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Robotics

iRobot Introduces Morphing Blob Robot 177

Posted by kdawson
from the compare-to-doctor-johnson's-dog dept.
Aristos Mazer sends word of research out of iRobot on a "chembot," or morphing blob robot, that looks like dough and moves by shifting its sides from solid-like to liquid-like states. This will allow it, in theory and after lots of refinement, to pass through cracks by squeezing. iRobot calls the new technique "jamming." The research project was funded by DARPA. The video clearly shows the early stage the work is in, but when you think about it the possibilities are a little unsettling.
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iRobot Introduces Morphing Blob Robot

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  • like the eggs of the Zerg.

  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:22PM (#29787563) Homepage Journal

    I've got a sourdough starter that will kick that thing's jammy little ass.

    • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @10:54PM (#29789131)
      Yeah, totally agree. I can't say that I was amazingly impressed by this at all. Okay, so it's a ball that moves by making bits hard and bits soft. The movement on the thing seemed so incredibly "strugglesome" and getting that thing through a crack? Yeah, right.

      Cool, yes, fairly, but lets not have the summary overhype the actual story. It's not a robot. It's a sack of gritty air. Also, there is a ponytail sized bunch of wires hanging out of it. Also, it sort of rolls semi randomly. Also, it was shown moving over a perfectly flat tabletop. Not quite the images of terror I was expecting. Call it how it is.
      • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Monday October 19, 2009 @01:15AM (#29790337)

        Also, it was shown moving over a perfectly flat tabletop. Not quite the images of terror I was expecting. Call it how it is.

        Daleks could only move over flat surfaces too.

      • Ok, so it's not that cool looking, but the potential here is great... especially once the things can be self-contained.

        The main reason this thing seems kind of lame right now, is likely due to the fact that the support lattice is only a simple sphere. Give these guys a couple more years, and I bet they'll be able to support far more complex structures, perhaps even to the point of reshaping its own support lattice at varying resolutions.

        Once they can manage that much, it should be possible for them to start

  • Please tell me this research isn't being done on a remote island...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bkpark (1253468)

      Please tell me this research isn't being done on a remote island...

      Don't you mean, "Please tell me this research is being done on a remote island", in case something goes wrong?

      • Don't worry, this technology has been out for years [wikipedia.org] and nothing's happened yet.

        • Re:Uh oh (Score:4, Funny)

          by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @10:21PM (#29788959) Journal

          Don't worry, this technology has been out for years [wikipedia.org] and nothing's happened yet.

          For referencing that TV show I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

          • For referencing that TV show I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

            I remember watching the first episode, in which Alex first gets her powers. First time she uses the morph trick, she leaves her clothing behind and has to hide behind some handy-dandy boxes. Say what you will, a teenage boy remembers when he learns another way for a girl to get out of her clothes. Unfortunately, the improbable-accident-with-illegal-chemicals route doesn't work half as well as a decent wine.

      • by fractoid (1076465)

        Don't you mean, "Please tell me this research is being done on a remote island", in case something goes wrong?

        I don't know, aren't remote islands the perfect place to develop our first ever Shoggoths?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        We're one step closer to tentacle-rape robots. Just pray to god the japanese don't get hold of this.

  • Nokia Morph (Score:4, Interesting)

    by religious freak (1005821) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:30PM (#29787615)
    Nokia has a somewhat similar concept of this as well, implemented for mobile devices http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX-gTobCJHs [youtube.com]

    Concept design, but pretty cool to watch.
    • That's not a concept, that's a cartoon. From that realm, I'm far more interested in the ability to not fall by not looking down.

      • by JordanL (886154)
        It's my understanding that most of the technology in the Nokia video is actually pretty well fleshed out, it would just take a trillion dollars to build it because we have no adequate ways to manufacture it.
  • The Ball! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:31PM (#29787627) Homepage Journal

    Finally, now we can make "the ball" guard from The Prisoner.

    I am not a number! You're number 6! I am not a number, I'm a free man!!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What do you mean "the ball"? It's hardly be an object of terror if it was called "the ball", now would it?

      It's called Rover.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by WraithCube (1391567)

        What's wrong with calling an object of terror "the ball"? Cubes are our companions, balls our terror, and pyramids somehow related to mysterious or secret groups or aliens with strange powers.

        I'm not sure where a robot blob fits on the scale though. I guess it depends on whether it decides to server or destroy humanity. Then it should squeeze in nicely next to either flubber or skynet.

        • by Yvan256 (722131)

          So... you're a Borg?

