New York Tech Journal
Tech news from the Big Apple

#RoboUniverse: startup competition

Posted on May 12th, 2015

05/11/2015 @ Javits Center, NY

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Nine presentations were judged by a panel giving equal weight to each of the following:

  1. their solution – market opportunity
  2. technical readiness
  3. differentiators
  4. leadership & resources
  5. judge’s discretion

The presentations showed the wide range of #robotics from #robots to create and manipulate items, to parts of robots, to robot-based services, to education, etc.

The presentations were by

  1. Soft Roboticsgripper – 40 patents (foundation + company owned). Soft robotic hands. Exploring two auto manufacturers. Sell direct to customer, but also do integrations. Differentiate versus other methods such as vacuum or electro-static as they can move up to 3G’s at a rate of 100m up to 120 Hz. The currently have 3 vendors that create the elastimers. They do all mechanical design in-house. They plan to OEM the mechanical components eventually. Currently funded by 6 angels < 1mm USD. Look for series A funding this fall. 2 interns this summer. Current products are sold at 75% gross margin, so they have a cushion against competitor price pressures.
  2. LocoRobo – kids education on robotics. Created a freshman program at Drexel which gave him the ideas for this company. The kit starts with touchpad controls + graphical programming. For more flexibility the robot can be programmed in C, python, JS, or Matlab. They plan to sell retail robots with separately sold sensor kits. They also will curate programs. He is currently working with teachers for students age 8 to 14. The target cost is <$50 so the kits are in the mid-range below Mindstorms and above the most basic robots. Markets are parents & schools. Robot features – multi-sensors. Blue tooth LE to smartphone and can be controlled from the browser. Initial run of 5000 for Christmas 2015. 4 engineers + him + marketing professor at Wharton
  3. Rotacaster – current designs omni-wheels, now designing a wheel so robots can move in any direction without changing the orientation of the wheel. They currently have a dozen employees. Most commercially available robots on perform a single-task. Some of this is do to their use of fixed drive wheels with swivel casters. By contrast, the omni-wheels can be driven in any direction without pivoting the axel. They have patents. The wheels can work outdoors since steel can be replaced with polymer. They can take a large load. The wheels can work as a drive wheel. Currently producing and selling products for materials handling. Privately funded.
  4. Voxel8 – multi-material 3-d printing to create electronics. Their current printer can produce 3-d antennae, flexible electronics, and customized electronics. The printer deposits conductive ink. They have 19 patents and a decade of research. They have a partnership with Autodesk. The first product is an integrated printing system, but eventually would like to sell know-how and leave the production to others. The current printer has a resolution of 150 microns trace width. However In the lab, they can print to single micro trace widths. They electronic paths have lower conductivity than silver, but do not require a high heat cure which allows them to print conductor and thermo-plastic in a single run (note that more complicated electronic devices need to be manually placed in the substrate as they cannot be printed). They have two VC investors. They current concentrate of the prototyping market but eventually see the process becoming a mass-manufacturing tool
  5. Aerocine – heavy lift rotors (drones) to lift professional cameras for aerial cinematography. They provide pilots and drones for aerial pictures. They are the only company in the NY area that is approved by the FAA for commercial drone work. They currently have 3 teams of pilots and drones . They design the aircraft which can weigh up to 85 pound including the camera. They want to continue to be a service company.
  6. Rise Robotics – actuate with smaller motors – invented a light-weight actuator. They have a patent. These linear actuators replace larger, heavier, more expensive ones which mean that products that we lighter. Applications are a nail gun with a wearable air compressor or actuators to move the cockpit in flight simulators or cheaper seats for home theaters. They plan to bring a product to market themselves this summer.
  7. nLink – subsidiary of rocket farms. Mobile drilling robot for drilling holes in ceilings for construction industry. It’s 5x to 10x faster than a person. Patent pending. The tool is made from off-the-shelf products. Their business model is to sell a service, not equipment. They estimate a price of $2700/day. The platform knows where it is in the room to nearest millimeter. Eventually the rig could do things other than drilling. Their main advantage is the method to locate the tool within the room, so the tool knows where to drill the holes. The current version does not move itself, but the next version will be able to move the apparatus around the room. The tools does not require contractors to change their method of placing the holes since one uses a laser cross to tell the robot where to drill.
  8. Roboneer – bionic gripper. Type of a delta robot– with a configurable design for industrial applications. The basic setup is flexible so it is easy to change the arm length to optimize the design. The idea is to create a robot with a Lego Mindstorm philosophy for low cost mechanics. They will also use database of movements to determine the optimal way to configure the arms.
  9. Autonomous – their company makes daily items smarter. One example is a desk that has been funded via Kickstarter ($100k). It learns your behavior and will automatically convert from a sitting to standing desk. The desk also has an embedded microphone for speech recognition to take requests or control devices. This is their second product. The team consists of 15 people. They consider themselves primarily a software company and created their own voice recognition system. The desk costs $299 and is currently sold near cost with a 3 year warranty.

