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Robot that stocks drinks is newest thing at the corner store

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TX SCARA robotic works, stocking drinks within the refrigerated part of a FamilyMart comfort retailer in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The robotic can restock cabinets with as much as 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Credit score: AP Picture/Yuri Kageyama

A small robotic with a clip-like hand and sufficient smarts to know which drinks are in style is a part of an effort to make comfort shops much more handy.

On a latest day in Tokyo, the robotic named TX SCARA slid forwards and backwards behind the refrigerated cabinets at the back of a FamilyMart store.

The hand on the top of its mechanical arm grasped a bottle or can from the stacks to the aspect, then the robotic slithered to the best spot and positioned the drink on the shelf—in a spot chosen after its artificial intelligence and tiny cameras matched the form of beverage to what’s operating brief.

TX SCARA is filling a wanted position in Japan’s “conbini,” as the ever present tiny shops promoting snacks, drinks and knick-knacks are known as.

Most such shops are open 24-seven, stuffed with 3,000 sorts of merchandise, however have comparatively few staff. The beverage cabinets within the again are farthest from the money register, protecting staff operating forwards and backwards. And the beverage area is refrigerated, uncomfortably chilly for folks to remain there too many hours.

TX SCARA, which fits at an undisclosed worth, can restock as much as 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Its synthetic intelligence, known as “GORDON,” is aware of when and the place merchandise must be positioned on cabinets, in line with Tokyo-based Telexistence, which created TX SCARA.

Robot that stocks drinks is newest thing at the corner store
Telexistence CEO Jin Tomioka stands earlier than his firm’s robotic, TX SCARA, heart again, because it shares drinks within the refrigerated part of a FamilyMart comfort retailer in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The robotic can restock cabinets with as much as 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Credit score: AP Picture/Yuri Kageyama

“We wish to automate all of the repetitive jobs and boring jobs accomplished by people. That’s the path we’re going. And one of the simplest ways to do this is to make use of the robots,” Chief Govt Jin Tomioka stated.

Industrial robots are already widespread in factories, however Tomioka’s 50-employee firm sees nice potential at warehouses and residential facilities, he stated. His robots are much more reasonably priced than industrial robots, comparable to these at auto vegetation, however can show simply as essential for social needs, designed to coexist and collaborate with folks, serving to out with routine and rudimentary duties.

Tomioka’s robots are tailor-made for present shops, which do not have to vary their format or routine. Their {hardware} makes use of Nvidia GPU-accelerated AI applied sciences to permit for remote control over Azure, the cloud computing service operated by Microsoft.

A Telexistence operator sporting digital actuality glasses can see issues once they happen, comparable to a dropped beverage, and repair them from the corporate workplace.

Robot that stocks drinks is newest thing at the corner store
On this picture produced from video, Raul Vicente, a professor of Information Science at College of Tartu, speaks in Tartu, Estonia, throughout a web based interview with The Related Press on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Robots are proving a plus within the period of the coronavirus pandemic by decreasing an infection dangers, stated Vicente. Credit score: AP Picture

TX SCARA is now at 300 of the 16,000 FamilyMart shops in Japan. There are 40,000 extra conbini in Japan, and the U.S. has about 150,000 convenience stores.

With its getting old inhabitants, Japan has a labor shortage that is anticipated to solely get extra extreme in coming years.

FamilyMart Govt Officer Tomohiro Kano referred to the Japanese expression “in search of even a cat’s paw for assist” to explain how determined a state of affairs would possibly get. “At FamilyMart, we’re in search of a robotic’s arm for assist,” he stated with fun.

  • Robot that stocks drinks is newest thing at the corner store
    Telexistence CEO Jin Tomioka, left, and FamilyMart Govt Officer Tomohiro Kano have a look at cabinets of a FamilyMart comfort retailer in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, because the TX SCARA robotic shares cabinets with battles and cans. The robotic can restock cabinets with as much as 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Credit score: AP Picture/Yuri Kageyama
  • Robot that stocks drinks is newest thing at the corner store
    FamilyMart Govt Officer Tomohiro Kano appears at a packed lunch at a FamilyMart comfort retailer in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, the place the TX SCARA robotic is stocking cabinets with bottles and cans. The robotic can restock cabinets with as much as 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Credit score: AP Picture/Yuri Kageyama

Whereas trendy robots are taking up severe work like mapping catastrophe zones and serving to medical doctors carry out surgical procedure, the common-or-garden TX SCARA tirelessly does the unglamorous work of stocking cabinets with bottled tea and orange drinks.

IT employee Taisuke Miyaki watched the robot working as he peered into the beverage shelf. He acknowledged he hadn’t observed it earlier than though he outlets at FamilyMart typically, particularly for his favourite bottled jasmine tea.

“Come to think about it, the cabinets are at all times properly stocked currently,” he stated.


Robot arms are replacing shelf stockers in Japan’s stores


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The UK wants to export its model of AI regulation, but it’s doubtful the world will want it

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Credit: PopTika / Shutterstock

Recent claims that artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential threat to humanity seem to have jolted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak into action. Despite being seen as having a “pro-techology” stance, he appears to be quickly shifting position.

The Centre for AI Safety recently made mitigating the risk of extinction from AI a global priority. Against this background of caution, Sunak now reportedly wants the UK to lead in the development of guardrails to regulate AI growth.

During a trip to the US, Sunak was expected to try to persuade US president Joe Biden that the UK should play such a leading role on global AI guidelines, pitching the UK as the ideal hub for AI regulation. He seems to have met with limited success. So, is the case for this strong enough to persuade the US, and other global leaders?

Part of the anticipated pitch is that “the UK could promote a model of regulation that would be less ‘draconian’ than the approach taken by the EU, while more stringent than any framework in the US”. This is likely to raise some eyebrows and ruffle some feathers.

