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Danish designers envision autonomous 3D printing robots for fixing the environment

Three Danish companies, GXN Innovation, the research wing of 3XN; Map Architects and The Danish AM Hub, the additive manufacturer have collaborated to form an initiative named Break the Grid. According to Break the Grid, coastlines and buildings could be maintained by autonomous 3D printers that have the ability to fix problems. It has proposed that by making 3D printers which can move and act independently problems such as damaged infrastructures and erosion of coastlines can be tackled. The 3D printers are visioned to have the power to move across all three forms of physical communication, land, sea and air.

Kasper Jensen, GXN founder said that it could be a revolution if 3D printers would be “freed” for tackling the challenges. If 3D printing robots are made to crawl, fly and swim then environmental threats can be handled at much lower costs with increased efficiency.

For tackling three separate cases, the companies have developed three different concept designs. In all the situations, the environment is scanned autonomously by the robots and the problems are then identified for the implementation of solutions.

In one of the designs, the robot can move underwater and construct artificial reefs. This can protect the coastlines from erosion and also provide habitat to aquatic creatures. It would function by extruding a mixture of sand from the ocean floor and glue which is inspired by a natural adhesive produced by oysters. In the meantime, a six-legged robot would scan the cities for micro-cracks and repair them. By detecting them early, the damage could be fixed before water further creeps in causing corrosion.

The land-based robots are visioned to 3D print a porous filler with a mixture of Trichoderma reesei, promoting the formation of calcium carbonate which creates a self-healing material. It can also patrol the infrastructure in urban areas remotely.

Another concept is drones operated in the air which can detect the damages in old buildings and then swoop in to repair the damages. It is based on the research that thermal insulation can be built using a customized composite of polymers and glass. The team has already been working on modifying the existing 3D printers for building the prototypes.

Mads Kjøller Damkjær, CEO of Danish AM Hub said that new approaches to construction can be built using converging technologies. New possibilities can be visualized only by the change of current ways of thinking which needs a combination of technology and design. Recent 3D printing developments have involved a plan for the 3D printed village and a stage for dance performances built by ETH Zurich students.

Machine learning to help develop self-healing robots that ‘feel pain’

Machine learning to help develop self-healing robots that ‘feel pain’

The goal of the €3 million Self-healing soft robot (SHERO) project, funded by the European Commission, is to create a next-generation robot made from self-healing materials (flexible plastics) that can detect damage, take the necessary steps to temporarily heal itself and then resume its work – all without the need for human interaction.

Led by the University of Brussels (VUB), the research consortium includes the Department of Engineering (University of Cambridge), École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI), Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), and the Dutch Polymer manufacturer SupraPolix.

As part of the SHERO project, the Cambridge team, led by Dr Fumiya Iida from the Department of Engineering are looking at integrating self-healing materials into soft robotic arms.

Dr Thomas George Thuruthel, also from the Department of Engineering, said self-healing materials could have future applications in modular robotics, educational robotics and evolutionary robotics where a single robot can be ‘recycled’ to generate a fresh prototype.

“We will be using machine learning to work on the modelling and integration of these self-healing materials, to include self-healing actuators and sensors, damage detection, localisation and controlled healing,” he said. “The adaptation of models after the loss of sensory data and during the healing process is another area we are looking to address. The end goal is to integrate the self-healing sensors and actuators into demonstration platforms in order to perform specific tasks.”

Professor Bram Vanderborght, from VUB, who is leading the project with scientists from the robotics research centre Brubotics and the polymer research lab FYSC, said: “We are obviously very pleased to be working on the next generation of robots. Over the past few years, we have already taken the first steps in creating self-healing materials for robots. With this research we want to continue and, above all, ensure that robots that are used in our working environment are safer, but also more sustainable. Due to the self-repair mechanism of this new kind of robot, complex, costly repairs may be a thing of the past.”

Materials provided by Cambridge University

Robot uses machine learning to harvest lettuce

The ‘Vegebot’, developed by a team at the University of Cambridge, was initially trained to recognize and harvest iceberg lettuce in a lab setting. It has now been successfully tested in a variety of field conditions in cooperation with G’s Growers, local fruit and vegetable co-operative.

For a human, the entire process takes a couple of seconds, but it’s a really challenging problem for a robot

–Josie Hughes

Although the prototype is nowhere near as fast or efficient as a human worker, it demonstrates how the use of robotics in agriculture might be expanded, even for crops like iceberg lettuce which are particularly challenging to harvest mechanically. The results are published in The Journal of Field Robotics.

Crops such as potatoes and wheat have been harvested mechanically at scale for decades, but many other crops have to date resisted automation. Iceberg lettuce is one such crop. Although it is the most common type of lettuce grown in the UK, iceberg is easily damaged and grows relatively flat to the ground, presenting a challenge for robotic harvesters.

