Birth of the Robots
RHex the Parkour Robot
RHex is an all-terrain walking robot that could one day climb over rubble in a rescue mission or cross the desert with environmental sensors strapped to its back.
Pronounced "Rex," like the over-excited puppy it resembles when it is bounding over the ground, RHex is short for "robot hexapod," a name that stems from its six springy legs.
Legs have an advantage over wheels when it comes to rough terrain, but the articulated legs often found on walking robots require complex, specialized instructions for each moving part. To get the most mobility out of RHex's simple, one-jointed legs, Penn researchers are essentially teaching the robot Parkour. Taking inspiration from human free-runners, the team is showing the robot how to manipulate its body in creative ways to get around all sorts of obstacles.
The RHex platform was first developed through a multi-university collaboration more than a decade ago. Graduate student Aaron Johnson and professor Daniel Koditschek, both of the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, are working on a version of RHex known as XRL, or X-RHex Lite. This lighter and more agile version of the robot, developed in Koditschek's Kod*Lab, a division of Engineering's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab, is ideal for testing new ways for it to run, jump, and climb.
By activating its legs in different sequences, XRL can execute double jumps, flips, and, through a combination of moves, even pull-ups. For the tallest obstacles, the robot can launch itself vertically, hook its front legs on the edge of the object it's trying to surmount, then drag its body up and over. The researchers fully demonstrated this particular maneuver under more controlled conditions in the lab.
The paper where Johnson and Koditschek outlined these capabilities—"Toward a Vocabulary of Legged Leaping"—was selected as a finalist for best student paper at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May.
"What we want is a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven," Johnson says. "These latest jumps greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is."
Text by Evan Lerner
Video by Kurtis Sensenig
Music: "Stretched Out" by Hedgehog's Dilemma
Puppies Train To Be Drug and Bomb Search Dogs at Penn Vet
It's been three months since the Penn Vet Working Dog Center welcomed its inaugural class of puppies, seven rambunctious balls of energy destined to become highly trained detection dogs performing jobs that range from police and rescue work, to bomb and drug detection.
The dogs—Bretagne, Kaiserin (called Kai), Morgan, PApa Bear, Sirius, Socks, and Thunder—are known as the Class of 2013.
Each weekday, the puppies are delivered by their foster parents to the Center's headquarters at Penn's South Bank, where they spend the day training to be expert detectors and also learn how to remain physically fit.
At the end of their year of training, the dogs will be expected to perform an extended search for a hidden object or person in an area that is unfamiliar to them. They will be able to ignore distractions, and they will be able to follow off-leash directions with agility.
In addition to training the dogs, the Center is conducting scientific research on how to optimize the health and performance of all working dogs.
Robot Quadrotors Perform James Bond Theme
Flying robot quadrotors perform the James Bond Theme by playing various instruments including the keyboard, drums and maracas, a cymbal, and the debut of an adapted guitar built from a couch frame. The quadrotors play this "couch guitar" by flying over guitar strings stretched across a couch frame; plucking the strings with a stiff wire attached to the base of the quadrotor. A special microphone attached to the frame records the notes made by the "couch guitar".
These flying quadrotors are completely autonomous, meaning humans are not controlling them; rather they are controlled by a computer programed with instructions to play the instruments.
Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science is home to some of the most innovative robotics research on the planet, much of it coming out of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab.
This video premiered at the TED2012 Conference in Long Beach, California on February 29, 2012. Deputy Dean for Education and GRASP lab member Vijay Kumar presented some of this groundbreaking work at the TED2012 conference, an international gathering of people and ideas from technology, entertainment, and design.
The engineers from Penn, Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev, have formed a company called KMel Robotics that will design and market these quadrotors.
Catching are is my first long-form video, at 48 minutes.
The Penn Relays 2013
ENIAC: The First Computer
The Coffee Ring Effect - Intriguing Microscopic Video
Rep Rap 3D Printing Blood Vessel Networks
Lentil the French Bulldog with a Cleft Palate Visits Penn Vet
Robot Boats Rescue Mission
City Biking: New Bike Lanes at Penn and Beyond
Biking is one of the most efficient ways to navigate busy city streets and is an increasing popular way to navigate around campus. In recent years, the University has seen the number of bikes on campus double.
But biking on city streets can pose a number of safety risks to riders, according to Maureen S. Rush, Penn's vice president for public safety. Specifically, cyclists riding in dedicated lanes on the right side of streets must steer around SEPTA and LUCY buses that pull over to drop off or pick up passengers. In addition, parked vehicles can create obstacles by temporarily blocking the lanes, and driver's-side doors can quickly open in a cyclist's path.
In an effort to improve public safety, the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have moved the bike lane on Walnut Street to the left side, starting at 22nd Street and continuing to 48th Street.
The new buffered bike lane on the left side of Walnut Street makes riding safer for cyclists pedaling from Center City to West Philadelphia. Riding on the left side of the street minimizes the interference from buses and cars, and can lower the potential for accidents and injuries.
Bicycle safety on campus is one of the key components to the Division of Public Safety's annual "Share the Road" campaign. "Share the Road" educates bicyclists and motorists about local laws and basic safety practices.
The city will resurface the entire length of Walnut Street, and plans to add left-side buffered bike lanes on Walnut that will stretch from 22nd to 63rd streets.
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