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Devices and New Techniques

Never let your tools dictate your questions

My research and art have often taken me into uncharted territory where there is no orthodox approach or off-the-shelf device to to do what I want to do. I love the challenge of designing and building new tools and techniques in order answer intriguing scientific questions or bring something beautiful into the world.  Here are a few of my latest.


 RoboBird: An avian model for passive exotendons

Robobird is a lower limb orthosis for a bipedal avian model (Numida melaegris) that mirrors current human passive ankle-foot orthoses in function and serves as a platform to answer questions about how power amplified systems adapt to augmentation. In contrast to my earlier contraptions, the greatest challenge in designing Robobird was not in the complexity of the mechanical design.  Rather, the true challenge came in finding a way to design this simple device so that it would be tolerated by pretty unforgiving birds.

 High Force and Velocity Dynamic Material Testing 

While the force-velocity and force-length relationships of muscle have been well quantified, springs actuating elastically driven motion have traditionally only been studied in terms of their force-length relationships. This may be sufficient at low recoil velocities, but at the speeds seen in the fastest animal motions, springs also face force-velocity trade-offs.  Traditional dynamic material testing techniques cannot both generate the high force and high velocities necessary to study this phenomenon.  To fill this gap, we’re building a new type of material testing machine that can quantify the the force-velocity trade-offs of springs.

   Ninjabot: a physical model of the mantis shrimp strike

 To study the mechanical principles and fluid dynamics of ultrafast power-amplified systems, I built Ninjabot, a physical model of the extremely fast mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda). Ninjabot rotates a to-scale appendage within the environmental conditions and close to the kinematic range of mantis shrimp’s rotating strike. Ninjabot is an adjustable mechanism that can repeatedly vary independent properties relevant to fast aquatic motions to help isolate their individual effects. Ninjabot’s appendage can reach speeds of 30 m/s at accelerations of 3.2 × 10^4 m/s^2 making Ninjabot the fastest biomimetic robot to date.

The first study with Ninjabot explored the kinematic predictors of cavitation onset in non-uniform conditions.

Cavitation forming on a mantis shrimp appendage at 26 m/s.  Filmed at 30,000 fps.


Invented woodworking techniques

While new scientific devices can move our understanding of the world further, art too regularly advances with the development of a new technique to overcome limitations.

Filled tapered laminations

I love making wood curve and learned to make tapered laminations from the inventor of the technique, Jere Osgood.  Tapered laminations allow the wood to taper along it’s length without cutting through the grain.  This enables the design of more dramatic curves without compromising strength.

But with this technique it is difficult to make small radius curves in thick wood.  So, I invented a Filled Tapered Lamination to over come this.  In this technique, the distinct inner and outer edge of the curves are laminated curves individually and solid wood is tapered and kerfed to fill in the center.

Ash filled tapered laminated table


Bi-stable carcass

Most furniture involves solid wood pieces that may move on hinges or slides.  I was curious if I could make the wood itself change shape in order to open and close a piece.  I was inspired by the snap through transition that drives the motion of the Venus fly trap that stores and releases elastic energy in order to drive its motion.  I used a similar principle to create this piece.

Here is my model of the basic mechanism.

And when you do some fun woodworking and put a whole bunch of those together you can get this:

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