Robotics

This forum is to discuss general things concerning TSOI.
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Smart Anti- Epidemic Robots Fight COVID-19 in Rwanda

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Scientists create the next generation of living robots

3/31/21


https://techxplore.com/news/2021-03-sci ... obots.html


Last year, a team of biologists and computer scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont (UVM) created novel, tiny self-healing biological machines from frog cells called "Xenobots" that could move around, push a payload, and even exhibit collective behavior in the presence of a swarm of other Xenobots.

Get ready for Xenobots 2.0.

The same team has now created life forms that self-assemble a body from single cells, do not require muscle cells to move, and even demonstrate the capability of recordable memory. The new generation Xenobots also move faster, navigate different environments, and have longer lifespans than the first edition, and they still have the ability to work together in groups and heal themselves if damaged. The results of the new research were published today in Science Robotics

Compared to Xenobots 1.0, in which the millimeter-sized automatons were constructed in a "top down" approach by manual placement of tissue and surgical shaping of frog skin and cardiac cells to produce motion, the next version of Xenobots takes a "bottom up" approach. The biologists at Tufts took stem cells from embryos of the African frog Xenopus laevis (hence the name "Xenobots") and allowed them to self-assemble and grow into spheroids, where some of the cells after a few days differentiated to produce cilia—tiny hair-like projections that move back and forth or rotate in a specific way. Instead of using manually sculpted cardiac cells whose natural rhythmic contractions allowed the original Xenobots to scuttle around, cilia give the new spheroidal bots "legs" to move them rapidly across a surface. In a frog, or human for that matter, cilia would normally be found on mucous surfaces, like in the lungs, to help push out pathogens and other foreign material. On the Xenobots, they are repurposed to provide rapid locomotion.

"We are witnessing the remarkable plasticity of cellular collectives, which build a rudimentary new 'body' that is quite distinct from their default—in this case, a frog—despite having a completely normal genome," said Michael Levin, Distinguished Professor of Biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, and corresponding author of the study. "In a frog embryo, cells cooperate to create a tadpole. Here, removed from that context, we see that cells can re-purpose their genetically encoded hardware, like cilia, for new functions such as locomotion. It is amazing that cells can spontaneously take on new roles and create new body plans and behaviors without long periods of evolutionary selection for those features."

"In a way, the Xenobots are constructed much like a traditional robot. Only we use cells and tissues rather than artificial components to build the shape and create predictable behavior." said senior scientist Doug Blackiston, who co-first authored the study with research technician Emma Lederer. "On the biology end, this approach is helping us understand how cells communicate as they interact with one another during development, and how we might better control those interactions."

While the Tufts scientists created the physical organisms, scientists at UVM were busy running computer simulations that modeled different shapes of the Xenobots to see if they might exhibit different behaviors, both individually and in groups. Using the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM's Vermont Advanced Computing Core, the team, led by computer scientists and robotics experts Josh Bongard and under hundreds of thousands of random environmental conditions using an evolutionary algorithm. These simulations were used to identify Xenobots most able to work together in swarms to gather large piles of debris in a field of particles.

"We know the task, but it's not at all obvious—for people—what a successful design should look like. That's where the supercomputer comes in and searches over the space of all possible Xenobot swarms to find the swarm that does the job best," says Bongard. "We want Xenobots to do useful work. Right now we're giving them simple tasks, but ultimately we're aiming for a new kind of living tool that could, for example, clean up microplastics in the ocean or contaminants in soil."

It turns out, the new Xenobots are much faster and better at tasks such as garbage collection than last year's model, working together in a swarm to sweep through a petri dish and gather larger piles of iron oxide particles. They can also cover large flat surfaces, or travel through narrow capillaries.These studies also suggest that the in silico simulations could in the future optimize additional features of biological bots for more complex behaviors. One important feature added in the Xenobot upgrade is the ability to record information.

Now with memory

A central feature of robotics is the ability to record memory and use that information to modify the robot's actions and behavior. With that in mind, the Tufts scientists engineered the Xenobots with a read/write capability to record one bit of information, using a fluorescent reporter protein called EosFP, which normally glows green. However, when exposed to light at 390nm wavelength, the protein emits red light instead.

The cells of the frog embryos were injected with messenger RNA coding for the EosFP protein before stem cells were excised to create the Xenobots. The mature Xenobots now have a built-in fluorescent switch which can record exposure to blue light around 390nm.

The researchers tested the memory function by allowing 10 Xenobots to swim around a surface on which one spot is illuminated with a beam of 390nm light. After two hours, they found that three bots emitted red light. The rest remained their original green, effectively recording the "travel experience" of the bots.

This proof of principle of molecular memory could be extended in the future to detect and record not only light but also the presence of radioactive contamination, chemical pollutants, drugs, or a disease condition. Further engineering of the memory function could enable the recording of multiple stimuli (more bits of information) or allow the bots to release compounds or change behavior upon sensation of stimuli.

