Fun research toys and tools

Conducting research on a daily basis sometimes requires a bit of creativity in the tools that we use. I’m working on a large collaborative project to build a robotic bee. Since our lab is helping to build the robot’s ‘brain’ and the body is still being developed by another group, we needed a body stand-in to test out our work on a flying robot. That’s where the remote helicopter comes in:

We run bee brain simulations on the helicopter so we can test out our work before the real robot bee body is ready. We’re trying to build a robot that can adapt to its environment like animals do and so we program our controllers with simulated neurons and synapses rather than traditional algorithms.

This goes beyond toy helicopters though- there are lots of toys out there that get used for research purposes. A very common one of late is the Kinect motion tracker that you may know better as the accessory for XBox that lets you play Dance Central 2. The Kinect contains some pretty sophisticated technology at a very affordable price, making it ideal for computer vision and motion tracking research.

But it’s not always high-tech toys that we use. Sometimes an everyday object does just what you need for research purposes. Maybe chopsticks are the perfect tool for sifting through algal matter. Or a plastic two-liter soda bottle may make a great home for brine shrimp. Or perhaps you need a flexible and waterproof adhesive sticker, a BandAid may be your best bet.

What kinds of cool research toys or everyday objects have you seen in action?


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