Robert Wood: Robotic Insects | Nat Geo Live

Robert Wood: Robotic Insects | Nat Geo Live


( intro music ) ( applause ) Robert: I’m going to
start off with a bold and probably
unsubstantiated claim which is that robotics
is the next internet. What I mean by that is
it’s the next big thing to impact our lives whether it’s biomedical applications, whether it’s automating
our daily lives. Before I get into what I
think are the big topics, the hot topics in
some of our research, I want to give you
a little bit of history. Robotics as a term was
coined actually back in the 1920’s by
a Czech playwright in a play called “Rossum’s
Universal Robots.” Apparently, the play wasn’t
very good but nonetheless, it brought the word robots
to the English language. In fact, the word
initially meant the use of mechanized labor. Basically, doing things
that we didn’t wanna do, automating our lives. The next example I’ll give is
from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” which I’m sure most of
you have seen or if not, have seen some of the iconic
art work from this film. Another example progressing
on in terms of time is Asimov’s robot series. I won’t keep going
on forward through Terminator movies
and Star Wars movies and that sort of thing. You’ll notice a theme
in these examples is the robot uprising
and the dystopic view of what robots will
do to the world. To depart from that, I’d
like to give an example of what I think are my two
favorite robots in history. Voyager 1 was a robot. It was a teleoperated
robot but it took one of the most
profound pictures, I’m sure you now
agree, of earth. This is back in 1990. The second photo that I
think is very telling about not just robots
but human curiosity and the advances of technology
is what I would think is one of the
first robot selfies which is the Curiosity
rover on Mars. These are two of
my favorite images and what I find the
most powerful and moving photographs that I’ve ever seen. Okay, that said and
if you think about these examples and
you think about all the science fiction
movies that you’ve seen that have robots in them,
you could be asking, “Where are all the robots? Why are there no robots
that are making me dinner, and folding my
clothes et cetera?” The answer is that there’s
a lot of big challenges. There’s a lot of difficulty in bringing these
things to real life. I’ll show you just
a couple brief examples of where these
things actually exist in modern life and technology. One is the things that
are welding the doors on your cars in
the assembly line. These are big, bulky,
very precise fast things. One of the things
you’ll notice in this is that there’s no humans
anywhere near these because they’re very dangerous. Thinking about adopting
these technologies to more household
or everyday use, there’s some challenges there. Perhaps, you have one
of these in your house. Here’s what might be the
first useful, accessible robotic technology
that you can use. The obligatory bullet points to
tell you what we are working on and our view of the world in terms of the
opportunities in robotics. The opportunities
to get these things to be more useful, more
ubiquitous, cheaper, et cetera, we focus on a couple of things. One is… I guess they can be
collectively combined into where we get
our inspiration. The first one is
inspiration from nature. For a lot of the
different functions that we might to
achieve with our robots there is likely
a biologic analog. We work with
biologists extensively to try to extract
out those principles and try to embody them
in our engineered systems. The second one is
non-traditional places. That’ll become a little bit
more clear in a few slides when I show you some
of the ways that we actually
build these robots. What I’m going to talk about is one example, I guess
a couple of examples, but one example in particular
of bioinspired robots and to do this, we have
to answer questions in new manufacturing,
new materials in ways of building
these systems. Okay so to phrase this question, let’s watch these video. This is a carpenter bee. As an engineer,
I can look at this and start to ask some
really well-posed questions that drives some
of our research. How are the wings moving? How are the wings
interacting with the air and generating vortices that it’s then manipulating
through its wings? What is the thoracic mechanics that is moving the wings about? What is the muscular that’s
driving thoracic mechanics? What are the metabolic processes that are driving the muscles, that are driving the mechanics, that are driving the wings? What is the flight mode? What are the sensors
that it’s using? What are the control
methodologies? What is the neurobiology? All these really
interesting questions… ( audience laughing ) …that we as engineers
can start to sort of boil down into the topics that
we have to work on if we wanted to actually
make one of these. This is the… one prototype
of our robotic insects. I’m not going to pass it around. I’d be happy to show
it to you afterwards. Questions about if we’re
going to make something that operates like this, this is just an
animation of a hoverfly. If we’re going to make something
in an engineered system that works something like this, how do we do it? What are the answers
to those questions that I just posed
that are derived from these natural systems? One of the biggest ones
is how do you make it? The first question that I had is how would I piece together
the components for this? I would argue that I don’t
want to do it this way. I don’t want to take
hundreds or even thousands of very complex
geometrical components and piece them together
under a microscope. That would my drive my
graduate students crazy. That wouldn’t work. We had to come up with
alternative solutions. I’m contradicting myself
because this is actually an attempt to sort of a
nuts and bolts approach, to actually piece
together components. This is the old way before
we had the discovery which I’ll show you in a minute. This is literally
what it looks like. You’re actually piecing together
all the different components and I won’t get into the
details what these things are. There are the motors. There are the wings. There are the little mechanisms that cause the thing
to move properly and that sort of thing. If we want to get around that, how do we do this? Well, it turns out we
took inspiration from, I guess in hindsight, is
a nontraditional place, my son’s library. My son at the time,
a couple of years ago, was really into pop-up books. If you think about
a pop-up book, I think about it as
fantastically complicated structures
and mechanisms that are created by
extremely unskilled users. I’m not talking about the