“Every field is different, every lettuce is different,” said co-author Simon Birrell from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. “But if we can make a robotic harvester work with iceberg lettuce, we could also make it work with many other crops.”

“At the moment, harvesting is the only part of the lettuce life cycle that is done manually, and it’s very physically demanding,” said co-author Julia Cai, who worked on the computer vision components of the Vegebot while she was an undergraduate student in the lab of Dr. Fumiya Iida.

The Vegebot first identifies the ‘target’ crop within its field of vision, then determines whether a particular lettuce is healthy and ready to be harvested, and finally cuts the lettuce from the rest of the plant without crushing it so that it is ‘supermarket ready’. “For a human, the entire process takes a couple of seconds, but it’s a really challenging problem for a robot,” said co-author Josie Hughes.

The Vegebot has two main components: a computer vision system and a cutting system. The overhead camera on the Vegebot takes an image of the lettuce field and first identifies all the lettuces in the image, and then for each lettuce, classifies whether it should be harvested or not. A lettuce might be rejected because it’s not yet mature, or it might have a disease that could spread to other lettuces in the harvest.

The researchers developed and trained a machine learning algorithm on example images of lettuces. Once the Vegebot could recognise healthy lettuces in the lab, it was then trained in the field, in a variety of weather conditions, on thousands of real lettuces.

A second camera on the Vegebot is positioned near the cutting blade and helps ensure a smooth cut. The researchers were also able to adjust the pressure in the robot’s gripping arm so that it held the lettuce firmly enough not to drop it, but not so firm as to crush it. The force of the grip can be adjusted for other crops.

“We wanted to develop approaches that weren’t necessarily specific to iceberg lettuce so that they can be used for other types of above-ground crops,” said Iida, who leads the team behind the research.

In future, robotic harvesters could help address problems with labour shortages in agriculture, and could also help reduce food waste. At the moment, each field is typically harvested once, and any unripe vegetables or fruits are discarded. However, a robotic harvester could be trained to pick only ripe vegetables, and since it could harvest around the clock, it could perform multiple passes on the same field, returning at a later date to harvest the vegetables that were unripe during previous passes.

“We’re also collecting lots of data about lettuce, which could be used to improve efficiency, such as which fields have the highest yields,” said Hughes. “We’ve still got to speed our Vegebot up to the point where it could compete with a human, but we think robots have lots of potential in agri-tech.”

Iida’s group at Cambridge is also part of the world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in agri-food robotics. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Lincoln and the University of East Anglia, the Cambridge researchers will train the next generation of specialists in robotics and autonomous systems for application in the agri-tech sector. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new CDT, which will support at least 50 PhD students.

Reference:
Simon Birrell et al. ‘A Field-Tested Robotic Harvesting System for Iceberg Lettuce.’ Journal of Field Robotics (2019). DOI: 10.1002/rob.21888

Materials provided by the University of Cambridge

boston dynamics spotmini

Latest video released by Boston Dynamics shows its robot dogs pulling a truck

Do you know the quantity of sports robots required to construct a big truck?  Well, just 10! Apparently, ten canine-inspired machines linked and well connected to sled dogs like box truck, pulling it across the parking lot of Boston Dynamics with nearly one-degree uphill slope as shown by them in their video clip titled “Mush, Spot Mush!” posted on YouTube . Although during demonstration there was a driver behind the wheels in order to prevent accidents from happening, the vehicle itself was all neutral.

Boston Dynamics is an American robotics and engineering company which was started in 1992 by Marc Raibert, originally as a M.I.T spinoff. It is currently owned by the Japanese conglomerate group, SoftBank. It is quite popular for the humanoid robot, Atlas and BigDog, a quadruped robot which was meant for the United States military funded by DARPA.

It built the all-electric SpotMini , which is basically a quadruped robot that weighs approximately 66 pounds. It has only 17 joints and is equipped with a robotic arm which has a 5 degree-of-freedom and extends like a crane from its head. The machine has the capacity to run for up to 90 minutes, which definitely depends on the kind of work it does in that period, however it needs to be noted that the battery life is indeed shorter than an hour-and-a-half when it is hauling trucks SpotMinis are equipped with amazing three- dimensional vision cameras, as well as a suite of sensors in order to make it capable of navigation and mobile manipulation. The robotics company- Boston Dynamics said that it is the least noise producing machine it has ever produced, which now is almost out for sale as it comes out on the production line, being available for a variety of appliances.

Since these SpotMinis can carry insanely heavy payloads up to thirty one pounds, they have an arm that is potentially made to handle objects and carry them up and down the stairs. This makes these SpotMinis useful for warehouses and search and rescue missions in near future. Therefore, we can definitely conclude that Boston Dynamics is true to its slogan of changing our ideas regarding what robots can do!

We are not yet aware of what these robots would look exactly like or how much spot power will they be able to carry but the strength and rigidity definitely sets a benchmark in the robotics industry and challenges the newer generation of robots yet to come!