I was issued US Patent number 10,710,247 on July 14th 2020 for a new type of robotic gripper device uniquely able to grasp difficult-to-grasp food items.
Robotic preparation of food is hard, in part, because of the difficulty of grasping and manipulating irregular shaped, slippery, and loose aggregated cooking ingredients like chopped onions, shrimp, or loose lettuce. I was asked to consider if any new design could meet the needs of this task, and prototype it. From my previous work with mechanical iris development inspired by the international space station’s Canadarm gripper, (see: CNC Bubble Iris), I realized that a novel 3-degree-of-freedom gripper could meet this need: a conical cage of slender spears, which could change shape in three different ways: taper angle, diameter, and extension. With these motions, I realized it was possible to make a highly effective gripper with a wide repertoire of potential grasping strategies, which could allow for a huge range of ingredients to be handled by a single gripper. The gripper can either open or close like a hand gathering and grabbing a handful of food, or stab like a fork, push food off of that fork, or dispense loose food items gradually, e.g. ‘sprinkling’. This gripper went on to become the primary end effector for a $1M+ commercial research project
The conical iris gripper was rapid prototyped with 3d printing, laser cutting, OEM parts, and a minimum of machining, over the span of about two weeks with other projects going on. The initial prototype was made using mostly laser cut acrylic and off the shelf parts, with a materials cost of less than $150.
I’m pleased to release a new publication in the Twenty-Second International Conference on Composite Materials (ICCM22) entitled “Enabling Biomimetic Morphing UAVs” with colleagues at SRI, the University of Southern California, and NextGen Aeronautics.
This publication details one application of a technology I have helped develop with my colleague Roy Kornbluh at SRI: ultra-lightweight, ultra-low power, electrolaminate clutches and mechanical multiplexers for reconfigurable systems in aerospace, astronautical, and terrestrial robotic applications.
My role in this project was to mechanically design a demonstrator tailfin assembly using these new lightweight, low power, electrolaminate clutches to lock control surfaces of aerial vehicles into variable area configurations. I did all the mechanical and electrical design as well as composite fabrication of the carbon fiber tail and rear fuselage assembly.
Abstract: This paper reports on the design and testing of a practical, morphing wing aircraft. We intentionally mix and match elements of avian inspired design with novel technologies and proven mechanical components to provide a demonstrator aircraft that shows, in the simplest way, what benefits accrue from basic morphing changes. The simplest and most beneficial morphing concept is to change the wing area and aspect ratio, and it is easy to show that, for an otherwise fixed example configuration, a factor of three decrease in wing planform area can sustain a predicted lift:drag ratio, L/D = 9, when the vehicle flight speed U doubles from 12 to 24 m/s. Without morphing, L/D would be 6.5. Such a large area change can be achieved with a telescoping wing, which is not biomimetic, but is practicable and achievable using standard and custom 3D printed components. We combine this variation with a tail-body configuration that is bio-inspired, and suggested by previous and continuing work on the vehicle-level flight efficiency of tailless aircraft, where a standard tail geometry is replaced by a trailing edge flap that converts the cargo-carrying body into a lifting body. The practical shape-changing is enabled by the use of novel electrolaminate materials that can quickly change stiffness at varying positions/postures.
The “Electrified Flowers of Hawaii” project succeeded in raising more than twice it’s initial funding goal! Consequently I am now in Hawaii where, for the next month, I will be studying the floral biodiversity of the Big Island using a large format film camera and apparatus I built myself, including a lightning machine (a Marx generator) capable of producing intense pulses of electricity at up to a quarter million volts.
The Human Scale is a gorgeous film about the ways in which the organization of our infrastructure shapes our lives. Much of the last 50 years has seen cities organized around cars, with tragic consequences for common spaces and face-to-face human interaction. The human scale documents some of the best efforts at bringing cities back to life as places for human, not automotive, interaction.
I am honored to get to introduce the film and, following the showing, moderate a panel discussion with notable figures from the mayor’s office of community development, the mayor’s office Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, and Bike Pittsburgh.
The Human Scale shows at the Harris Theater downtown, 809 Liberty Avenue, on Thursday November 13th at 7:00 pm. Panel Discussion to follow. Tickets are $9, and can be bought online or in person.
