Fleets of battery-powered robots could zip along monorails installed in solar arrays, tweaking individual panels’ angles so they follow the sun across the sky. This could be cheaper than installing actuators on every solar panel so they track the sun, according to a new robotics startup. Robots can make everything easier!
New generations of bio-inspired robots will be more than just inspired by nature — they may use actual biological components. Bioengineers at MIT have genetically modified muscle cells to respond to light, which could be used to make easily controllable robot muscles that look and act like the animals on which they're based.
Robots that can read and respond to brain waves will eventually help stroke patients regain movement, using new neural interfaces that can re-train damaged motor pathways. Neuroscientists have made great strides in brain-machine interfaces that can respond to a person’s thoughts -- a new generation will drive a non-invasive robotic orthotic, retraining the patient’s own body.
Swarms of caretaker robots will soon buzz around the damaged coral reefs of Scotland, re-cementing broken sections with utmost precision. Researchers at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University are programming autonomous underwater vehicles to follow a set of simple rules, like bees in a swarm, to keep corals healthy.
Soft robots are coming a long way, with strong yet stretchy bodies that can survive all kinds of assaults. But it would be even better if they didn't have to survive smashing attempts at all, instead blending into their environments so neither animals nor people would even know they were there. Researchers at Harvard designed new chameleon-bots that can do exactly that.
Soft, bendy robots could have a wide variety of benefits, from squishing into tight spaces to conduct surveillance, to crawling through a person's body to deliver drugs or take medical images. But it's hard to build entirely soft objects containing soft bodies, soft batteries and soft motors.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.