people that made the book. I’m talking about the kids
that operate the books. You open up the books. You do something very
simple like opening a page or pulling something and out of this page comes
these fantastic structures. We do something very similar. We call this process
pop-up book MEMS. It goes as follows. You basically build all of
the components that you want. Like I said, the motors,
the wings, et cetera. You also build
a scaffold around it. That’s what this sort of
surrounding area is here. Then by proper design of all
the individual components in this quasi
two-dimensional composite. If it’s designed right
and constructed properly, which of course I’m not
getting much into the details, then all I’d have
to do is push on it and that’s we’ll
show in this video. All you have to do is push on it and out pops the
device that I want because all of the
trajectories that are associated with the
assembly of this device are controlled by
the mechanisms that are built into this
pop-up structure. This allows us to build our
computational origami friends. This is a real thing. Actually, you can prove that
you can make anything you want in terms of any
geometric complexity, any mechanism that
you want to build can be done in this way. We can make things
arbitrarily complicated. We can make things with
any material combination, metals, composites, polymer,
ceramics, doesn’t matter. We can do this very quickly. We’re experimental robotics, we know actually very
little about the physics of the devices that we make. Not for lack of trying
but just because it’s complex, fluid
structure interactions, all these difficult things. What we do then is
we build and test, build and test, and
often test to failure as I’ll show you in a moment. This is a resulting device. You’ll notice that every device that I show you
will look different. That’s just because
we learn something and change the design
and reiterate on that. I should mention the way
that we’re building things, this concept of a scaffold building all the
components for you. We like to think in some way fulfills Richard
Feynman’s prophecy about small robots
building small robots. That’s the way that
we think about this. We can build things in
bulk just by the fact that this is inherently
parallelizable process. Bulk, for us, is only
a few but that’s okay. We plugged these things in. We test them. Flap wings around, do some
system identification, all sorts of interesting things to try to understand how
this thing actually works. Then plug it in, turn it on. This has sped down by
a factor of one eighth and this is what happens… ( audience laughing ) …every time. In fact, if you look at it in
real time, this is very fast. This is just a consequence of
the dynamics of this system. Insects are very unlike
the airplanes that we ride in. The 747s of the world are
designed to be passively stable. If the engines turn off, it
should glide down to safety without the presence
of active control. Insects are not that way. They’re unstable and this
leads to the maneuverability that you’ve experienced if
you ever try to swat them. ( audience laughing ) What I’m saying is they’re
the fighter jets of the world. If we can properly
stabilize these systems then they become
quite maneuverable. After plenty of trial and error, again this has sped
down one eighth time. We are able to control
the flight of these things. One of the first
demonstrations that we had, which we were very excited about a couple of years ago,
was just hover. It turns out that’s one of
the more difficult things that we can try to do. We can also take advantage of
some of these fast dynamics that I was alluding
to and also some of the physics of scaling to
allow these things to perch. Once we have these
things working, we’re doing all sorts
of cute demonstrations of how they can behave
like the insects that
we try to mimic. I just want to wrap up with
a couple of other topics and other broad
statements of course. We also make a host of
other bioinspired robots. I’m showing you these not just
because they’re cool or creepy but because they actually
represent one of our big pushes which is all of our bioinspired
work takes cues from nature and tries to instantiate
that in robots. We’re actually seeing that
arrow of bioinspiration reverse because now we can
start to build robots which mimics some of the
features of natural systems that we can test our
hypothesis on natural systems and I say us, our
biologist colleagues, in ways that would be difficult
to do with the actual animal. This is really exciting for us. We also make little
cockroach-like robots. This is in real time. I’m just showing you this
because we can make claims that these things are actually some of the fastest
robots in the world if you normalize the body
length which of course a caveat. In fact, twice as fast
as Usain Bolt. Okay. I often get the questions so
I will preemptively answer it which is what would you
do with these things? Why are you doing this? The main thing that
gets us excited is that it’s a basic
research topic that all of these topics
in fluid mechanics and microfabrication and
bioengineering, et cetera are what really drive us. The technology fallout
that comes from this meaning technology fallout
like I have a former student that started a company
that’s trying to find commercial
applications for the way that we build things. We also have prototypes
for making little, minimally invasive surgical
tools using the same techniques. But you can also use these
things in the future, 10-20 years down the road
when they’re working for things like search
and rescue where a firefighter might have a
thousand of these things onsite that flies through a building
looking for human survivors, or even hazardous
environment explorations, space exploration, et cetera. These are the common
themes that are the longer term goals of this. Lastly, I’ll say that
these things turn out to be extremely useful
for education purposes. We go from school to school, and also festivals,
local and national to try to get kids excited
in STEM. It turns out and I
mean no disrespect to our theoretical
physicist colleagues that this is much more
likely to get kids interested in science and engineering
than string theories. I apologize if that’s your area. With that, I will stop and
I’ll thank you for listening. Thank you. ( applause ) ( outro music )

4 thoughts on “Robert Wood: Robotic Insects | Nat Geo Live”

  1. The end time is near. These insects paired with the facial recognition features that china uses can be used to hunt down people who go against the will of government. The time is coming guys and people arent scared wow.

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