Jonathan Bruce is a UC Santa Cruz PhD student who has been a central member of my lab for many years now. He has been instrumental to all of our successes, and is a gifted mechatronics engineer who is pushing the boundaries of tensegrity robotics design and control. The UARC program is a mechanism by which UC Santa Cruz and other UC campuses collaborate with NASA Ames, and they recently choose to highlight his innovative work and contribution to NASA’s research success. They sent a film crew to interview him and get context on our broader research project, including our collaboration with the BAIR and BEST labs at UC Berkeley. The resulting video is a *really* excellent overview of our research and well worth watching.
Happy New Year!
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the tensegrity robotics related work by some of our many inspired collaborators. First of all, I’m excited to introduce Dr. Julian Rimoli of Georgia Tech, who has developed some excellent new tools for analyzing the structural response of a tensegrity robot when it lands on another planet. The resulting video of its dynamics is excellent.
This is what Julian has to say about his work:
“Most approaches to modeling tensegrity structures assume their bars are rigid, and that they only experience pure axial loads. In addition, a common design constraint is assuming that the structure would fail if any of its members buckle. The first two assumptions break down under highly dynamic events such as impacts, and the third one is not necessarily true: slender bars can sustain a load after failure, and consequently stresses would redistribute without necessarily producing structural failure. This video shows an example of a light-weight tensegrity structure under a highly dynamic event. The model accounts for the body forces and associated bending on bars, and their buckling and post-buckling behavior. The ground is modeled as elastic with friction. For those interested, details of the model will be presented at SciTech in January 2016.”
Next, Julian made a great video from the perspective of a camera mounted at a centrally suspended payload during the same landing event as the video above. This shows what the point of view might be for navigation purposes if you gimbaled the camera to stay stable while the robot bounced and rolled. This is a 360 degree video, so you can use the arrows to change the direction that you are looking out from the robot.
Finally, another video of his shows how waves of landing forces might propagate in an interesting manner through the tensegrity robot, making it appear to “inch-worm” its way back up into the air. Once again, this shows how unique and surprising these structures can be!
Next I would like to share the work of a team led by Will Buchanan who built an amazing tensegrity art structure and took it out to the Burning Man festival, where folks could climb and play on it.
Finally, I would like to highlight some recent work by Ryan Adams, who has been an amazing contributor to the development of our open source physics based tensegrity robotics simulator (NTRT — the NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit). Inspired by our use of coupled oscillators in the controls of tensegrity robots, he has been exploring the dynamics of fields of coupled oscillators. What is fascinating is how stable dynamic patterns readily emerge out of a randomly seeded field. This is not just the simple case of all the oscillators synchronizing with each other, but rather the emergence of stable repeating complex patterns, as shown in the video below.
I think that this is a very important line of research for the understanding of neuroscience and the fundamentals of how we control motion — where a coordinated set of actions must be generated by a very noisy and error prone computational system (our neurons). This ability to start with a random set of oscillators, and have it settle into a stable behavior is exactly what would enable the robust and reliable behavior of animals despite the noisy reality of our neurons. This is obviously just an early stage exploration of the key principles, and a long way from a full theory of neuroscience, but it is valuable to see the key properties at play.
Below are two videos related to our SUPERball Tensegrity Robot. First is a “mission concept” video, which shows how SUPERball could be used to land on another planet at high speeds, and then used for exploration, and the second video is actual footage of our first prototype showing baby steps on both the landing and exploration capabilities.
Mission Concept Video
One of the key things to take away from this video is that once you have a robot that is so robust that it can safely land at high speeds after falling from orbit, it can also move and explore in ways that would be impossible with a traditional rover. For example, it could dynamically leap into a crater and expect to survive the fall, considering that it is designed to fall from orbit. This video was initially created by our Collaborators at University of Idaho (John Crepeau, John Anderson, Dr. Stephen Howe, and the Tensegrity ME Capstone and VTD Aerospace Capstone teams).