In part, this is because the UK’s “principles-based” approach can hardly be considered stringent at all. In its March 2023 white paper, the UK government laid out its “pro-innovation approach” to AI regulation. White papers are policy documents setting out plans for future legislation. The plans have been criticized for being too lax, already outdated, and lacking in meaningful detail.

Fit for export?

Even the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), one of the UK’s regulators affected by the white paper, was quick to point out its shortcomings. In this light, it does not seem to be a prime candidate for regulatory export.

Moreover, the US and the EU are making significant strides in coordinating their approaches to technology regulation. Only last week, they launched three joint expert groups to move forward with their December 2022 joint AI roadmap. It is unclear what the UK would bring to this table.

Finally, other major players have a much more credible track record of AI and digital regulation. The EU is close to completing the legislative process for its AI Act, initiated in 2021. This will give it a first-mover advantage in the jostle for position to advance a global standard for AI regulation.

Japan developed a principles-based approach to AI regulation back in 2019, which provides a clear alternative to the UK’s similar framework. While the international community still seems to accept that the UK could punch above its weight in tech matters, it is far from clear whether they would hand it the keys to global AI regulation.

Rishi Sunak’s bid to place the UK as a prime hub for AI regulation could also be seen as a calculated move to boost the country’s tech sector, which the Prime Minister has been bullish in promoting. This is evident from the launch in March 2023 of the Foundation Model Taskforce. With a budget of £100 million and the mission “to ensure sovereign capabilities and broad adoption of safe and reliable foundation models”, this is the PM’s push for the development of a “British ChatGPT”.

A country invested in promoting the development of “British AI”, and playing catch up with US and Chinese AI giants, could be seen as trying to secure an advantageous position in the race to AI regulation. This would help steer the development of AI global standards in ways that support the UK’s digital strategy, rather than being genuinely worried about dubious AI existential threats.

Fear of missing out?

Such “fantasy concerns” have been readily dismissed, and experts agree they have not been backed up by evidence. Experts are united on the risk of AI wiping out humanity being “close to zero” and have rejected the “doomer narratives” advanced by the tech industry. Earlier studies of AI-related existential risks have shown that they depend on human use or abuse of AI.

There has been no breakthrough to suggest any new need for regulation. The PM’s sudden change of heart could easily be read as an opportunistic intervention to reposition the UK in the global AI scene, as the current “pro-innovation” approach is clearly out of kilter.

The sincerity of the concerns behind the move is also put in question by the fact that the UK’s approach to AI regulation has consistently sidelined the importance of tackling the very real and current risks posed by AI—such as algorithmic discrimination or environmental impacts—which experts agree should be the primary focus of regulation.

Some of the ways in which the UK is seeking to generate a digital Brexit dividend pose serious threats to individual rights, such as in the data protection and digital information (No. 2) bill currently in discussion in parliament. This is at odds with a genuine will to put adequate guardrails in place to protect the public from AI-related harms.

So all in all the case looks weak. However, AI regulation will not be sorted in one go. If the UK wants to play a leading role in the future, it would do well to get its house in order. Seriously revising the March 2023 white paper and the data protection and digital information (No. 2) bill would be a good place to start.

Only by implementing effective protections and showing strong and decisive action domestically can the UK government hope to build the credibility needed to lead international efforts of AI regulation.

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The UK wants to export its model of AI regulation, but it’s doubtful the world will want it (2023, June 7)
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Mechanical engineers lend fresh insight into battery-based desalination technology

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A chemical analog to Prussian blue, the intense blue pigment used in Hokusai’s woodblock print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” is being utilized in an updated saltwater desalination technique. Mechanical engineers at U. of I. are using it in a new electrode equipped with flow channels to make the desalination process more effective and efficient. Credit: After Katsushika Hokusai, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

To achieve more effective saltwater desalination in a new study, mechanical engineers have focused on fluid movement rather than new materials. By adding microchannels to the inside of battery-like electrodes made of Prussian blue—an intense blue pigment often used in art that also has special chemical properties—researchers increased the extent of seawater desalination five times over their non-channeled counterparts to reach salinity levels below the freshwater threshold.

The study, led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign mechanical engineering and science professor Kyle Smith and graduate student Vu Do, used a chemical analog to Prussian blue. The findings are poised for applications in desalination, energy conversion and storage, CO2 conversion and capture, environmental remediation, and resource and nutrient recovery.

The study is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

“In previous work, we predicted desalination could be performed using this method, but nobody had validated seawater-level desalination in the lab,” Smith said. “In the interim, we learned that in addition to the specific kind of material used in the electrodes, the system’s configuration also matters.”

Mechanical engineers lend fresh insight into battery-based desalination technology
The team used laser-engraved microchannels to improve flow within their new electrodes. Pictured are views of a single microchannel from above, left, and the side, right. Credit: Smith research group, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The researchers said the Prussian blue analog material works by taking hold of positively charged ions like sodium within the pigment’s crystal structure. However, it can turn into a bit of a traplike structure, where the ions easily enter but become ensnared in a maze of tiny, charged molecular-scale pore spaces inside the electrode. The team found that they would need to use a specialized apparatus to perform complex valve switching and current synchronization inside the flow cell to keep continuous desalination going, without which the system’s efficiency is hampered.

By engraving multiple 100-micrometer wide channels—the approximate width of a human hair—onto the 5-centimeter-sized electrode, the researchers can provide the fluids with a clear path to pass through without losing the ability to pluck salt ions out of the water, the researchers said.

The setup used for this study can desalinate laboratory-prepared seawater at a rate of milliliters over the course of hours, so the team’s next step is to scale up, the researchers said.