"When we bring in more capabilities to the bots, we can use the computer simulations to design them with more complex behaviors and the ability to carry out more elaborate tasks," said Bongard. "We could potentially design them not only to report conditions in their environment but also to modify and repair conditions in their environment."

Xenobot, heal thyself

"The biological materials we are using have many features we would like to someday implement in the bots—cells can act like sensors, motors for movement, communication and computation networks, and recording devices to store information," said Levin. "One thing the Xenobots and future versions of biological bots can do that their metal and plastic counterparts have difficulty doing is constructing their own body plan as the cells grow and mature, and then repairing and restoring themselves if they become damaged. Healing is a natural feature of living organisms, and it is preserved in Xenobot biology."

The new Xenobots were remarkably adept at healing and would close the majority of a severe full-length laceration half their thickness within 5 minutes of the injury. All injured bots were able to ultimately heal the wound, restore their shape and continue their work as before.

Another advantage of a biological robot, Levin adds, is metabolism. Unlike metal and plastic robots, the cells in a biological robot can absorb and break down chemicals and work like tiny factories synthesizing and excreting chemicals and proteins. The whole field of synthetic biology—which has largely focused on reprogramming single celled organisms to produce useful molecules—can now be exploited in these multicellular creatures.

Like the original Xenobots, the upgraded bots can survive up to ten days on their embryonic energy stores and run their tasks without additional energy sources, but they can also carry on at full speed for many months if kept in a "soup" of nutrients.

What the scientists are really after

An engaging description of the biological bots and what we can learn from them is presented in a TED talk by Michael Levin (go.ted.com/michaellevin) (link will be live on March 31, 2021 2pm ET)

In his TED Talk, professor Levin describes not only the remarkable potential for tiny biological robots to carry out useful tasks in the environment or potentially in therapeutic applications, but he also points out what may be the most valuable benefit of this research—using the bots to understand how individual cells come together, communicate, and specialize to create a larger organism, as they do in nature to create a frog or human. It's a new model system that can provide a foundation for regenerative medicine.

Xenobots and their successors may also provide insight into how multicellular organisms arose from ancient single celled organisms, and the origins of information processing, decision making and cognition in biological organisms.

Recognizing the tremendous future for this technology, Tufts University and the University of Vermont have established the Institute for Computer Designed Organisms (ICDO), to be formally launched in the coming months, which will pull together resources from each university and outside sources to create living robots with increasingly sophisticated capabilities.

More information: D. Blackiston el al., "A cellular platform for the development of synthetic living machines," Science Robotics (2021). robotics.sciencemag.org/lookup … /scirobotics.abf1571
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Re: Robotics

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'Neutrobots' smuggle drugs to the brain without alerting the immune system

4/1/21


https://techxplore.com/news/2021-04-neu ... mmune.html


A team of researchers from the Harbin Institute of Technology along with partners at the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University, both in China, has developed a tiny robot that can ferry cancer drugs through the blood-brain barrier (BBB) without setting off an immune reaction. In their paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the group describes their robot and tests with mice. Junsun Hwang and Hongsoo Choi, with the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in Korea, have published a Focus piece in the same journal issue on the work done by the team in China.

For many years, medical scientists have sought ways to deliver drugs to the brain to treat health conditions such as brain cancers. Because the brain is protected by the skull, it is extremely difficult to inject them directly. Researchers have also been stymied in their efforts by the BBB—a filtering mechanism in the capillaries that supply blood to the brain and spinal cord that blocks foreign substances from entering. Thus, simply injecting drugs into the bloodstream is not an option. In this new effort, the researchers used a defense cell type that naturally passes through the BBB to carry drugs to the brain.

To build their tiny robots, the researchers exposed groups of white blood cells called neutrophils to tiny bits of magnetic nanogel particles coated with fragments of E. coli material. Upon exposure, the neutrophils naturally encased the tiny robots, believing them to be nothing but E. coli bacteria. The microrobots were then injected into the bloodstream of a test mouse with a cancerous tumor. The team then applied a magnetic field to the robots to direct them through the BBB, where they were not attacked, as the immune system identified them as normal neutrophils, and into the brain and the tumor. Once there, the robots released their cancer-fighting drugs.

The development of the neutrobots, as the researchers call them, is a major breakthrough in the treatment of brain diseases. The researchers plan to continue their efforts with mice with an eye toward testing their tiny robots on human patients.

More information: Hongyue Zhang et al. Dual-responsive biohybrid neutrobots for active target delivery, Science Robotics (2021). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaz9519
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Re: Robotics

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BrainGate: High-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface for humans

4/1/21


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 112415.htm


Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are an emerging assistive technology, enabling people with paralysis to type on computer screens or manipulate robotic prostheses just by thinking about moving their own bodies. For years, investigational BCIs used in clinical trials have required cables to connect the sensing array in the brain to computers that decode the signals and use them to drive external devices.