Can you fathom what it must feel like to be one of the astronomers who, 45 years ago, discovered a comet, and is here today watching as we as a species are rendezvousing with that comet, gently landing a 200 pound Philae probe onto the surface, while we watch from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft 19 miles above?
This is so humbling and inspiring to witness. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially the engineers which, by the various slingshot maneuvers, accelerated this spacecraft so deep into space on such a perfectly accurate trajectory to hit a bullseye hundreds of millions of miles away!!
Watch this amazing animation of the incredible 12 year long, half-a-billion-mile, bullseye we will see stick it’s landing here in less than one hour!!
Mary Shaw is a gem. She is a fantastically interesting, diversely competent, engaging, and modest person who I befriended and formed an immense respect for while completely ignorant of her great eminence as Carnegie Mellon University’s Alan J Perlis University Professor of Computer Science (where she has taught since six years before I was born). As we met she was to me simply an engaging, creative, person who’d engage in conversations over a workbench, ‘soldering iron in hand’, on subjects spanning LED lighting, investment casting of custom metal drawer-pulls, glider piloting, glider construction, hot air balloon piloting, critical path analysis, vortex rings, bicycling, bicycle touring, bubble blowing mechanisms, bubble blowing while bicycle riding, tensegrity sculpture design, math, physics, engineering, relationships, photography… everything.
When I proposed organizing a group bicycle ride for Bike-Fest here in Pittsburgh, for which riders would be equipped with bubble blowing equipment to produce large numbers of bubbles in the air we moved through, she and her husband Roy enthusiastically participated on a tandem. They made the cover of the local paper, riding that tandem and blowing bubbles, during the Pedal Pittsburgh Ride.
Mary and her husband Roy, who I will occasionally assist as part of his Hot Air Balloon chase-van and recovery team (Mary is a pilot too, of rigid winged gliders), are a marvelous couple. They give a great model of what I imagine a happy seventh decade might best look like. They are frequently seen about Pittsburgh riding their tandem bicycle, or working together at Techshop. They ride the 330 mile Great Allegheny Passage bike path 330 miles between Pittsburgh and Washington DC every year, revising their trail guide and publishing trip reports which have proven very helpful to other riders. Their guide book is available for minimal cost, and their earlier trip reports can be found online.
I found out about this award today after just talking with her Monday – she did me the huge honor of recommending me to the Autodesk Pier 9 Artist Residency, which l have applied for – and didn’t even bring it up. Not that I’m one she’d brag to, but I think it’s representative of a quality I admire very much, of understated but immense competence.
Grey Iron and Ductile Iron Pipe are the dominant conveyances of water and sewage in American infrastructure. These types of iron have carbon and iron constituents whose relative distribution and crystal sizes determine their mechanical properties. Over time, this material are susceptible to ‘graphitization corrosion’ in which either graphite particles migrate and aggregate (typically at temperatures above 800F) or in which local electrochemical corrosion at room temperature results in preferential loss of the iron / ferrite constituent of the matrix. When this happens, the pipe becomes brittle, and mechanical insults like vibration or thermal stresses can exceed the flexibility of this now brittle material, leading to brittle failure and cracks. However, this corrosion can be invisible, because the remainder graphite particles are cohesive and the pipe appears physically unchanged.
During road work, construction, and maintenance operations, these pipes are visually inspected, but because pipes experiencing graphitization corrosion often look physically unchanged – the graphite material remains in the same contour as the original material, a method of detecting the change in properties of the pipe was needed which did not depend on visual changes, or subjective “bang on it with a hammer” subjective methodology, as was the state of the art previously. We needed a non-destructive method of detecting the changing properties of the pipe.
