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Video: Silicone Robot Mimics Surroundings
9/5/2012

Low-cost silicone robots can walk, change color to match their surroundings, and light up in the dark, promising help for first responders and the military.   (Source: DARPA)
Low-cost silicone robots can walk, change color to match their surroundings, and light up in the dark, promising help for first responders and the military.
(Source: DARPA)

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naperlou
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More stuff
naperlou   9/5/2012 8:58:18 AM
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Ann, this is an interesting technology.  On the other hand, the video was underwhelming.  It is always interesting to hear the speculation that researchers have for their developments.  I wonder if anyone really tracks the accuracy of what is said. 

Rob Spiegel
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Rob Spiegel   9/5/2012 11:39:03 AM
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I'm with you Naperlou. This is amazing technology, but the video makes it look a bit inept. Even so, this is a creepy-cool robot. It's going to be fun to see where this technology leads.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   9/5/2012 5:37:13 PM
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I agree, Rob. The technology looks cool, but I'd really like to see a video that gives me an idea how this technology could be applied to "maneuver through tight spaces."

Rob Spiegel
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Rob Spiegel   9/6/2012 11:58:50 AM
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I agree, Chuck. It would help to see what they mean about tight spaces. My guess is that since it's squishy, it can fit into places that a "hard" robot would not be able to fit through. However, it's still tethered, so that could be a hindrance to maneuverability.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   9/5/2012 12:11:06 PM
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Lou, much of this robotics research, like other research, doesn't get all the way to a full-blown product/system. That's because some of it consists of fundamental investigations of how things work, and some of it just doesn't pan out. In general, that's pretty typical of advances in both the sciences and technology. As many commenters have noted, making people aware of what other engineers are thinking up can be inspiring.

NadineJ
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another example of biomimicry
NadineJ   9/5/2012 11:12:19 AM
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This is biomimicry at its most beautiful. Who doesn't like watching videos osf squids changing colour?

The claims to help prosthetics technology and search and rescue seem shakey.  I'd like to see a follow up.  How it develops over time could be interesting. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Ann R. Thryft   9/5/2012 12:11:47 PM
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Thanks Nadine, glad you enjoyed the post. Even though, as Lou noted it's not a great video and the movements of the robot are rather crude, it's still fun to watch. I thought the prosthetics apps seemed a bit far-fetched, but the search-and-rescue ones make sense for navigating tight spaces and acting as a type of sentinel by lighting up. What I'd like to see is the untethered stage of this beastie.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Rob Spiegel   9/5/2012 4:48:53 PM
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Interesting new technology, Ann. I would imagine this squishy new robot could take a wide range of forms as the technology is developed. The chameleon quality could help in surveillance.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Ann R. Thryft   9/6/2012 12:23:49 PM
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Rob, I think you nailed that--surveillance is supposed to be one of the major apps this robot would be good for. I can see it taking many different forms, too. Hope they get a better video for the next rev.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Rob Spiegel   9/6/2012 2:23:52 PM
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Even in the video you posted, Ann, you can see that this robot would be able to squeeze through a small area. It has a gummy worm aspect of flexibility. If they can move beyond a tether -- say, with the flexibile battery you wrote about last week -- http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=249722 -- this could go through all sorts of small spaces.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Ann R. Thryft   9/6/2012 5:08:40 PM
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Rob, the researchers did say that the next step is to develop this robot so it works without a tether. Whether this guy can take advantage of that flexible battery, who knows, but that sounds like a great idea.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: another example of biomimicry
Rob Spiegel   9/7/2012 12:37:51 PM
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Ann, that match-up with a flexible battery could be the answer to allow the robot to crawl through small spaces without a tether. Yet another robot that mimics creepy crawly nature.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Color Changing
Jack Rupert, PE   9/7/2012 2:28:50 PM
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Ann, maybe I missed it, but do you know how the color is determined?  Is this a case where the human operator decides how the robot will blend in to its surrounding and then give a command through the various chemical reactions, or does the unit decide for itself what to do?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Color Changing
Ann R. Thryft   9/10/2012 12:10:56 PM
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Jack, how those colors are determined wasn't specified, but at this point I'm reasonably certain the robot is not doing the choosing. I have several unanswered questions about how the robot will work in the next rev, which is supposed to be untethered. Once of them is: where will the multiple fluids used for color changes come from? Will it be pre-resident in different layers? And what about the pumping action? In the video, the pumping, at least, appears to be done by the operator in real time.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Color Changing
Jack Rupert, PE   9/17/2012 2:01:05 PM
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Good point, Ann.  At first I thought the robot was calling for the chemicals remotely, just because too much was needed for the package.  But after viewing the video again, you're right. It does look like they might be pumped due to human intervention.

gsmith120
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Re: Color Changing
gsmith120   11/4/2012 3:06:48 PM
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Ann, I hope you have a follow-up story on this one.  I would be very interested in knowing the answers to the unanswered questions. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Color Changing
Ann R. Thryft   11/5/2012 12:23:38 PM
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gsmith, we'll definitely do a follow-up if the research team reports their next milestones. Since it's a DARPA project, though, we might not get all the answers we'd like.

gsmith120
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Re: Color Changing
gsmith120   11/4/2012 3:05:32 PM
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Jack you took the words out of my mouth.  I had the same question about color changing.  I wonder how long it takes the robot to make a color change and what are some of the limitations. 

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