Mechanical engineers lend fresh insight into battery-based desalination technology
Professor Kyle Smith, left, and graduate students Irwin Loud and Vu Do. Credit: Michelle Hassel

“The goal of the Navy grant used to fund this study is to desalinate two to four gallons per hour—using diesel fuel as a power source—to provide a portable device to supply water to military troops in small expeditionary units,” Smith said. “Of course, our group is interested in much broader applications for these battery-like devices, but scaling up will be an essential step to getting there.”

“One remarkable aspect of this study is the mechanical engineering edge that we provide,” Do said. “In the research community, there’s a lot of emphasis on materials and their chemistry. But we’ve shown that fluid mechanics of the system matter a lot to get the most out of a great material when you integrate it appropriately.”

Smith research group members Irwin Loud and Erik Reale also contributed to the study.

More information:
Vu Quoc Do et al, Embedded, micro-interdigitated flow fields in high areal-loading intercalation electrodes towards seawater desalination and beyond, Energy & Environmental Science (2023). DOI: 10.1039/D3EE01302B

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Mechanical engineers lend fresh insight into battery-based desalination technology (2023, June 7)
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Carbon neutral heat beneath our feet ‘could supply large parts of UK’

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Council areas with a currently mapped aquifer at a depth of 4 km, scaled by estimated temperature (°C). Credit: GEOTHERMAL ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES OF THE U.K (2023).

New research from some of our leading energy experts has shown that the UK sits on underground heat capable of providing sustainable, carbon-neutral heating and cooling for large areas of the nation.

Harnessing this natural resource would diversify and strengthen the UK’s heat supply as well as bring opportunities for economic growth to regions of the UK.

Geothermal heat

The study was led by researchers from Durham Energy Institute (DEI), and commissioned by Kieran Mullan, Member of Parliament for Crewe and Nantwich.

It built on an earlier study from the DEI which recognized geothermal heat as a source of ultra-low carbon and secure form of energy. This study estimated that deep geothermal resources could provide all the UK’s heat demand for at least 100 years.

The research identified the opportunity to exploit sustainable geothermal energy to displace gas usage in the UK and improve energy security.

It assessed and ranked the geothermal potential of individual council areas in the UK and demonstrate that many of the more populated areas of the UK also have high geothermal potential.

The research concluded that investment is needed to understand of the UK’s deep subsurface and reduce the uncertainty for future geothermal exploration and developments.

The report from this research confirmed that geothermal energy has a significant role in the energy mix for the UK’s energy transition to deliver a secure, low-carbon energy future.

Findings inform MP’s report

The findings from this research informed Dr. Kieran Mullan’s report Dig Deep Opportunities To Level Up Through Deep Geothermal Heat & Energy On The Way To Net Zero.

A purpose of this report is to specific localities where the opportunity for deep geothermal exploration is greatest.

Analysis of the research identifies 45 high potential sites in the UK with the presence of hot water stored in rocks deep underground suitable for deep geothermal plants.

Delivering the UK’s net zero ambitions

The report considers that deep geothermal heat can be cost competitive with the Green Gas Support Scheme and Nuclear identifies that a tariff-based approach as the most effective way to kickstart a UK deep geothermal sector.

It concludes that with the right support, it is possible that by 2050 the UK could have 360 geothermal plants producing 15,000 GWh annually.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the report, saying it was excellent and would help the Government consider whether there is a bigger role for geothermal energy.

Economic benefit for North East England

For North East England the likely greatest potential exploitation opportunities for deep geothermal exploration are in County Durham, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, and Redcar and Cleveland.

The report recognizes the contribution that developing a deep geothermal industry will make to the North Sea transition. The technology and skills set associated with the traditional drilling and geological expertise the oil and gas sector in the North Sea are transferable to this new industry.

This would bring to jobs and skills to Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, and Northumberland, thereby improving the economic resilience of these communities.

More information:
Main report: www.drkieranmullan.org.uk/site … les/2023-06/Appendix%202%20Geothermal%20Energy%20Opportunities%20of%20the%20UK%202023.pdf

MP’s report: www.drkieranmullan.org.uk/site … uk/files/2023-06/Dig%20Deep%20June%202023.pdf

Provided by
Durham University


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Carbon neutral heat beneath our feet ‘could supply large parts of UK’ (2023, June 7)
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Senators call on TikTok CEO to explain ‘inaccurate’ statements about how company manages US data

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Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., right speak during a hearing, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington. The two U.S. senators are asking TikTok to explain what they called “misleading or inaccurate” statements about how it stores and provides access to U.S. user data. In a letter sent Tuesday, June 6, 2023 to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, U.S. Sens Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn cited recent news reports from Forbes and The New York Times that raised questions about how the company some handles sensitive U.S. user information. Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

Two U.S. senators are asking TikTok to explain what they called “misleading or inaccurate” responses about how it stores and provides access to U.S. user data after recent news reports raised questions about how the Chinese-owned social media platform handles some sensitive information.

In a letter sent Tuesday to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn cited a report from Forbes that said TikTok had stored financial information of U.S. content creators who get paid by the company—including their Social Security numbers and tax IDs—on China-based servers.

The senators also cited another report from The New York Times, published in late May, that said TikTok employees regularly shared user information, such as driver’s licenses information of some American users, on an internal messaging app called Lark that employees from TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, could easily access.

Forbes first reported Wednesday on the letter.

TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said, “”We are reviewing the letter. We remain confident in the accuracy of our testimony and responses to Congress.”

TikTok has said servers that contain U.S. user data have been physically stored in Virginia and Singapore, where its headquartered. But who can access that data—and from where—is an ongoing question.

