IROS 2013: JPL's Microspine Rock-Climbing Robot

JPL outfits a robot with microspine grippers to help it climb around rocks in space

1 min read
IROS 2013: JPL's Microspine Rock-Climbing Robot

At ICRA 2012, JPL introduced its microspine gripper system, which uses hundreds of tiny little claws to grip rough surfaces. We saw some video of a robot hanging from one of these, but it was just being used as a passive anchor. At IROS this week, JPL researchers presented a new video showing an upgraded version of their gripper integrated onto their LEMUR IIB robot, turning it into the "world's first rock climbing robot."

Each one of these grippers relies on over 750 tiny little claws (all made by hand thanks to JPL summer interns) to latch onto the sort of rough surfaces that you're likely to find on other planets and asteroids. The grippers are particularly relevant to asteroids, since they offer a dependable (and reversible) way to grab onto surfaces even in microgravity.

The climbs in this video weren't autonomous, and LEMUR IIB weighs too much and doesn't have enough degrees of freedom to deal with anything but relatively flat rock. Next, JPL is considering outfitting some of their other robots with microspine grippers, including the next generation of LEMUR and even their fancy new DRC robot, RoboSimian. 

"Video Presentation of a Rock Climbing Robot," by Aaron Parness, Matt Frost, Jonathan A King, Nitish Thatte, Kevin Witkoe, Moises Nevarez, Michael Garrett, Hrand Aghazarian, and Brett Kennedy, from JPL/Caltech, was presented at IROS 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

[ JPL Robotics ]

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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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