Amazing robotic research in Flyover Country

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Universities have been the breeding ground for many of the world’s most significant innovations. From the Internet to GPS, many amazing innovations were the products of professors and students working at universities. Some of these innovations have changed the world, saved lives, and have had a significant impact on life.

Hotspots for university technological research are not limited to the coasts. Significant research is quietly going on in universities in Flyover Country, particularly in the area of robotics. Here are just a few universities at the cutting edge of robotics.

The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon

The Robotics Institute (RI) is a division of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that has been called a pacesetter in robotics research and education. (We interviewed Srinivasa G. Narasimhan, an RI professor last year to learn more about it.) It was established to conduct research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks but has diversified its efforts and approaches to robotics science.

Two years ago, the Institute began collaborating with Argo AI’s Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research for the development and deployment of self-driving technology.

Some of RI’s new projects include developing robotic tech to service satellites in orbit and a viable autonomous passenger vehicle that can plot a precise and safe trajectory through busy traffic while observing the rules of the road.

Duke Robotics Group

The Duke Robotics Group was established in 2014 to encompass the growing robotics community at Duke University. It’s a cross-disciplinary association of research labs and teaching faculty spanning three departments (CS, ECE, and MEMS) and two schools (Pratt and Trinity) on Duke’s campus. The group’s focus ranges from mechanical design, to artificial intelligence and algorithms, to the social implications of robotics.

Most recently, researchers designed an electronics-free, entirely soft robot shaped like a dragonfly that can skim across water and react to environmental conditions such as pH, temperature or the presence of oil. Dubbed DraBot, it can find oil spills and clean the contaminant by soaking it up with sponges it carries under its wings.

The Louisville Automation and Robotics Research Institute (LARRI)

LARRI is a multi-disciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville who are combining their expertise in the area of automation and robotics. They are working to provide solutions for manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics challenges.

Several key research projects at LARRI focus on healthcare, including interactive robots to help individuals on the autism spectrum, a specialized chair to improve function in children with spinal cord injuries, and an automated nursing assistant. The nursing assistant, which they named ARNA, performs helpful basic tasks to alleviate the overwork of nurses, which became a huge issue during COVID. (We interviewed Dr. Dan Popa, professor of electrical and computer engineering at LARRI.)

Center for Robotics and Biosystems at Northwestern University

Located in Evanston, IL, the Center for Robotics and Biosystems at Northwestern University is innovating at the confluence of robotic and biological systems. Faculty in the center have appointments in mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, computer science, the medical school, and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (the former Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago).

One of the Center’s recent project is the creation of a bio-inspired robotic Knifefish. Knifefish are highly maneuverable swimmers capable of navigating complex environments. The research group has been studying the fin mechanics using motion capture of live fish, computational fluid dynamics, and bio-inspired robotics, with the goal of implementing the dynamics into underwater robotics.

Kevin Lynch, the Director of the Center, will receive the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s George Saridis Leadership Award in Robotics and Automation at the 2022 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in May. Judging for the award is based on “exceptional leadership and dedication that benefits the Robotics and Automation community.”

Other robotics

Just because we think they’re cool, here are a couple of individual robotic projects going on in Flyover schools.

Whisker-based robots—Researchers are using rats to see how they use their whiskers to get tactical information about their surroundings. The applications for robotic whiskers include situations where optical information is hard to get, such as heavy fog, darkness, and being used in piping and ducts.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created new robotic grippers that they say areable to lift delicate egg yolks without breaking them, and that are precise enough to lift a human hair.” The work has applications for both soft robotics and biomedical technologies.

Think the innovations mentioned here are great? Flyover Future will be keeping an eye on robotic research going on in our neck of the woods.