Chew, the company’s CEO, said at a congressional hearing in March that access to the data was provided “as-required” to engineers globally for business purposes. He also said some ByteDance employees still maintained access to some U.S. user data, but that would end once Project Texas—the company’s plan to siphon off U.S. user data from China—was completed.

The popular social media app has been under scrutiny from Western governments, who’ve been wary of the company’s Chinese ownership and have prohibited its use on government issued devices. Earlier this year, the Biden administration threated to ban the platform nationwide if the company’s Chinese owners don’t sell their stakes.

To assuage concerns from U.S. lawmakers, TikTok has been touting its Project Texas plan to store U.S. user data on servers owned and maintained by the software giant Oracle. Last year, the company said it began directing all U.S. user traffic to those servers but also continued to back up data on its own servers.

Chew said the company began deleting all historic U.S. user data from non-Oracle servers in March, and the process expected to be completed this year.

In their letter, the senators also said the recent news reports appear to contradict testimonies from another TikTok official about where U.S. user data is stored.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Senators call on TikTok CEO to explain ‘inaccurate’ statements about how company manages US data (2023, June 7)
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‘AI doctor’ better at predicting patient outcomes, including death

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An army critical care nurse, tends to a Covid-19 patient on a ventilator; a predictive AI tool could soon help doctors better understand the likelihood of key patient outcomes.

Artificial intelligence has proven itself useful in reading medical imaging and even shown it can pass doctors’ licensing exams.

Now, a new AI tool has demonstrated the ability to read physicians’ notes and accurately anticipate patients’ risk of death, readmission to hospital, and other outcomes important to their care.

Designed by a team at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the software is currently in use at the university’s affiliated hospitals throughout New York, with the hope that it will become a standard part of health care.

A study on its predictive value was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Lead author Eric Oermann, an NYU neurosurgeon and computer scientist, told AFP that while non-AI predictive models have been around in medicine for a long time, they were hardly used in practice because the data they needed requires cumbersome reorganization and formatting.

But “one thing that’s common in medicine everywhere, is physicians write notes about what they’ve seen in clinic, what they’ve discussed with patients,” he said.

“So our basic insight was, can we start with medical notes as our source of data, and then build predictive models on top of it?”

The large language model, called NYUTron, was trained on millions of clinical notes from the health records of 387,000 people who received care within NYU Langone hospitals between January 2011 and May 2020.

These included any records written by doctors, such as patient progress notes, radiology reports and discharge instructions, resulting in a 4.1-billion-word corpus.

One of the key challenges for the software was interpreting the natural language that physicians write in, which varies greatly among individuals, including in the abbreviations they choose.

By looking back at records of what happened, researchers were able to calculate how often the software’s predictions turned out to be accurate.

They also tested the tool in live environments, training it on the records from, for example, a hospital in Manhattan then seeing how it fared in a Brooklyn hospital, with different patient demographics.

Not a substitute for humans

Overall, NYUTron identified an unnerving 95 percent of people who died in hospital before they were discharged, and 80 percent of patients who would be readmitted within 30 days.

It outperformed most doctors on its predictions, as well as the non-AI computer models used today.

But, to the team’s surprise, “the most senior physician who’s actually a very famous physician, he had superhuman performance, better than the model,” said Oermann.

“The sweet spot for technology and medicine isn’t that it’s going to always deliver necessarily superhuman results, but it’s going to really bring up that baseline.”

NYUTron also correctly estimated 79 percent of patients’ actual length of stay, 87 percent of cases where patients were denied coverage by insurance, and 89 percent of cases where a patient’s primary disease was accompanied by additional conditions.

AI will never be a substitute for the physician-patient relationship, said Oermann. Rather, they will help “provide more information for physicians seamlessly at the point-of-care so they can make more informed decisions.”

More information:
Eric Karl Oermann, Health system scale language models are all-purpose prediction engines, Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06160-y. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-06160-y

© 2023 AFP

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‘AI doctor’ better at predicting patient outcomes, including death (2023, June 7)
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Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid

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dam generates power along the Manicouagan River north of Baie-Comeau, Quebec, June 22, 2010. Importing more of Canada’s historically abundant hydroelectricity is seen by some as a key component to making the U.S. electric grid carbon-free by 2035, as well as improving energy reliability and cost for American consumers. Credit: Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press via AP, File

Policymakers seeking to make the U.S. electric grid less reliant on fossil fuels have long looked north to Canada and its abundant surplus of hydropower, advocating for new transmission lines to bring more of that cheap, clean electricity south.

But with demand for green energy growing north of the border, too, there are new concerns that Canada’s hydro supply isn’t as bottomless as it once seemed.

A study published in May by the Montreal Economic Institute predicted that Quebec, now home to one of the world’s largest hydroelectric systems, will over the next decade fall short of the generating capacity needed to meet increasing demand for power in the province.

Some New England lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of plans to construct new transmission lines across their states, despite Canadian energy giant Hydro-Québec’s insistence it can still meet its energy obligations.

“They have their own energy needs,” Maine state Sen. Nicole Grohoski said of the Canadians. The Democrat said it is “overly optimistic” for policymakers to rely on Canadian hydropower. “There are industrial users up there that are already having issues and they’re not interested in investing in Quebec because they’re worried about power supply.”

Over decades, Hydro-Québec, which is owned by the Province of Quebec, has built a series of hydro-electric facilities, most in the northern reaches of the province. The dams’ construction and the subsequent flooding of areas behind them has drawn protests from indigenous groups and environmentalists on both sides of the border.

Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid
Quebec Premier Francois Legault delivers remarks during a ceremony, May 4, 2023, in Thurso, Quebec. Massachusetts legislators sent a letter to Legault questioning whether there will be enough electricity to power both the New England Clean Energy Connect line and the Champlain-Hudson Power Express line to New York City, which is currently under construction and expected to go into service in 2026, providing New York City with 20% of its power needs. Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

But in the process Hydro-Québec has become the largest producer of renewable energy in North America. It produces nearly half of all Canadian hydropower as well as a smaller number of wind and other renewable projects.

