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10 robots that can give you a hand

04 Nov 2014  | Ann R. Thryft

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(Source: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)

Technology used by the Canadian Space Agency to develop the space station's Canadarm, Canadarm2 (shown here), and Dextre robotic arms is being adapted for surgical diagnosis and treatment. The Canadian Centre for Surgical Innovation and Invention has developed the Image-Guided Autonomous Robot (IGAR) for diagnosing and treating cancer tumours. Based on the Canadarm's ability to gently move people and objects with extreme precision, IGAR will perform biopsies, analyse the results and treat early tumours.

The first version is designed to help patients with a high risk of getting breast cancer. It works inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning machine, which can show tumour size and location much more precisely than mammograms or ultrasound. The robot, which is undergoing clinical trials, will also be adapted to detect and treat other tumours—such as lung, kidney, liver and prostate—and may also be used for spinal surgery.

Flying robots

(Source: Aerial Robotics Cooperative Assembly System (ARCAS))

It's not only humans, Mars rovers, surgeons, service robots and assembly machines that need talented robot arms. So do flying robots designed to enter dangerous areas after a disaster, or those building structures in remote locations. A project of the European Union's Aerial Robotics Cooperative Assembly System has designed several autonomous flying robots with multi-jointed manipulator arms that cooperate to grasp objects, carry them to their destinations and, when required, manipulate them during assembly. Multiple joints also help the robots stabilise themselves when aloft.

Researchers from the Centre for Advanced Aerospace Technology (CATEC) in Seville, Spain, and the University of Seville have built and demonstrated 10 of the multi-rotor robots equipped with up to seven joints per arm, a variety of sensors, and programmed with 3D maps and briefing information. The three-link arm shown here is mounted on a quadrotor base that includes control electronics and two servos that drive the first two joints to minimise displacement of the robot's centre of mass. The servo that drives the end effector is located at the end of the second link. The first two links have a lattice structure to reduce weight.

Darth Vader arm

(Source: Uncle Milton Industries)

We can't do a slideshow on robot arms and not include a Darth Vader arm. It may be a toy, but it's a STEM toy, since it teaches kids about building robots. The kit includes 45 parts that snap together into an arm about 16in long. Controls in the base let you turn and extend or contract the arm via levers and make the hand's fingers close to grasp objects.

Looking at the assembly manual makes it clear that the large number of parts have much to do with the arm's dexterity: a separate part containing finger tendons, another part for the thumb tendon and a palm piece, for example. The arm is entirely mechanical, containing pistons and a core with a linkage shaft, and requires no batteries. Besides, it's an elegant design even if you're not a Star Wars or Darth Vader fan.

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