Now, for the first time, BrainGate clinical trial participants with tetraplegia have demonstrated use of an intracortical wireless BCI with an external wireless transmitter. The system is capable of transmitting brain signals at single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity without physically tethering the user to a decoding system. The traditional cables are replaced by a small transmitter about 2 inches in its largest dimension and weighing a little over 1.5 ounces. The unit sits on top of a user's head and connects to an electrode array within the brain's motor cortex using the same port used by wired systems.

For a study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, two clinical trial participants with paralysis used the BrainGate system with a wireless transmitter to point, click and type on a standard tablet computer. The study showed that the wireless system transmitted signals with virtually the same fidelity as wired systems, and participants achieved similar point-and-click accuracy and typing speeds.

"We've demonstrated that this wireless system is functionally equivalent to the wired systems that have been the gold standard in BCI performance for years," said John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown University, a member of the BrainGate research consortium and the study's lead author. "The signals are recorded and transmitted with appropriately similar fidelity, which means we can use the same decoding algorithms we used with wired equipment. The only difference is that people no longer need to be physically tethered to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities in terms of how the system can be used."

The researchers say the study represents an early but important step toward a major objective in BCI research: a fully implantable intracortical system that aids in restoring independence for people who have lost the ability to move. While wireless devices with lower bandwidth have been reported previously, this is the first device to transmit the full spectrum of signals recorded by an intracortical sensor. That high-broadband wireless signal enables clinical research and basic human neuroscience that is much more difficult to perform with wired BCIs.

The new study demonstrated some of those new possibilities. The trial participants -- a 35-year-old man and a 63-year-old man, both paralyzed by spinal cord injuries -- were able to use the system in their homes, as opposed to the lab setting where most BCI research takes place. Unencumbered by cables, the participants were able to use the BCI continuously for up to 24 hours, giving the researchers long-duration data including while participants slept.

"We want to understand how neural signals evolve over time," said Leigh Hochberg, an engineering professor at Brown, a researcher at Brown's Carney Institute for Brain Science and leader of the BrainGate clinical trial. "With this system, we're able to look at brain activity, at home, over long periods in a way that was nearly impossible before. This will help us to design decoding algorithms that provide for the seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis."

The device used in the study was first developed at Brown in the lab of Arto Nurmikko, a professor in Brown's School of Engineering. Dubbed the Brown Wireless Device (BWD), it was designed to transmit high-fidelity signals while drawing minimal power. In the current study, two devices used together recorded neural signals at 48 megabits per second from 200 electrodes with a battery life of over 36 hours.

While the BWD has been used successfully for several years in basic neuroscience research, additional testing and regulatory permission were required prior to using the system in the BrainGate trial. Nurmikko says the step to human use marks a key moment in the development of BCI technology.

"I am privileged to be part of a team pushing the frontiers of brain-machine interfaces for human use," Nurmikko said. "Importantly, the wireless technology described in our paper has helped us to gain crucial insight for the road ahead in pursuit of next generation of neurotechnologies, such as fully implanted high-density wireless electronic interfaces for the brain."

The new study marks another significant advance by researchers with the BrainGate consortium, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Brown, Stanford and Case Western Reserve universities, as well as the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2012, the team published landmark research in which clinical trial participants were able, for the first time, to operate multidimensional robotic prosthetics using a BCI. That work has been followed by a steady stream of refinements to the system, as well as new clinical breakthroughs that have enabled people to type on computers, use tablet apps and even move their own paralyzed limbs.

"The evolution of intracortical BCIs from requiring a wire cable to instead using a miniature wireless transmitter is a major step toward functional use of fully implanted, high-performance neural interfaces," said study co-author Sharlene Flesher, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and is now a hardware engineer at Apple. "As the field heads toward reducing transmitted bandwidth while preserving the accuracy of assistive device control, this study may be one of few that captures the full breadth of cortical signals for extended periods of time, including during practical BCI use."

The new wireless technology is already paying dividends in unexpected ways, the researchers say. Because participants are able to use the wireless device in their homes without a technician on hand to maintain the wired connection, the BrainGate team has been able to continue their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In March 2020, it became clear that we would not be able to visit our research participants' homes," said Hochberg, who is also a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the V.A. Rehabilitation Research and Development Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology. "But by training caregivers how to establish the wireless connection, a trial participant was able to use the BCI without members of our team physically being there. So not only were we able to continue our research, this technology allowed us to continue with the full bandwidth and fidelity that we had before."

Simeral noted that, "Multiple companies have wonderfully entered the BCI field, and some have already demonstrated human use of low-bandwidth wireless systems, including some that are fully implanted. In this report, we're excited to have used a high-bandwidth wireless system that advances the scientific and clinical capabilities for future systems."
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Re: Robotics

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New infectious hospital framework employs robotic tools for pandemic mitigation

4/19/21


https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210 ... ation.aspx


In December 2019, a new viral infection was detected in Wuhan, China. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, and on March 11, the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the danger that the infection poses to human personnel, the idea to utilize automation in hospitals is one of the natural solutions in healthcare.