        • by NiteShaed (315799)

          Cubes are our companions

          are you sure you didn't mean prisons? Then again, maybe you're lucky enough not to spend 8+ hours a day in a cube.....

  • Seriously. How much longer before it's driving a semi trying to kill some kid that supposedly saves man kind?

  • Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted @ s l a s h d ot.org> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:37PM (#29787671)

    Taco is NOT a robot! I've seen him write an original summary!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thinboy00 (1190815)

      I've seen him write an original summary!

      When did this happen?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by skine (1524819)

        I've seen him write an original summary!

        When did this happen?

        Don't worry, it won't happen again.

        I've made a few...adjustments...

  • Medical applications (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GaryOlson (737642)
    I know some digestive system specialist is thinking of ways this can be used in intestines for diagnosis and treatment. Those guys will use any equipment which gives patients a bad feeling both before and during the procedure. But, I could see how installing cameras at all vertices on the blob could be useful for taking a complete picture inside a cavity. And how this could move around blockages which currently require more aggressive methods of removal/retraction.
    • by Jahava (946858) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @07:04PM (#29787827)
      There are some basic problems with this - specifically, iRobot's demonstration uses the addition and removal of air to control both size and hardness. In bodily cavities, not only would air be in limited supply, but in some areas (i.e. blood stream) it's downright not welcome!
    • by x2A (858210)

      Cuz the legs on this thing [dallasnews.com] do look a scary thing to have tugging away on your insides! I'm sure they've thought of that and it's actually fine, but still... look at it... eek! There's gotta be better ways of moving than that!

    • by Genda (560240)

      Not to mention the video of the robot's egress from the patient, would almost certainly be an instant wild hit on Youtube!!!

  • What I want.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@nOSPam.lynx.bc.ca> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:50PM (#29787739) Journal
    ... is a small robot vacuum a lot like the Roomba that can *ALSO* automatically empty its canister into a larger bin whenever the vacuum is full.
    • Re:What I want.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @07:45PM (#29788065) Homepage Journal

      I *hate* to get into a humans vs robots argument, but seriously, just hire a good maid.. you'll never think robots are close to the same capabilities of humans again.

      I wish every "home robot" designer would do this, maybe we'd start getting some robots that are actually capable.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        Maids cost whole a lot more. In less than 3 months, I would spend just as much on a maid as a Roomba vacuum costs... the electricity usage itself being negligible. I won't argue that a human maid probably does a better job, but the difference isn't enough to justify that much extra expense. At least IMO.
        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          In less than 3 months, I would spend just as much on a maid as a Roomba vacuum costs

          If, after 3 months, you haven't realized that your Roomba is a toy that can't do a tenth of the job of what it is required to do then you're doing better than most of us.

    • Another robot that would empty that bin into another larger bin?
      And a larger robot to empty that one into a even larger bin?

      We can't just keep building larger and larger robots and bins. We would run out of space pretty soon. Then where would we be?

      • by mark-t (151149)
        Nah... I can empty the larger bin manually... the biggest problem I have with the roomba in my experience is that its cannister is so small that it can't usually vacuum for more than about 15 minutes without having to empty it, which means it requires supervision, since that's not enough time to leave it alone to do its job.
        • Gah... how dirty is your home? You must have other pets, I mean have pets...

        • There is a MUCH simpler solution. Larger bin INSIDE the roomba.
          All it requires is more plastic - no need for extra robotic thingies.

          Best part... It could be made as an attachment.
          You wouldn't have to buy a new roomba, just the bigger dust bin attachment that would replace the old one.

      • by x2A (858210)

        "We can't just keep building larger and larger robots and bins"

        Isn't that Apple's main business model? :-p

      • We can't just keep building larger and larger robots and bins. We would run out of space pretty soon. Then where would we be?

        Sure we can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHH3iSeDBLo&feature=related [youtube.com]

      • Another robot that would empty that bin into another larger bin? And a larger robot to empty that one into a even larger bin?

        We can't just keep building larger and larger robots and bins. We would run out of space pretty soon. Then where would we be?

        With larger and larger cleaning robots? Simple. We get Mel Brooks and Rick Moranis to pilot the biggest one and steal air from other planets.

    • Re:What I want.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @11:02PM (#29789197)
      Like this one: http://www.probotics.com/dispcat.asp?ab=18 [probotics.com]

      "The Karcher RC-3000 automatic vacuum cleaner features a battery powered, self emptying, 11" vacuuming robot and self recharging base station. ..."

      I can't find a price, but last time I saw, it was about twice the price of the Roomba.
  • by Brigadier (12956) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:51PM (#29787751)

    now I know something is going on with slashdot, I totally expected a barage of T-1000 rants, and knee jerk joke threads.

