09 Aug 2007
Researchers at Tohoku University have developed a working prototype of what they are calling the world's smallest gas turbine engine, a palm-sized motor they hope will one day be used to power autonomous robots and serve as a portable engine for personal transportation devices.
The research team led by professor Shuji Tanaka from Tohoku University's Nano-Precision Mechanical Fabrication Lab worked with researchers from IHI Corporation and the University of Tokyo to create the tiny engine, which measures 10 cm (4 in.) in diameter and 15 cm (6 in.) in length. With a 16 mm (0.63 in.) compressor rotor diameter and a 17 mm (0.67 in.) turbine rotor diameter and combustion chamber, the engine boasts a rotational speed of 500,000 to 600,000 rpm, which is made possible by special air bearings the researchers developed.
Unlike battery-powered engines that need to stop for periodic recharging, gas turbine engines can run continuously as long as fuel is supplied. Furthermore, gas turbine engines feature a higher power density than fuel cell and battery-powered engines, and they run cleaner than reciprocating piston engines.
With demand expected to increase for robots that use commonly available fuels and compact motors for personal transportation for the elderly, the Tohoku University researchers have been working with IHI since 2000 to develop a portable, lightweight and quiet engine able to operate for long periods of time between refuelings. After 7 years of work, they have broken the 20 mm diameter rotor barrier, a goal long shared by their microturbine-minded peers around the globe.
The engine has not yet been outfitted with a generator because it is still under development, but space has been set aside for it within the engine.
The engine will be officially unveiled at PowerMEMS 2007 scheduled for November 28-29 in Freiberg, Germany.
[Source: Nikkei Net]
18 Oct 2006
Nomura Unison Co., Ltd. has developed a walking-assistance robot that perceives and responds to its environment. The machine, called Walking Partner Robot, was developed with the cooperation of researchers from Tohoku University. It will be unveiled to the general public at the 2006 Suwa Area Industrial Messe on October 19 in Suwa, Nagano prefecture.
The robot is equipped with a system of sensors that detect the presence of obstacles, stairs, etc. while monitoring the motion and behavior of the user. Three sensors monitor the status of the user while detecting and measuring the distance to potential obstacles, and two angle sensors measure the slope of the path in front of the machine. The robot responds to these measurements with voice warnings and by automatically applying brakes when necessary.
Walking Partner Robot is essentially a high-tech walker designed to support users as they walk upright, preventing them from falling over. The user grasps a set of handles while pushing the unmotorized 4-wheeled robot, which measures 110 (H) x 70 (W) x 80 (D) cm and weighs 70 kilograms (154 lbs).
Walking Partner Robot is the second creation from the team responsible for the Partner Ballroom Dance Robot, which includes Tohoku University robotics researchers Kazuhiro Kosuge and Yasuhisa Hirata. The goal was to apply the Partner Ballroom Dance Robot technology, which perceives the intended movement and force of human footsteps, to a robot that can play a role in the realm of daily life. The result is a machine that can perceive its surroundings and provide walking assistance to the elderly and physically disabled.
The developers, who also see potential medical rehabilitation applications, aim to develop indoor and outdoor models of the robot. The company hopes to make the robot commercially available soon at a price of less than 500,000 yen (US$4,200) per unit.
[Source: Nagano Nippo]