Disney’s upcoming animated film Big Hero 6, about a boy and his soft robot (and a gang of super-powered friends), is perhaps the largest big-budget mash-up you’ll ever see. Every aspect of the film’s production represents a virtual collision of worlds. The story, something co-director Don Hall calls “one of the more obscure titles in the Marvel universe,” has been completely re-imagined for parent company Disney. Then, there’s the city of San Fransokyo it’s set in — an obvious marriage of two of the most tech-centric cities in the world. And, of course, there’s the real-world technology that not only takes center stage as the basis for characters in the film, but also powered the onscreen visuals. It’s undoubtedly a herculean effort from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and one that’s likely to go unnoticed by audiences. Continue reading…
I’m not sure why robots are in the air of late, but I found this veeeery interesting.
By Alla Katsnelson of Nature magazine
DNA origami, a technique for making structures from DNA, may be more than just a cool design concept. It can also be used to build devices that can seek out and destroy living cells. [View a “DNA Origami” Slide Show.]
The nanorobots, as the researchers call them, use a similar system to cells in the immune system to engage with receptors on the outside of cells.
“We call it a nanorobot because it is capable of some robotic tasks,” says Ido Bachelet, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the authors of the study, which is published in the February 17 issue of Science. Once the device recognizes a cell, he explains, it automatically changes its shape and delivers its cargo.
The researchers designed the structure of the nanorobots using open-source software, called Cadnano, developed by one of the authors–Shawn Douglas, a biophysicist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. They then built the bots using DNA origami. The barrel-shaped devices, each about 35 nanometers in diameter, contain 12 sites on the inside for attaching payload molecules and two positions on the outside for attaching aptamers, short nucleotide strands with special sequences for recognizing molecules on the target cell. The aptamers act as clasps: once both have found their target, they spring open the device to release the payload.
“You can think about it as a sort of combination lock,” says Bachelet. “Only when both markers are in place, can the entire robot open.”
The researchers tested six combinations of aptamer locks, each of which were designed to target different types of cancer cells in culture. Those designed to hit a leukemia cell could pick that cell out of a mixture of cell types then release their payload–in this case, an antibody–to stop the cells from growing. They also tested payloads that could activate the immune system.
The work “takes us one more step along the path from the smartest drugs of today to the kind of medical nanobots we might imagine,” says Paul Rothemund, a computational bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and inventor of DNA origami.
Right on target
Because the nanorobots can be programmed to release their payload only when the target cell is in the correct disease state, they achieve a specificity that other drug-delivery methods lack, says Hao Yan, a chemist and nanotechnologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “This really takes advantage of the programmability of DNA nanotechnology.”
Whether or not these structures will work in a living organism remains to be seen. For one thing, they are designed to communicate with molecules on a cell’s surface. “If your therapeutic target is inside the cell, it’s going to be tricky,” says Bachelet.
What’s more, the nanorobots are quickly cleared by the liver or destroyed by nucleases, enzymes chew up stray bits of DNA. It might be possible to coat them with a substance such as polyethylene glycol, widely used to boost the length of time a drug can remain in the body, says Douglas, or “maybe to borrow inspiration from other biomolecules or cells”–such as red blood cells–“that can circulate in the blood for a long time”. He and his colleagues are just beginning to think about testing the nanobots in mice, he says.
“If these sorts of problems can be solved, then the nanorobots have a chance at becoming real therapeutics,” Rothemund says.
This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on February 16, 2012.
As technology progresses we’ve seen robots do amazing things to benefit humanity – from enabling the disabled to aiding in disaster relief and allowing ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We’ve rounded up six of our favorite next-gen robots that are working hard to build a better future for humanity – including 3D printed spider bots, robot guide dogs, and flying cyborg bugs!
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA have developed a mobile spider robot that can be quickly deployed to provide disaster relief after hazardous events. These mini robot spiders can find people in hard to reach spaces and report back to emergency response teams with important information regarding the safety of the area in question. The lifesaving arachnids can also be quickly and economically produced using 3D printing technology instead of conventional mechanical engineering techniques.
2. Ekso Bionics’ Robotic Exoskeleton Ekso Bionics recently announced plans to launch a fully functioning robotic exoskeleton that will allow paraplegics to walk again. The first models are slated to hit the market this year, and within two years thousands of paraplegics will have the opportunity to trade their wheelchairs for a bionic exoskeleton.The user balances their upper body on the Ekso suit, which is essentially a large robot. The 20 kg frame is supported by a set of skeletal legs, and the user shifts their weight from one side to the other by planting a walking stick on alternating sides of the frame. The sticks are set up with motion sensors that communicate with the legs, giving the user complete control of the system.
The US military has partnered with Boston Dynamics to develop an anthropomorphic robot that will be used to test new chemical protection clothing (also known as hazmat suits). The PETMAN(Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin) allows the military to test the effectiveness of new suits against chemical agents without endangering some poor volunteer. The PETMAN can balance himself and walk freely, as well as crawl and perform a series of calisthenics to test the suits to their limits. This fancy new robot also simulates human physiology by varying its temperature, humidity and even sweating in order to create the most realistic test conditions possible.
Researchers at the University of Michigan are working on a new breed of flying insectoid robots that could one day serve as first responders in disaster situations. The cyborg insects use energy generated from their own wing motion to power mini sensors installed into tiny insect backpacks (that they wear, on their backs). The bugs could investigate hazardous environments that are considered too dangerous for humans to enter, for example: nuclear disaster sites, chemical spills, or tsunami-damaged zones.Thousands of people around the world use guide dogs to help them with their everyday lives. For those who cannot see, having a companion who’s able to lead them around, perform tasks, and look out for their general well-being is indispensable. With this in mind, Japanese company NSKhas developed a robot guide dog to provide further assistance. This robotic pooch utilizes 3D visualization through a Microsoft Kinect sensor. This sensor allows the dog to measure the amount of movement necessary to tackle an obstacle, making it easy for them to see what’s going on around them in order to keep their owner out of danger. At the moment this lil’ guy cannot replace a real-life guide dog, but he still could be extremely useful for things like negotiating long walks outside – especially if paired up with a GPS system or Google maps.6. Flying Disaster Relief Robots
When considering the complex issues associated with providing disaster relief, it’s important that one very fundamental issue is addressed first and foremost: communication. Fortunately, the EPFL School of Engineering is working on a Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET) specifically designed to address this challenge. Resembling a fleet of space invaders, this swarm of flying robots uses wireless technology to create a communication network for rescuers. Since these bots are airborne, difficult terrain or other land-related challenges are of no consequence. With the help of GPS systems, cameras, and more expensive hardware such as radar, the robots can provide line-of-sight communication so rescuers on the ground can contact each other as well as bases of deployment.