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  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on December 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Daniel Vogt, Falkor research vessel, , NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, , PIPA-Phoenix Islands Protected Area, , ROV-remotely operated underwater vehicle, , Soft robotics has made leaps and bounds over the last decade, Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths,   

    From Wyss Institute: “Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths” 2017 

    Harvard bloc tiny
    Wyss Institute bloc
    Wyss Institute

    October 28, 2017
    Lindsay Brownell

    Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt tests out soft robotics on deep sea corals in the South Pacific.

    As an engineer with degrees in Computer Science and Microengineering, Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt usually spends most of his time in his lab building and testing robots, surrounded by jumbles of cables, wires, bits of plastic, and circuit boards. But for the last month, he’s spent nearly every day in a room that resembles NASA ground control surrounded by marine biologists on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, intently watching them use joysticks and buttons to maneuver a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to harvest corals, crabs, and other sea life from the ocean floor.

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    The squishy fingers are made of a soft, flexible material that is more dexterous and gentle than ROVs’ conventional grippers. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.


    Deep corals of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area: How Wyss Institute researchers are changing underwater exploration. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    This particular ROV’s robotic metal arm is holding the reason why Vogt is here: what looks like a large, floppy toy starfish made of blue and yellow foam. “Devices like this are extremely soft – you can compare them to rubber bands or gummy bears – and this allows them to grasp things that you wouldn’t be able to grasp with a hard device like the ROV gripper,” says Vogt, watching the TV screen as the “squishy fingers” gently close around a diaphanous bright pink sea cucumber and lift it off the sand. The biologists applaud as the fingers cradle the sea cucumber safely on its journey to the ROV’s collection box. “Nicely done,” Vogt says to the ROV operators.

    This shipful of scientists is the latest in a series of research voyages co-funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a nonprofit founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in 2009 to support high-risk marine exploration that expands humans’ understanding of our planet’s oceans. The Institute provides marine scientists access to the ship, Falkor, and expert technical shipboard support in exchange for a commitment to openly share and communicate the outcomes of their research.

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    Falkor is equipped with both wet and dry lab spaces, the ROV SuBastian, echosounders, water sampling systems, and many other instruments to gather data about the ocean. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt’s shipmates are studying the mysterious deep sea coral communities of the deep ocean, which live below 138 meters (450 feet) on seamounts which are mostly unexplored.

    The best place to find those corals is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a smattering of tiny islands, atolls, coral reefs, and great swaths of their surrounding South Pacific ocean almost 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. PIPA is the largest (the size of California) and deepest (average water column depth of 4 km/2.5 mi) UNESCO World Heritage Site on Earth and, thanks to its designation as a Marine Protected Area in 2008, represents one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. With over 500 species of reef fishes, 250 shallow coral species, and large numbers of sharks and other marine life, PIPA’s reefs resemble what a reef might have looked like a thousand years ago, before human activity began to severely affect oceanic communities. The team on board Falkor is conducting the first deep water biological surveys in PIPA, assessing what species of deep corals are present and any new, undescribed species, while also evaluating the effect of seawater acidification (caused by an increase in the amount of CO2 in the water) on deep coral ecosystems.

    The deep ocean is about as inhospitable to human life as outer space, so scientists largely rely on ROVs to be their eyes, legs, and hands underwater, controlling them remotely from the safety of the surface. Most ROVs used in deep-sea research were designed for use in the oil and gas industries and are built to accomplish tasks like lifting heavy weights, drilling into rock, and installing machinery. When it comes to plucking a sea cucumber off the ocean floor or snipping a piece off a delicate sea fan, however, existing ROVs are like bulls in a china shop, often crushing the samples they’re meant to be taking.

    This problem led to a collaboration between Wyss Core Faculty member Rob Wood, Ph.D. and City University of New York (CUNY) marine biologist David Gruber, Ph.D. back in 2014 that produced the first version of the soft robotic “squishy fingers,” which were successfully tested in the Red Sea in 2015. PIPA offered a unique opportunity to test the squishy fingers in more extreme conditions and evaluate a series of improvements that Vogt and other members of Wood’s lab have been making to them, such as integrating sensors into the robots’ soft bodies. “The Phoenix Islands are very unexplored. We’re looking for new species of corals that nobody has ever seen anywhere else. We don’t know what our graspers will have to pick up on a given day, so it’s a great opportunity to see how they fare against different challenges in the field.”

