|Creepy-crawly climbing bots and more||Data: 2007-01-09|
Researchers at Case Western University in Ohio, US, are using robots
equipped with a cross between wheels and legs - called "whegs" - to test a
new material that mimics the gravity-defying feet of geckos and insects.
The robot's whegs are wheels with four spokes protruding at regular
intervals around their edge. Small bots with strips of everyday adhesive
tape attached to the spokes of their four whegs can climb walls but struggle
once the tape is contaminated with dirt.
Tape featuring microscopic structures that mimic those found on the feet of
geckos and wall-climbing insects could provide a way around this problem.
The new material, developed by German company Gottlieb Binder, is less
sticky than the adhesive tape, but works even when contaminated with dirt.
This video shows experiments involving both types of tape (8.5MB, mov
Another clip shows a flying robot with whegs as well as retractable wings
(9MB, mov format). The robot, resembling a large winged insect, combines the
ability to fly with the capacity to crawl to reach a specific location on
Both projects were demonstrated at the International Conference on
Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), which was held in Beijing, China in
Vertical take-off UAV
An autonomous twin-propeller aircraft capable of taking off and landing
vertically and flying horizontally has been developed by Australian
researchers. The machine sits on its tail and takes off like helicopter,
before turning over to fly like a plane. A video shows the aircraft taking
off, flying, hovering and landing again, during a test flight (7MB, wmv
The T-Wing, which has a wingspan of 2.4 metres, is 1.6 metres tall and
weighs 30 kilograms. It has the ability to take off from any small flat
area, like a forest clearing or the top of a jeep.
It has fixed wings like a normal aircraft and simply rolls over onto its
belly after taking off. Having wings gives the T-Wing greater range and
control than a helicopter, its makers say. The University of Sydney team
also says their invention is significantly simpler than other vertical
take-off designs, which tend to require engines to rotate for vertical
Tricking virtual reality users into walking in circles could be the key to
creating the illusion of a wider space than actually exists, according to
researchers at the University of North Carolina, US.
Sharif Razzaque and colleagues used a carefully manipulated virtual
environment to make test subjects feel they were walking in much larger
space than in reality (11MB, mov format). Although it seemed they were
covering new ground, participants were actually retracing their steps.
Shifting the virtual environment displayed through the headset when the user
is turning prevents them noticing it is happening. Humans sense movement
using the vestibular organs of the inner ear and any mismatch between this
and what the eyes see is usually disorientating. However, when the head
turns sharply, the inner ear is less accurate, so extra rotation of the
scene can slip by before the eyes unnoticed.
Other researchers interested in the same problem are developing equipment
that creates the illusion of walking without a person actually travelling at
all (see Powered shoes - perfect for a virtual stroll>, including a video
A more natural way of simulating crowds could mean more realistic computer
games and special effects. Researchers at the University of Washington, US,
have developed a model that produces more natural crowds incorporating many
thousands of individuals.
Most crowd simulations work from the bottom up - by simulating the decisions
and movements of each individual. This needs a lot of computing power and
produces unrealistic results due to techniques used to limit that drain on
The Washington team's alternative, top-down method, which can produce a
realistic simulation movement of a large, retreating army, for example
(56MB, avi format requires DivX codec).
The crowd-simulation system treats individuals in a crowd as a collection of
particles with a particular goal - to get to a certain place. It directs
them towards their goal while taking into account a surrounding "discomfort
field". This stops them crushing together, and produces realistic patterns
of movement that closely match reality.
Games company Electronic Arts has licensed it for use in its next-generation