When we first stepped into the world of Robotics (it was like 3 years ago, I think), it was all very hazy and lifeless. Not much research and development was made cognizant to the outside world and it may have seemed at that point that some Japanese kid was deeply building a humanoid in a secret underground bunker somewhere in the forgotten lands of Japan. Well, the situation has changed substantially now. Robotics has gained wide spread popularity in the last couple of years by electronics and computer hobbyists around the world. Better robotic systems, cheaper parts, faster algorithms and the advent of open source project tools and resources with a never ending urge to design and build an autonomous system that could make your life simpler than you can imagine have created a wave in the minds of the people, motivating them to push their limits of understanding and to look deep into the potentially promising world of Robotics.

Tiny "robots" that could perhaps someday help doctors examine organs, deliver drugs directly, or even perform microsurgery. But first researchers need to find reliable and accurate ways to control microscopic devices, which of course have little room for onboard power, sensors or propulsion. Scientists have previously used methods including magnetic and electrostatic forces, and attaching live bacteria. In the latest issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research, researchers from ETH Zurich demonstrate particularly deft control of a microbot, dubbed MagMite. MagMite, pictured here, is 300µm x 300µm (with a thickness of 70µm). It consists of two magnetized components, connected by a tiny spring. In the presence of a magnetic field, the two pieces try to bend toward each other, storing that tension in the connecting spring. By turning the magnetic field on and off very quickly, the researchers can use the loaded spring to propel the microbot forward, and by changing the direction of the magnetic field the microbot will turn.

Robotics is almost certainly one of the most intriguing topic in the advancement of science and technology today. The world we are living in today is changing in unprecedented ways, and with unimaginable speed. Up to now, most of the robots installed worldwide are being used in manufacturing process industries. Although the vast majority of robots today are used in factories, rapid advances in technology have enabled robots to automate many tasks in non-manufacturing industries such as agriculture, construction, health care, entertainment and education. Intelligent robots, dreamt about and seen only in science fictions, novels and movies, are becoming a reality. Although robotics has a relatively short history, within the next 10 years, it is envisaged that personal robots will enter our households, and become very much part of our everyday life, as mobile phones are today.

This was our first major Line Follower robot. The event was held in Anna University(CEG), Chennai back in 2008. The problem statement was : Design and Build a robot which can follow a black line on a white background. The arena would have lots of turns, including sharp ones (less than 90°). It would also have breaks and multipaths. The robot has to make decisions and traverse the entire path.

The code was entirely written using C in the CodeVision AVR Compiler which is by far the most versatile one I have ever seen. It has a lot of inbuilt modules and functions which can be used. The Microcontroller used was Atmel AVR ATmega8. We also used a lot of logic circuitry to boost the speed and control of the bot. It helps a lot when you are have stiff competition and your peers are as stong as you. Apart from a good code, one needs to look into the mechanical aspects of the robot design. The placement of the sensors and motors play a crucial role in the efficient functioning of the bot. In an arena like the one shown above, there are loads of twists and turns which predominantly makes the bot go mad. So, always make sure you get the design right!

As i said earlier, the most essential part in building a perfect line follower robot is to make sure the sensor arrangement is top notch. We tried a series of arrangements before we finalized to the 6 sensor one. 2 on the outer edges of the line and 4 kept symmetrically outside the line. This type of arrangement makes sure the bot is always kept close to the line(while following) as possible, and also to make perfect turns and not to shoot out of the line.

Here is a video of the robot in action. I shall try to find the source code of this project and upload it here.

How many times have you changed the batteries in your remote control? It might get a little frustrating at times when you are watching you favorite show and suddenly the charges crumbles to absolute zero. Well, not anymore. Scientists at NEC, Japan and Soundpower have come up with new way of charging the batteries in the remote control; by using piezo-electric effect.

The announcement was made Nov 17, 2009. And the remote control was be exhibited at Embedded Technology 2009, a trade show that took place on Nov 18, 2009, in Yokohama City, Japan.

Power is generated using the piezo effect that occurs when a button is pushed. That is to say, when a crystal is compressed it emits a tiny bit of electricity which is harnessed and used to power this device. This is the same principle that is used in the electricity producing sidewalks in Japan. Video given below:

Well, What's more? It uses Radio waves to communicate with the TV, quite contrary to the exisiting IR data communication. Lets just hope these devices get evolved to awesome wireless applications.

While I was searching for some Omni wheels, I stumbled onto Nik melton's Omni Car. For those of you who do not know what it is; It is an omni directional movable vehicle in the sense that, it can travel in any direction at ease without having to turn. The omni directional wheels are those which gives the vehicle such smooth motion.

This car was entirely built by Nik. The body was designed by him, then printed with a 3D printer. The control system is what intrigued me the most. He has used simple circuitry to get the job done. There are a few glitches while it is traveling straight but overall, the job is well done. I liked the design of the car as well. He has done a neat job using the CAD tool also.

You might want to take a few moments to look around his project page. Nik has done a lot of fun stuff like delta robots, strange hybrid wheel/leg robots, tesla coils, and arm mounted flamethrowers. Judging by the videos he made, i reckon he’s pretty young too :) Nice going, Nick.

Here are a few pics of his omni car:

Hope you guys get inspired and start building those circuits and bots..

Over the decade, we have seen how the computer has evolved to be more user friendly and to defy new paradigms in human-computer interface. Microsoft has come up with another ingenious idea of creating a magnetic interface to interact with the outside world. We have been typing on keyboards and clicking on mice for more than we can remember. This experimental new interface under development at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK could give us a completely new way to use our system.

How does this innovative system work?

Multi-touch and motion-sensing devices have recently emerged from research labs, offering new ways to operate computers. Microsoft's experimental tactile interface takes things further still, letting users interact by squashing, stretching, rolling, or rubbing.

At the base of the new device a "sensor tile" produces magnetic multiple fields above its surface. By detecting disturbances to these fields, the system can track the movement of a metal object across its surface, or the manipulation of a bladder filled with iron filings or a magnetic fluid. A user can drag a ball bearing across the surface to move a cursor across a computer's screen, or manipulate a ferrous fluid-filled bladder to sculpt 3D virtual objects.

The surface can easily be reconfigured to allow for different forms of input.The guys at MS Research have created arrays of 64 magnetic coils, each wrapped in a coiled wire, within a 100-square-centimeter sensor tile. In essence, these are modeled on an electric guitar setup, if you disrupt the field, this causes a current to be induced in the coil.

The researchers have also experimented with applying currents to the coils to induce physical effects on the objects placed on top of the sensor tile. This could allow an input device to also provide haptic force-feedback.

It's an interesting concept which extends multi-touch to something more tangible, as claimed by them. To have a surface that lets users manipulate different objects would be of great interest

Watch the magnetic interface at work here : Video(courtesy, Technology Review, MIT)