Liquid robots like… cells to explore extreme environments

Liquid robots like… cells to explore extreme environments

All about the COgITOR project which will develop a cybernetic, spherical and… “touch screen” system, powered by thermal gradients and self-repairable

The rendering of the robots studied within the COgITOR project
The rendering of the robots studied within the COgITOR project

coordinated byItalian Institute of Technology of Genoa and with the participation of Swiss scientists from theEMPA of Dübendorf, St. Gallen and Thun, the project cogitor aims to develop a spherical and liquid cybernetic system that can be used in extreme environments or on other planets.
As part of the initiative, researchers from several countries want to develop a new concept of artificial cybernetic system which derives its name from the maxim of Descartes, born René Descartes: "Cogito ergo sum".
It is funded by theXNUMX-XNUMX business days with approximately 3,5 million euro for the next four years under the program Horizon 2020.
It is inspired by the new ones robotics trends which aim to reduce, if not eliminate, the mechanical stiffness of systems.
It will be spherical, covered by a sensitive film, similar to a "touch screen", which will allow him to adjust its shape to the environment, just like an amoeba, and will be equipped with a system of power generation based on thermal gradients.

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A portrait of the philosopher Descartes, born René Descartes
A portrait of the philosopher Descartes, born René Descartes

Ideal means to face the ocean floor and other planets

The goal is to create a fluid cybernetic system inspired by biological cells, suitable for exploring extreme environments such as ocean floor or places with strong magnetic fieldsbut also to observe other planets.
It was designed and the activity was coordinated by Alessandro Chiolerio, IIT researcher, who has already worked on the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Germany et al Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.
In addition to the research team of theEMPA Arthur Braun, the consortium also includes Andrew Adamatzky ofUniversity of Bristol, Carsten Jost of the Berlin company Plasmachem GmbH e Clare Zocchi of Ciaotech Srl of Milan.

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An animal cell in the moment of cell division
A biological cell at the time of cell division

Concentric spheres containing fluids enriched with nanoparticles

A cybernetic system is by definition a rules system that govern the interactions between a single subject and its external environment.
The model used by the researchers of cogitor it is a living cell, that is, a system surrounded by a membrane, full of liquid and tiny organelles (also called organelles), which perform specific functions, and at the center of which is a core.
The system consists of concentric spheres containing fluids enriched with nanoparticlesa silicon chip in the center.
“Our goal is to develop a first prototype of an autonomous liquid cybernetic system that can be used in the future as an intelligent and active probe in extreme environments”, explains Alessandro Chiolerio.
“All this will allow us to take another step towards new frontiers in their exploration”.

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The rendering of the robot studied within the COgITOR project
The rendering of the robot studied within the COgITOR project

And the energy supply will be made-in-Switzerland

This small spherical and soft robot, the size of a tennis ball, should ideally be self-managing without an energy supply (external).
Instead, it should drawelectric energy necessary for its functioning ambient heat (a concept known as “energy harvesting”). In principle, it should therefore also be able to function in locations without sunlight.
The EMPA team led by Artur Braun is developing magnetorheological ceramic materials which can accomplish this energy conversion: they look like a thin superficial segment outside the sphere.
All this should be able to generate a few nanoWatts of electrical power, just enough to maintain the basic functions of the microchip inside the sphere.
However, at least for the initial experiments, should also be available for the benefit of scientists an external power supply.

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The "touch screen" verification system of robots developed within the COgITOR project
The "touch screen" verification system for robots developed within the COgITOR project

Self-regeneration with polymers and ferroelectric nanoparticles

To produce the system cogitor, the researchers plan to develop a polymer that it can fix itself if it was damaged.
Inside, they will be used ferroelectric nanoparticles who react to a electric field, using electrodes atinterior of the sphere, and who can organize themselves in coordinated shapes like a crystal.
This configuration can be enabled or disabled turning on or off il electric field, a mode capable of creating even one scheme composition which they might as well encode information.

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The calculation and storage system of robots developed within the COgITOR project
The calculation and storage system of robots developed within the COgITOR project

An innovative holographic logic to encode information

“We will have to invent a new programming language for our system, which in technical jargon is called 'unconventional computing'. We will not be able to use binary logic, but we will have to rely on a radically innovative holographic logic”adds Chiolerio.
“Our goal for the prototype is a small memory capacity equivalent to one character (8 bits). However, for the future, we aim for a system that offers higher performance than current traditional systems”.
And this progress in computer science unconventional that particularly inspires the Dr Braun of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.
"This is an area we have been working on with our partners for several years."
In summary, the EU-funded COgITOR project will develop colloidal systems state-of-the-art cybernetic (liquid) capable of perform various tasksi, such as sensing, computation, data storage and energy harvesting, while also developing the ability to self-regenerate/self-heal and be fault tolerant.

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The power supply system of the robots developed within the COgITOR project
The power supply system of the robots developed within the COgITOR project

Modern cybernetics between Plato and the Proto-Indo-European languages

But what are the historical presuppositions of such a concept? The entities half human and half machine I'm nothing new in the cinematic world and in video game industries.
Nevertheless, although each of us may have already heard of "cyborgs", one could ignore the fact that this word comes from the English locution “cybernetic organism”, or “cybernetic organism".
The term "cybernetics" has ancient origins, so much so that it has come down to us from Proto-Indo-European languages, and initially indicated more or less the task, the art of "governing".
Its first documented appearance, “κυβϵρνητική τεχνη” in ancient Greek, which literally means "The Art of the Pilot", comes from a text by Plato, which dates to 346 BC.
Today, to confer human qualities to machines o anthropogenic systems conventionally rely on tools such as sensors, artificial intelligence and computers, and the resulting technologies are usually solid state.
A circumstance capable of be overturned right from the futuristic and overwhelming "softness" di CogITOR...

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A Plato lesson in his own academy in a drawing by the Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom
A Plato lesson in his own academy in a drawing by the Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom