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IniRobot : a pedagogical kit to initiate children to concepts of robotics and computer science

  • Authors: Roy, Didier; Oudeyer, Pierre-Yves; Magnenat, Stéphane; Riedo, Fanny; Gerber, Gordana; Chevalier, Morgane Solène Denise; Mondada, Francesco

We present the IniRobot pedagogical kit, conceived and deployed within French and Swiss primary schools for the initiation to robotics and computer science. It provides a microworld for learning, and takes an enquiry-based educational approach, where kids are led to construct their understanding through practicing an active investigation methodology within teams. It is based on the use of the Thymio II robotic platform. The paper presents the detailed pedagogical objectives and a first measure of results showing that children acquired several robotics-related concepts.

Posted on: April 21, 2015

Robotics and Neuroscience

  • Authors: Floreano, Dario; Ijspeert, Auke; Schaal, Stefan

In the attempt to build adaptive and intelligent machines, roboticists have looked at neuroscience for more than half a century as a source of inspiration for perception and control. More recently, neuroscientists have resorted to robots for testing hypotheses and validating models of biological nervous systems. Here, we give an overview of the work at the intersection of robotics and neuroscience and highlight the most promising approaches and areas where interactions between the two fields have generated significant new insights. We articulate the work in three sections, invertebrate, vertebrate and primate neuroscience. We argue that robots generate valuable insight into the function of nervous systems, which is intimately linked to behaviour and embodiment, and that brain-inspired algorithms and devices give robots life-like capabilities.

Posted on: September 22, 2014

Science, technology and the future of small autonomous drones

  • Authors: Floreano, Dario; Wood, Robert J.

We are witnessing the advent of a new era of robots — drones — that can autonomously fly in natural and man-made environments. These robots, often associated with defence applications, could have a major impact on civilian tasks, including transportation, communication, agriculture, disaster mitigation and environment preservation. Autonomous flight in confined spaces presents great scientific and technical challenges owing to the energetic cost of staying airborne and to the perceptual intelligence required to negotiate complex environments. We identify scientific and technological advances that are expected to translate, within appropriate regulatory frameworks, into pervasive use of autonomous drones for civilian applications.

Posted on: May 31, 2015

Variable Stiffness Actuator for Soft Robotics Using Dielectric Elastomer and Low-Melting-Point Alloy

  • Authors: Shintake, Jun; Schubert, Bryan Edward; Rosset, Samuel; Shea, Herbert; Floreano, Dario

A novel variable stiffness actuator composed of a dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) and a low-melting-point-alloy (LMPA) embedded silicone substrate is demonstrated. The device which we call variable stiffness dielectric elastomer actuator (VSDEA) enables functional soft robots with a simplified structure, where the DEA generates a bending actuation and the LMPA provides controllable stiffness between soft and rigid states by Joule heating. The entire structure of VSDEA is made of soft silicones with an elastic modulus of less than 1 MPa providing a high compliance when the LMPA is active. The device has the dimension of 40 mm length × 10 mm width × 1 mm thickness, with mass of  1 g. We characterize VSDEA in terms of the actuation stroke angle, the blocked force, and the reaction force against a forced displacement. The results show the controllable actuation angle and the blocked force up to 23.7 ° and 2.4 mN in the soft state, and 0.6 ° and 2.1 mN in the rigid state. Compared to an actuator without the LMPA, VSDEA exhibits  90× higher rigidity. We develop a VSDEA gripper where the mass of active parts is  2 g, which is able to successfully hold an object mass of 11 g, exhibiting the high performance of the actuator.

Posted on: July 26, 2015