15 December 2016

NSF-funded researchers build wall-jumping robot! NSF Science Now 48

In this week's episode, we learn about a new wall-jumping robot, using sensor-integrated blocks to better identify developmental disabilities, we learn about ...

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Researchers borrow jumping techniques from the animal kingdom's galago. This tiny creature can vertically jump 2.24 meters per second by loading up its tendons with energy when it's in a crouched position. National Science Foundation-funded roboticist's at UC Berkeley have adapted this energy technique for their new robot Salto. With a jumping ability just shy of the galago at 1.75 meters per second, it has the highest vertical jumping agility of any untethered and non-exploding robot ever recorded. But that s not all. Sound bite: Duncan Haldane "SALTO is not just impressive because it can do this big jump to a meter high. Once it does that jump, SALTO jumps again, so we can do this really high power jump behavior continuously and chain together maneuvers made out of large leaps." Salto or saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles, weighs only 3.5 ounces, consists of a motor that drives a spring, and leg mechanism to create the galago's unique crouched position. Sound bite: Duncan Haldane So we built into SALTO the capability for a super crouch. What that allows is to have the motor be able to stretch out the spring and keep the robot crouched for longer. The longer they can stay in a crouch, the more energy they can transfer into their tendons and more energy they can return for jumping. By using this power modulation, Salto doesn't need to wind up before a jump and can jump continuously without interruption. The team hopes that one day this robot can be used to jump around rubble to aid in search and rescue. Tag-Line: Unraveling the brain...one block at a time! An NSF-funded research team at Case Western Reserve University is embedding blocks with technology that may provide a clearer view of problems a person may suffer due to developmental disabilities, brain trauma or dementia. When tested, the team found that the sensors have great potential for detecting hyperactivity and identifying the problem-solving strategies used by subjects.

The sensors also detected performance accuracy and time it took to complete each task. These Sensor-Integrated Geometric Blocks or SIG-Blocks wirelessly relay data to a computer. The team feels this technology could potentially allow a parent or other caregiver in a rural home to administer tests while a trained clinician hundreds of miles away completes the assessment. The blocks and tests using the blocks are customizable and can be used for cognitive testing and training at any age. Tag-line: Creatures with Camouflage! Crustaceans are not only able to make their bodies transparent to predators, but according to NSF-funded researchers at Duke University, these midwater creatures also have the ability to use an anti-reflective coating of what the team thinks is living bacteria on their legs and bodies to dampen the reflection of light. This trick protects them from predators with bioluminescent searchlights, bouncing the light back to a hungry fish. While more in-depth research is required, the team thinks this discovery could have technological applications, such as glare-reduction design of glass windows. Tag-Line: New procedure detects exposure to dangerous nuclear materials! Smuggling plutonium is not just in the movies! Detecting these thieves is a real life challenge that national defense agencies currently face. Today, law enforcement relies on urine samples that only identify those who have recently been exposed. Now, National Science Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a new non-invasive procedure that could identify individual's exposure for up to a year. To test their method, the team collected hair, fingernail and toenail clippings from workers in nuclear research facilities from around the country. The test was able to not only accurately identify exposure to both natural and manmade sources of uranium, but also specific isotopes an individual handled used to make weapons and power a nuclear reactor. With this discovery, law enforcement officials could use specialized equipment and identify individuals who have been exposed to special nuclear material within 48 hours, potentially stopping a threat in its tracks.

Tag-line: Scientists discover oldest known fossil tumor! National Science Foundation-funded paleontologists at the University of Washington discovered a benign type of tumor hiding within the teeth of a previously unearthed animal that lived 255 million years ago, making this the oldest known instance of a tumor known as an odontoma. The gorgonopsian, a distant mammal relative, lived at the top of the food chain and was part of a larger group of distant mammal relatives known as synapsids. Synapsids includes modern mammals as its only living member. The team says this discovery helps to fill gaps in how our mammalian features evolved and can help us learn about the origin of modern diseases. For more information about these stories, visit us at nsf.gov. This is NSF Science Now, I'm Dena Headlee.