Among the paper's five co-authors, four are working in robotics and one is an expert in medicine. The paper presents a new concept of an infectious hospital that may become a worldwide standard in the future. The idea of this appeared while the authors were witnessing a quick spread of the Covid-19 and non-systematic attempts of most technologically developed countries of Europe, Asia, and America to employ various robots in their reaction to this disaster.

The team comprises Evgeni Magid (Professor, Head of Intelligent Robotics Systems Lab), Aufar Zakiev (PhD student, Research Associate of the same lab), Tatyana Tsoy (PhD student, Research Associate of the same lab), Roman Lavrenov (Senior Lecturer, Institute of IT and Intelligent Systems), and Albert Rizvanov (Professor, Academician of the Tatarstan Academy of Science, Director of the Center for Precision and Regenerative Medicine).

Initially, the authors surveyed pandemics-related research papers that consider pandemic mitigation from IT, AI, and robotics standpoints. During this analysis, they discovered that most of existing papers about applying robotics for COVID-19 mitigation are surveys which just enumerate existing solutions, or, conversely, present a single technique or a few techniques in a point-wise manner. They went further and, based on the performed survey, proposed a new classification of robots with regards to their usage for pandemic needs (originally intended and adapted robots) and a new classification of such robots with regards to a required operator training.

The most important contribution of the paper is a novel holistic architecture of an infectious disease hospital that employs robotic tools, both existing ones and proposed future technologies. This holistic architecture could help to develop robots with practical applicability and allows designers to define their functions precisely.

The new infectious hospital framework preserves classical organizational structure of "hot", "warm" and "cold" zones. The hot zone is the epicenter, which is the most dangerous location of a direct contact with infected patients that have confirmed cases of a disease; this zone has strong restrictions aimed at containing the infection strictly inside the zone. The warm zone contains medical facilities with indirect contact with an infection, e.g., medical wards, laboratory areas, blood banks, dietary and laundry services, personnel restrooms for short breaks, etc. Finally, the cold zone is a safe zone that includes places with a low risk of infection.

The researchers analyzed possible daily activities within the three zones and selected a number of tasks, mainly within the hot zone, which could be successfully performed by robots. Moreover, the initial survey analysis demonstrated that for many of these tasks, there already exist at least several robotic solutions.

Therefore, a proposed precise definition of functions that could be performed by robots in an infectious hospital environment aims to help hospital managers to select proper solutions, which will make the hospital operation more efficient and safe for medical personnel.

On the other hand, the proposed requirements for infectious hospital robots should help robotic companies to develop highly sought products. In addition, the paper discusses ethical issues of robotics applications, which should be taken seriously both by robot developers and decision-making customers (e.g., hospital managers); the former should ensure ethical guidelines of human-robot interaction and task-oriented strategies before manufacturing the product, and the latter should be aware of potential ethical conflicts while selecting particular products for particular tasks.

Robotics has a huge potential almost in every field of our life. The authors strongly believe that robots should gradually replace human personnel within a dangerous hot zone of an infectious hospital and perform routine tasks which do not require high-level medical skills or education. This can increase the safety of doctors and other medical staff, decrease the unnecessary physical and psychological burden, and partially close the existing shortage of medical personnel that was widely reported even before the beginning of the pandemic. The paper proposes not only a new architecture for an infectious hospital, but also a variety of particular tasks and practical recommendations of further robot integration.

In the future, the team plans to develop the proposed infectious hospital framework and to evaluate its practical application. Even for running such hospital within a simulation, a large amount of preliminary work should be performed, including development of new regulations, communication and control strategies, sensory data fusion and autonomous navigation algorithms, safe and ethical human-robot interaction strategies and dozens of other tasks.

This is a huge-scale and long term multidisciplinary project that requires international collaboration and significant funding. National governments and the humankind in general have learned important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and, should this project receive support, we may be better prepared for another pandemic - which is happening sooner or later.

Source:

Kazan Federal University

Journal reference:


Magid, E., et al. (2021) Automating pandemic mitigation. Advanced Robotics. doi.org/10.1080/01691864.2021.1905059.
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Re: Robotics

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Robotic platform offers safe and precise steering of surgical catheters

4/23/21


https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210 ... eters.aspx


Traditionally, the success of a minimally-invasive surgical (MIS) procedure is dependent on the clinician's capabilities. Prominent MIS procedures include vascular surgeries, during which catheters are inserted into the body, steered to a target location, and used to treat a vascular disease. A particular challenge in vascular surgeries is the accurate positioning of the catheter tip. Researcher Christoff Heunis of the University of Twente came with a solution.

