Video Friday: Robot Opera

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Video Friday: Robot Opera

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

RO-MAN 2021 – August 8-12, 2021 – [Online Event]
DARPA SubT Finals – September 21-23, 2021 – Louisville, KY, USA
WeRobot 2021 – September 23-25, 2021 – Coral Gables, FL, USA
IROS 2021 – September 27-1, 2021 – [Online Event]
ROSCon 2021 – October 21-23, 2021 – New Orleans, LA, USA

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

The New National Theatre Tokyo presents Super Angel: "Witness the birth of a new opera, performed by Alter 3, an android with artificial life who makes friends with children in the chorus as they sing and perform together."

Alter 3 is characterized by its body, in which all interior mechanisms are exposed, and a face from which it is impossible to determine gender or age, and it is an android robot designed to feel life, which is unprecedented in the field. Researchers from Osaka University and the University of Tokyo, which are famous for their work into androids and artificial life, have been collaborating up until now to create and study two Alter androids. The main challenges of this are whether or not it is possible for robots to acquire a sense of life independently through interactivity with the outside world, and to answer the basic question of exactly what life is through the course of this.

[ NNTT ] via [ Robotstart ]

Running the bases at Dodger Stadium is a fun tradition that many children look forward to after most Sunday games. But not all children, especially those who are currently hospitalized or recovering from an illness at home, can physically experience it. That's why UCLA Health, the Dodgers and OhmniLabs teamed up to create a virtual run-the-bases experience for 10 pediatric patients at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.

[ UCLA ]

Thanks, Joseph!

The way to teach robots to move like animals is to collect data from animals, and it's surprising how much of a difference some little tweaks can make to a quadrupedal gait.


Thanks, Fan!

Walker X had me at back massage.

[ Ubtech ]

I needed this video today.

[ Soft Robotics ]

MIT faculty and staff reimagine an iconic mechanical engineering class - 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I) - so students can go head-to-head in the final robot competition from their dorm rooms, apartments, or homes across the country.

The full competition livestreams are at the link below.

[ MIT 2.007 ]

The world's best female flair bartender vs the most advanced bartending robot. Who's gonna win?

Kuka's last human versus robot challenge involving table tennis was a huge disappointment, so I really hope this one is better.

[ Makr Shakr ]

I know software compliance is all the rage, but there's still something to be said for robot arms that are inherently soft.

[ Motion Intelligent Lab ]

Thanks, Fan!

We present a versatile, adhesive, and soft material (called VENOM) with high dynamic friction and normal adhesion forces on various smooth and rough surfaces. VENOM is a dry adhesive material based on a simple mixture of super-soft, fast cure platinum-catalyzed silicone and iron powder. Our result demonstrates the use of VENOM for the feet of our sprawling posture robot.

[ Paper ]

Thanks, Poramate!

Hybrid security by humans and robots. Communication with humans is handled by security guards through the avatar security robot Ugo, and hybrid security takes advantage of the characteristics of each robot and security guard.

What's the head on the stick at the end? I want one of those!

[ Ugo ]

Check out more views of the MQ-25 T1 test asset's historic flight, when it became the first unmanned aircraft to ever refuel another aircraft—piloted or autonomous—during flight. During a June 2021 flight test, the MQ25 T1 test asset transferred fuel to an F/A-18 Super Hornet.

[ Boeing ]

It's definitely cool to be able to do this with a robot, but it really makes you realize how effortless these tasks are for humans, right?

[ Extend Robotics ]

GE Research's Robotics and Autonomy team, led by Senior Robotics Scientist, Shiraj Sen, successfully completed Year 1 of a project with the US Army through its Scalable Adaptive Resilient Autonomy Program (SARA) to develop and demonstrate a risk-aware autonomous ground vehicle that was capable of navigating safely in complex off-road test conditions.

[ GE Research ]

Here's one way to add some safety to your industrial robot, I guess?

[ Kuka ]

Okay but seriously how is a kitchen "fully robotic" if you have to do all the prep and cleaning?

Also you left all the good stuff in the pot.

[ Moley ]

Here are a couple of videos showing some recent research from the Brussels Human Robotics Research Center (BruBotics); check the YouTube descriptions for paper references.

[ BruBotics ]

Thanks, Bram!

A Michigan Robotics Colloquium, hosted by the Robotics Graduate Student Council (RGSC), was held on July 27, 2021 about assistive technologies.

[ Michigan Robotics ]

The Conversation (0)

The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.