The 70-pound cheetah runs 13 mph and can sense and jump over 18-inch obstacles. It’s capable of much more, but the team hasn’t yet figured out how to land it safely. “It could jump 60 centimeters very easily if you don’t care about landing,” says Kim.

Kim’s team continues to fine tune the robotic cheetah, which was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for four years. But the project isn’t just fun and games: It has a larger mission than creating a cool robot. With additional funding, Kim believes that a legged rescue robot could be developed within five years to locate people in fires or disaster areas. Other applications could improve mobility for the physically disabled.  Says Kim, “Imagine a wheelchair that, instead of having wheels, has articulating legs or some combination of the two so that you don’t need to worry about finding a ramp.”

Salvaging the Scrap Heap

Project: Reuse of uncured scrap prepreg
School: The University of Southern California
Location: Los Angeles
Researchers: Gaurav Nilakantan and Steven Nutt

Could medical parts, snowboards and composite structures soon be made of scrap prepreg composites? The possibility is getting closer as the University of Southern California’s M.C. Gill Composites Center wrapped up a research project on the reuse and upcycling of uncured scrap prepreg material. According to Gaurav Nilakantan, who served as a senior research associate at the center, uncured scrap prepreg is primarily disposed of in landfills at a high cost to the environment. And the volume of uncured scrap prepreg is likely to grow given the increased use of carbon fiber in the aerospace and automotive industries.

“There is a need for reclamation techniques that will keep scrap prepreg out of the waste stream,” says Nilakantan, now a research scientist at Teledyne Scientific. “U.S. environmental regulations on mandated levels of reuse and recycling are ramping up, creating a compelling need for upcycling processes that can quickly be brought to market.”

Through the National Science Foundation G8 Funding Initiative on Materials Efficiency and Sustainability, of which reuse and recycling of composite materials is a major thrust, the M.C. Gill Composites Center set out to develop novel strategies to reuse ply cutter scrap and out-of-spec prepreg material (such as material beyond its out-time or freezer life), thereby realizing their full commercial value.

USC-Gazelle-Prosthetic

The Gazelle™, a composite prosthetic foot, is the most complex part made so far from upcycled prepreg by the team at USC.