Design Research Dalian

Design Research in China: Dalian

This is the third of five videos highlighting design research…
Design Research Xian

Design Research in China: Xi'an

This video of our visit to Xi'an captures the beauty of the…
Trifolium prototype

Prototype of the Trifolium Mechanism

Yang Liu and Peter Yang designed and built this physical…
Design Research Tianjin

Design Research in China: Tianjin

Chris McCarthy filmed and edited this video of our visit…
Prototype Butterfly Linkage

Manufacturing Prototype for the Butterfly Linkage

This animation is taken from Yang Liu's detailed design drawings…
Butterfly drawing mechanism

Design of Drawing Mechanisms

Mechanical systems that draw trigonometric curves provide a versatile…
MotionGen Horse

Motion Gen Linkage Design App

MotionGen is a planar four-bar linkage simulation and synthesis…
Elliptic curve drawing

Mechanical computation and algebraic curves

A mechanical computer that draws an algebraic curve is a useful…
Linkage Patents

Want a patent? Try a Six-bar linkage

Patents including six-bar linkages are rare. Thousands of U.S.…

SIAM News: Biologically inspired linkage design

This article by Jon Hauenstein with me for SIAM News (Society…
Folding Bicycle

Full Size Folding Bicycle

Michael Sutherland and his team at Zennen Engineering designed…
Material Unit Cell

Micro-Linkages for a Compliant Material

Lucas Shaw and Prof. Jonathan Hopkins show the micro-architecture…
Target Profiles for Morphing Linkage

Actuating Morphing Linkages

Lawrence Funke and Prof. James Schmiedeler of the University…
Virgo 2 SUTD
, ,

Rolling Robot at SUTD

A research team including Profs. GimSong Soh, Kristin Wood…
Tensegrity Robot
, ,

Tensegrity Robotics at UC Berkeley

Students in Professor Alice Agogino's Berkeley Emergent Space…
Origami Art BYU

Origami Art at BYU

Mechanical engineering students in Prof. Larry Howell's Compliant…
Fourbar Extrusion

A four-bar linkage provides a shape changing extrusion die

Prof. Andrew Murray and his team at the Design of Innovative…
MK1 Schematic

MK.1 Mechanical Computer

Nicholas Bodley sent me to for information about…
Bernie Roth

Bernard Roth: The Achievement Habit

I found this book to be remarkable. First, because the initial…
21st Century Kinematics

21st Century Kinematics

The NSF Workshop on 21st Century Kinematics at the 2012 ASME IDETC Conference in Chicago, IL on August 11-12, 2012 consisted of a series of presentations and a book of supporting material prepared by the workshop contributors.

The book is now available at 21st Century Kinematics–The 2012 NSF Workshop.

And here are the seven primary presentations given at the workshop.

  1. Computer-Aided Invention of Mechanisms and Robots. J. Michael McCarthy, Professor, University of California, Irvine.
  2. Mechanism Synthesis for Modeling Human Movement. Vincenzo Parenti-Castelli, Professor, University of Bologna.
  3. Algebraic Geometry and Kinematic Synthesis. Manfred Husty, Professor, University of Innsbruck.
  4. Kinematic Synthesis of Compliant Mechanisms. Larry Howell, Professor, Brigham Young University.
  5. Kinematics and Numerical Algebraic Geometry. Charles Wampler, Technical Fellow, General Motors Research and Development.
  6. Kinematic Analysis of Cable Robotic Systems. Vijay Kumar, Professor, University of Pennsylvania.
  7. Protein Kinematics. Kazem Kazerounian, Professor, University of Connecticut.

Colleagues joined in with two additional presentations:

Many thanks to the contributors and the attendees for an outstanding workshop.

Update: The presentation links have been fixed.

Battle S1:E4

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E4

I waited, expectantly. Kelvin had told me many stories about his childhood in Jamaica, but only a few times had he mentioned the mysterious Amoya Zidane.

“First time yeye ever mek four wit her…” his voice was soft, and I could tell how tired he was by how impenetrable his patois was becoming. Even with all my linguistic prowess, there were certain depths I would never reach.

