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EPFL Developing Connectors for Modular Floating Robots

Need to stick some soft floating robot modules together? EPFL has the answer: electroadhesion

1 min read
EPFL Developing Connectors for Modular Floating Robots

This is an artistic rendering of a project that's being developed at EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). The Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS) is working on a robot (yes, that's totally a robot) made up of soft, floating modules that connect to each other through electroadhesion.

Electroadhesion, of course, is engineering magic that works by using very high voltages to generate a charge differential between two surfaces, causing them to stick together. The nice thing about electroadhesion (besides the fact that it works even on non-conductive surfaces) is that it's flexible, making it an ideal dynamic connector for soft, modular robots. Where EPFL is really going nuts, though, is with these soft robotic modules that float:

It might be a bit of a stretch to call these things robots, but what to think about here is the potential of electroadhesive connectors for both soft robotics and robotic systems where weight is at a premium. In order to really call something like this a robot it (arguably) needs at minimum to be equipped some sort of sensor, and that's what EPFL is working on next: adding "active deformation and sensing" to the reversible electroadhesive connector.

[ Soft Robots @ EPFL ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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