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March of the SandBots

A new generation of legged robots will navigate the world’s trickiest terrain

12 min read
Photo of Sandbot as it trundles down a track filled with poppy seeds.
Photo : Yvonne Boyd

A zebra-tailed lizard stands on a bed of tiny glass beads and shifts its weight. The beads slip underfoot, and the mottled beige creature stretches its spindly toes to get a better purchase. Suddenly it breaks into a run, blazing across the granular surface with stupendous agility, its toes stretching out flat as they hit the beads, its feet whipping back and forth in a blur. Each side of the lizard’s body stretches and then coils in turn as the reptile darts ahead at several meters per second.

Scooped up a year ago in California’s Mojave Desert and transplanted to a lab at Georgia Tech, the lizard holds our interest because of its truly peculiar feet. Those long, bony toes allow the reptile to navigate over sand, rocks, and the many other types of terrain it may face in the desert. In the lab, the bed of glass beads stands in for desert sand, and by blowing air through it or packing it down, we can make the ground looser or more solid. We then study how the lizard copes with the changes.

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Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

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Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

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Industrial Functional Safety Training from UL Solutions

Build knowledge and skills to better navigate today's functional safety landscape

3 min read

UL Solutions offer personnel certification at both the professional and expert levels in automotive, autonomous vehicles, electronics and semiconductors, machinery, industrial automation, and cybersecurity.

UL Solutions

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