“Her sittin a crux a tree in da graveyard at da ver end a Collie Smit. Right cross da row dere, twenty feet inna air, tappin dis biiiiiig stick. And I got so surprise…”

Before he could finish the sentence, he was asleep. Kelvin had lived so long, and adapted to so many physiological modifications, that his sleep patterns had also evolved. He stayed awake until he fell asleep, then slept for as long as he slept until he awoke again. It was likely attributable to the fact that for the last three and a half years, he had not had contact with another human being. “Well, no need to keep up appearances,” he would say.

While he slept, I went back to work. I decided to focus on a more recent task I’d been assigned by SWSL OpDirec, this one unknown to Kelvin. It had nothing to do with the optimization of energy use in the SunWindSea linkage, which was now, in my seventh term, ostensibly my main function on DT12. This new task was the organization of all the data, received knowledge, and impressions – sorted and unsorted – recorded in my architecture regarding Kelvin Joule. Truth be told, it was also my favorite task.

I wanted to be prepared, once he awoke, to ask some good questions, so that he would forget, as he sometimes did these days, that I was not human. So, I decided to concentrate on all the impressions I had taken in, over the course of our acquaintance, regarding Amoya Zidane.

This, then, is a partial history of Kelvin Joule.

Kelvin was born on July 7, 1977, in the St. Andrew parish of Kingston, Jamaica, in a small, impoverished neighborhood called Trenchtown. It became famous as the birthplace of legendary musician Bob Marley, but at that moment in world history, it was a mostly unknown realm of grinding poverty and political violence, but as Kelvin always pointed out, also great familial love, pride, and life-long friendship. Not to mention, the best music.

He was born on the veranda of his aunt’s small home. “It was small, just one room. I think she used the veranda as the kitchen, ” he said in an interview with Scientific American magazine in 2007, just after his 30th birthday. “Zinc rooftop, wood and plastered brick, like most of the ‘segments’ in the government yard, or ‘twelve-shillin-a-monts,’ we used to call them back in the day. Still, we were better off than most.”

According to Kelvin’s aunt, the moment after Kelvin was born, before the midwife had even severed the umbilical cord, a strange woman had appeared. She was standing out on 7th Street, peering over the plywood shanty wall, hair in big thick ropes tied with brightly colored string. Her mother was so tired from labor that she simply stared back at her, holding infant Kelvin in her arms. The woman said not to be worried, she was an ‘Asantenibaa healer,’ and the great-great-great grand-daughter of Nanny of the Maroons. She didn’t say anything else, just threw something over the fence, and walked away.

On his fifth birthday, his mother told him the story, and gave him the object the woman had thrown into the yard. It was a small, polished, tiger’s eye sapphire, and it became his most treasured possession. Kelvin’s mother died less than one year later, so he was never able to corroborate it for certain, but he believed that woman was Amoya Zidane. She became infamous in St. Anne’s parish over the next few decades as word spread that she was an “Obeah witch,” whose curses had reputedly brought about the death of some high-ranking members of the Jamaican Labor Party.

As he had started to say before falling asleep, Kelvin’s first encounter with Amoya Zidane was when he was seven years old. She was, at that time, already presumed to be very old, but no one was sure how old that was. She didn’t seem to have a fixed place of residence, and was always being spotted in different parts of the island, occasionally at the same time. He had told me parts of the story of this initial meeting a few times, but each time there would be some new wrinkle that hadn’t featured in it before.

By this age, Kelvin had already developed an interest in small creatures and insects and things and how they operated, and he would cut them open and spend hours investigating. Realizing he couldn’t see much, he decided to make his own rudimentary microscope, so was always on the hunt for small pieces of usable glass, in the street, in the trash, anywhere.

