Archive for August, 2011

1953 – “Creakyfoot” Power Suit – E.R. James (British)

In the Cute Fun Album for 1953, the story 'Champion Robot' by E R James features totally enclosed eight foot high powered suits for use on farms and in factories. The hero robot 'Creakyfoot' belongs to a boy, Andrew, who climbs through a door in its back into 'the soft cushioned space inside. Creakyfoot fitted him like a suit of clothes. As the door closed behind him he looked out through the robot's big glass eyes…The metal man became alive as Andrew's legs began to walk. The metal legs strode forward, driven by the robot's own great power, but following each small or large movement made by the boy inside.'

Andrew did not have position or load sensors attached to a master exoskeleton, but 'The mighty metal arms lifted as Andrew lifted his arms inside them. The blows of the steel fists had all the power of the robot behind them, but it was Andrew's brain that directed their aim. They worked together.'

See the full pdf here  .

Thanks to David Buckley who identified "Creakyfoot" in Champion Robot, Ernest Rayor James' 1953 story on the idea of a human-operated robot being published prior to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers power suits in 1959.

Further, I add an extract from an article published by Parallax on how Creakyfoot kicked-off David's interest and career in robotics.

How I Got Started in Robotics by David Buckley

David Buckley is the master of the tilt/stride walking robot design.
When Parallax began plans for Toddler Robot, they consulted with David Buckley, adapting one of the most unique and servo simplified walking mechanisms in the history of hobby robotics!
When I was very young, two of my Birthday/Christmas presents were books with robot stories. One had huge robot warriors with death rays shooting from their eyes. They were tied in with 3-inch high robot toys on sale which I could never persuade my mother to buy; and the other was much more exciting. The robots were what we would call exoskeletons. Humans climbed inside and the 'robots enabled them to do heavy lifting. The story was called Creakyfoot, a boy had his own worn out robot which eventually won a race and was refurbished. Shortly after, in a comic, there was a picture story with a giant steam powered humanoid robot attacking a castle. This enthused me to build my first meccano robot – no motors, no gears, it didn't move! But it looked like a humanoid robot and I remember telling them at school that if I had a few gears and a motor I could make it walk. I was about 9.

1971 – Naval Anthropomorphic Teleoperator (“NAT”) – Adamski (American)

Thursday; 14 October 1971
Naval Anthropomorphic Teleoperator (NAT) developed by MBAssociates, San Ramon, California, under a joint Navy-NASA-AEC contract. Slave arm and 3-D TV system mounted on Tripod. Exoskeleton master controller worn by operator (Donald F. Adamski) to the right in the photograph. 

Naval Anthropomorphic Teleoperator (NAT)
The kinematic arrangement is shown in Figure 3.2.2-7(c)[not shown] and the system is shown in more detail in Figure 3.2.2-8 above. It was developed by MBA over a nine month period under Navy funds administered by NASA/SNPO. It is an electro-mechanical-hydraulic-pneumatic hybrid 9 DOF man equivalent (dexterity, range of motion and strength) position servo controlled system incorporating proportional force feedback in the grip and step force feedback in the elbow. The master controller is a full motion exoskeleton. It was specifically designed for ordnance disposal and defuzing delicate submunitions. Contract design requirements included unusually smooth highly controlled dexterous action, the use of nonmagnetic materials, no radiated EMI, underwater operation, sandy beach and desert operation, high pantographic fidelity between master and slave, ruggedness and high reliability. Electric drives for this specific system were excluded on the basis of system reproduction cost, radiated EMI and magnetic materials. The exoskeleton is designed to readily fit 5 to 97 percentile men. It can be attached to a wall or chair.
The slave incorporates a semi-monocoque construction. As a consequence it is the first system capable of lifting more (20 lb. at any one joint) than it weighs (16 lb.). The grip is designed to accomplish extremely delicate and minute operations as well as handle spheres, cones and cylinders up to 7 inches in diameter and weighing up to 20 lb. The system further incorporates a design which readily allows the addition of a remote quick release for the claws and easy conversion to a reversible electric motor driven system (DC torque, gear reduction and ball screw actuator). Its kinematic arrangement (Figure 3.2.2-7(c) duplicates that of the human arm, except for the continuous grip roll beyond the wrist gimbal. Specifically designed for low cost in production WOK in quantities of 40 or more) using off-the-shelf commercially available components (where possible), the system has already established a new state-of-the-art in servo controlled teleoperator systems.
An interim performance demonstration was made for NASA, Navy, AEC and MIT personnel on 22 July 1971. Performance of the arm in grasping and lifting large 20 lb. test objects as well as threading a small household needle, handling raw eggs, removing and replacing nuts from bolts and replacing small electronic components from printed circuit boards, has earned the ARM the reputation of being the most advanced teleoperator system developed to date. The above tasks were done while viewing through a stereo TV system. The needle threading, trimpot adjustment and operational amplifier tasks could not be accomplished without the TV system stereo attachment.
Total system tests of the right arm were successfully accomplished in October 1971. These tests included sea water immersed operation at a depth of ~8m (25'), operation from -18°C (0°F) and 59°C (120° F), operation in sand storms. The dexterous tasks described above were repeated and more recently unlocking a padlock, removal and disarming a mock homemade bomb and defusing a buried (inert) standard mine were accomplished.