Prototype SUPERball Landing and Locomotion Video
Concept Videos are important, but real engineering is better! This video is a demonstration of the first SUPERball prototype showing initial examples of impact robustness (driving off a loading dock) and locomotion. This prototype was developed specifically to address foundational engineering concepts related to locomotion of tensegrity robots, such as sensor and actuator design, controllability, and system performance analysis. While this prototype was not explicitly designed to withstand the high speed landing scenarios envisioned for the full system, we see that it can easily survive falls of a meter, which would seriously damage most traditional robots. A future prototype will integrate lessons learned from this iteration, and will incorporate a number of design features to enable high-speed landing scenarios.
Another article I really liked was the one by Inverse — because they highlighted the following quote about our research: “We’ve broken all the rules of traditional robotics designs.” And that is true, and that is exactly what is fun, inspiring, and challenging about our research!
As soon as the book was published in May I had friends writing to me excited to see our ideas appearing in a Science Fiction novel by such a famous author! How Fun! So, I immediately ordered a copy of the book and read it. It was a thrilling, edge of the seat, ride, (admittedly our tensegrity robots only play a small role in the storyline, but it is fun that they show up!) and I can strongly encourage anyone to buy a copy and enjoy it!
And, while we are on the topic of PR and attention for our research, it is also fun to share the following article which was published in The American Scientist in July of 2015.
Here you will find my thoughts on being human, based on my ongoing research into robotic and human motion, neuroscience, physiology, and machine learning. You will also find videos of my talks and papers from the Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics Lab which I lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.
Based on my understanding of human physiology and motion, here are some quick reviews on my favorite ergonomic tools. These are the ones I use at home and at work. I will add more in-depth posts discussing the alignment theory as I get them written.
FitBall Sitting Disc
Sitting Discs are a great way to train for Active Sitting. By destabilizing the surface you are sitting on, they engage your core muscles and keep you in dynamic motion while your body actively balances on the disk. I recommend the larger 15" disc. In Depth Review
Salli Saddle Stool
The Salli saddle stools are one of the best stools for Active Sitting. They hold your pelvis upright, so that your spine can be well aligned with gravity, while also allowing your knees to be lower than your hips to keep your hamstrings and hip-flexors from shortening. Actively sitting takes effort, so increase your time in the saddle slowly.
3M Ergonomic Mouse
The vertical design keeps the arm in a well aligned neutral "handshake" position that prevents the shoulder from rolling forward. By keeping your shoulders back and the scapula flat on your back you avoid many of the common sources of wrist pain. This is the biggest bang for your buck if you are having wrist pain. It comes in small and large sizes (small is linked below). Sadly, I have only seen it for right hands.
Like the 3M mouse above, this keyboard allows you to have your hands in a more neutral vertical position which reduces many of the problems associated with wrist and shoulder pain. It also allows you to spread the key pads to be at shoulder width so that you don't have to twist your wrist like on a straight keyboard.
A sit stand desks allows you to dance while working! It also allows you change between a variety of different sitting options and standing so that you don't get stuck in one position. The best option that I have found is from GeekDesk.com. I have two from them and they are the cheapest and have held up well. You can save even more money by buying just the base frame from GeekDesk and getting the table top from Ikea. You save on price and shipping is significantly less this way.
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Books I Recommend
Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life
This book blew my mind.
Really -- this was probably one of the most influential books I've read in a decade. This points straight at the heart of what we intuitively recognize as the difference between living breathing organic aspects of nature and the mechanistic nature of human engineered system. It all boils down to oscillators and their ability to synchronize. This basic mathematical property is the basis for all the order that we see in the world -- and our ability to move -- and our ability to relate to each other -- and really everything. This is an easy and engaging read, and you will come away with new eyes for the world.
Anatomy of Movement
This was the best book I have read for learning about the function of my own body and is endlessly useful for anyone who is alive and moving in the world. Ever have pain when you make a specific motion and wonder what is going on? This book will help you isolate the muscles responsible for that motion. By showing how each muscle moves your body under different conditions, you will learn their *use* rather than just memorizing a bunch of names.
Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists
This book is great to see and understand the complex network of tension in the living body, and to learn about fascia and how it works.
Rhythms of the Brain
This recently published book covers cutting edge theories of how the brain works. The key focus is on how the brain relies heavily on coupled oscillatory networks, timing loops, and synchronization. It also discusses how the activity in the brain can be viewed as a dynamic tensegrity structure. A more technical book, but well worth the effort!