The capacity to generate electricity left the utility with extra power to sell in the energy-hungry U.S. There are already a number of transmission lines that carry power from Canada to the United States and more on the drawing board.

A line from the border down Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to New York City is under construction. Authorities in Maine just gave approval to resume construction of a separate line from the border to Massachusetts.

There are also pending proposals for lines to reach southern New England through Vermont and New Hampshire.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, has been rallying his fellow New England governors to seek federal funding for transmission line projects. The push comes as billions of dollars are available for electric transmission line projects under President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law.

Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid
A homemade sign is posted on a telephone pole in protest of Central Maine Power’s controversial hydropower transmission corridor in Jackman, Maine, May 28, 2019. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection announced that construction of a transmission line could resume after state voters opposed the project in an election. Credit: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

“We’ve got to speed things up when it comes to reliability and reserves and more carbon-free power,” Lamont said.

But Quebec is on its own quest to reduce use of planet-warming fuels. The province is hoping to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, while demand for hydropower is predicted to grow 14% over the next decade.

“No province now is in a position where they see huge surpluses of electricity that would be available for exports,” said Pierre-Oliver Pineau, an expert on Canadian energy policy and professor at HEC Montréal, the University of Montreal business school.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Maine who oppose the proposed 145-mile (233-kilometer) New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line recently asked the governor of Massachusetts to review whether Hydro-Québec can still meet its energy obligations.

They also sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault questioning whether there will be enough electricity to power both that line and the Champlain-Hudson Power Express line, which is currently under construction. That line is intended to provide New York City with 20% of its power needs.

Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid
In this undated photo, two people ride horses along power lines owned by the Vermont Electric Power Company where they run through wildlife areas in Ferdinand, VT. Developers of the proposed and fully permitted 1,000 megawatt transmission line known as New England Clean Power Link, which would run from Quebec to southern New England through Vermont via Lake Champlain, are working to modify its approval to turn it into a bi-directional line. Credit: AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File

The Maine lawmakers said they worry new dams might need to be built, a process that could take years.

“Many people in New England have lived with a myth that Quebec has so much power that it doesn’t know what to do with it all,” the legislators said in a joint statement.

Local news has reported Jean-Hugues Lafleur, Hydro-Québec’s financial officer, said during an analyst call last month that the company could meet the energy demand when it signed the contract in 2018 and that “we still have enough energy to supply the New England region.”

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said hydropower is just one piece of the puzzle and that the New England states are also working together to decarbonize the electric system through other means, including offshore wind.

Hydro-Québec, meanwhile, has also expressed interest in transmission lines capable of moving power in both directions. Developers of the proposed 1,000-megawatt transmission line known as New England Clean Power Link, which would run from Quebec to southern New England through Vermont, are working to modify its approval to turn it into a bi-directional line.

  • Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid
    Workers for Northern Clearing pound stakes to mark land on an existing Central Maine Power power line corridor that has been recently widened to make way for new utility poles, near Bingham, Maine, April 26, 2021. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection announced that construction of a transmission line could resume after state voters opposed the project in an election. Credit: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File
  • Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid
    Lineman Tyler Hunter, of Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, clears pine tree limbs from electric lines in a neighborhood of about 70 houses without power, March 15, 2023, in Windham, N.H. The state of New Hampshire has highlighted a new entrant into the northeast transmission mix by announcing plans for a 211-mile, 1,200 megawatt power line that would enter the United States at Canaan, Vermont, and follow a buried route south along a state highway until it crossed into New Hampshire where it would hook up to an existing power right-of-way. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

“This modification would allow the line to be used as originally intended to move hydropower from Canada to New England, while also allowing the line to move loads such as off-shore wind generation from New England to Canada for storage and later use, which could materially help winter reliability in the region,” said June Tierney, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Last month, the state of New Hampshire highlighted a new entrant into the northeast transmission mix by announcing plans for a 211-mile, 1,200-megawatt power line that would enter the United States at Canaan, Vermont, and follow a buried route south. If built, the $2 billion proposal would also be a bi-directional line.

“This project is also not dependent solely on hydropower—it would have the ability to deliver other forms of clean energy being generated in Canada—such as wind and solar power—to New England,” said a statement from the utility National Grid, which is proposing the line.

Kerrick Johnson, chief innovation and communication officer for the Vermont Electric Power Cooperative, which manages the state’s electric transmission system, said there’s a transformation underway of the electric production and distribution system across the world and including the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

“This is a new chapter in the shared-energy history of North America,” he said.

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Bottomless supply? Concerns of limited Canadian hydropower as U.S. seeks to decarbonize grid (2023, June 7)
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Apple’s Vision Pro goggles unleash a mixed reality that could lead to more innovation and isolation

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The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus after it’s unveiling on Monday, June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. The Vision Pro is a high-priced headset that blends virtual reality with augmented reality that projects digital images on top of real-world settings. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

Reporters are a skeptical bunch, so it was unusual to hear so many of them raving about their firsthand experience with Apple’s next Big Thing: the high-priced headset called Vision Pro, a device infused with totally virtual reality as well as augmented reality that projects digital images on top of real-world settings.

But after wearing the Vision Pro during a half-hour demonstration meticulously orchestrated by Apple, I joined the ranks of those blown away by all the impressive technology Apple has packed into the goggles-like headset. Still, that excitement was muted by a disquieting sense of having just passed through a gateway that eventually will lead society down another avenue of digital isolation.

