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Modular Robots

When a task or terrain varies, reconfigurable robots can change their shape to get the job done

10 min read
Modular Robots

chain of simple hinge joints

Photos: Robert Schlatter
Xerox PARC's multimodule robot, PolyBot, can move in several ways, starting as a rolling tread [first frame]. With the connectors between two modules released, it moves in a snake-like manner [second frame]. With its end modules docked to its center module, it forms a figure-8 [not shown]. Breaking the intermodule connections at the ends of the figure-8 [third frame] leads to a four-legged spider configuration that walks like a person on crutches [last frame]. Click on the image for the full illustration view.

Robots out on the factory floor pretty much know what's coming. Constrained as they are by programming and geometry, their world is just an assembly line. But for robots operating outdoors, away from civilization, both mission and geography are unpredictable. Here, robots with the ability to change their shape could be of great value, since they could adapt to constantly varying tasks and environments. Modular reconfigurable robots—experimental systems made by interconnecting multiple, simple, similar units--can perform such shape shifting.

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The EV Transition Explained: Charger Infrastructure

How many, where, and who pays?

7 min read
Illuminated electric vehicle charging stations at night in Monterey Park, California.

Electric vehicle charging stations in Monterey Park, California.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The ability to conveniently charge an EV away from home is a top concern for many EV owners. A 2022 survey of EV owners by Forbes indicates that 62 percent of respondents are so anxious about their EV range that travel plans have been affected. While “range anxiety” may be overblown, the need for an extensive and reliable external charging infrastructure is not.

Infrastructure terminology can itself be confusing. For clarity, bear in mind that a charging station is a specific physical location which has one or more charging posts. A charging post itself may have one or more ports, where each port can charge a single EV. Each post may have multiple types of service connectors to support different EV charging connector standards. And a port may supply varying power levels.

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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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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

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