The insight of this patent is that the changing microstructure of the graphitized material has reduced magnetic properties due to the loss of iron. This could be sensed by measuring the magnetic permeability of the pipe, or it’s consequential magnetic measurements like inductance or the force developed within a fixed magnetic field. At the urging of my mentor Dr. Mehrooz Zamanzadeh, President and Principal Scientist of Matco Services, and with my assistant Sam, I developed a prototype sensor and confirmed that magnetic flux concentration, magnetic force, and inductance measurements are all viable methods of non-destructive detection of changed microstructure and ferrite loss in grey iron and ductile iron pipe. US Patent 8154279 was issued on April 10th 2012 for “Non-destructive testing apparatus for the detection of graphitization of iron”
I was honored to be invited to perform as the soloist and featured performer for the Moth Mainstage event at the Byham theater in Downtown Pittsburgh.
from the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures writeup:
“The acclaimed storytelling group, The Moth, based in New York City, will return to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, August 27, 2014, for a sixth annual appearance presented by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures. Consistently a sell-out event, The Moth Mainstage is a two-act show featuring five true stories, told live and without notes. A mix of celebrated raconteurs and storytelling novices from Pittsburgh and beyond, this year’s lineup will explore the theme “Don’t Look Back” in wildly divergent ways.”
The Byham theater has 1300 seats, and it was sold out. As lights dimmed at the beginning, then after the intermission, I walked on stage and played my own compositions on unaccompanied Cello. I then sat on stage through the whole event, in the best seat of the house, eight feet from each performer.
The theme was “Not Looking Back”.
Kate Tellers told a warm story about her 85 year old mother’s last hours, with family and friends gathering around, sharing cheeses and familial warmth, paying their respects as the old lady felt her death approaching and called a loving family near.
Vanessa German told a wrenching story of the most positive perspective shift, on the occasion of the recent death of her abusive schitzophrenic mother, and the moments and words surrounding her death, and the perspective she found to forgive her mother instead of resent her, and give her in dying the sort of comfort and tenderness that she and her 5 siblings so long sought themselves.
Richard Price told a fascinating story of his 15 year old great grandfather, born in 1900, as a short 110 pound napoleon-complex russian jew in the bronx with not much sense, taking on a gang of killers and thugs, the fein gang, in their lair to secure their release of a girl to her mother. And of how that gang got back at him by praising his courage, welcoming him, then initiating him by sending him to beat up a girl in a picket line who turned out to be his cousin, who he begged to play along, but would not. The gang saw he betrayed the intent of his initiation (he did not cripple his cousin) and he fled to the docks to save his life, got hired by a merchant ship (despite the sailor’s tale that a jew on a boat is bad luck), and then having further problems of similar origin when he confronted (on the third day of the journey) one of the rude sailors who demanded coffee from him, by dumping the pot of coffee on his head. His grandfather was then KEELHAULED, and survived. When they got to Algiers, his grandfather was again duped by the villains, and the sailors made peace with him and offered to take him out for a night on the town, visiting a brothel, and eventually slipping him a mickey finn, knockout drops, and tattooing this jewish boy from the bronx with a large christian cross on his arm, before abandoning him in port of Algiers. He was told that tattooing over a fresh tattoo would kill him (infection?), but replied to the tattooist he’d rather return to his mother dead, than for her to see a christian cross on his arm-he wanted the tattoo transformed to an anchor. He was rendered quite sick, but had the second tattoo, and then as a penniless teenage boy, made his way back from Algiers to New York over 6 months in or about 1916.
Horace Sanders told a story about his divorce and reconciliation with the mother of his third through eighth children.
Cole Kazdin told a story about how she broke up with her boyfriend of several years, amiably, then was rendered amnesic in a stunt she was roped into as a TV actress (being thrown in the air in a cheerleader outfit amongst people who were supposed to catch her, but didn’t). She forgot the breakup, and doctors asked her boyfriend to play along for the first few days. The details of how she would make post-it notes to collect details of her life, foreign to her, were fascinating.
A great pleasure of the evening, in addition to talking to fascinating people all night, was getting to play solo cello for a half hour in the empty Byham before doors opened. It is a surprisingly live space, and there was no problem filling it with unamplified cello. Perhaps the highest point personally came shortly after I’d played at the beginning of the event, as the host chose to take the first two minutes of the event to tell 1300 people about how impressed he was with the other stuff I do.
Backstage just before going on, I got to talk to a stranger who turned out to be the executive director of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Series, Stephanie Flom, who was to follow me onstage to introduce the event. She and her husband Peter, I learned later, met at Pitt, from which they graduated the year before I was born, in an experimental degree program in social activism. Her career has spanned arts management, social activism, her own artistic career, environmental education, and library and theater establishment. It also turns out we used to be neighbors. #talktostrangers.