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    Daniel Vogt holds the ‘squishy finger’ soft robots aboard Falkor. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt, ever the tinkerer, also brought with him something that the Red Sea voyage did not have on board: two off-the-shelf 3D printers. Taking feedback directly from the biologists and the ROV pilots about what the soft robot could and could not do, Vogt was able to print new components overnight and try them in the field the next day – something that rarely happens even on land. “It’s really a novel thing, to be able to iterate based on input in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no lab in sight. We noticed, for example, that the samples we tried to grasp were often on rock instead of sand, making it difficult for the soft fingers to reach underneath the sample for a good grip. In the latest iteration of the gripper, ‘fingernails’ were added to improve grasping in these situations.” The ultimate goal of building better and better underwater soft robots is to be able to conduct research on samples underwater at their natural depth and temperature, rather than bringing them up to the surface, as this will paint a more accurate picture of what is happening out of sight in the world’s oceans.

    PIPA may be somewhat insulated from the threats of warming oceans and pollution thanks to its remoteness and deep waters, but the people of Kiribati, the island nation that contains and administers PIPA, are not. The researchers visited the island of Kanton, population 25, a few days into their trip to meet the local people and learn about their lives in a country where dry land makes up less than 1% of its total area – a true oceanic nation. “The people were very nice, very welcoming. There is one ship that comes every six months to deliver supplies; everything else they get from the sea,” says Vogt (locals are allowed to fish for subsistence). “They’re also going to be one of the first nations affected by rising sea levels, because the highest point on the whole island is three meters (ten feet). They know that they live in a special place, but they’re preparing for the day when they’ll have to leave their home. The whole community has bought land on Fiji, where they’ll move once Kanton becomes uninhabitable.”

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    Daniel Vogt tests the squishy fingers on the forearm of CUNY biologist David Gruber, who spearheaded their development along with Wyss Faculty member Rob Wood. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Research that brings scientists from different fields together to elucidate the world’s remaining unknowns and solve its toughest problems is gaining popularity, and may be the best chance humanity has to ensure its own survival. “One of the most eye-opening part of the trip has been interacting with people from different backgrounds and seeing the scientific challenges they face, which are very different from the challenges that the mechanical and electrical engineers I’m with most of the time have to solve,” says Vogt. “I’ve been amazed by the technology that’s on Falkor related to the ROV and all the scientific tools aboard. The ROV SuBastian is one-of-a-kind, with numerous tools, cameras and sensors aboard as well as an advanced underwater positioning system. It takes a lot of engineers to create and operate something like that, and then a lot of biologists to interpret the results and analyze the 400+ samples which were collected during the cruise.”

    Vogt says he spent a lot of time listening to the biologists and the ROV pilots in order to modify the gripper’s design according to their feedback. The latest version of the gripper was fully designed and manufactured on the boat, and was used during the last dive to successfully sample a variety of sea creatures. He and Wood plan to write several papers detailing the results of his experiments in the coming months.

    “We’re very excited that what started as a conversation between a roboticist and a marine biologist at a conference three years ago has blossomed into a project that solves a significant problem in the real world, and can aid researchers in understanding and preserving our oceans’ sea life,” says Wood.

    Additional videos detailing Vogt’s voyage, including the ship’s log, can be found here.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Wyss Institute campus

    The Wyss (pronounced “Veese”) Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world.

    Working as an alliance among Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Tufts University, and Boston University, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:19 am on November 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering, Artificial muscles give soft robots superpowers, , Origami-inspired muscles are both soft and strong and can be made for less than $1, Soft robotics has made leaps and bounds over the last decade,   

    From Paulson: “Artificial muscles give soft robots superpowers” 

    Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

    November 27, 2017

    Lindsay Brownell
    The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University
    lindsay.brownell@wyss.harvard.edu
    (617) 432-8266

    Leah Burrows
    The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    lburrows@seas.harvard.edu
    (617) 496-1351

    Multimedia contact
    Seth Kroll
    seth.kroll@wyss.harvard.edu
    (617) 432-7758)

    Origami-inspired muscles are both soft and strong, and can be made for less than $1.

    1
    Origami-inspired artificial muscles are capable of lifting up to 1,000 times their own weight, simply by applying air or water pressure. (Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

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    The movement and shape of the artificial muscles is defined by the shape of their internal “skeleton” – in this case, made of notched blocks of foam. (Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

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    The zig-zag pattern of this muscle’s interior “skeleton” allows the muscle to contract down to a fraction of its original width. (Image courtesy of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

    Soft robotics has made leaps and bounds over the last decade as researchers around the world have experimented with different materials and designs to allow once rigid, jerky machines to bend and flex in ways that mimic and can interact more naturally with living organisms. However, increased flexibility and dexterity has a trade-off of reduced strength, as softer materials are generally not as strong or resilient as inflexible ones, which limits their use.

    Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created origami-inspired artificial muscles that add strength to soft robots, allowing them to lift objects that are up to 1,000 times their own weight using only air or water pressure. The study will be published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    “We were very surprised by how strong the actuators [aka, “muscles”] were. We expected they’d have a higher maximum functional weight than ordinary soft robots, but we didn’t expect a thousand-fold increase. It’s like giving these robots superpowers,” said Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and one of the senior authors of the paper.