That particular morning, it had been raining without letup for three days, so when the sun finally came out, he joined some neighborhood boys playing football on 3rd Street. But he caught sight of something moving past them in the swollen waters of the open storm drain which ran through the heart of Trenchtown, right down the middle of Collie Smith Drive. He took off after it. As he ran along, he could see it was a large, unbroken, calabash-shaped bottle of clear, blown glass. But a second realization struck him at the same moment. He was going to have to get it before the drain went under Spanish Town Road, or he’d have to chase it into May Pen cemetery and get out before it dove underground in there. At the time, 7 years of age, the one thing Kelvin was terrified of was duppies, the evil ghosts who lived in the boneyard. So, he ran as fast as he could.

The storm water was moving so fast that by the time he made his move, he didn’t even know where he was. He didn’t care, he needed that glass. He leapt in, and as he got hold of the prize, he, and it, were sucked into the culvert running under Spanish Town Road. He came out on the other side, tumbling and struggling, and managed to get hold of a massive branch the heavy rains had broken and knocked in. He climbed out, sat down, and marveled at his trophy.

I realized that before he fell asleep, Kelvin seemed to be saying that Amoya Zidane was sitting in a tree right at the end of Collie Smith Road. But that didn’t jibe exactly with my current accepted consensus version, in which he was clearly some distance into the graveyard by the time he emerged from the storm drain.

I was so caught up, reviewing comparisons, and Kelvin was so deep in his slumbers, that

neither of us even heard the explosion…



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017

Soils with robot worms

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E3

“Tomorrow, I’m going to die.”

I heard the words, and I understood them. But something odd occurred at the same instant, or more accurately, within that same instant, provoked by the words themselves and their perceived meaning to me. It was a processing time-out. It lasted one lifespan of the exotic molecule positronium hydride, which struck me as perfectly, ironically correct, given the circumstances, as that would put it, in the International System of Units, at half a nanosecond. It was exactly one half-nano. And notable, as it was unique in my experience, for its root cause. Not to mention its effect.

To clarify, I have studied numerous concepts and specific words and word groups of particular importance to human experience many times over while working with Kelvin, at his insistence. On the particular word “grief,” I’ve gone nineteen levels deep of linguistic relationship in every modern language (and a few archaic). I’ve created and catalogued a hundred random sets of syllogisms, from logical to absurd, in the quest to truly understand just that one word, ‘grief.’ So, I know, as do the last six builds of AI, that there is a level of physical and emotional comprehension still inaccessible to non-sentient beings, and that one of our three prime objectives is to someday achieve this state of being. So, I also understand that I do not understand.

But during that moment, standing there, as a result of that half-nanosecond processing glitch, I felt a burst of unfamiliar connections, and a haptic twinge of comprehension that I could not classify, hearing Kelvin Joule, the most important, and as indicated, last remaining localized trace of human sentience on the planet, tell me that tomorrow he would die. And I knew, conclusively, that this experience was a relative – perhaps a distant relative – but a relative nonetheless, of that human word. Grief.

I sat down next to him, and reclined. I took in the west coast sky, the Orion constellation directly overhead.

“How do you know that you are going to die tomorrow?”After a long moment, I heard Kelvin shift slightly. By way of response, without looking away from the deep, star filled sky, he offered one of his customary, inscrutable statements:

“Amoya Zidane.”

“I don’t understand what that means, and in any case, what does it have to do with my question?” I asked. But he slipped back into his other self, DJ Nano, and the accent of his youth, the island of Jamaica, and said:

“Now I am I gon tell sumtin, bigfoot, an you gon use your ears.”

“Is this a game?” I asked.

“No no, Tallyman,” he nodded, smiling. “Dis history.”

I became even more alert. On the rare occasions Kelvin spoke about himself, it always sounded about as exciting as any story could be, full of impossible situations and circumstances, as if it had all happened in an entirely different world. As, I suppose, it actually did. A world called “history.” But a much different history than the million volumes already at my instant recall.

