tech robots agriculture developing_world farmer pump irrigation myanmar development poverty

Robots Test Tools For Myanmar’s Farmers

Proximity Designs is a Myanmar-based social enterprise that designs products to improve poor people’s lives. Some of the affordable creations they’ve made include foot-powered water pumps, drip irrigation systems, solar lanterns and even infrastructure projects like bridges.

An integral part of their design and manufacturing process involves putting prototypes through trials with robots that use them until they break. The group says their line of farming aids all get pushed to failure by their lab’s robot farmers, which helps improve how they’re made.

Building a reliable product is important if it is to be used under the strain of daily life in rural Myanmar. A product like a manual water pump relieves farmers of the backbreaking work of carrying up to 10 tons of water a day on their backs from distant wells.

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Spore Power: Wetting Bacteria Makes Electricity And Robot Muscles

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by Petti Fong

If dry bacteria spores of the genus Bacillus were boxers, commentators would say they punch above their weight.

When they dehydrate, the rod-shaped spores— dormant cells that help the microorganism survive tough environmental conditions and are naturally found in soil and vegetation—shrivel or curl like a leaf. Add some moisture and they straighten out again. Studies have shown that they can absorb water and expand with remarkable force. Now scientists say this phenomenon can be harnessed to use the microbes as a potential source of renewable energy or as muscles to make superstrong robots.

In research recently reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, a team detailed how they smeared spores on a flat piece of rubber and created a bacteria-powered generator.

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Fishing-Line Muscles Could Make Superstrong Robots

by Charles Q. Choi

Artificial muscles that drive the powerful limbs or subtle facial expressions of robots can be made using nothing more than fishing line and sewing thread, researchers say. Such components work essentially the same way as toy airplanes powered by rubber bands.

"We can take a very inexpensive material that you can find at your local store and convert it to a powerful muscle that outperforms very complicated technologies," says Ray Baughman, a materials scientist and director of the University of Texas at Dallas NanoTech Institute.

The scientists imagine their new technology will find use in applications where superhuman strength is desired, such as in robots, exoskeletons and prosthetic limbs. For example, by twisting a bundle of polyethylene fishing lines, each about 10 times the width of a human hair, a coiled polymer muscle results that can lift 16 pounds, and 100 of these muscles operating in parallel much like natural muscles could lift about 1,600 pounds, Baughman says.

Click through to read more and see additional gifs.

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Last month, DARPA’s Robotics Challenge brought 16 teams and their robots to Homestead, Fla., to compete for funding to continue their work on disaster-response robots. 

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