THE POTENTIAL UPSIDES

But first the good stuff: Vision Pro is a highly sophisticated device that is fairly easy to set up and incredibly intuitive to use. The setup requires using an iPhone to automatically take some assessments of your eyes and ears. If you wear prescription glasses (I wear contacts) some additional calibration will be needed, but Apple promises that won’t be complicated.

Once that’s all done, you will quickly find that putting on the Vision Pro is also simple, thanks to a knob on the side that makes it easy to ensure a the headset fits comfortably. And unlike other headsets, the Vision Pro isn’t an awkward-looking piece of nerdware, although the goggles aren’t exactly chic, despite looking a bit like something you might see people wearing on a ski slope, jet fighter or race car.

Apple's Vision Pro goggles unleash a mixed reality that could lead to more innovation and isolation
The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., after it’s introduction at the company’s annual developers conference, Monday, June 5, 2023. The Vision Pro is a high-priced headset that blends virtual reality with augmented reality that projects digital images on top of real-world settings. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

Controlling the Vision Pro is astoundingly easy. Users just press a button above the right goggle to pull up a virtual screen of apps, including familiar standbys for photos, messaging, phone calls, video streaming and web browsing. Opening an app just requires looking straight at it, then pinching a thumb and finger together. The same app can be closed with a finger pinch or can be moved to the side by holding two fingers together and moving them in the direction where you want to place it.

Not surprisingly, Apple’s well-curated demonstration cast the Vision Pro in the best-possible light. The headset clearly seems like it could be quite popular for business purposes, improving productivity, collaboration and video conferencing, especially in an era when more work is being done remotely.

Without causing the disorienting effects common in other virtual-reality headsets, the Vision Pro can immerse you in stunning visuals, 3-D displays of faraway places. It can insert you into videos of past memories recorded with one of the device’s 12 cameras (the demo included heartwarming scenes of a child’s birthday party and a campfire scene). It can make watching a 3-D movie, such as the latest Avatar film, feel like you are sitting in an IMAX theater while relaxing on your own couch. It can thrust you into surreal moments (at one point, I watched in wonder as a butterfly first shown in a virtual screen depicting a prehistoric era seemingly fluttered across the room and landed in my outstretched hand as I sat on a couch).

And the demo featured just enough glimpses of the way sporting events appear through the goggles to realize that the powers that be in professional and collegiate football, basketball, baseball and hockey are bound to find ways to incorporate the technology into subscription services that make viewers feel like they are sitting in the front row.

To Apple’s credit, the Vision Pro is also designed in a way that allows users to still see those around them, if they so choose.

Apple's Vision Pro goggles unleash a mixed reality that could lead to more innovation and isolation
The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus after it’s unveiling on Monday, June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. The Vision Pro is a high-priced headset that blends virtual reality with augmented reality that projects digital images on top of real-world settings. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

THE POTENTIAL DOWNSIDES

My mixed feelings about Apple’s first foray into mixed reality ironically stems from just how well-designed the Vision Pro is by a company that has been behind this sort of game-changing technology on numerous occasions during the past 40 years, ranging from the Macintosh computer to the iPhone.

It feels like this may be another instance in which Apple has accomplished something that has eluded other tech companies by cracking the code to make both virtual- and augmented-reality more compelling and less disorienting than a variety of other ho-hum headsets have done over the past decade or so.

The only reason the Vision Pro isn’t going to be an immediate sensation is its cost. When it hits the U.S. market early next year, it will sell for $3,500, which makes it probable it will start out as a luxury item unaffordable to most households—especially because the headset isn’t going to supplant the need to buy a new iPhone or smartphone running on Android every few years.

Apple's Vision Pro goggles unleash a mixed reality that could lead to more innovation and isolation
The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus in Cupertino, Calif., after it’s introduction at the company’s annual developers conference, Monday, June 5, 2023. The Vision Pro is a high-priced headset that blends virtual reality with augmented reality that projects digital images on top of real-world settings. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

The most likely scenario is that Vision Pro in some ways is Apple’s testbed for mixed reality that will encourage the development of more apps especially designed to take advantage of the technology. The next ripple effect will be an array of other products equipped with similarly compelling technology at lower price points that stand a better chance sucking more people—including children—into a realm that threatens to deepen screen addictions to the detriment of real-world interactions among humans.

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Apple’s Vision Pro goggles unleash a mixed reality that could lead to more innovation and isolation (2023, June 7)
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World’s first demonstration of terahertz signal transparent relay and switching

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Concept of transparent relay and switching of terahertz-wave signals using direct terahertz–optical conversion and optical wavelength control. Credit: National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), Sumitomo Osaka Cement Co., Ltd., Nagoya Institute of Technology, and Waseda University

A team including researchers from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology; Sumitomo Osaka Cement Co., Ltd.; Nagoya Institute of Technology; and Waseda University has jointly developed the world’s first system for the transparent relay, routing, and switching of high-speed terahertz-wave signals to different locations.

Direct conversion of a 32-Gb/s terahertz-wave signal in the 285-GHz band to an optical fiber and its transparent relay and switching to different access points in ultrashort time periods were successfully demonstrated.

The key technologies include a newly developed low-loss optical modulator for the direct conversion of terahertz-wave signals to optical signals and an adaptive fiber-wireless technology for the ultrafast switching of terahertz signals. The developed system overcomes the disadvantages of radio communications in the terahertz band, such as high free-space loss, weak penetration, and limited communication coverage, paving the way for the deployment of terahertz communications in beyond 5G and 6G networks.

The results of this demonstration were published as a post-deadline paper at the 2023 International Conference on Optical Fiber Communications (OFC 2023).

Terahertz background

Radio frequencies in the terahertz band are promising candidates for ultrahigh-data-rate communications in beyond 5G and 6G networks. A 160-GHz slot in the 275–450 GHz band was recently opened for mobile and fixed services. However, high free-space loss and weak penetration remain as bottlenecks, making it difficult to transmit signals over long distances, such as from outdoors to indoors or in environments with obstacles.