He designed the ARMM system, a robotic surgical platform that steers surgical catheters through externally-generated electromagnetic fields. Heunis envisions it to be a safe and precise alternative to manual steering and hope to provide surgeons with the dexterity required to complete an intervention faster. Today Heunis will defend his PhD work on this topic.

By utilizing a single collaborative robot arm, this ARMM platform (Advanced Robotics for Magnetic Manipulation) could potentially fit easily into the OR while ensuring a small footprint. So far, in the Surgical Robotics Laboratory of the University of Twente, he has shown that catheters can be magnetically steered inside phantom arteries, and animal tissue, with submillimeter precision.

Unnecessary trauma


Vascular diseases (those that affect the arteries, heart, etc.) have been well documented. Organs affected by these diseases are delicate and remote, and the vasculature to reach them is, in some cases, torturous. Standard interventions for endovascular repair involve high-risk complications, leading to unnecessary trauma during catheterizations (when a surgeon inserts and steers a catheter in the arteries). Moreover, the accuracy of catheter steering is highly dependent on the abilities of a clinician.

" I believe that by having an ARMM platform in every hospital, we can transform diagnostic and therapeutic catheterizations - we now just have to work towards clinical trials and advance it from this translational stage."

- Christoff Heunis, Researcher, University of Twente

Heunis graduated as a master in biomedical engineering in South Africa before moving abroad in 2017, which led him to the Netherlands. In Enschede, his doctoral position started as a researcher in the Biomechanical Department, University of Twente under the supervision of Prof. dr. Sarthak Misra. He has collaborated with vascular surgeons, technical medicine researchers, and worked with clinical institutions, including the Technical Medicine Centre, Medisch Spectrum Twente, UMCG, and Meander Medisch Centrum Amersfoort. In his four years as PhD candidate, he has also devoted substantial time to the mentoring and supervision of bachelor and master students - 20 in total, to which he regularly conveyed the same message:

"Regardless of your past or your origin and irrespective of the hardships that come your way: be empowered by your motives. As an academic, you often come across individuals that are unsupportive or situations that you would rather avoid. Just take the chance - eventually, the only manner someone can truly influence you is to give you their opinion, and that does not have to be your reality. You might be surprised at how easy it is to do what is best for you - so go out (figuratively) and do it!"

Novel-T startup competition

Currently, Christoff Heunis is working closely with Novel-T to investigate the feasibility of this system in hospitals around the Netherlands and Germany. "The highlight of my research was when I joined the Novel-T startup competition, which I did out of pure curiosity. What I did not expect was the potential that my project had in the clinical world. It turns out that the ARMM system could potentially be the next Da Vinci. My motto is:One day or day one - you decide. This became the foundation on which I based my decisions - especially those that influence my future, and even more importantly decisions I had to make in 2020 during the pandemic. I transformed from an academic to an entrepreneur in just a few months and realized what impact my work could have - as a potential medical system, ARMM could help patients recover as swiftly and completely as possible."

"My team and I have made some active contributions towards starting a start-up company (Flux Robotics), and I am currently participating in the UT Challenge, within which I am through to the next round. I am also shortlisted atthestartup competition Digital Euregio Summit 2021(DSE) where I will represent the startup in May."

Source:

University of Twente
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Re: Robotics

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Pepper the robot talks to itself to improve its interactions with people

4/21/21


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 124654.htm


Ever wondered why your virtual home assistant doesn't understand your questions? Or why your navigation app took you on the side street instead of the highway? In a study published April 21st in the journal iScience, Italian researchers designed a robot that "thinks out loud" so that users can hear its thought process and better understand the robot's motivations and decisions.

"If you were able to hear what the robots are thinking, then the robot might be more trustworthy," says co-author Antonio Chella, describing first author Arianna Pipitone's idea that launched the study at the University of Palermo. "The robots will be easier to understand for laypeople, and you don't need to be a technician or engineer. In a sense, we can communicate and collaborate with the robot better."

Inner speech is common in people and can be used to gain clarity, seek moral guidance, and evaluate situations in order to make better decisions. To explore how inner speech might impact a robot's actions, the researchers built a robot called Pepper that speaks to itself. They then asked people to set the dinner table with Pepper according to etiquette rules to study how Pepper's self-dialogue skills influence human-robot interactions.

The scientists found that, with the help of inner speech, Pepper is better at solving dilemmas. In one experiment, the user asked Pepper to place the napkin at the wrong spot, contradicting the etiquette rule. Pepper started asking itself a series of self-directed questions and concluded that the user might be confused. To be sure, Pepper confirmed the user's request, which led to further inner speech.

"Ehm, this situation upsets me. I would never break the rules, but I can't upset him, so I'm doing what he wants," Pepper said to itself, placing the napkin at the requested spot. Through Pepper's inner voice, the user can trace its thoughts to learn that Pepper was facing a dilemma and solved it by prioritizing the human's request. The researchers suggest that the transparency could help establish human-robot trust.

