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Science

Tracking Airborne Pathogens with UAVs

Posted 13 Jun 2007 at 20:42 UTC by steve

The Engineer Online describes a newly developed UAV that detects and tracks airborne pathogens above agricultural areas. The autonomous flying robot samples the air hundreds of meters above the ground, tracking pathogens such as the Fusarium genus of fungi, which can travel long distances at high altitudes. The autonomous robots have advantages over both manned flights and radio controlled drones. The UAV, developed by David Schmale and other researchers at the Virginia Tech Center for Autonomous Systems, can sample the air in precise patterns, often in coordinations with other UAVs working simulatneously at different altitudes. With just 75 flights, the researchers have already cataloged 500 colonies of Fusarium including 11 species not previously known to be transported this far above the Earth's surface. The research will expand to other types of pathogens, marking the begining of a field one scientist calls aerogenomics. For more details see the Virginia Tech news release or the VT Environment Innovations poster, Exploring atmospheric microbial communities with autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles.
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Hardware

ZigBee Hardware Reviews

Posted 12 Jun 2007 at 20:16 UTC (updated 13 Jun 2007 at 00:17 UTC) by steve

An Electronic Design article gives an overview of ZigBee technology and starts a series of hardware reivews. Many robot builders are discovering that ZibBee is an inexpensive way to get a wireless link between a robot and a computer, useful for either recording telemetry or issuing commands to the robot. There's a lot of cool hardware coming out and Electronic Design is going to be reviewing some of it, starting with a review of Daintree Networks Ethernet to ZigBee adapter. Another great source of USB-ZigBee hardware for robots not mentioned in the article is New Micros, Inc.

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Commercial Robotics

Robots Becoming Part of the Family

Posted 11 Jun 2007 at 19:47 UTC by steve

LiveScience reports that a new NSF study on the social impact of robots reveals that the iRobot Roomba is becoming part of the families who buy it. While people sometimes noted that the Roomba wasn't ideally suited to cleaning their house, they frequently named the robots and treated them as if they had personalities. The study also revealed that pets reacted to the robots in much the same way as the humans. One cat became friends with the Roomba, sitting near it to keep it company. A geriatric dog was reported to be scared of the Roomba. One family noted that letting their daughter "adopt" the Roomba result her cleaning her room much more frequently. This research was done by Jodi Forlizzi who has done previous studies of Human-Robot interaction.
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Robots

Japanese Robot Disgusted with President Bush

Posted 9 Jun 2007 at 14:33 UTC (updated 9 Jun 2007 at 15:06 UTC) by steve

According to a Reuters story (alt link), the creepy-looking Japanese humanoid robot, Kansei, generates appropriate facial expression when you talk to it. The facial expressions are based on the most common reaction that normal people have to a database of 500,000 English words. For example, hearing the word sushi makes the robot smile; hearing the words Bush or Iraq causes expressions of disgust and fear. The robot's face is equipped to generate 36 different facial expressions in many different combinations. The expressions are intended to improve human-robot interaction by mimicking normal human expressions that occur during conversations. Kansei was developed as part of a research project by Professor Takeno Jun'ichi at the Robot and Science Lab of Meiji University. For more you can read a 2005 Discovery Channel report on Kansei (PDF format). There's also a short YouTube video about Kansei. We reported on Kansei a couple of years ago when it had a smaller vocabulary

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Robots

Random Robot News Roundup

Posted 8 Jun 2007 at 20:24 UTC by steve

Here's another weekly dump of robot links from our news inbox. Roland Piquepaille sent a link to his latest blog post about Lord of the Rings special effects people building a robot to help save a 200-million year old reptile species. We also received a link to a YouTube video about Mr. Woo, a Chinese man who builds walking robots of all sizes; some small enough to hold in your, others big enough to ride on. Dominic L├ętourneau sent a link to Reddy, an emotional humanoid robot from RoboMotio. The Swirling Brain pointed out a Planetary Society story about the next generation Mars Rover, a really creepy-looking child android named CB2, and a Slashdot article about the Hubo FX-1 chairbot, a chair that's also a biped robot. VIA sent us pricing info on the Pico-ITX motherboards that we reported on a couple of months ago. Expect them to retail for $230-260 in the US. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report here? Send 'em our way please.

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Interviews

Talking Robots: David Hanson

Posted 8 Jun 2007 at 08:18 UTC by mwaibel

The new Talking Robots podcast interviews David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, previously mentioned for their Philip K. Dick android. As an artist, he has a completely different take on robotics than most of his research colleagues. He talks about his patented Frubber skin, discusses his thoughts on the uncanny valley and describes how his robots present us humans with an identity challenge: What does it mean to be human?

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Competitions

DARPA Urban Challenge Update

Posted 7 Jun 2007 at 22:00 UTC by steve

DARPA's Urban Challenge robot contest hasn't captured the imagination of robot builders and the news media in the same way as the more interesting Grand Challenge. The result is a lot fewer stories on the event and the teams involved. There are 53 teams who intend to participate in the contest. A CNET article offers a nice update on the contest and includes details on a few of the teams. Unlike the earlier Grand Challenge which allowed innovative robot designs, the Urban Challenge allows only stock vehicles that have been modified to be autonomous. The contest will take place on 3 November, 2007

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Science

Simplicity and Self-Reproduction

Posted 6 Jun 2007 at 23:56 UTC by steve

A reader submitted a link to a new PhysOrg.com story on robotic self-reproduction. The article describes research done at Cornell on self-reproducing machines. The researchers have manually designed both real and virtual self-reproducing machines to demonstrate their feasibility. They are now starting to artificially evolve self-reproducing machines. The manually designed prototypes are called molecubes and look like 10 cm cubes that can swivel and connect to other cubes. The cube-based robots are able to assemble exact duplicates of themselves. The researchers believe the key to making this work is keeping the building blocks simple, just as evolution resulted in complex biological organisms built from a repertoire of only about 20 different amino acids. In addition to self-reproduction, these robots can reconfigure at will, a feature handy on long space missions where unforseen problems might require specialized robots. For all the details, see the paper released by the researchers, "Evolved and Designed Self-Reproducing Modular Robotics" (PDF format). We've also covered some of this research in our an article last year about resilient machines.

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Robots

HomeBrew Robotic Chip Programmer

Posted 5 Jun 2007 at 14:40 UTC by Rog-a-matic

Even though I'm limited to English, pictures of ASTLab's robotic chip programmer completely conveys what an industrious tinkerer can create with a handful of RC servos, custom fabricated brackets, a breadboarded circuit, a vacuum pump, and what looks like a PC-based control system running a VB program. If you've got the time to wait for the 12MB download, I highly recommend viewing the video of this impressive device.

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Military Robotics

Tiny Terminators: DARPA's Cyborg Bugs are Back

Posted 4 Jun 2007 at 16:11 UTC by steve

We reported back in 2006 on DARPA's HI-MEMS project to engineer cyborg miltary insects. The Cyborg bugs are back in the news today. The Swirling Brain sent us a link to a new post in the Infowars blog commenting on a recent Article at The Register based on an article in the UK TimesOnline from a week ago that quotes Rodney Brooks, "This is going to happen <...> A bunch of experiments have been done over the past couple of years where simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, have been operated on and driven by joysticks, but this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and 'grown' inside it." The Register decribes the process succinctly as "chipping-up innocent creatures and turning them into zombie slaves under computer control." Best of all, the Times articles refers to these things as "tiny Terminators".
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