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IROS 2013: Robot Cars Get Hyper-Maneuverable With Actuated Tails

A robot with a tail modeled on a cheetah can make turns at speeds twice as fast

2 min read
IROS 2013: Robot Cars Get Hyper-Maneuverable With Actuated Tails

That 2012 paper from UC Berkeley on the advantages of giving mobile robots tails continues to inspire roboticists, nearly two years later. At IROS 2013, we checked out a new implementation of an actuated tail that makes for one seriously maneuverable robot car.

The robot is called Dima (a name derived from a Sotho word that means "flash of lightning"), and it was deliberately designed to be able to achieve high speeds with a high center of mass, a combination that works best (or only) when driving in straight lines. Turning at any speed that you might charitably call exciting leads to an immediate toppling over, but the addition of an actuated tail that can swing in the roll axis of the robot can effectively keep it stable:

This is a bit different from some of the other tail-assisted turns that we've seen robots doing (most notably this robot from UC Berkeley), because in this case, the tail is being used to counteract the torque that the robot generates while turning, rather than being used to generate torque to turn the robot. Also, the tail is being turned in a roll axis instead of a yaw axis, an idea that the researchers got after watching how a cheetah's tail moves when it makes high-speed turns.

After a bunch of experiments with both tail-less and tailed versions of Dima, results showed that the addition of the actuated tail allowed the robot to make stable turns at over twice the speed that it would be able to otherwise (7.5 m/s as opposed to 3.1 m/s). 

So, the obvious question now is whether there are any rules in Formula One specifically prohibiting the use of active tails, and if not, when we'll start seeing them on race cars.

"Rapid Turning at High-Speed: Inspirations from the Cheetah's Tail," by Amir Patel and Martin Braae from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, was presented last week at IROS 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

[ UCT 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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