MBA used NAT in evaluation of teleoperator systems for NASA's then proposed Space Shuttle robotic arm.


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1978-9 – Mobile Suit Gundam (Fiction) – Yoshiyuki Tomino (Japanese)

Although inspired by Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" that had infantrymen wearing "power suits" that surround their bodies and amplify their movements, most of the Gundam mobile suits were of the "driveable robot" tradition, where operators sat in cockpits and manipulated levers and pedals.

The Gundam concept was developed in 1978, with the TV series first airing in 1979.

Mobile Suit Gundam statue erected in Japan.

A Mobile Suit Gundam poster

WHAT'S gundam by Martin Ouelette
From the magazine "MECHA PRESS"

To understand the story and "raison d'etre" behind gundam, one must go back nearly thirty years, to the early 1960's and the start of the Japanese "Giant Robots" animation show tradition, "TetsuYin28" being the first one. The base story being, 99.9% of the time, the struggle for power between good and evil in the style of bad guys attack Tokyo (seemingly the only city on Earth!), killing a scientist in the process. Following that, the son or nephew of the scientist in question climbs into the brand new giant robot (with a suitably noble name, of course!) the dearly departed had just completed (in time for the invasion, it goes without saying!). Then he quite simply saves the world from destruction, while reading the instruction book, nonetheless!
But Yoshiyuki Tomino, an experienced animation director, was convinced that Japanese animation had more to offer. According to Frederik L..Schodt in his introduction to "gundam MS I AWAKENING (the first of a three books series on gundam MS), Tomino was partly inspired by the 1959 novel by Robert Heinlein "Starship Troopers" when he created a brand new approach to the "robot shows" with "gundam Mobile Suit". The Mobile Suit consists of a giant piloted mechanical suit, or exoskeleton, sporting sophisticated armament. In Tomino's viewpoint, mechanical designers had to keep the limits of credibility and the laws of physics in mind while creating the designs. Named "mecha" or "Mobile Suit", these machines looked realistic and didn't have the "principal character" aura the robots before them had. Like the "mecha", the characters created for gundam were much more complex than the ones from the earlier animations. He innovated in introducing characters which couldn't simply be considered good or bad. An example of this being the relationship between Char Aznable and Amuro Rey.
The first "gundam MS" television series, in 1979, did not meet the rating expectations of Tomino at first, but ended up as "the" sensation of the early eighties in Japanese animation.

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1971 – 3-legged Walker – Grundmann & Seireg (American)

Shown above is the original three legged walking machine.

Contrary to above caption, the 3-legged walker was developed in 1971.

Van Derhei, Jack (ed.) / The Wisconsin engineer
Volume 77, Number 2 (November 1972)