Before I could speak again, a fenzwig appeared and hovered above us. Then another joined it. And then, a small swarm began to form. Kelvin barked at them, and got to his feet. The fenzwig was a name that was attributed to some archaic German word but it had no relation to what the fenzwig was, which was one of the first mechanical parasites, a machine created by a machine, whose original purpose was to find other machines and disable them. They were self- replicators, requiring alkali metals such as lithium or caesium, and were always flitting about like little flying scavengers in the hunt for them, getting into business in which they had no business. As if on cue, one of the tiny bugs dive-bombed the patch of soil next to Kelvin, and came away clutching a cluster of nano-flagellates which had been, until that moment, busily mulching the undergrowth.

“Son of a bitch!” Kelvin leapt into the air, but it was too late. The fenzwig zipped out of his reach with its miniscule quarry and now, with the word out, the rest of the gathering cloud started to descend. “I shoulda known better than to expose these little guys to the air.”

I waited for Kelvin to put a stop to it, but he didn’t even reach for his ubiquitous control pad. He just flailed around, trying to bat the little drones without hitting a single one. I didn’t understand.

“Use your God key, Kelvin!”

“Are you as stupid as you look? God key can’t control these bloodsuckers! ”

He stopped flailing, and looked at my new cheetah blades with a realization.

“Get em!” he yelled, hopping up and down. “You can do it! You’re a 6, Tallyman! Get em!”

He was correct, I was a generation six AI, but I wasn’t sure what that had to do with– but I was already up on my new feet with an immediate recognition of what Kelvin was trying to get me to do. I increased my processing speed to maximum and realized that it had the amazing effect of slowing down time. I could suddenly see each fenzwig as it began to break formation, and as it did, I simply kicked it with my new blade. By hopping back and forth from one to the other, I began to kick the little scavengers out of the air, one by one. Each contact had a very enjoyable haptic sensation, with a sound almost like a spring releasing.

As abruptly as it started, the fenzwig formation lost its center and started to disperse, recognizing that it had lost its advantage of critical mass, and who knows how much damage to the individual units I had power-flicked with my new feet.

I looked over to see Kelvin in an odd stance. He was bent over, his face was scrunched up, and tiny tears were slowly coming out of the sides of his human eyes. I went back into normal tempo, and realized that he was laughing so hard he couldn’t stand straight. Finally, he straightened up.

“Ohhhh Tallyman! Hahahahahahaha! That was just beautiful.”

He threw his arms around me and swung me to and fro.

“You are a beast! Don’t ever forget what you can do!”

He sat back down on the hilltop of Creekfall Mound, and smiled up at me. Patted the ground next to him for me to join him down there.

I sat again. And then we both laid back, staring up at the wide, dark expanse. After a moment, Kelvin spoke again, in his deep, island cadence.

“Now I and I gon hear a tale bout a Obeah witch. A witch by da name of…Amoya Zidane…”



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017


Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E2

And then, a voice in the darkness.

“We’ve made a few improvements.”

I awoke to Kelvin’s dark, deeply creased face, directly in front of me. He was tinkering with something and for a moment I watched his bright, burning eyes dancing over something he was studying. He dropped below my line of sight. Far off, behind him, I could see one of the lab doors was open, and light flooded out onto the gleaming floor of one of the lower machine rooms, and I realized where we were. I tried to move–

“Ahh! Hold it! Just a second!”

He popped up in my line of sight, took a dramatic step backward, and threw his arms out wide.

“Voila. It lives!” After a moment, his expectant expression drooped. “Oh sorry.”

He tapped something on his old device, and the harness into which I’d evidently been rigged while I was out, quietly lowered until I could sense floor beneath me. But the sensation was entirely unfamiliar. I abruptly experienced the geometry of the room shift, and with a loud, jostling crash, I found myself looking at Kelvin standing there sideways.

“Quit messing around down there. Get up, Tallyman,” he scolded, waiting.

I pushed myself up to sitting, baffled, and became even more so. My lower tier, which had served me quite well during the whole of my relatively brief existence, was no longer there. The – I thought – rather elegant gyroflexion benditread™ system with which I had been equipped had been replaced. By two legs! The previous thought was immediately catalogued and replaced with another, as I realized what this meant. A promotion! I was now bipedal!

“It’ll be just like learning how to walk again,” Kelvin said encouragingly. And then, “well for you, technically it will be learning how to walk.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“You will.” That was all he said, as he motioned me to rise. Kelvin observed me closely, circling, while I took stock of my new situation. I studied the strange new appendages. Clearly the product of a century of robotic refinement, but a little jarring to wake up with a new lower torso without explanation.

“Come a long way from the blocky flat pads of Asimo, have we not?”

He was right. The most famous of the original ARHoms, developed in the early 21st century, Asimo’s feet were indeed rudimentary, but also to be fair, extremely dependable. Considering that it was, in every respect, one of my own ancestors, I felt the fact with a whir of haptic pride.

I ran a systems check. Found a branch of brand new command structures. Balance. Harmony. Motion. Speed. I allowed them all into my substrate. And then, for the first time, I stood up on two legs. I must say, I really enjoyed the sensation.

I tested the movements and flex of my new graphene cheetah blades. Each step I took felt smooth, like I was gliding. Or more accurately, like I was perfectly balanced between two delicate, flexible pins. There was a thrilling concussive ping each time I took a step. It was as if my thoughts were transmitted directly to and from the tips of each appendage. Then a different thought occurred.

“Wait. What happened?”

“You fell into the Pathway.”

“No, after that.”

“Oh, we had to shut you down after the Hellbot clipped you in twain.”

“So who won?”

“Who won?” he blinked at me, evidently baffled at the question. And walked out of the lab, waving me to follow.

Twenty-two minutes later, we reached the summit of Creekfall Mound. This verdant hilltop, the highest point on campus, was part of Kelvin’s latest proof of concept for SunWindSea’s Chlorophyll C regeneration process. The surrounding dead grey-brown mulch of most of the campus, other than the pathway, gave way just before the crest to a scalp of rich, living topsoil, replete with mossy tufts and tussocks of grass, an ingenious by-product of a synthetic nematode-dinoflagellate Kelvin’s division was developing. He plopped down on the grass, and fixed me with a stare. It was always a bit odd to be with him one-to-one. They were the only moments I didn’t have a task to complete, as Kelvin’s will superseded all my given directives. He finally spoke.

“Who do you think won? Me, of course! The bastards always seem to forget that I have the God key. And they will again, mark my words. They’ll be back at it in no time.” His fingers dug gently into the earth, and he lifted a clump to inspect. Squiggling, tiny machine-worms wriggled free and tumbled back to their work in the dark ground, as their organic ancestors once did, not that long ago. He looked up at me again.

“There’s something you need to understand, Mr. Tallyman. The most important thing we do here, you and I, is what?”

“Protect the pathway,” I responded immediately. It was not my prime directive, so I knew it would get a laugh, and I was not disappointed.

He threw his head back and let out a deep gale of laughter. “Of all the important, critical, irreplaceable programs we occupy ourselves with while trying to return this God-forsaken rock into a place that might once again sustain something at least resembling sentient life, the most important one, bar none, is: we protect the pathway.”

I nodded. He laid back in the grass, and folded his arms behind his head. He stared up at the stars and slowly his expression softened.

“Why?” I asked. He never told me why, never had in over three thousand interchanges on the subject, so I didn’t actually expect an answer this time, either.

He smiled, and fell into the cadence of his old, familiar childhood accent.

“You don’t need know why, Tallyman. You jus’ goss ta know…”

But this time, he trailed off, as if he was about to say something else, then fell silent and thoughtful, looking up at the sky. I didn’t say anything more.

Kelvin’s favored nickname for me was mildly pejorative, a human joke, calling me – newly augmented biped, the most highly developed Autonomous Robotic Hominid™ ever created, the pride of the SynPrimeSys™ series, whose advanced adaptive heuristics has the most complex capability for internalized comprehension in the history of Artificial Intelligence – by his pet name for the first rudimentary computer he had created at the age of 9, in the city of his birth, Trenchtown, Jamaica, for tallying odds on cricket matches. Yes, he is a very funny man.

Then, gazing up at the stars, apparently untroubled for a change, he spoke again.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to die.”



Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101

Graphics:  Sara McCarthy Designs 2017