MIT used a foam coated with wax, which transitions between solid and liquid at relatively low temperatures.
The week, our images celebrate the imagination of inventors, from individuals such as Erno Rubik, who invented the Rubik's cube, to corporations such as GE, who have designed the world's largest indoor farm. Here, UK inventor Alex Shirley-Smith shows off her portable suspended tent that lets anyone set up a treehouse wherever there's a sturdy tree. HerTentsile
tree tents not only fit in a backpack, but the company will plant three trees for every tent purchased.
Washington-based furniture designer and makerGreg Klassen
transforms reclaimed wood into aerial views of geologic splendor. Glass pieces embedded into wood tables resemble clear rivers and lakes.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Liberty Science Center
This week, a giant Rubik's Cube floated down the Hudson River to help celebrate the birthday of the puzzle's inventor, Erno Rubik, and also to mark the Beyond Rubik's Cube exhibition at New York's Liberty Science Center.
In Japan, in Miyagi Prefecture, where an earthquake and tsunami destroyed a great deal of coastline in 2011, one can find the world's largest indoor farm. Here, 10,000 heads of lettuce per day are cultivated from the 25,000 square-foot facility, illuminated by 17,500 LED lights made by GE.
Designer Jeffrey Brown has conceived of a way to transform handwritten notes and drawings into digital art. His concept is called Exchange, a flexible, electronic device that comes with a stylus. Attach Exchange to a notebook or paper and then use the stylus to scan notes or drawings as they are written.
Cloud, a lamp, was developed by New Zealand-based designer Richard Clarkson and is meant to bring the outdoors inside. A built-in computer, as well as speakers and sensors, produce realistic-sounding thunder and lightning when motion is detected in the room.
Chuck Choi courtesy Studio KCA
New York City residents and visitors toss out 53,780 plastic bottles every hour. Designer Jason Klimoski and his team at STUDIO KCA wanted to drive home that disturbing fact by forming the same number of plastic milk jugs and water bottles into this sculpture called “Head in the Clouds.” It was on display last summer on Governor’s Island and is currently looking for a new home.
University of Manchester
The long-extinct trigonotarbid -- an early relative of the spider -- was one of the first predators to walk on land. researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK used an open-source computer graphics program to create acomputer simulation
bring the extinct predator back to virtual life.
The UAE is known for doing everything big. The latest mega-project is a 48-million-square-feet "pedestrian city" for Dubai. A temperature-controlled domed retail area covering 4.3 miles will keep shoppers cool and comfortable.
Not to be outdone in architectural prowess, China has commissioned the Lotus Building and People’s Park for the city of Wujin. The 3.5-hectare site will feature an artificial lake from where three connected buildings will rise, each one representing the lotus flower in different stages of bloom.
Most robots are rigid. Rigid is easy to design, easy to construct, easy to calibrate, and more reliable for all of those dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks that robots excel at. When robots make fundamental structural compromises to rigidity, they do it in complicated ways, like with series elastic actuators or hydraulics. It's worth it, though, because adding squishiness can make robots both more capable and safer to be around through passive compliance.
Taking this concept to the extreme has resulted in some incredibly squishy robots, including soft robots that can walk, and other soft robots that can roll. But in both of these cases, embracing squishy properties means giving up rigidity. MIT has been working on a structure for a robot that offers both: squishy when you want it, and rigidity when you don't.
The MIT approach (which we like to call on-demand squishiness) involves taking a material or structure that's inherently soft and modifying it with another material that can phase change between hard and soft states. In this case, MIT is using a scaffold made of foam that's been coated with wax. Wax, being wax, transitions between solid and liquid at a relatively low temperature. When the wax is cold and solid, the foam structure is rigid, but if the wax is heated to soften it, the entire foam structure becomes soft as well.
The researchers also demonstrated that by selectively deforming parts of a structure, they could create joints and make the structure move using a cable (as seen in the video). We're guessing that as a next step several of these deformable structures could be combined to create a robot that can crawl and squeeze into tight spaces.
And wax is one of the easier and safer materials to use for this purpose, although there are many other options, like liquid metals or magnetorheological or electrorheological fluids, which respond to magnetic and electrical fields.
The project began as a collaboration with Boston Dynamics, as part of DARPA's ChemBot program (which led to some really cool and weird soft robots, like this and this). The MIT researchers, led by Anette Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics, have since teamed up with the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University to continue developing versatile, deformable robots.
The researchers say that robots like these would be ideal for search and rescue scenarios, where you'd need a lot of compliance and flexibility for crawling around and through jumbled piles of rubble. They also suggest that robots like these would be great for crawling around inside your body, where they'd be able to "reach a particular point without damaging any of the organs or vessels along the way." Thanks for that, we squishy humans definitely appreciate it!
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
Japanese Researchers Building Robots That Sweat and Have Goosebumps
Make Your Own World With Programmable Matter
Robots Get Flexible and Torqued Up With Origami Wheels
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum; all rights reserved.