Sanborn, Steve
Everyone should walk,   pp. 8-9

During the 1971 Engineering Exposition people on this campus were exposed for the first time to a device we constructed under the guidance of Prof. Seireg of the Mechanical Engineering Department.
  This device was a three legged robot powered by compressed air. Actually it was not a complete robot but only the walking portion, just the legs.
  The mechanism was constructed to be a model, a mechanical analog of a walking human. It could have been built with only two legs rather than three, but since it weighed 260 pounds it would have damaged easily if tipped over. The third leg provided extra stability.
  Since this original prototype was constructed, a new two legged model has been built. The new model differs considerably from the prototype in many respects. The two legged model is powered by AC current rather than compressed air. Unlike the prototype, the present model is actually worn by a human. This was the goal of the design project, to create a device that would give a person that was unable to use his legs, the ability to walk again. The project is by no means completed. More work has to be done in designing and constructing the third model. Presently Jack Grundmann is testing and altering the second model so as to incorporate new ideas into the third mechanism.
As was mentioned, the first prototype was operated with compressed air. This model was consequently bulky and awkward. Model II is operated by what is described as a puppet system. Cables extend from cams, located in a pack, down the body to the individual joints in which they control. The pack is mounted on the shoulder of the person wearing the mechanism. Supports extend from the frame of the mechanism to the pack so that the heavy weight of the device is not felt by the wearer. Within the pack are the six cams that pull the cables causing the person to walk. These cams were designed to cause the joints to move almost exactly the way a normal human moves.
  Ultimately it is desired to make a system that will allow a person that can no longer use his legs to walk forward, backward, turn, sit, stand and walk up and down stairs. Also, the device should be cosmetic. This means that it should be possible to cover the mechanism and its suspension system with normal clothing apparel.
  Model II can only walk forward, Model III will be able to preform all these tasks. Model III will not be supported by bulky metal braces and tubes as were previous models. Instead, plastics and fiberglass will be incorporated as structural supports. To replace the bulky joints, electronic servo mechanisms will be employed. The use of electronics will allow a number of mini-programs to be place in a very small computer, carried by the person using the device. Each program would cause the mechanism to move, initiating the motions a human makes. The programs would be turned on and off by the person wearing the device. There would be one program for each sequence of movements such as walking or for sitting.
  Very little has been done in the past three centuries in the area of prosthesis. The plastic leg of today is nothing more than an adaptation of the wooden leg of the seventeenth century. It is unfortunate that the technology of today has not been applied sooner to help paralyzed people walk again.
  This attempt at the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering requires the encouragement and support of all people concerned with restoring the ability to walk to those who cannot.

Note: The exoskeletons mention in the text can be seen here.

See other early Teleoperators, Exoskeletons and Industrial Robots here.

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1969 – Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator (SAM) – Edwin Johnsen (American)

SAM, a mobile manipulator, mimics the movements of an operator stationed at a far-distant control center.

The Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator (SAM) that wears NASA logos was developed under Edwin Johnsen's direction in 1969 by the now defunct Space Nuclear Propulsion division of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Johnsen is credited with introducing the popular term "teleoperator" in 1966 to describe a servo controlled manipulator that is not directly connected to the operator's twin manipulator.

See SAM in this robot documentary 0:03 -> 0:21 secs.

RISE OF THE ROBOTS – George Sullivan 1971

Government scientists representing the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office of the Atomic Energy Commission have taken the basic operational principles of the mobile manipulator and added an extra—long-distance control. The machine they've developed is one of the most exciting advances in teleoperator technology in recent years.
Nicknamed "SAM" ( for Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator), the unit is composed of two distinct parts. A machine portion features steel arms and hands, very similar to the arms and hands used in handling radioactive materials inside hot cells. These arms and hands, however, are mounted on a steel boom which moves up and down and in a circular pattern to give a wide range of operation. The boom, in turn, is mounted on an open, four-wheeled vehicle about the size of an Army jeep. This "torso" portion of the unit is topped with a small television camera. Its "eye" peers down at whatever the hands grasp. The second portion of the unit is the control station, the command post for the human operator. The control station and the mobile manipulator are linked by a coaxial cable, the same type of insulated conducting tube that is used to transmit television signals from a studio to viewers' homes. The two parts of the system can also be linked by radio control.
The operator wears a jacketlike apparatus called an "exoskeleton" to send commands to SAM's hands and arms. If the operator wants SAM to pick up a stick, he simply reaches down and performs the necessary hand-arm movements. The operator is able to see the stick by means of a television screen in the control center which presents the picture transmitted by SAM's television camera. Scientists plan to "slave" the movements of the television camera to those of the operator's head. The camera will thus become the operator's remote but all-seeing eye.
The first SAM was built at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station located at Jackass Flats, Nevada. It inspects and tests equipment used at radioactive nuclear test sites. It is planned that SAM-type units of the future will be used to defuse and dispose of dangerous bombs, and as search and rescue vehicles in any type of disaster that involves fire or hazardous fumes, not just those caused by nuclear explosion.
Machines such as SAM suggest a wide array of applications. Teleoperators could be put beneath the sea or on a distant planet and be made to perform a variety of chores, all while under the precise command of a human operator housed in the safety of an earthbound control center.

From an overhead view, SAM looks like this.

Using an exoskeleton and guided by what he sees on the television screen, the operator controls SAM with simple arm-hand movements.

It is clear from this image that the anthropomorphic arms are actually Rancho Los Amigos Hospital arms originally designed for disability patients.

Source: Popular Science March 1971

Above: The earlier Ranch Electric Arm.