Comparing Pepper's performance with and without inner speech, Pipitone and Chella discovered that the robot had a higher task-completion rate when engaging in self-dialogue. Thanks to inner speech, Pepper outperformed the international standard functional and moral requirements for collaborative robots -- guidelines that machines, from humanoid AI to mechanic arms at the manufacturing line, follow.

"People were very surprised by the robot's ability," says Pipitone. "The approach makes the robot different from typical machines because it has the ability to reason, to think. Inner speech enables alternative solutions for the robots and humans to collaborate and get out of stalemate situations."

Although hearing the inner voice of robots enriches the human-robot interaction, some people might find it inefficient because the robot spends more time completing tasks when it talks to itself. The robot's inner speech is also limited to the knowledge that researchers gave it. Still, Pipitone and Chella say their work provides a framework to further explore how self-dialogue can help robots focus, plan, and learn.

"In some sense, we are creating a generational robot that likes to chat," says Chella. The authors say that, from navigation apps and the camera on your phone to medical robots in the operation rooms, machines and computers alike can benefit from this chatty feature. "Inner speech could be useful in all the cases where we trust the computer or a robot for the evaluation of a situation," Chella says.
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Re: Robotics

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Biohybrid soft robot with self-stimulating skeleton outswims other biobots

4/22/21

https://techxplore.com/news/2021-04-bio ... leton.html


A team of researchers working at Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology has developed a skeletal-muscle-based, biohybrid soft robot that can swim faster than other skeletal-muscle-based biobots. In their paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the group describes building and testing their soft robot.

As scientists continue to improve the abilities of soft robots, they have turned to natural materials such as animal tissue. To date, most efforts in this area have involved the use of skeletal or cardiac muscles—each have their strengths and weaknesses. Skeletal-muscle-based biobots have, for example, suffered from lack of mobility and strength. In this new effort, the researchers in Spain have developed a new design for a tinyskeletal-muscle-based soft robot that overcomes both issues and is therefore able to swim faster than others of its kind.

To make their biobot, the researchers used a simulation to create a spring-based spine for a swimming creature shaped like an eel. The simulation allowed the researchers to optimize its shape. They then 3D printed the skeleton (which was made of a polymer called PDMS) and used it as a scaffold for growing skeletal muscles. The finished robot was approximately 260 micrometers long—its shape allowed for propulsion in just one direction. The biobot moves when given electrical stimulation; the charge incites the muscle to contract, which compresses the skeletal spring inside. When the stimulation is removed, the energy in the spring is released, pushing the biobot forward.

The researchers note that the biobot is able to swim in two modes: coast and burst. In coast mode, the biobot can emulate fish that coast near the bottom of a stream. In burst mode, the biobot can switch quickly from a standstill to fast movement—much quicker, the researchers claim, than any other skeletal-muscle-based biobot. Testing showed it capable of attaining speeds of up to 800 micrometers per second, which translates to approximately three body lengths per second. They note that such speeds compare with current cardiac-muscle based biobots. They suggest their design could lead to other new hybrid robots with higher force output that could be used to make swimming robots faster, or working robots stronger.

More information: Maria Guix et al. Biohybrid soft robots with self-stimulating skeletons, Science Robotics (2021). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abe7577
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Re: Robotics

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How to level up soft robotics

Mechanical engineer offers perspective on the maturation of the field of soft robotics

4/30/21


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 093139.htm


The field of soft robotics has exploded in the past decade, as ever more researchers seek to make real the potential of these pliant, flexible automata in a variety of realms, including search and rescue, exploration and medicine.

For all the excitement surrounding these new machines, however, UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering professor Elliot Hawkes wants to ensure that soft robotics research is more than just a flash in the pan. "Some new, rapidly growing fields never take root, while others become thriving disciplines," Hawkes said.

To help guarantee the longevity of soft robotics research, Hawkes, whose own robots have garnered interest for their bioinspired and novel locomotion and for the new possibilities they present, offers an approach that moves the field forward. His viewpoint, written with colleagues Carmel Majidi from Carnegie Mellon University and Michael T. Tolley of UC San Diego, is published in the journal Science Robotics.

"We were looking at publication data for soft robotics and noticed a phase of explosive growth over the last decade," Hawkes said. "We became curious about trends like this in new fields, and how new fields take root."

The first decade of widespread soft robotics research, according to the group, "was characterized by defining, inspiring and exploring," as roboticists took to heart what it meant to create a soft robot, from materials systems to novel ways of navigating through and interacting with the environment.

However, the researchers argue, "for soft robotics to become a thriving, impactful field in the next decade, every study must make a meaningful contribution." According to Hawkes, the long-term duration of a rapidly growing field is often a matter of whether the initial exploratory research matures.

