They can already stand, walk, wriggle under obstacles, and change colors. Now researchers are adding a new skill to the soft robot arsenal: jumping.Using small explosions produced by a mix of methane and oxygen, researchers at Harvard have designed a soft robot that can leap as much as a foot in the air. That ability to jump could one day prove critical in allowing the robots to avoid obstacles during search and rescue operations. The research is described in a Feb. 6 paper in the international edition of Angewandte Chemie.“Initially, our soft robot systems used pneumatic pressure to actuate,” said Robert Shepherd, first author of the paper, former postdoctoral researcher in the Whitesides Research Group at Harvard, and now an assistant professor at Cornell. “While that system worked, it was rather slow — it took on the order of a second. Using combustion, however, allows us to actuate the robots very fast. We were able to measure the speed of the robot’s jump at 4 meters per second.”Just as with other soft robots, the three-legged jumping system begins life as a mold created by a 3-D printer. The robots are molded using soft silicone that allows them to stretch and flex.But where pneumatic robots are connected to tubing that pumps air, the jumping robots are connected to tubes that deliver a precisely controlled mix of methane and oxygen. Using high-voltage wires embedded in each leg of the robot, researchers deliver a spark to ignite the gases, causing a small explosion that sends the robot into the air.Among the key design innovations that allowed the combustion system to work, Shepherd said, was the incorporation of a simple valve into each leg of the robot.“We flow fuel and oxygen into the channels, and ignite it,” Shepherd said. “The heat expands the gas, causing the flap to close, pressurizing the channel and causing it to actuate. As the gas cools, the flap opens and we push the exhaust out by flowing more gas in. So we don’t need to use complex valve systems, all because we chose to mold a soft flap into the robot from the beginning.”While the notion of using combustion to power a soft robot was enticing, it also came with a number of critical questions, not the least of which was whether the soft silicone used to create the robots would even survive.“It’s a lot more powerful, but the question we had to answer was whether it was compatible — were the temperatures compatible — with this system,” Shepherd said. “What we were able to show is, because the duration of the explosion is so short, the energies absorbed by the robot are small enough to be compatible with soft robots. What’s more, the temperature of the robot increases by, on average, less than one kelvin.”While he hopes to see internal combustion systems developed that can allow robots to walk or even run, Shepherd said jumping made sense as a starting point.“Because it releases so much energy so fast, it made sense for jumping to be the first ‘gait’ we explored with this system,” he said. “The next step now is to learn how we can use this combustion system for other gaits, like running or even walking.”A challenge in those cases, beyond programming the robot limbs to work in the proper order, will be developing a system to store the energy produced during combustion for later release.“Right now, we use that energy immediately,” Shepherd said. “For walking, we may need to release that energy over a longer period of time.”Although the system described in the paper is limited by tethers — tubes to deliver the combustible gases and wires to deliver the spark needed for ignition — the Whitesides group is working on one day freeing the robots from such limits.“There’s nothing wrong with having tethered robots — many systems used in industry are tethered,” Shepherd said. “For some search and rescue applications, however, having an untethered robot will be necessary.”“When we do develop those systems, it would be useful to have a power source that can deliver a high volumetric energy density for a long time, and burning hydrocarbon fuels is a proven way to do that,” he continued. “One of our goals for this paper was to show that we can use those fuels in soft systems, and I believe we’ve done that.”Other authors on the paper are Adam Stokes, Jacob Freake, Phillip Snyder, Aaron Mazzeo, Ludovico Cademartiri, Stephen A. Morin, George M. Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard, and Jabulani Barber, an FAS research associate with the Whitesides Research Group.
Green Investment Group Limited (GIG) has acquired a 25% interest in Westermost Rough offshore wind farm from Marubeni Corporation (Marubeni).Green Investment Group, former Green Investment Bank and now the specialist green energy principal investment business of Macquarie Group Limited, is a member of a consortium with Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund 5 (MEIF5) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) that already owns a 25% stake in Westermost Rough. The remaining 50% interest in the project is held by Ørsted, the operator of the wind farm.Located 8km off the Holderness coast in the United Kingdom, the 210MW wind farm comprises 35 Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy 6MW direct-drive turbines and has been in commercial operation since June 2015.Westermost Rough represented the first commercial deployment of the 6MW turbine anywhere in the world and was GIG’s and Marubeni’s first investment in a UK offshore wind project at the construction stage.Edward Northam, Head of GIG in Europe, said: ”Westermost Rough is a landmark project in the evolution of the offshore wind industry, both in the UK and internationally. The technical and financial innovations deployed during the development, construction and operation of the wind farm have helped improve performance levels and reduce the cost of wind power generation, making it significantly more cost competitive. We are extremely proud of this pioneering green investment.”
On Saturday and Sunday, USC hosted the SoCal Innovation Forum’s fourth annual conference, which highlighted the rapid growth of entrepreneurship in Los Angeles and emphasized the city’s position as the third-best startup city in the world.The event presented an opportunity for attendees to hear from a variety of speakers, including founders, CEOs, venture capitalists and directors of major companies such as Mattel, Deloitte and 20th Century Fox. Attendees could also present their startup ideas to potential investors from the United States and China.To host the event, L.A.-based nonprofit PlusYoou partnered with Blackstone LaunchPad USC, WeStart Club, Zuma Ventures and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. More than 500 students, alumni and professionals attended the event, some coming from as far away as China.“The business cooperation between the U.S. and China has enormous potential,” said Hua Liu, an opening speaker for the event. “The Chinese dream is about peace, development and cooperation, and is connected to the American Dream.”This marks the first year that SIF has taken place on campus, in a move that Blackstone LaunchPad USC Project Director James Bottom said will facilitate student involvement in entrepreneurship.“USC has the second-largest international student population of any university in the United States, and it speaks to the diversity that we have here to talk about what is happening in Los Angeles and Asia, and to bring these speakers together for an overall program,” Bottom said.Event organizers such as Jennifer Zhang, cofounder of PlusYoou, hope that the event can help to increase collaboration between industries in Southern California and China, according to the organization’s press release.“More China-based venture capital is getting into Southern California as Chinese investors are expanding their businesses here,” Zhang said in the release. “However, their information of local investment or development opportunities is limited. We are here to facilitate investments and make things easier for both sides of the table.”According to its website, PlusYoou promotes the growth of startups through business consulting, tech support, human resources, financing and public relations services. Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism alumna Peggie Li, master of entertainment management ’10, who works as an adviser for PlusYoou, said that the company’s vision for startup growth ties in to the University’s goals of fostering student innovation.“I jumped from traditional media to new media because of the education that I got at USC,” Li said. “It shaped my career from the beginning.”This spirit of technological innovation drives USC initiatives such as Blackstone, which, according to Bottom, provides students with an entrepreneurial environment that supports the growth of companies from the entertainment industry to the nonprofit sector. Blackstone currently plans to host more than 250 events this school year and supports more than 350 startups at USC.“If you’re a student looking to go join a startup, there are a lot of online resources that you can use and a number of different student clubs that are designed to get students integrated into the ecosystem,” Bottom said.The prevalence of organizations such as Blackstone, combined with the growth of the Los Angeles startup culture, makes SIF organizers such as Li hopeful that the event will inspire many to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. Li’s advice for students hoping to start their own businesses hinges around taking advantage of these opportunities.“Make mistakes as much as you can when you are young,” Li said. “Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself — be responsible for your future.”