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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 28, 2009 at 5:13 PM

Intel robot’s new trick, wireless music and other research goodies

Researchers from Intel’s Seattle lab affiliated with the University of Washington are showing up in more of the company’s lighthearted ads showcasing scientific advancements.

But the lab’s biggest celebrity has to be Marvin, a one-armed robot built on a Segway chassis that scoots around, does tricks and steals the show during public events. Marvin even cut the opening ribbon at the CeBit electronics show in Germany this summer, alongside Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Marvin was at it again today during the lab’s annual open house, where he showed off his latest trick: finding an available electrical outlet and plugging in his own power cable.

The robot senses the energy given off by an outlet, then homes in for the plug. It has to be accurate to within 2.5 millimeters to work, according to researcher Brian Mayton. So far Marvin’s about 93 percent accurate, and celebrates a connection with chirps, whirs and other electricity sounds.

It’s more than a parlor trick, though. Mayton explained that domestic robots of the future will need to be able to recharge themselves, especially robots expected to monitor and assist people with minimal maintenance and human control.

Other projects displayed today included the latest version of a wireless power experiment that transmits both sound and electricity to truly wireless speakers, building on the lab’s research into various methods of wireless energy transmission. Researcher Emily Cooper showed how the system can now adjust itself to restore a signal.

A related project sending small amounts of electricity wirelessly to sensor units is now being used in a series of devices designed to detect neutrinos underwater in the Mediterranean Sea.

Other projects displayed includd “Bonfire,” a system for projecting a secondary laptop interface onto an adjacent tabletop, giving it capabilities similar to Microsoft’s more costly Surface computers.

Built with under $300 worth of Webcams, projectors and other hardware, the gadget displayed by UW Ph.D. student Shaun Kane displayed widgets for applications such as Facebook and a stock tracker that could be launched by tapping the icon beamed onto the tabletop.

Elsewhere in the lab, scientists were showing off new materials they are experimenting with to build solar power cells, systems for monitoring physical activity and security applications that monitor and disclose “data leaks” when using Wi-Fi.

Comments | More in | Topics: Education, Energy, Gadgets & products


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