Transparent relay and routing of terahertz signals between different locations are crucial to overcoming these disadvantages and expanding communication coverage. However, these functions cannot be realized using current electronic technologies. In addition, the narrow beamwidth of terahertz signals makes it difficult to achieve uninterrupted communication when users are moving. Terahertz-signal switching between different directions and locations is crucial for maintaining communication with end users.

However, this critical issue has not yet been addressed using electronic or photonic technologies. It is also important to turn on and off the emission of terahertz signals at appropriate intervals to save energy and reduce interference.

Study achievements

In this study, the team demonstrated the first system for the transparent relay, routing, and switching of terahertz signals in the 285-GHz band utilizing two key technologies: (i) a newly developed low-loss optical modulator and (ii) an adaptive fiber–wireless technology using an ultrafast wavelength-tunable laser. In the system, terahertz signals are received and directly converted into optical signals using terahertz–optical conversion devices with low-loss optical modulators.

Lightwave signals from tunable lasers are input to the modulators, and wavelength routers are used to route the signals to different access points where specific wavelengths are assigned. At the access points, the modulated optical signals are converted back into terahertz signals using optical-terahertz converters. Terahertz signals can be switched to different access points by switching the wavelengths of the tunable lasers.

The tunable lasers can be independently controlled, and the number of access points that can simultaneously generate terahertz signals equals the number of active tunable lasers. Using the technologies developed in this study, the team successfully demonstrated the transparent relay and switching of terahertz signals in the 285-GHz band for the first time and achieved a transmission capacity of 32 Gb/s using a 4-quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) signal.

The possibility of switching the terahertz-wave signals in less than 10 μs was evaluated, confirming that uninterrupted communication can be attained in the terahertz band.

The system consists of the following key element technologies:

  • Direct conversion of terahertz signals to optical signals using a newly developed low-loss optical modulator. The team achieved this by performing Ti diffusion on the x-cut lithium niobate (LiNbO3 thickness: ≤ 100 µm) in the low dielectric constant layer for operation up to 330 GHz.
  • Ultrafast terahertz-signal switching by controlling the wavelengths of tunable lasers to route and distribute terahertz signals to different locations
  • 4-QAM OFDM signal transmission

By transparently relaying and distributing terahertz signals to different locations, high free-space and penetration losses of radio signals in the terahertz band can be overcome, and communication coverage can be significantly extended. In addition, by promptly routing and switching the signals to different directions/locations, communication can be maintained even when obstacles occur and/or users are moving.

Furthermore, by turning on and off the emission of terahertz-wave signals from access points at appropriate intervals, energy savings and interference reduction can be achieved. These features render the proposed system a promising solution for overcoming the bottlenecks of terahertz-wave communications and paving the way for its deployment in beyond 5G and 6G networks.

In the future, the researchers will study the terahertz-optical conversion device and fiber-wireless technology developed in this study to further increase the radio frequency and transmission capacity. In addition, they will promote international standardization and social implementation activities related to fiber-wireless and terahertz-wave communication systems.

Provided by
National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT)

Citation:
World’s first demonstration of terahertz signal transparent relay and switching (2023, June 6)
retrieved 7 June 2023
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Basic energy access lags amid renewable opportunities, new report shows

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Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO), released today, finds that the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 for energy by 2030.

This year marks the halfway point for achieving SDGs by 2030. SDG 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. The goal includes reaching universal access to electricity and clean cooking, doubling historic levels of efficiency improvements, and substantially increasing the share of renewables in the global energy mix. Attaining this goal will have a deep impact on people’s health and well-being, helping to protect them from environmental and social risks such as air pollution, and expanding access to primary health care and services.

The 2023 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report warns that current efforts are not enough to achieve the SDG 7 on time. There has been some progress on specific elements of the SDG 7 agenda—for example, the increased rate of using renewables in the power sector—but progress is insufficient to reach the targets set forth in the SDGs.

The global energy crisis is expected to stimulate the deployment of renewables and improve energy efficiency with several government policies pointing to increasing investment. However, IRENA estimates show that international public financial flows in support of clean energy in low- and middle-income countries have been decreasing since before the COVID-19 pandemic and funding is limited to a small number of countries. To meet SDG 7 targets and to ensure that people fully benefit from the socioeconomic gains of the shift to sustainable energy, it is necessary to structurally reform international public finance and define new opportunities to unlock investments.

The report also finds that mounting debt and rising energy prices are worsening the outlook for reaching universal access to clean cooking and electricity. Current projections estimate that 1.9 billion people will be without clean cooking and 660 million without electricity access in 2030 if we do not take further action and continue with current efforts.

These gaps will negatively impact the health of our most vulnerable populations and accelerate climate change. According to WHO, 3.2 million people die each year from illness caused by the use of polluting fuels and technologies, which increase exposure to toxic levels of household air pollution.