With that in mind, the group presents a three-tiered categorization system to apply to future soft robotics work.

"The three-tier system categorizes studies within the field, not the field as a whole," Hawkes explained. "For example, there will be articles coming out this year that will be Level 0, Level 1 and Level 2. The goal is to push as many Level 0 studies toward Level 1 and Level 2."

From Baseline to Broad Contribution

"Soft for soft's sake" could be used to characterize Level 0 in the categorization system, as researchers have, for the past decade, rapidly and broadly explored new materials and mechanisms that could fall under the notion of "soft robot." While these studies were necessary to define the field, according to the authors, maintaining research at this level puts soft robotics at the risk of stagnation.

With the benefits of a solid foundation, present and future roboticists are now encouraged to identify areas for performance improvement and solutions to gaps in the knowledge of soft robotics -- the hallmark of Level 1. These studies will push the field forward, the researchers said, as novel results could elevate technological performance of soft systems.

However, they say, "whenever possible, we should strive to push beyond work that only contributes to our field." Studies in the Level 2 category go beyond soft robotics to become applications in the broader field of engineering. Here, softness is more than an artificial constraint, according to the paper; rather, it "advances state-of-the art technology and understanding across disciplines" and may even displace long-used conventional technologies.

One way to move beyond Level 0 lies in the training of the next generation of roboticists, the researchers said. Consolidating the best available knowledge contributed by previous work will prime those just entering the field to "ask the right questions" as they pursue their research.

"We hope that the categorization we offer will serve the field as a tool to help improve contribution, ideally increasing the impact of soft robotics in the coming decade," Hawkes said.

Journal Reference:

Elliot W. Hawkes, Carmel Majidi, Michael T. Tolley. Hard questions for soft robotics. Science Robotics, 2021; 6 (53): eabg6049 DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abg6049
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Soft Robotics in Minimally Invasive Surgery

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10. ... .2018.0136

Abstract

Soft robotic devices have desirable traits for applications in minimally invasive surgery (MIS), but many interdisciplinary challenges remain unsolved. To understand current technologies, we carried out a keyword search using the Web of Science and Scopus databases, applied inclusion and exclusion criteria, and compared several characteristics of the soft robotic devices for MIS in the resulting articles. There was low diversity in the device designs and a wide-ranging level of detail regarding their capabilities. We propose a standardized comparison methodology to characterize soft robotics for various MIS applications, which will aid designers producing the next generation of devices.

Introduction

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) involves the use of long rigid or flexible surgical instruments that are inserted into the body through small incisions or natural orifices, in contrast to open surgery where large incisions are used to access the target anatomy directly. The goal of MIS is to complete a surgical procedure as safely and quickly as possible, while minimizing damage to peripheral tissue. MIS is being used with increasing frequency as an alternative to open surgery because of the improvements it can bring to patient safety, cosmesis, recovery time, shorter hospital stay, fewer postoperative complications, and pain.1 This review details a literature search targeted at articles describing novel soft robotic devices for MIS.

Central to MIS is the field of endoscopy; the process of viewing the inside of the body by directly inserting an optical device into the area of interest. The optical device is called an endoscope and several different types exist. Today, an endoscope commonly refers to a long flexible tube approximately 1.5–2 m in length equipped with a high-resolution camera and a light source at its tip. The tip can be actively steered by means of two thumb-controlled dials at its proximal end. Typically, there are working channels along the endoscope's length to supply air and water, and through which small, flexible instruments can be introduced for performing basic therapeutic procedures. Flexible endoscopes of this description are used for visualization of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract (gastroscope) and lower GI tract (colonoscope). However, rigid endoscopes of varying length and diameter are also used in many applications, for example, to visualize the abdomen (laparoscope), brain, (neuroendoscope), joints (arthroscope), and esophagus (esophagoscope). There are a wide range of endoscopic procedures involving either diagnosis or therapy on many parts of the body. Flexible and rigid endoscopes can vary in diameter and length depending on the application and the patient.

Surgical tools allow surgeons to grasp, dissect, remove, and suture tissue inside the body.2 A common example of MIS is endoscopic surgery for abdominal procedures, where a laparoscope and two or three long, rigid surgical tools of typical diameter around 5 mm are introduced into the abdomen through multiple individual small incisions. Several approaches have been developed to make MIS even less invasive and to enable new procedures that are impossible with traditional open surgery. One of these improved approaches is single-incision laparoscopic surgery, which involves inserting not only a laparoscope but also two rigid instruments through a single larger incision in the abdomen, preferably at the umbilicus, therefore reducing the number of incisions, but increasing the difficulty of the procedure. Natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery (NOTES) is a technique in which the abdomen is accessed using a long, flexible endoscope inserted through the mouth, anus, or vagina, and offers the benefit of avoiding abdominal incisions entirely.3 Instead, NOTES is performed through internal incisions that allow the endoscope to cross between tubular structures within the body, known as lumen, to adjacent cavities. MIS can also be performed on the brain by removing part of the skull and placing a port, through which a neuroendoscope and surgical instruments are passed to gain access to target tissue deep in the brain.4

