A couple of months ago Kari Love connected me up with Jeff Rubin to do an interview on his podcast. I highly recommend listening to the episode that I’m on, as well as every other episode of the show. Seriously, he finds amazing guests like Matt Chapman (the voice of Strong Bad and Homestar Runner), A professional pizza tour guide, and a professor who’s subject of expertise is the board game Monopoly.
In this interview we discuss how I got my start in movie SFX, some workshop shenanigans, and where my current track of soft robotics research is headed.
A few months back I reprised my role as robotics mercenary and general fixer, spending a week working on David Nunez’s Requiem for Rhinos installation at Illuminus Boston. David is a researcher with Todd Machover’s Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab. The idea at the core of the sculpture is the passing of Nabire, one of the last northern white rhinos in existence. Only four remain and they are so closely related that rekindling the species is impossible. The sculpture was conceived as a grand send-off, with Nabire’s kin descending from the ceiling to wish her on her way.
Last night at Resistor Trammell and I poked around with a project to put on the space’s brand spanking new Shopbot. I like tessellating things. Trammell likes putting computationally generated patterns on things.
The plan is to take the box I designed, which will be built from six identical routed panels with hidden finger joints, and apply patterns to the outer faces. I’m excited to see this thing get cut.
I’ve been going to CCC for years, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a talk accepted in one of the main venues. It was thrilling to share my research with such a wide audience. I spoke about the kinematics of soft bodied organisms, designing soft robots, and future applications for compliant mechanisms. Below is a complete video of the talk and the Q&A session afterwards.
Yesterday I gave a talk about incorporating soft robotics, compliant mechanisms, and biomimetic structures into your engineering toolbox at NYU. I’ve been interested in how compliant mechanisms can reduce the computational complexity of tasks like manipulation and locomotion and this talk was a good opportunity to share some of my ideas on the subject.
The general thesis is that biology presents a huge trove of solutions to problems in robotics especially directed at optimizing the amount of sensing you’re devoting to understanding an environment and the amount of computation you’re devoting to navigating that environment. Compliance is an essential tool for creating systems that reduce a wide range of potential inputs into a simplified space of positive outputs.
Case in point:
You can find my slides here. If an audio/video copy becomes available I will update this post with a link.
Over the past six months I have been developing a soft robotic elbow orthotic for Cerebral Palsy therapy. It’s still in the early stages of prototyping and testing, but it’s making rapid progress. If all goes as planned, it should be in the hands of a team of CP doctors specializing in robotic orthotics in the near future.
The Neucuff is an extension of the soft robotics development I’ve been doing for the past three years as lead scientist at Super-Releaser. After creating manufacturing techniques for a few different flavors of soft robot, I felt it was time to find some practical applications for the technology.
I approached a ton of people about where soft robotics could be best applied. I talked with civil engineers about exploratory robots for mapping pipes in construction sites. I talked with NASA scientists about soft robots in space. The most promising ideas came from my father, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in arthroscopy and shoulder reconstruction, and my robotics mentor, who has spent the last ten years in the medical device field.
They both described problems with therapeutic robots that a soft robotics approach could solve. Soft robots are good at spreading force evenly across a large area. Soft robots are conformal so they can fit a wide variety of applications and environments by design. This makes them an ideal candidate for Cerebral Palsy therapy.
You can find out more detail along with downloads, video, and schematics here.
When I spoke at the SpaceApps conference, I hadn’t realized how close I was to working with NASA in a much more official capacity. A few months earlier I developed some prototypes for Final Frontier Design, a company devoted to the design and engineering of spacesuits. This was in my role as lead scientist at Super-Releaser and the end goal was proving to NASA that mechanical counterpressure garments (like I described in my talk) could be a practical reality with some time and development. I’m pleased to announce that they approved our proposal and we will be working on a new generation of EVA gloves over the next six months.
What I’m most excited about is the opportunity to bring all of the elements of engineering, prototyping, and digital manufacture for compliant materials to create and test all of the iterations of the glove we’ll be going through. There are thrilling mechanisms and intricate problems that I believe are only workable with compliance in mind. After all, we’re interfacing with the most mechanically complex manipulator the body has to offer.
Hopefully I’ll be able to update as progress is made. I will still continue my development work at Super-Releaser and research on the Neucuff, though the frequency of updates may drop off.
The Glaucus is a soft robotic quadruped composed of a single seamless silicone part. It has a complex network of interior channels, created via a lost wax process, that turn into actuators when pressurized with air. It’s able to walk with a diagonal gait, similar to a gecko or Glaucus Atlanticus sea slug, using only two input channels.
The Glaucus was created to demonstrate a method for fabricating soft robots of nearly any geometry with arbitrary interior structures. It’s been my goal, since beginning my research into soft robotics, to simplify the process of prototyping and refining designs. Often the barrier between an interesting bench prototype and practical application is how it scales into production. If methods for experimenting with the core concepts, evaluating them in a context that represents their final manufactured state, and refining them for mass production don’t exist, the idea is very likely to languish on the bench. Continue reading →
I have an uneasy relationship with my miniature refrigerator. This chilly bastard decided to get clever and fall open over the weekend. I stepped in to the lab to find it iced up and dripping all over the floor. It was running so hard the housing climbed up to something like 90 degrees. Now, maybe I didn’t shut it properly over the weekend, but I’ve seen this fridge swing open when a gnat coughed. It was time for a change.
I designed a clip to solve this problem. I modeled it in a half hour and it took my Ultimaker a bit more than two to print it. I’m very happy with how it turned out. This clip has an integrated spring and a central rib to optimize the stiffness without adding tons of thickness (i.e. more print time). It attaches to the fridge body with three rivets. For the rivet holes I wrapped my drill in some electrical tape to make sure it didn’t plunge too far into the insulation and damage anything. It was installed in a snap and hopefully will prove a permanent solution to an annoying problem. Continue reading →
This project involves AC power, high amperage, and high temperatures. Although this project is simple in principle replicating it on your own offers a lot of opportunities to hurt yourself. Proceed with caution.
Microwaves are treasure troves of useful electronic components. They’ve usually got some nice microswitches, a big transformer, a magnetron, and some smaller transformers and rectifiers to drive the display. I found a decent sized microwave hanging out on the street and transformed it into a shop tool I’d been wanting for a while – a spot welder.
Why Spot Welders are Useful
Spot welders are handy to have around the shop. They can tack together wire for quick brazing, and permanently weld sheet metal for durable enclosures. If you want a thorough guide on what you can do with a spot welder, Dan Gelbart has all the answers. I’ve been looking to up my prototyping game and have more freedom to build custom components when off the shelf parts won’t suit. Unfortunately my workshop is in Brooklyn and space is at a premium. I spent a lot of time fabricating structures out of steel wire in school and have found that it’s a good replacement for bent sheet metal and structural framing if you play your cards right. Wire is easy to store in a small shop, doesn’t take much equipment to manipulate, and can hold good tolerances in various dimensions as its behavior is very predictable. You can still find the manual I follow for a lot of my techniques on Amazon. Continue reading →