    • now I know something is going on with slashdot, I totally expected a barage of T-1000 rants, and knee jerk joke threads.

      Well, somebody did make an overlords joke. Admittedly, though, the 0 score and the redundant mod was a twist only Shyamalan would have attempted.

  • by natebarney (987940) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:54PM (#29787777)
    Now, if they can make D12, D10, D8, D6, and D4 robots, I'll never fail another critical roll again!
    • A robot D11 [wikipedia.org] that can squeeze through small openings? Not autonomous, I hope. Or at least obedient to the Three Laws.
  • Dr Susan Calvin has really excelled herself this time.

  • d'oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @07:09PM (#29787855)

    looks like dough and moves by shifting its sides from solid-like to liquid-like states

    Sounds like my wedding night.

  • Finally (Score:2, Funny)

    The buttplug of the future.
    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Funny)

      by EdIII (1114411) * on Sunday October 18, 2009 @08:03PM (#29788181)

      I can see that I am not the only deeply perverted Slashdotter here.

      to pass through cracks by squeezing . iRobot calls the new technique "jamming."

      Come on, they are just asking for it.

      Although I think the best market for this is initially one populated by disgusting perverts (a larger market than anyone wants to admit) there is something incredibly terrifying about a military machine whose primary target is your asshole .

      Imagine the horror. Somewhere in eastern Afghanistan there are men huddled in a cave fervently whispering. Talking not about smart missiles, bunker busters, and fuel bombs, but about smart AI blobs of fast moving jelly that get inside you and your death is one by your asshole exploding slowly through intense pressure deep in your bowels .

      Between one of those horror blobs and 10 Navy Seals, I think I would choose death by Navy Seals instead.

  • Unsettling? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly (148874)

    Why is everything either a YRO or Orwellian issue here? Can't it just be cool?

    • by Talgrath (1061686)

      You must be new to Slashdot, welcome! Just for future info, anything with a budget of more than $100 must be either a sinister plot to take away your rights or extremely dangerous here at Slashdot. Slashdot, where crazy hobos that like to hold signs hang out and chat!

    • by peipas (809350)

      The tin foil industry resembles those questions.

    • by x2A (858210)

      Some people have no sense of cool... I tend to ignore them, occasionally trying to convince the odd one or two to quit being little bitches, but it rarely changes anything. Occasionally it does though, and new people find excitement in cool things, that's pretty cool, and then they start hunting for cools things themself, and sometimes share with you something cool that you didn't already know. But there's still a huge amount of people out there are dumb, panicky, phobic, short sighted, closed minded, with

  • Why is it named "chembot" when it uses purely mechanical processes for motion? I was expecting compounds exhibiting some sort of electrochemical or electromechanical properties. This robot appears to use an entirely hydraulic system.

    • They called it a Mech at first, but people kept complaining how it lacks legs, and missile arms, and swords...
      And that is not counting those who complained how Mech is not a robot but a vehicle.

      So... they jumbled the letters a bit and called it chem-bot.

  • Why would this be more effective than a robot consisting of 20 linear actuators inside a tough enclosure? For that matter a serpentine or ferret-like robot would be more effective at fitting through narrow openings. There's reasons large animals abandoned amoeboid motion in favor of crawling or slithering.

    • by x2A (858210)

      It's research, which is the act of converting questions that you may not even know yet into answers.

      It may perfectly well turn out that your question is correct (heh) and there is no benefit to a robot made entirely out of this technology... or it may turn out that it's very good at getting into small spaces and lifting (may have post earthquake uses?) or that this material on the end of something has uses that it perhaps wouldn't do on its own.

      Will never know without the research.

      • by argent (18001)

        In other words, you don't know the answer to my question either.

        I understand the point of research. I can see possible uses for this kind of material, even. I'm asking why this design might be expected to be superior to more conventional ones for locomotion, even in tight spaces, for macroscopic robots.

        • by x2A (858210)

          "In other words, you don't know the answer to my question either"

          Why must there be a "the answer"?

          "I'm asking why this design might be expected to be superior to more conventional ones"

          Once it can get rid of the external wires, it can disguise itself as a football (or soccer ball for those in the states) perhaps? Maybe it's more resistent to damage, as it can be made air/water tight, withstand shock (as components are surrounded in effectively an air bag). The fact it can be used in any orientation is proba

          • by argent (18001)

            Maybe it's more resistent to damage, as it can be made air/water tight, withstand shock (as components are surrounded in effectively an air bag).