Orthotic manipulator arms. A man in space is relatively helpless in many respects; to perform useful work, he has to have special tools and some kind of assisting control mechanisms. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has long been interested in perfecting remote manipulators for safely handling radioactive materials from a distance by human operators. These interests coincided with some of NASA's interests, and both groups recognized the significance of advances in externally powered arm braces that had occurred at Rancho. The combined efforts of all three organizations have advanced the sophistication of remote manipulators and of externally powered orthotic manipulators.
Orthotic manipulators resemble the human arm in construction and operation. In medical applications they restore arm function to paralyzed patients, while industrial, scientific, and space uses emphasize "teleoperator" characteristics in a master/slave mode that duplicate human motions at a distance.
NASA and AEC sought Rancho Los Amigos Hospital assistance in improving teleoperators largely because of the hospital staff's success in developing a powered orthosis, the Rancho Electric Arm (REA). Beginning in 1959 with pneumatic (compressed air) power sources,
Rancho investigators determined that a functionally useful arm must have at least seven joints, or degrees of freedom, and they specified optimum alignments, locations, power requirements, angular velocities, and functional ranges of motion. In addition, they ascertained the characteristics and potential of control sites in various types of patients. Intensive analyses of normal arm motions enabled the team to specify operational mechanical configurations to approach as nearly as possible a duplication of normal arm function (see Figure 1).
After four years of work with pneumatic power, it was decided that an earlier consensus in the profession–that electrical power was inferior to pneumatic power (National Research Council, 1961)–was no longer valid enough to preclude new explorations in electric power and control systems. The advantages of pneumatic systems were recognized: weight and cost of actuators were less than for electrical actuators; less noise is generated in the pneumatic system; and complex pneumatically powered orthoses were as much as 30 percent less costly than comparable electrically powered units. However, the advantages of electrical systems were more numerous and compelling. Among these are the greater ease and cheapness of replenishing the power source; greater efficiency of energy storage (by a factor of 10); no need to convert electronic control signals for pneumatic actuators; greater simplicity, versatility, and inexpensiveness of control signal processing units; availability of mass produced, low cost electronic components (versus individually produced costly pneumatic components); availability of a rotary output from an electrical actuator, which meets the need for rotary motion of the dynamic joints of an arm brace without a mechanical conversion of linear to rotary motion; and, very significantly, the ability to use a single energy system to provide ample power for both a wheelchair and an orthosis.
Development of the REA thus proceeded from the broad foundation of successful experience with pneumatically powered orthoses. By early 1965 an operational electric arm had been fitted to a patient for complete testing, evaluation and necessary modifications. Using the current version of the arm, this patient, who became a quadriplegic polio victim in 1954, is now able to perform many ordinary tasks of daily living, including writing, typing at 25 words per minute, and operating a modest telephone answering business.
Under contract to Marshall Space Flight Center, Rancho's orthotic arm expertise has been directed toward development and fabrication of four remote manipulators. A bilateral remote manipulator delivered to Marshall was based on earlier arm designs and incorporated several improvements. Among these were two redesigned joints in the master controller brace and lighter, stronger, and more efficient slave arms (see Figure 2).
A self-propelled anthropomorphic manipulator (SAM) was built for use at the Atomic Energy Commission's Jackass Flats nuclear engine facility. SAM is mounted on a motorized vehicle that is remotely controlled by telemetry as it travels about an area of hazardous radioactivity. The manipulator arms are also remotely controlled to do useful work in the hazardous environment. Finally, the Rancho Anthropomorphic Manipulator (RAM) exists as a demonstration prototype. RAM has the capability of operator-controlled terminal device replacement. It is mounted on a "shoulder" that allows side-to-side and forward-backward movement of four inches in each direction, as well as arm movement within the radius of the arms. Its size and power are much greater than those of the Rancho Electric Arm; RAM can lift and transport a ten-pound weight. Several control systems can be used, including a joystick. Development emphasis has been on a master/slave system with an exoskeleton control apparatus for the operator.
Beyond the immediately useful improvement of teleoperators that enable men to perform work in hostile environments, these research and development activities have enhanced Rancho's expertise in its area of major concern: rehabilitation of the disabled.

2006: Centaur

NASA JSC has developed a series of Centaur rovers to carry the Robonaut upper bodies and other payloads.  Centaur 1 was developed for work with the Robonaut R1B humanoid upper torso in 2006.  Centaur 2 rover was developed in 2010 by the Human Robotics Systems (HRS) Project as part of the Exploration Technology Development and Demonstration Programs, and has now been integrated with the Robonaut R2A torso.  This combination mixes state-of-the-art robotic mobility with the world’s most advanced dexterous manipulation system.   Hybrid rover/arm systems, commonly referred to as mobile manipulation, represent a new domain of robotics research.  Mobile manipulation is an important new Space Technology with multiple applications for improving life here on Earth.  NASA’s new Centaur2/Robonaut2 system is an ideal testbed for this research and positions the agency as the  technological leader.

See other early Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.