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Robot birds of the past

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At Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp posted a brief history of bird automata. And yes, I know that Bubo from Clash of the Titans, above, isn't real. But... Bubo! Clash of the Titans! From Smithsonian:

The earliest example (of an avian automaton) dates to 350 B.C.E. when the mathematician Archytas of Tarentum, who some credit with inventing the science of mechanics, is said to have created a mechanical wooden dove capable of flapping its wings and flying up to 200 meters, powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Archytas’ invention is often cited as the first robot, and, in light of recent technological advancements, perhaps we could even consider it to be the first drone; the very first machine capable of autonomous flight. Very few details are actually known about the ancient mechanical dove, but it seems likely that it was connected to a cable and flew with the help of a pulley and counterweight. This early wind-up bird was chronicled a few hundred years later in the pages of a scientific text by a mathematician, Hero of Alexandria.
"A Brief History of Robot Birds"

Prosthetic tentacle


Taiwanese design student Kaylene Kau created this motorized prosthetic tentacle for a class project: "For this project we were pushed by our Professor to push the boundaries of current upper-limb prosthetic design. Through extensive research I found that the prosthetic functioned as an assistant to the dominant functioning hand. The prosthetic needed to be both flexible and adjustable in order to accommodate a variety of different grips."

PROSTHETIC ARM (via Kadrey)

How ants always land on their feet

As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions. Maggie

Will robots take all the jobs?

In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.

I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.

Many of these ideas came up in this Boing Boing post from January, which also touches on Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, a book that Vardi mentions in his interview.

The Job Market of 2045 (via /.)

Robot made from recycled scrap

Chinese inventor Tao Xiangli tinkers with a hand-made robot at his house in Beijing, May 15, 2013. Tao, 37, spent ¥150,000 ($24,400) to build it out of recycled scrap metal and electric wires found at second-hand markets. The robot, which took a year to complete, is 7ft tall and weighs about a quarter of a ton. [Photo: REUTERS/Suzie Wong]

Self-assembling foldable inchworm robots

Here's a quick and fascinating look at "Robot Self-Assembly by Folding: A Printed Inchworm Robot," presented at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The authors demonstrated a foldable inchworm robot that actually folds itself into shape. The goal is to have all the components placed on the robot's shrinky-dink surface using a robotic pick-and-place machine, so that the inchworm robots can be produced, assembled, and set a-inching on their way without human intervention.

The tricky part of the process is the folding of the robot itself: installing the battery and motor is trivial enough for a human to do, which means that a relatively simple pick and place robot should have no problems doing the same thing. This means that these robots have the potential to scale massively: they can be printed out of cheap materials, they fold themselves together, and another robot can plonk some hardware on them and they’re good to go.

This Crawling Inchworm Robot Can Be Printed Out and Folds Itself [Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum]

(via Beyond the Beyond)

Kickstarting solder-it-yourself junkbot kits

A group of engineering students (with no stated manufacturing experience -- caveat emptor) are kickstarting a series of cute assemble-it-yourself junkbots called "D.Bug"s. You get a kit full of electronic components, instructions for soldering them into cute robots, and a display box for your complete project. They're on the pricey side ($35 for the cheapest), especially since they don't come with the tools you need to assemble them, but they're a cute and potentially fun entree to soldering and working with electronic components.

To assemble the kit, you solder together electronic components to form the body parts of the D.Bug. Easy to assemble!Easy to assemble!

The manual includes step-by-step photo instructions, the background story for each D.Bug, a guide to identifying electronic parts, a tutorial for soldering, a harvesting guide for where to find the best parts, and insider tips on how to make your D.Bug look awesome.

D.Bug Model Kits - Art hacked from electronics (Thanks, Sophie!)

MC Frontalot's "I'll Form the Head" - crowdfunded voltronoid nerdcore

MC Frontalot sez, "At long last, here's the third of three videos from my album Solved that were funded by fans via Kickstarter. It was directed by Carly Monardo and features my nerdcore rap compatriots ZeaLouS1 and Dr. Awkward. Lyrics and credits are on the youtube page. The single is out today, too, and it's free at frontalot.com.

Bright-colored robotic space rhinoceri
that we pilot — why? 'Cause they're in supply.
Plus, we heed the cry of our planet's population
to defend them. We report to battle stations!
Split screen — ready! — and our rhinos are rocket ships
with fully articulated tusk, jaws, and hips.
They come equipped with individual special attacks,
none with a lack (but a couple a little bit slack).
I'm not naming any pilot specifically,
but we're all color coded so you notice that typically
I (in the gold) lead the charge, do the most damage
to whatever very giant space invader managed
to threaten the globe in yet another of our episodes.
This week? Malevolent galactic nematode!
Already beat up the squad when we faced him.
I'm calling it: let's form a giant robot and waste him.

