Add a few servomotors and an Arduino to a desklamp to make an appliance that seems to be alive.
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Pinokio is an exploration into the expressive and behavioural potentials of robotic computing. Customized computer code and electronic circuit design imbues Pinokio with the ability to be aware of its environment, especially people, and to expresses a dynamic range of behaviour. As it negotiates its world, we the human audience can see that Lamp shares many traits possessed by animals, generating a range of emotional sympathies. In the end we may ask: Is Pinokio only a lamp? – a useful machine? Perhaps we should put the book aside and meet a new friend.
James sez, "Mini-milestone in the OpenWorm Project, the collaborative, open source attempt to construct an artificial life form from the cellular level to the point where it's able to have basic problem-solving abilities. They've now artificially recreated internal muscle sensation, a building block for movement, entirely through code -- watch the eerie video!"
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The Distributed Flight Array is an experimental project from ETH Zurich; it's a set of 3D-printed hexagonal rotors with magnets on their edges; they automatically join up with one another, sense and compute the aerodynamic properties of their current configuration, and cooperate to fly together.
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The system is designed around a central propeller which provides thrust for the structure. Surrounding it are three omni-directional wheels that let the bots get into position with each other on the ground while magnets embedded in the frame provide a connection. A gyroscope provides positional information to an on-board microprocessor while an infrared sensor feeds information about altitude to the system. Pins allow the collected bots to communicate this real-time data between each other and adjust their individual thrusts to keep the combined unit stable. Despite the sensitive nature of the electronics, when a flight is over, the bots disengage midair and fall safely to the ground where the process can begin anew.
Individual units can only propel themselves spastically around a room, but when joined the DFA modules can create traditional quadcopters, more advanced decacopters, and their most impressive applications are atypical and asymmetrical arrays that defy traditional aeronautic aesthetics. These odd combos often produce interesting flight patterns — in one configuration where the bots are aligned linearly, the construct appears to flap as the opposite ends try to reach equilibrium.
...Next steps for the project will be removing the last vestiges of human control—currently a motion-capture system or an operator using a joystick has to provide a small amount of feedback to keep the system from drifting away.
A couple of days ago, Rob told you about scientists who had built a "jellyfish" in the lab, using rat cells. Which is awesome. Naturally, it's not quite as awesome as it sounds, though.
The scientists haven't created life. Instead, they've built a little construct of cells and silicone. This construct—the medusoid—is interesting, in that, when you spark it with electricity, it moves in ways that are very similar to a juvenile jellyfish. But it's not actually an animal. It doesn't eat. It can't make more of itself. It needs that outside zap to move at all.
But despite all that it is not, the medusoid is a very cool first step towards doing some amazing things. At Scientific American, journalist Ferris Jabr looked at what the scientists have done, how living jellyfish work, and what it would take to build a for-real-real artificial jellyfish.
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Whereas a real jellyfish generates electrical impulses to stimulate its muscle cells, a medusoid is entirely dependent on voltage generated by electrodes in its tank. Moon jellies have eight pacemaker cells scattered around the middle of their bodies (just about every jellyfish body part comes in multiples of four). Pacemaker cells keep the jellies’ muscles pulsating rhythmically. We have pacemaker cells in our hearts that do the same thing. So do rats. Janna Nawroth thinks it’s possible to weave pacemaker cells from a rat’s heart into the heart muscle tissue that makes up a medusoid, which might allow the artificial jellyfish to bob on its own, sans electrodes.