Multi-stage Micro Rockets for Robotic Insects

Have you ever seen a robotic butterfly with a freakin' JET PACK on it?

2 min read
Multi-stage Micro Rockets for Robotic Insects

You know you've found something good when you can take a headline straight out of a research paper and slap it right onto a blog article. Multi-stage micro rockets and flying robotic insects! Can it get any more awesome?

This research, from the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, doesn't actually seem to be directly related to this other research in robots powered by micro rockets (from  the Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland Microrobotics Lab). The rockets that were presented at IROS last year were designed for jumping, whereas these robots are meant for flying. Whee!


The reason to go with little tiny rockets for microrobots (as opposed to a more conventional propulsion system powered by batteries) is fairly straightforward: energy density: you can get a lot more energy per unit of mass from a rocket than you can from a battery. These particular rockets use APCP (Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant), and each has multiple stages, with integrated "delay charges" that modulate the thrust from the rocket by significantly reducing its output for up to about five seconds. Here's what the design looks like:

You can see how well this works in the vid, but here's how the researchers describe it:

"The glider performs a successful and stable take-off from a starting ramp, although it is not yet fully balanced which leads to a pitch instability, after which further analysis of the high speed video reveals that it spontaneously develops a malicious machine consciousness and attempts to impale its creators and any other humans with range."

I may have embellished that last phrase just slightly. But seriously, the next step here is to make the gliders a little more, you know, controllable, using piezo or Shape Memory Alloy based steering actuators.

[ Paper ] via [ Harvard Microrobotics Lab ]

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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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