In the Transformers movies, the robots that morph into different shapes are autonomous, sentient beings -- which, of course, is part of their scary allure. The toys on which the movies are based are static. Their parts can be rearranged to turn them into animals, vehicles, or other machines, but that's as far as the transformation goes.
Now the hobbyist firm Brave Robotics has created a robot that morphs from a sleek, sporty car into a humanoid that looks like a tough customer. (Watch a video of the transformation below.)
This is version 7.2 of what's been an ongoing project since 2002, according to the timeline on the company's website. The production version of this remote-controlled robot comes with a WiFi video camera, which streams its data to a tablet PC for viewing. The robot also can shoot darts from its arms. The kit includes a controller, batteries, a charger, and motion-editing software. The robot is delivered preprogrammed.
This spring, EnGadget reported on a similar robot from JS Robotics that uses 22 servo motors.
The latest Brave Robotics offering, which debuted at Maker Faire Tokyo 2012, changes its shape in a few seconds. Earlier versions of the 1/12 scale robot transformed slowly and clunkily. By version 4, when the robot was in car mode, it could drive on its tires and turn by steering, according to the timeline. In its humanoid form, it could walk and looked humanoid.
The designers revamped it twice after that, solving different design problems each time. By version 6, they had come up with a new transforming system, and they were using a CNC milling machine to make parts. In the next few versions, they simplified the system, and it began to resemble its more elegant current version. With version 7.1, the designers began using a 3D printer, which they designed and built themselves, to make the robot's parts.
Designs of other robots have begun with hobbyist or toy versions. We wrote in August about the Phoenix autonomous flapping robotic birds built by the Robot Locomotion Group of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Those robots started as hobbyist radio-controlled ornithopters. The group's Agile Flight Project team designed them as a platform for investigating motor control of maneuverable flapping-wing flight in an outdoor setting.
The Brave Robotics robot, of course, isn't autonomous -- yet. According to the timeline, by 2030, the company wants to build a 1/1 scale transforming robot that anyone can ride; that robot will be able to think using a "super AI system." I suspect that's not a joke.
Actually it is probably the same in most endeavors, Scott. I am also a horsewoman and I frequently bring guests to ride my horse so that they can enjoy the experience of being on a horse and relax in a country setting. It amazes me how many people think you just get on and kick and the horse will respond - that it too is easy to come by. They have no idea how much time and effort it takes to create a relationship of mutual trust and respect with a horse and the training involved - they just see cowboys jump on and gallop off and they think they can do the same. Media has distorted so many areas of our lives - not just electronics...
Sometimes I pause and just wonder in amazement when I am using my oscilloscope. That I can actually see an electrical signal visually and measure it in nanosecond resolution - WOW! Something so simple - we forget how incredible that is when we use our equipment everyday...
Nancy. How true. It's amazing to me how quickly consumer electronics as a class of technology has created a sense that technological development "just happens". On the one hand it makes incredible electronic tools available while on the other hand it creates a sense that these engineering marvels are easy to come by and will continue to be.
Which is also a bit ironic - the American public is somewhat desensitized to the wonders of the engineering behind this type of technology because of their exposure to media creations such as the transformers - most won't have an understanding of the engineering marvel behind the design...
This is a neat development. Once again the toy/cartoon/movie/entertainment complex points us toward the future. At least there is probably already a significant market demand for this product when they are ready to release it.
I agree - that video was just a blast to watch! Whatever else - it is a great way to get kids excited about engineering. It will be interesting to see how this transformer evolves over the next few years.
Absolutely outstanding demonstration of creativity, imagination and engineering. The complexity of synchronizing all those servo motors together is exceptional. To make a robot walk is challenging enough, but to create a design that can easily transition from both a car to walking robot is very tricky. Great job.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.