            This is also true for the equivalent design using conventional piston actuators, or the serpentine design.

            and all this while remaining mechanically very simple

            Valves require hinges, joints, ball bearings, etcetera... piston actuators are mechanically simpler than this design.

            They could also be used in non-ball form, as artificial muscles for a skeletal robot, depen

            • by x2A (858210)

              Yep, there are different ways of doing things! This just happens to be another way, and whilst you may be right that a ball with a load of wires sticking out the back may not be all too useful, it is a research prototype, with few sections of the material that hardens/softens allowing not a huge amount of control etc... with different shapes/sizes of sections put together in different ways, this obviously changes. Take the example I gave for a skeletal robot using this as artificial muscles... well what if

              • by argent (18001)

                you may be right that a ball with a load of wires sticking out the back may not be all too useful

                I think you misunderstood what I'm talking about. This technology has a lot of potential uses... consider a chair that could switch between a soft "bean bag" shape and a rigid form. The question is... why is this a good application of the technology, not whether it has good applications.

                In addition, this has nothing to do with the macroscopic appearance of the device, or whether this kind of robot would be usefu

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by x2A (858210)

      "There's reasons large animals abandoned amoeboid motion in favor of crawling or slithering"

      Oh and yes there was... big things are harder to organise and maintain... from the tiny (when atoms get too big they split) to the large (when civilisations get too large they split, we have seen this happen many times). Cells are the same... to become big animals, you have to go from being single celled to multiple celled, to multiple celled with specialist cells to perform different functions better than a single c

    • by Genda (560240)

      In fact some variation on this concept is by far the most efficient means to get a robot of any reasonable size through tiny cracks and/or around small travel spaces. The other variant of this technology would be a swarm based robot. Put some small sensing and processing power inside thousands of tiny robots which can communicate (effectively making a super-organic robot.)

      As for your assertion regarding large animals... the largest creature on the planet is a super massive fungal colony encompassing hundred

      • by argent (18001)

        This design is not a swarm or a slime mold, it has nothing to do with that kind of colony organism. it's a single macroscopic device, one that has no relationship to either.

        Neither your swarm robots and slime molds move by inflating different parts of a membrane with their bodily fluids or cytoplasm, on a macroscopic scale, as an amoeba or this robot do. That is, the similarity between the macroscopic behavior of a slime mold and an amoeba is not structural. It's not the same mechanism.

  • Wow (Score:4, Funny)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @08:11PM (#29788231)
    Imagine being an insurgent hiding in a cave once the Pentagon equips this robot with a bomb, or better yet, Sony batteries...
  • Eeeeeewwwwwww!
  • A variety of medical applications come to mind.

    Inject liquid-form robot next to broken or diseased bone. Robot flows into position alongside bone, then solidifies itself to splint the bone.

    Inject liquid-form robot next to tumor. Robot flows into position, surrounding tumor. Robot then solidifies into hundreds of tiny scalpel blades, which chop up the tumor. Robot then flows a syringe out of the patients body, and discharges the cancerous slurry.

  • by BRock97 (17460) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @09:08PM (#29788559) Homepage

    Now which flavor of jellybean turned it into a ladder and which one turned it into a bridge?

  • but shouldn't we invent Mega Man before we invent one of his enemies?
  • It is not automonous
    It is tethered to a power supply (in this case:pneumatic, but it could be hydraulic, electric,mechanical, whatever...)
    I don't get the "ChemBot" part either, there is no chemical change. I just see compression/relaxation cycles.

    I used to work in Special Mechanical Effects for films and commercials and we made all sorts of crap like this that was remotely controlled with bladders and shit in it and we never called it a "robot".
    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Virtually no 'research' robots are autonomous, especially in the early stages. I'd imagine that it's a "robot" because unlike your remote controlled "bladders'n'shit yo" for special effects, it's controlled by a computer in response to sensors and commands, rather than being controlled by a human via a funky umpteen-axis remote control thing.

      If, contrariwise, your special effects were algorithmically controlled (being on a MIDI-style preset pattern doesn't count) then they were robots too, whatever you ca
      • by microcars (708223)

        ...unlike your remote controlled "bladders'n'shit yo" for special effects...

        I'm a grandfather. The only time I use the word "yo" is when I want my 3 grandkids to laugh hysterically at me.

  • Why would you need a robot that can squeeze through cracks? Just make a robot that is smaller than the cracks. I guess one can imagine a scenario where a robot or its components need to be larger than a certain size to complete certain tasks, but has to get through a crack first, but that scenario is not coming to mind right now.

    LS

  • They'll have to teach the Roomba to not ingest its blob brother.

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