    “Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering,” said Robert J. Wood, corresponding author of the paper and the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the SEAS. “Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task.” Wood is also a Founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute.

    Each artificial muscle consists of an inner skeleton that can be made of various materials, such as a metal coil or a sheet of plastic folded into a certain pattern, surrounded by air or fluid and sealed inside a plastic or textile bag that serves as the skin. A vacuum applied to the inside of the bag initiates the muscle’s movement by causing the skin to collapse onto the skeleton, creating tension that drives the motion. No other power source or human input is required to direct the muscle’s movement; it is determined entirely by the shape and composition of the skeleton.

    “One of the key aspects of these muscles is that they’re programmable, in the sense that designing how the skeleton folds defines how the whole structure moves. You essentially get that motion for free, without the need for a control system,” said first author Shuguang Li, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute and MIT CSAIL. This approach allows the muscles to be very compact and simple, and thus more appropriate for mobile or body-mounted systems that cannot accommodate large or heavy machinery.

    “When creating robots, one always has to ask, ‘Where is the intelligence – is it in the body, or in the brain?’” said Rus. “Incorporating intelligence into the body (via specific folding patterns, in the case of our actuators) has the potential to simplify the algorithms needed to direct the robot to achieve its goal. All these actuators have the same simple on/off switch, which their bodies then translate into a broad range of motions.”

    The team constructed dozens of muscles using materials ranging from metal springs to packing foam to sheets of plastic, and experimented with different skeleton shapes to create muscles that can contract down to 10 percent of their original size, lift a delicate flower off the ground, and twist into a coil, all simply by sucking the air out of them.

    Not only can the artificial muscles move in many ways, they do so with impressive resilience. They can generate about six times more force per unit area than mammalian skeletal muscle can, and are also lightweight; a 2.6-gram muscle can lift a 3-kilogram object, which is the equivalent of a mallard duck lifting a car. Additionally, a single muscle can be constructed within ten minutes using materials that cost less than $1, making them cheap and easy to test and iterate.

    These muscles can be powered by a vacuum, a feature that makes them safer than most of the other artificial muscles currently being tested. “A lot of the applications of soft robots are human-centric, so of course it’s important to think about safety,” said Daniel Vogt, co-author of the paper and Research Engineer at the Wyss Institute. “Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don’t expand when they’re operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body.”

    “In addition to their muscle-like properties, these soft actuators are highly scalable. We have built them at sizes ranging from a few millimeters up to a meter, and their performance holds up across the board,” said Wood. This feature means that the muscles can be used in numerous applications at multiple scales, such as miniature surgical devices, wearable robotic exoskeletons, transformable architecture, deep-sea manipulators for research or construction, and large deployable structures for space exploration.

    The team was even able to construct the muscles out of the water-soluble polymer PVA, which opens the possibility of robots that can perform tasks in natural settings with minimal environmental impact, as well as ingestible robots that move to the proper place in the body and then dissolve to release a drug. “The possibilities really are limitless. But the very next thing I would like to build with these muscles is an elephant robot with a trunk that can manipulate the world in ways that are as flexible and powerful as you see in real elephants,” said Rus.

    This research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Through research and scholarship, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) will create collaborative bridges across Harvard and educate the next generation of global leaders. By harnessing the power of engineering and applied sciences we will address the greatest challenges facing our society.

    Specifically, that means that SEAS will provide to all Harvard College students an introduction to and familiarity with engineering and technology as this is essential knowledge in the 21st century.

    Moreover, our concentrators will be immersed in the liberal arts environment and be able to understand the societal context for their problem solving, capable of working seamlessly withothers, including those in the arts, the sciences, and the professional schools. They will focus on the fundamental engineering and applied science disciplines for the 21st century; as we will not teach legacy 20th century engineering disciplines.

    Instead, our curriculum will be rigorous but inviting to students, and be infused with active learning, interdisciplinary research, entrepreneurship and engineering design experiences. For our concentrators and graduate students, we will educate “T-shaped” individuals – with depth in one discipline but capable of working seamlessly with others, including arts, humanities, natural science and social science.

    To address current and future societal challenges, knowledge from fundamental science, art, and the humanities must all be linked through the application of engineering principles with the professions of law, medicine, public policy, design and business practice.

    In other words, solving important issues requires a multidisciplinary approach.

    With the combined strengths of SEAS, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools, Harvard is ideally positioned to both broadly educate the next generation of leaders who understand the complexities of technology and society and to use its intellectual resources and innovative thinking to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

    Ultimately, we will provide to our graduates a rigorous quantitative liberal arts education that is an excellent launching point for any career and profession.

     
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