Voxel8 won the competition.

posted in:  RoboUniverse, Soft Robotics    / leave comments:   No comments yet

#SoftRobotics: #SoftActuators, #Simulators

Posted on April 27th, 2015

Soft Robotics Technology Group

04/27/2015 @Dentons, 1221 Ave of the Americas, NY

The meeting consisted of a presentation on commercial applications of soft grippers by Joshua Lessing @SoftRobotics followed by a panel discussion concentrating on the uses and limitations of computer simulation in the design of soft robots.

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Joshua first talked about how their research, lead by George Whiteside, evolved from microfluidics (chips for device control driven by small tubes filled with fluid) to soft robotics (fluid pressure on anisotropic – directionally biased – materials to create controlled movement).

He talked about tradeoffs for different types of robotic grippers (a.k.a. end-effectors) used in manufacturing. Traditional robots offer high precision/resolution in repetitive tasks with advantages of speed and longevity but at a high price. But there are many industrial tasks done by humans since the operation does not include precise positioning of materials and the task has a lower break-even price point for automation.  Soft robots could economically automation many of these tasks.

To illustrate this, Joshua described many competing end-effectors using in conjunction with mechanical arms. These solutions vary along the axes of precision, dexterity, specificity, and price. The methods include

  1. Suction cups – wonderful for flat surfaces – cheap, easy to design, easily replaceable – not good for irregular surfaces
  2. Hard pincers – fixed size, fixed orientation good for precisely placed hard objects
  3. Dexterous 3 finger – $25k – Better dexterity but at a higher price
  4. Shadow robots – $175k for a high level of hand – compliant air muscles. With cables and actuators. High precision and dexterity, but at a very high price.
  5. Soft robotics – dexterous, adaptable, at low price point.
  6. Empire robotics – like coffee in a bag with a vacuum to shape it – need it to be able to form the bag around the object – the object needs to placed on a hard surface
  7. Electrostatic gripping forces– good for sheering forces.
  8. Eletroactive polymers – might be an alternative to soft robotics driven by fluid or air pressure.


Panel Moderator: Simone Braunstein, CEO Stone Brook Robotics, LLC.

The panel talked about many aspects in the creation of soft robots, but focused on the use of computer simulation to speed the design process. One of the panelist, Jonathan Hiller, is the author of VoxCad, simulation software for the behavior of flexible objects in response to heat and pressure. The panelist agreed that there were severe limitations on the predictive capabilities of most 3-d simulation software as the non-linear reshaping of materials is difficult to accurately capture in all but the most expensive (and hard to use) packages. This means that much of the experimentation is done by prototyping systems and learning the characteristics of specific alternative materials. Matthew, for instance, has concentrated his energies on methods to rapidly modify his prototypes to quickly optimize his designs.

Paul also talked about how Johns Hopkins University has worked to create an environment that is supportive and financially-friendly to startups producing biomedical products.

posted in:  Soft Robotics    / leave comments:   No comments yet

#SoftRobotics for Hard Problems

Posted on March 25th, 2015

#ACM New York City

03/25/2015 @NYResistor, 87 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Matt Borgatti @Super-Releaser showed how to create a soft robotic “animal” made of silicone. He first spoke about how soft robots can fill an important niche where robots assist humans in medical situations, but without the dangers of hard robots hurting the person. Soft robots can be made of fabric or muscle wire (but see also Empire Robotics), but most commonly are made of silicone. Internal cavities are filled with pressurized air to change their shape.

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The remainder of the presentation was a step-by-step demonstration of how to create the body of a robot. The general steps are

  1. Use a CAD program such as Solidworks to design the robot and the moulds to shape the silicone
  2. Create the moulds using a 3-d printer
  3. Cast a wax image of the internal air space within the robot
  4. Thoroughly mix the two silicone components
  5. Use a vacuum pump to remove bubbles in the mixture
  6. Place the wax image within the main mould and cast the silicone body
  7. Attach the body to a nozzle and air supply

Matt created a robot and had members of the audience participate in some steps including filling moulds and mixing the silicone.

