a year.

It can simultaneous gather and transmit the data that it collects from it’s various sensors. The company says that atmospheric and oceanographic sensors applicable to ocean and climate science, seismic sensors for earthquake and tsunami detection, and video cameras and acoustic sensors for security and marine environment protection purposes are all available  to the robot.

The energy harvesting and propulsion systems combined with a payload and sensor architecture makes the Wave Glider a persistent mobile gathering platform, as per Liquid Robotics. This is one science project that is continuously pushing the limits of our knowledge of the ocean.

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Spread Robots to Farming

Agriculture has been the backbone of human civilization. When man moved from being a food gatherer to a food grower, it changed the very fabric of society. The focus was no longer on managing to find food to stay alive. There were suddenly a lot more opportunities available as pure survival was taken of the to-do list for humanity. Subsequent improvements in agriculture have allowed human beings to stay at the top of the food chain for centuries now.

Spread is a Japanese company which has been cultivating clean and energy efficient robots for revolutionizing modern farming. The company is bringing the production of food indoors, making it possible to grow plants in areas where it may be difficult otherwise. The lettuce being grown by Spread thrives without any soil, or the use of pesticides. The climatic conditions are also controlled closely in the indoor environment.

The company is currently able to produce 30,000 heads of lettuce per day. That is about ten million head annually. The crops are predictable and spoilage is at a minimal. The harvesting is mostly automatic with robots, however the initial gathering is followed by human sorting as the robots are unable to distinguish between good and bad lettuce. Still this science project has shown that the technology to end world hunger is available, all you need is the will to apply it.

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Robots in Service of the Environment

Environmental issues have not been a priority till the last century when the impact of human activity has been observed on the environment. We have only one planet and for us to survive as a race, we need to ensure that the planet does not become a hostile place incapable of supporting life.

Human beings are becoming more aware of the limits that they have in order to look after the environment and new measures are constantly being explored to aid the cause. One such measure is to use robots where it is difficult for humans to work. A non profit agency called Robots in Service of the Environment or RSE is trying to do just this.

This year in April, RSE used crowd funding to launch a prototype robot. The aim of the robot is to capture lionfish, which are detrimental to coral reefs. Lionfish have the ability to reduce fish biomass on a reef by 80% in just one month, this causes coral reefs to die. The robot called Guardian LF1,  operates underwater to stun and capture lionfish ten at a time. It can work between 80 to 400 feet below sea level with ease and hauls the fish it has caught to the surface.

The robot costs less than a thousand dollars to construct and has two main parts. An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with an innovative capture mechanism, tethered to a remote surface control station. This science project is proving that it is much more effective to send in the robot than sending in humans to do the job.

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