Key findings of the report

  • In 2010, 84% of the world’s population had access to electricity. This increased to 91% in 2021, meaning more than a billion people gained access over that period. However, the growth pace of access slowed in 2019–2021 compared to previous years. Rural electrification efforts contributed to this progress, but a large gap within urban areas remains.
  • In 2021, 567 million people in sub-Saharan Africa did not have access to electricity, accounting for more than 80% of the global population without access. The access deficit in the region stayed almost the same as in 2010.
  • The world remains off track to achieve universal access to clean cooking by 2030. Up to 2.3 billion people still use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The use of traditional biomass also means households spend up to 40 hours a week gathering firewood and cooking, which prohibits women from pursuing employment or participating in local decision-making bodies and children from going to school.
  • According to the 2019 WHO estimates, 3.2 million premature deaths each year were attributable to household air pollution created by using polluting fuels and technologies for cooking.
  • Renewable electricity use in global consumption has grown from 26.3% in 2019 to 28.2% in 2020, the largest single-year increase since the start of tracking progress for the SDGs.
  • Efforts to increase renewables’ share in heating and transport, which represent more than three quarters of global energy consumption, remain off target to achieve 1.5oC climate objectives.
  • Energy intensity—the measure of how much energy the global economy uses per dollar of GDP—improved from 2010 to 2020 by 1.8% annually. This is higher than the 1.2% improvement from the previous decades.
  • However, the rate of energy intensity improvement has slowed in recent years and dropped to 0.6% in 2020. This makes it the worst year for energy intensity improvement since the global financial crisis, albeit largely due to pandemic-related restrictions, which may indicate only a temporary setback. Annual improvements through 2030 must now average 3.4% to meet the SDG target 7.3.
  • International public financial flows in support of clean energy in developing countries stand at US $10.8 billion in 2021, 35% less than the 2010–2019 average and only about 40% of the 2017 peak of US $26.4 billion. In 2021, 19 countries received 80% of the commitments.

The report will be presented to top decision-makers at a special launch event on 11 July 2023 at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, ahead of the second SDG Summit in September 2023 in New York. The authors urge the international community and policymakers to safeguard the gains made toward achieving SDG 7, to advance structural reforms, and to maintain a strategic focus on the vulnerable countries needing the most support.

“The energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to have a profound impact on people all around the world. High energy prices have hit the most vulnerable hard, particularly those in developing economies. While the clean energy transition is moving faster than many think, there is still a great deal of work needed to deliver sustainable, secure and affordable access to modern energy services for the billions of people who live without it. Successful energy transitions rely on effective policies and technological innovation combined with large-scale mobilization of investment capital. The international community must leverage all these tools to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of this decade,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency.

“Cost-competitive renewable energy has yet again demonstrated remarkable resilience, but the poorest in the world are still largely unable to fully benefit from it. To realize SDG7 without compromising climate goals, we must bring about systemic change in the way international cooperation works. It is crucial that multilateral financial institutions direct financial flows more equitably around the world to support renewables deployment and related physical infrastructure development,” noted Francesco La Camera, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency.

“Despite advances towards sustainable energy targets at the mid-point of Agenda 2030, Goal 7 seems harder to reach than it was in 2015 and scaled-up action is necessary if we are to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Access to electricity and clean cooking still display great regional disparities and should be the focus of action to ensure that no one is left behind. Investment needs to reach the least-developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa to ensure more equitable progress toward Goal 7,” remarked Stefan Schweinfest, United Nations Statistics Division.

“Despite a recent slowdown in the global pace of electrification, the number of people without electricity almost halved over the past decade, from 1.1 billion in 2010 down to 675 million in 2021. Nonetheless, additional efforts and measures must urgently be put in place to ensure that the poorest and hardest-to-reach people are not left behind. To reach universal access by 2030, the development community must scale up clean energy investments and policy support,” added Guangzhe Chen, Vice President for Infrastructure, World Bank.

“We must protect the next generation by acting now. Investing in clean and renewable solutions to support universal energy access is how we can make real change. Clean cooking technologies in homes and reliable electricity in health-care facilities can play a crucial role in protecting the health of our most vulnerable populations,” concluded Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, World Health Organization.

More information:
Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report

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Basic energy access lags amid renewable opportunities, new report shows (2023, June 6)
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Sponge helps robotic arms grasp delicate objects

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Robot sponge. Credit: Tianqi Yue

A simple sponge has improved how robots grasp, scientists from the University of Bristol have found.   

This easy-to-make sponge-jamming device can help stiff robots handle delicate items carefully by mimicking the nuanced touch, or variable stiffness, of a human.

Robots can skip, jump and do somersaults, but they’re too rigid to hold an egg easily. Variable-stiffness devices are potential solutions for contact compliance on hard robots to reduce damage, or for improving the load capacity of soft robots.

This study, published at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2023, shows that variable stiffness can be achieved by a silicone sponge.

Lead author Tianqi Yue from Bristol’s Department of Engineering Mathematics explained, “Stiffness, also known as softness, is important in contact scenarios.”

“Robotic arms are too rigid so they cannot make such a soft human-like grasp on delicate objects, for example, an egg.”

“What makes humans different from robotic arms is that we have soft tissues enclosing rigid bones, which act as a natural mitigating mechanism.”

“In this paper, we managed to develop a soft device with variable stiffness, to be mounted on the end robotic arm for making the robot-object contact safe.”






Robot sponge in action. Credit: Tianqi Yue

Silicone sponge is a cheap and easy-to-fabricate material. It is a porous elastomer just like the cleaning sponge used in everyday tasks.

By squeezing the sponge, the sponge stiffens which is why it can be transformed into a variable-stiffness device.

This device could be used in industrial robots in scenarios including gripping jellies, eggs and other fragile substances. It can also be used in service robots to make human-robot interaction safer.

Mr. Yue added, “We managed to use a sponge to make a cheap and nimble but effective device that can help robots achieve soft contact with objects. The great potential comes from its low cost and light weight.

“We believe this silicone-sponge based variable-stiffness device will provide a novel solution in industry and healthcare, for example, tunable-stiffness requirement on robotic polishing and ultrasound imaging.”

The team will now look at making the device achieve variable stiffness in multiple directions, including rotation.

More information:
Paper: “A Silicone-sponge-based Variable-stiffness Device” by Tianqi Yue at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) 2023.

Citation:
Sponge helps robotic arms grasp delicate objects (2023, June 6)
retrieved 6 June 2023
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