MIS is characterized by small, easily deformable, dynamically changing, and unstructured workspaces, poor visibility with few visual markers for orientation, and the use of long, narrow instruments. Long, rigid instruments used in some forms of MIS suffer from the fulcrum effect, caused by the point of insertion of the instrument into the body, acting as a point of rotation that inverts the surgeon's movements and can amplify hand tremor, making the instruments more difficult to use.5 In current robotic MIS approaches, a surgeon controls a rigid robotic device that in turn controls the motion of the modified surgical instruments. The forces exerted at the tip of manually operated laparoscopic instruments can range between 0.1 and 10 N,6 so designers of robotic systems aim to achieve similar performance. In addition, robotic systems deliver precision, stability, motion scaling, and other benefits, but are unable to navigate tortuous paths due to their inflexibility and sometimes their large size, meaning they cannot provide access to all target anatomy. Flexible endoscopes and instruments are therefore used when the surgical site cannot be reached by rigid devices and, if flexible devices would be ineffective, open surgery may be the only option. Robotic systems with multiple instruments are also affected by instrument clashing,7 which makes manipulating the instruments more complex due to their overlapping workspaces. Using some robotic systems can also present difficulties with changing instruments during a procedure.

Instruments that are difficult to use result in lengthy procedures and high risk of causing unwanted damage to the patient.8 Furthermore, years of training are sometimes required to become an expert in their use. Patient pain is often caused as a result of the instruments deforming or perforating the tissue surrounding them, which can be caused by using endoscopic instruments that are too stiff.9 Damage or pain to the patient can also be caused when using flexible devices, and an example of this is looping of the colon during colonoscopy.10 In addition, problems still remain with positioning, dexterity, force exertion, and visualization when using flexible instruments and endoscopes.11 Research into soft robotics aims to bring together the controllability of rigid robotics, the access capabilities of flexible instruments, and the safety of soft materials by solving these problems.

Soft robotics focuses on using soft, compliant materials to construct robotic devices. Due to the materials they are made from, soft robots are ideal for dealing with unstructured environments or interacting with humans because they can deform around their environment.12 This differs from the traditional robot design approach of using rigid materials for both robot links and joints and is very well suited to medical applications, where eliminating patient trauma and pain are highly important.13 The challenges faced in MIS make compliance, variable stiffness, and safety some of the most important design criteria,14 and the field of soft robotics is well placed to meet these demands. In the authors' experience, soft materials achieve high patient acceptability in comparison with robotic devices made from metallic or other rigid materials. A colon cancer patient representation group also found an unintimidating appearance to be more important than the footprint. Clinicians specializing in applications on the GI tract and who are familiar with its delicate mechanical properties also expressed a preference for soft devices that would be less likely to cause patient pain and trauma.

Unfortunately, there are many trade-offs in return for the increase to patient safety, including low force exertion, poor controllability, and a lack of sensing capabilities, as for example discussed in Hughes et al.15 Simulation of soft robots is difficult and computationally expensive because compliant materials exhibit nonlinear responses to strain and soft devices have many degrees of freedom, which hinders the ability to design soft robots predictably.16 Soft robots can achieve large changes in volume, shape, and stiffness, which are impossible for conventional ones and which give them a unique advantage. Harnessing these capabilities and tackling the problems with low force exertion and controllability will deliver the next-generation instruments for MIS.

An advantage of soft materials is that they are often economical, readily available, and easy to handle; the most common example being the large range of elastomers used in much of the current research. By using economical soft materials and new manufacturing techniques, it is also becoming possible to develop disposable, patient-specific, low-cost, and rapidly manufactured robotic devices for MIS. Being more affordable than traditional robotic systems, soft robotic devices have the potential to become widely available17 and this makes them a candidate for frugal design approaches that could have high impact. Further advancements in materials and manufacturing will confirm the potential for patient-specific soft robotics in the future. However, there may be additional regulatory requirements for customizable medical devices. Specifically, manufacturers must ensure that each customized device meets the appropriate quality and safety requirements; hence, reliable manufacture is highly important.

The objective of this review is to provide an overview of the soft robotic devices that are under development in the field of MIS so that designers may more easily identify new ways of overcoming the numerous challenges that are currently faced.

In the next section, the methodology used to carry out the literature search is reported, followed by a description of the comparison process and the results of the literature search. The application areas of the devices include endoscopic procedures for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Throughout the rest of this review, the working principles, materials, manufacturing, actuation, variable stiffness, locomotion, and sensing methods found on the selected soft robotic devices are described in more detail. This will highlight the challenges across many disciplines that have to be considered and the lack of a standard method of comparison for soft robotic devices in MIS.
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