MC Frontalot - I'll Form The Head [OFFICIAL VIDEO] (Thanks, Frontalot!)

Pedals: music video about musical effects pedals

BB pal Scott Matthews points us to Jack Conte's "Pedals," a terrific celebration of music gear (and robots). The lyrics:
Hog Pog Vox Wah Ocatave Multiplexer Big Muff Memory Man Boss Chromatic Tuner Polyphase MicroSynth Frequency Analyzer Voice Box Electric Mistress Freeze Tube Zipper
Check out the behind-the-scenes video below!

Read the rest

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong: YA graphic novel about robots, romance and school elections


Back in September 2012, I posted about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, a fantastic YA graphic novel about robotics, cheerleaders, and school council elections adapted by Faith Erin Hicks (a favorite of mine, thanks to great comics like Zombies Calling, Friends With Boys) from a YA novel by Prudence Shen. Hicks and her publisher, the ever-excellent FirstSecond, serialized the comic on the Web through much of 2012/13, and now they've published the book between covers.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a beautifully told story about a pair of unlikely friends: Charlie, a jock who is nevertheless rather uncompetitive, and Nate, a high-strung roboticist and head of the school robots team. The story kicks off with a conflict: the cheerleaders and the robots kids are squaring off to convince the student council to allocate crucial budget to each of them, and there's only enough for one. Nate decides he's going to solve the problem directly by getting himself elected council president. The cheerleaders retaliate by running Charlie against him, bulldozing him into the job with their military discipline and formidable organization. After the elections shenanigans get out of hand, they make an uneasy peace, predicated on the idea that if the robotics kids use some of the cheerleaders' money to militarize their prized robot, they can win enough at the robot games to pay for both teams' necessaries.

What follows is the most epic robot battle in comics history. Seriously. Screw the Transformers. Hicks's illustrated robot war makes use of every one of the comics creator's tricks to accomplish something genuinely pulse-pounding. It's like a killer mecha ate a copy of Understanding Comics.

Woven into all this is a series of relationship stories that are well-told, and provide richness and texture and depth to the story, reaffirming Hicks's position as an awesomesauce dispenser of great skill and reliability.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

What Google's self-driving car sees

Charlie Warzel: "THIS is what google's self driving car can see. So basically this thing is going to destroy us all." [via Matt Buchanan]

A cat-meme I can get behind

My feelings about cat memes are on record. But then there's this: a cat in a shark-suit riding a Roomba chasing a baby duck. Cory

Controlling a robot arm with an Android phone

Paul sez, "This past semester, three engineering grad students at the University of Toronto (myself and two others) created an Android app for a course project that allows for wireless and intuitive control of a robotic arm from an Android-powered smartphone. We're pretty proud of the results (the link is to a demo we put together) and have released the code open source."

Android Robotic Manipulator Demo (Thanks, Paul!)

Welcome to your Awesome Robot: instructional robot-making comic now out in the US


Last month, I blogged a review of the kids' instructional comic book Welcome to Your Awesome Robot:

Welcome to Your Awesome Robot is a fantastic book for maker-kids and their grownups. It consists of a charming series of instructional comics showing a little girl and her mom converting a cardboard box into an awesome robot -- basically a robot suit that the kid can wear. It builds in complexity, adding dials, gears, internal chutes and storage, brightly colored warning labels and instructional sheets for attachment to the robot's chassis.

More than that, it encourages you to "think outside the box" (ahem), by adding everything from typewriter keys to vacuum hoses to shoulder-straps to your robot, giving the kinds of cues that will set your imagination reeling. For master robot builders, it includes a tear-out set of workshop rules for respectfully sharing robot-building space with other young makers, and certificates of robot achievement. I read this one to Poesy last night at bedtime, and today we're on the lookout for cardboard boxes to robotify. It's a fantastic, inspiring read! You can get a great preview of the book at NoBrow.

As of today, it's available in the US!

Welcome to your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz [NoBrow]

Welcome to your Awesome Robot [Amazon]

Read the rest

Nano Quadcopter open source tiny drone kit

Crazyffff Designed by Bitcraze, the Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter is an open source development kit to make your own tiny drones. It's $173 from Seeed Studio Depot and looks like great fun to make and fly! "Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter Kit 10-DOF with Crazyradio"