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Friday, 23 June 2017

23-07-2017 - Amazing Robotic Materials today

Many futuristic inventions are inspired by
biological systems.
High-tech inspiration. I’m Bob Hirshon and this
is Science Update.
In his mile-high lab at the University of Colorado
in Boulder, roboticist Nikolaus Correll and his
interdisciplinary team of computer scientists and
engineers design and test the next generation of
robotic materials. But he says at their core, their
high-tech creations are inspired by nature.
I think natural systems are essentially robotic
materials. All of them are cells that can either
sense or compute in a very simple way.
He says to build a camouflaged car, you might
want to understand how a chameleon changes
color. To create airplane wings that change their
shape midflight, you should watch how bird
wings respond to changing aerodynamic
conditions. To build bridges that repair
themselves, you should observe how the banyan
tree grows buttresses as it senses its load
shifting. His team writes about the future of
robotic materials in the journal Science. I’m Bob
Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.
Scientists often look to nature for inspiration and
to find answers to the many questions they have
about the natural world. Many times, scientists
study organisms to help them develop new
technology. This is particularly the case with
roboticist Nikolaus Correll and his team of
computer scientists and engineers. They look to
organisms like cuttlefish (camouflage), eagles'
wings (shape change), the banyan tree (adaptive
load bearing), and human skin (tactile sensing)
to figure out how they function and determine if
some of their properties can be incorporated in
robotic materials. These are a class of
multifunctional materials that tightly integrate
sensing, actuation (changing material properties
of the base material), communication, and
Correll and his colleagues believe that these
robotic, or composite, materials could enable a
new generation of truly smart material systems
that can change their appearance and shape
independently. That is, they would sense,
calculate, and react to their surroundings without
any outside computer power. Some of the
applications that these scientists envision
include airplane wings and vehicles with the
ability to adapt their aerodynamic profile or
camouflage in the environment, bridges and
other civil structures that could detect and repair
damages, or robotic skin and prosthetics with
the ability to sense touch and subtle textures.
How is this kind of technology becoming more
feasible? It appears that recent advances in
manufacturing, combined with the miniaturization
of electronics, is enabling a new class of robotic
materials. For example, state-of-the-art robotic
materials are increasingly integrating sensors
and actuators at high densities. Combining these
composites with cheap and small
microprocessors will allow these materials to
function independently.
All of this sounds great, but what are some of
the challenges that scientists might encounter in
trying to develop this kind of technology? "Right
now, we're able to make these things in the lab
on a much larger scale, but we can't scale them
down," Correll said. "The same is true for nano-
and microscale manufacturing, which can't be
scaled up to things like a building façade."
Another challenge is that the field is faced with
an education gap in that robotic materials
requires interdisciplinary knowledge that currently
isn't provided by materials science, computer
science, or robotics curricula alone. Some
educators, though, are trying to bridge that gap
by exposing engineering students to both
materials and computing to get them to think
about whole systems early in their careers. They
hope that by doing this, they will help prepare
the next generation of scientists to be able to
solve the problems encountered by scientists

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