Tag Archive: robotics


MAND labs b

Review by C.J. Bunce

RadioShack was founded 100 years ago, and for most of those decades it has been the go-to supplier for anyone interested in electronics.  Not just for professionals, but it’s where students went to make things if they had even a remote interest in electronics.  The new incarnation of RadioShack is little different, less storefronts but an endless online supply of materials and ideas that what was once the exclusive purview of kids in the A/V Club.  It is now something any young person can–and should–become proficient in.  I knew as soon as I saw the Mand Labs kits on the new RadioShack website that this kind of product can and should be part of the future of STEM learning–whether at home or in schools.  So I reviewed the Mand Labs STEM Electronics Kit (KIT-1) to see if it’s as good as it looks. 

It is. 

Not only does the kit have everything you need–all the technological components to create more than 60 educational and fun projects–the even bigger value is the set of two textbook/workbooks, which provide all the theory, math, history, and core science so students understand the how and why.  With the books, digital videos, and online resources that come with the kit, even a young grade schooler can learn the fundamentals of electricity, physics, computer science, robotics, and electrical engineering.  And for adults, say you’re a cosplayer and you want to wire a helmet or chest box with lights and sound, or maybe you want to understand better why you can’t get your electronic fan or doorbell to work, or always wondered how the electric systems of your automobiles work, this kit will help you get started.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For all the complex technology inside the Chain-Program Robot, a fully-functional, all-in-one model robotics kit, Tamiya, Japan’s premiere modelmaker, has made a surprisingly straight-forward, project to build in a day or less for anyone looking for a great hobby project right now.  A motorized robot that resembles Number Five from the 1980s comedy classic starring Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, Short Circuit (“Number Five is alive!”), that is actually programmable, in a kit that includes everything you need to build and operate it, except a hobby knife, screwdriver, and double-A battery?  Thanks to Plaza Japan, the world’s best online store for authentic Japanese action figures, model kits, toys and puzzles, we gave the Chain-Program Robot a try, and it is every bit as good–and fun–as it sounds.  Take a look at a detailed rundown of my experience with the build process, and a video of the robot in action, below.

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We have the technology… that could soon allow injured people to become fully autonomous again as cybernetic humans.  The future is closer than you might think.

Yesterday in an article in the journal Nature, researchers took another step forward in creating borg technology that one day may allow paraplegics and amputees to fully utilize advanced prosthetics to replace their missing limbs.  In their article “Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm,” Leigh R. Hochberg, Daniel Bacher, Beata Jarosiewicz, Nicolas Y. Masse, John D. Simeral, Joern Vogel, Sami Haddadin, Jie Liu, Sydney S. Cash, Patrick van der Smagt, and John P. Donoghue authored a study whereby two participants–years after their last productive use of their brains to control limb movement–were able to use an implanted neural interface, called the “BrainGate,” a pocket of electronic chips placed in the brain, to transmit commands to hard-wired three-dimensional devices to direct simulated limb movement.  A tetraplegic woman was able to use her own mind to move an artificial hand to allow her to drink unaided for the first time in nearly fifteen years.

Yesterday’s research was the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can practically control a prosthetic arm, using implants in the brain to transmit neural signals to an external computer.

Expanding on this research, it is easy to envision the possibilities of an advanced set of prosthetics attached to the human body that could one day serve as replacements for arms and legs–actual, useful borg technology to improve human life beyond that of current prosthetic arms and legs–for those people who have lost the functioning internal hard-wiring needed to complete even the most simple everyday tasks.

Study participant Cathy Hutchinson uses her thoughts to drink without anyone’s assistance for the first time in 15 years.

“Paralysis following spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other disorders can disconnect the brain from the body, eliminating the ability to perform volitional movements. A neural interface system could restore mobility and independence for people with paralysis by translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices,” the study reported.  “Here we demonstrate the ability of two people with long-standing tetraplegia to use neural interface system-based control of a robotic arm to perform three-dimensional reach and grasp movements.”

With little advance direction, a 58-year-old woman and 66 year old man who had suffered debilitating strokes were able to use a small group of neurons in their brain stems connected via a 96-channel microelectrode array to operate a hand and arm machine.  The 58-year-old woman, using a sensor implanted 5 years earlier, used a robotic arm to drink coffee from a bottle.  “Our results demonstrate the feasibility for people with tetraplegia, years after injury to the central nervous system, to recreate useful multidimensional control of complex devices directly from a small sample of neural signals,” the study said.

Charts from the study showing the BrainGate process.

The basic commands used electronic signal patterns to direct the machine to move “left,” “right” and “down”.  The interface was centered on the participants’ heads, but future research could include the sending of wireless signals, although this has not yet been realized.  The BrainGate2 project furthered an earlier 2006 study that allowed a man to use his thoughts to move a computer cursor as part of an early phase of this research project.  Although practical application is likely years away because of FDA approvals and necessary improvements, news of this study will hopefully cause other researchers to expand the reach of this work.

More information and the complete journal report can be found at Nature.com.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com