Members Take on Jumping Robots and Video Cellphones

IEEE members make the news with their innovative work

7 November 2008

Tiny jumping robots that can traverse rough terrain and video cellphones for the hearing impaired have garnered publicity recently for IEEE members.

INSECTLIKE A robot inspired by a grasshopper was developed by IEEE Senior Member Dario Floreano and other researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne. Floreano, director of the institute’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, and his team built a 7-gram robot about the size of a locust that can jump 1.4 meters, which is 10 times the distance that other robots can leap, when their size and weight is taken into account. The minuscule creation was featured in the 25 August edition of the online OneIndia, news site, and was on display in May at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Pasadena, Calif.

Small real-life jumping insects like grasshoppers and fleas use elastic storage mechanisms to slowly charge and then quickly release their jumping energy. Such mechanisms provide these insects with high acceleration and powerful jumps. Floreano’s new robot uses the same principle by charging two torsion springs via a tiny motor of the kind that provides vibration in a miniature pager he explains. The tiny battery on board allows the robot to make up to 320 jumps, as often as once every 3 seconds.

“The biomimetic form of jumping is unique because it allows microrobots to travel over many types of rough terrain where no other walking or wheeled robot could go,” said Floreano in the article. “These tiny jumping robots could be fitted with solar cells to recharge between jumps or deployed in swarms to explore remote areas on Earth or other planets.” He also noted that if outfitted with certain types of tiny sensors the robot could be used in search and rescue operations.

VIDEOPHONE CALLS Hearing-impaired people in the United States may someday be able to make cellphone calls using sign language over a video link, instead of relying on text messaging. IEEE Senior Member Eve Riskin and her team at the University of Washington, in Seattle, have developed software that allow such two-way, real-time video communication in the United States for the first time. Riskin, the principal investigator for the project, is a professor of electrical engineering and associate dean of academic affairs in the university’s College of Engineering. The work was published in Science Daily on 25 August. There’s also a demonstration of a working prototype on YouTube.

Deaf or hard of hearing people could use American Sign Language (ASL) to “talk” over their cellphones provided they were joined by a video link. Low data-transmission rates on U.S. cellular networks combined with the limited processing power of cellphones have so far prevented real-time video transmission with enough frames per second for sign language. Signing over cellphones is already possible in Europe and Asia, however, because data rates are faster there.

The MobileASL device uses standard video compression to stay within the data-transmission limit. Users hold the phone in front of themselves and sign with one hand or set it on a table and sign with both hands. The prototype phones have both a video screen and a video camera on the same side of the phone so that people can film themselves while watching the screen.

Elsewhere, Member Arun Raaza is also working to improve cellphones. He has invented a steerable antenna that can solve the problem of poor cellphone network coverage. The WalesOnline news service featured his work on 27 August.

The network connection for mobile devices sometimes drops out, particularly in rural areas, when the signal beam is not focused directly at the phone. Raaza developed an antenna that fits on the phone and can swivel plus or minus 45 degrees to automatically focus the signal from the phone at the nearest cellular tower to reduce signal loss.

Raaza is pursuing a master’s degree in photonics and communication systems at Swansea University’s Institute of Advanced Telecommunication, in Wales. His research paper, “A Novel 45 Degree Beam Steerable Antenna for Modern Communications,” which is based on his invention, was presented at two IEEE conferences this year─the Sarnoff Symposium held in April in Princeton and the International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation held in July in San Diego. You can read an abstract of the paper at the IEEE Xplore digital library, or download the entire paper if you or your employer subscribe to the library.

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