Matt also spoke about the ongoing challenges to create the next generation of robots. These include increasing the force that the robot generates: currently most are filled with 2 to 3 atmospheres of pressure which generates 1 pound of force. He noted that design changes, such as adding spines to redirect the force, can increase the available force. He also noted how improved simulation software could speed development by giving a better understanding of how different internal air shapes affect the robot’s function.

For another perspective on soft robotics, please see my previous post on the topic.

posted in:  ACM, Soft Robotics    / leave comments:   No comments yet

Prof. Carmel Majidi, Artificial Muscle and Artificial Skin

Posted on January 12th, 2015

#Soft Robotics

01/12/2015 @ Denton’s 1221 6th Ave, NY


Simone Braunstein started the meeting with a brief review of the articles from the previously meeting and an invitation to participate in a competition announced on the SoftRoboticsToolkit web page. Following this introduction, Prof. Carmel Majidi @CarnegieMellon University talked about research his lab is conduction.

He contrasted soft vs hard robotics and noted the importance of research in soft robotics in terms of safety, comfort, and a good match with biological functions. He also emphasized the importance of the robot’s surface being : softness, stretchable, light weight, non-toxic/biocompatible.

Carmel then talked about the challenges of creating muscle and skin

  1. Artificial muscle. Methods to create muscle function include elastic tubing, embedded fibers and mechanical coupling with an inflate diaphragm. He talked about promising methods including
    1. Pneumatics g. Baldwin Actuator – usually not load bearing. Inflate to actuate. One of the challenges of this approach is that process is driven by bulky (and hard surface) external hardware such as compressors.
    2. Shape alloys in which the object returns to a specified shape when heated.
    3. Dielectric elastomer actuators (electrostatics) in which current is applied to change the  shape of the object.
    4. Bi-hybrid muscle thin-film actuators with muscle microtissue on a surface.
  2. Artificial skin. Stretchable electronics on a surface which is soft yet sensitive to the environment.
    1. Metal electrical circuits embed in a fabric.
    2. Elastomers molded into shapes
    3. Liquid phase electronics made of Gallium & Indium. These can be designed to sense pressure, resistance, capacitance.

He concluded by examining some of challenges such as creating muscle consisting entirely of soft parts (and eliminating the need for compressors and other external supporting hardware).

Software design and systems modeling can also be challenging. In rigid systems, kinematics & dynamics can be modeled relatively easily. This means that standard CAD software can be used for path planning and to study feedback control.

By contrast soft systems must account for global kinematics and need to simulate non-linear elastic behavior, often considering fluid mechanics. This requires solving PDEs using finite element analysis on a mesh. Currently there is only limited software to do this. VoxCAD, developed at Cornell is one option and uses cube-like units for simulation (Minecraft?). Even with this software, systems need extensive evaluation for determine the accuracy of the simulation.

posted in:  applications, Soft Robotics    / leave comments:   1 comment

Soft robotics: an introductory lecture

Posted on October 20th, 2014

Soft Robotics Tech Group NYC

10/20/2014 @ Denton, 1221 Ave of the Americas, NY
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Simone Braunstein presented four studies describing recent advances in #softrobots without rigid internal structural elements.

  1. Harvard – autonomous robot using Ardiuno & air compressors which inflate a series of channels in rubber. As CO2 blows through controlled channels it inflates the robot. Solenoid valves control the airflow which determines the shape and movement of the robot.
  2. MIT – electromagnetic fish capable of agile movements and is autonomous. The robot uses compressed CO2 to power its movements. They use a wireless connection to send commands. The fish can do an “escape maneuver” in 100ms. Has a single actuator to move the tail left/right. Springy material makes the tail spring back once the chambers within the fish are depressurized. CO2 canister + Actuator + Embedded electropermanent magnet (acts as a gate).
  3. A hand with fiber reinforced fingers (video showed it picking up a ball or a cylinder). Can actuate the thumb slightly and can grab strongly later. Use pulse modulation to hold the shape of the hand. Wrap fibers around the body so the entire finger inflates at the same rate – otherwise thinner sections would overinflate. The fibers also constrain the direction that the fingers can move.
  4. Hybrid combining hard and soft robots – hard robot drives up to the object. The soft robot walks off the robot then finders grab the object.


posted in:  Soft Robotics    / leave comments:   1 comment