History Of Robots Could Change With More Life-like Eyeball
July 6, 2012

History Of Robots Could Change With More Life-like Eyeball

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

In Harry Potter, the paintings at Hogwarts did more than just follow you with their eyes, but in the real world, having a painting eye you down in a hallway would be creepy in itself. Now, researchers have found a way to take a robot's eye to Harry Potter's level.

Researchers have replicated the muscle motion of the human eye by using piezoelectric materials, allowing the robot eye to move more like a real eye.

The new muscle-like action could help make robotic tools safe, and more effective for MRI-guided surgery and robotic rehabilitation, according to the team.

The research will also be useful for studies on human eye movement, as well as making video feeds from robots more intuitive.

The team's cellular actuator concept was inspired by biological muscle structure that connects many small actuator units in a series or in parallel.

They developed a lightweight, high speed approach that includes a single-degree of freedom camera positioner that could be used to understand the performance and control of biologically inspired actuator technology.

"The point of this research project is to investigate an alternate motion control paradigm in robotics, one that is more like what our human bodies use," Joshua Schultz, who is a Ph.D candidate under the direction of assistant professor Jun Ueda at Georgia Institute of Technology, told redOrbit. "Our bodies use numerous on-off motor units combined through a flexible interface to generate motion, and this does the same."

Schultz said the camera position not only provides a useful mechatronic device that uses this technology, but can also serve as a tool for researchers who want to investigate the neurological mechanisms that underlie the control of human movement.

"The various motor units in this mechanism can be activated with high precision in time, and this will allow us to test several control strategies for biologically inspired robots with numerous discrete motor units," he told redOrbit. "The control algorithms we've worked on this far are mainly focused on reducing vibration in the device."

The team presented a camera position driven by a cellular actuator technology, using a contractile ceramic to generate motion. The researchers also used 16 amplified piezoelectric per side.

"The goal of scaling up piezoelectric ceramic stacks holds great potential to more accurately replicate human eye motion than previous actuators," Schultz said in a prepared statement. "Future work in this area will involve implantation of this technology on a multi-degree of freedom device, applying open and closed loop control algorithms for positioning and analysis of co-contraction phenomena."

He said that the control algorithms that the team has worked on are mainly focused on reducing vibration in the device.

"Based on my experience in new product design, I think it would be reasonable for a dedicated group of engineers with good test and manufacturing facilities to translate this into a modular, deployable platform within 1-2 years," Schultz told redOrbit. "This could be used in a variety of robotic vision applications where the gaze needs to be reoriented quickly. This might include humanoid robots, security applications, or autonomous vehicles."

He said the next step for the technology will be to miniaturize it further, and add additional axis to it, so it can look in more directions.

"Of course, there are many areas that could be explored as far as novel control methods," he told redOrbit in an email.

The team presented their findings at the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics in Rome, Italy.

Image 2 (below): Georgia Tech Ph.D. Candidate Joshua Schultz makes some final adjustments to the camera positioning mechanism used in the muscle-like cellular actuators of the robot vision system. Credit: Billy Gallagher