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Hardware

Ruggedized Atom-based Vehicle Computer

Posted 23 Oct 2009 at 16:28 UTC by steve

Rave Computer has announced a new ruggedized MIL-SPEC-810F in-vehicle computer that looks good for use in autonomous vehicles and robots too. The RCV 6100 is based on a 1.6 GHz Atom N270 with up to 2GB of RAM. The fanless design can operate in temperatures ranging from -30 C to 60 C (-22 F to 140 F) and run on 6 - 36 VDC. IO includes a PCI-104 expansion connector, 2 mini PCI express slots, compact Flash and SIM slots, GB Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n, GSM or WCDMA, Bluetooth, GPS, 3 USB ports, 2 RS-232, 1 RS-485, 1 LVDS, 1 VGA, 1 DVI-D, audio in and out, 4 GPIO ports (4 in and 4 out). And, of course, you can run GNU/Linux on it. For even more info, see the RCV 6100 spec sheet (PDF format). How much will all this cost? Rave isn't saying but our guess is you should apply the old rule of thumb: if you have to ask, you can't afford it. Via LinuxDevices.com

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Science

Introduction to Swarm Intelligence

Posted 22 Oct 2009 at 17:46 UTC by steve

Sabu M. Thampi has posted a very short introduction to Swarm Intelligence (PDF format). In his paper, he describes the biological origins of swarm intelligence in flocks of birds, schools of fish, and swarms of bees. He goes on to describe the importance of swarm intelligence to robotics, using the computational models of ant colony optimization (ACO) and particle swarm optimization (PSO). Pseudo code for the ACO algorithm is included. CC licensed image of swarming grackles by flickr user AlphaTangoBravo

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Science

Religious Robots Revisited

Posted 21 Oct 2009 at 19:40 UTC by steve

A topic that's arisen here several times in the past is whether or not future robots, assuming they achieve a level consciousness and intelligence comparable to humans, would be capable of religious beliefs. A new study, The Neural Correlate of Religious and Nonreligious Belief (PDF format) used fMRI to compare the brains of fifteen Christians with fifteen nonbelievers, shedding some empirical light on brain differences in how they each evaluated the truth or falsity of religious and non-religious propositions.

For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation, emotional associations, reward, and goal-driven behavior. This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts. A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.

Applying their findings to intelligent robots, it seems that while consciousness and intelligence might be enough to practice religious rituals, that emotion is key to evaluating the underlying religious propositions. Emotion is already an important topic of research in robotics, so these new findings should keep the debate going over the eventual possibility of religious robots.

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Robots

Simon Says, Use Series-Elastic Actuators

Posted 20 Oct 2009 at 23:11 UTC by steve

Travis Deyle from Hizook writes, These new robots are pretty phenomenal. I'm sure they would be of interest to your readers. He's talking about the latest Meka Robotics T2 humanoid torso, H2 Compliant hands, and S1 Humanoid head. Put them all together and you get Simon, show in the YouTube video above. Simon's mouthless head is a bit creepy and definitely timely given our recent post on the uncanny valley effect. The 4 DoF hands and 7 DoF arms rely on series elastic actuators that simulate biological compliance. For more check out Travis's blog entry which includes lots of exclusive photos, specs, and even complete data sheets that aren't up on the official Meka website yet.

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Science

A Path Out of the Uncanny Valley

Posted 19 Oct 2009 at 17:48 UTC by steve

We're all familiar with Masahiro Mori's Uncanny Valley, the hypothesis that attempts to explain why non-anthropomorphic robots seem cute but as their appearance becomes more human, humans find them creepier. Deep in the uncanny valley, we find zombies, corpses, and androids, such as the one pictured above, created by Hanson Robotics. Is it time to rethink the Uncanny Valley hypothesis? Johan Eklund writes, I just finished my thesis about "humans heterogeneous reactions towards robots". Johan goes on to summarize his findings:

In my own opinion I have an explanation of our "forgiving reactions on the abstract robot" that is novel (with refs to Scott McCloud's examination of comics). A focus on the theoretical explanation of our positive reactions to the abstract robot, could also compliment or replace a simple listing of our heterogeneous reaction to robots, which can be found elsewhere. The short version of "our forgiving reactions towards the abstract robot" is that the abstract expression is further from our daily visual experience with the world, and because of that we don't intuitively know the premisses and implications that are valid. This stands in contrast to the more analog expression which is more in accordance with our experience with the world. Because of this we immediately know the premisses for the analog expression but not so for the more abstract expression. Not immediately knowing the valid premisses for an abstract object can thus be describes as: "a forgiving reaction to the abstract expression".

For more see Johan's full thesis (PDF format) or, if you don't read Danish, try the English language abstract of his thesis (PDF format). Johan also recommends David Hanson's recent TED talk for more on the subject.

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Robots

Random Robot Roundup

Posted 16 Oct 2009 at 16:33 UTC by steve

Erico Guizzo of IEEE Spectrum writes, "this iRobot project was discussed before at robots.net, so I thought readers might want to finally see the iRobot morphing robot blob in action". Rachelle Wise emailed saying, "A Minnesota engineering student created this robot that plays Guitar Hero! There's a YouTube video of it playing. The robot is named Roxanne. :)" Rog-a-matic spotted an interesting design concept for a robotic wheelchair. He also found this bolt-on kit to simplify turning any vehicle into an autonomous robot. Robodave found a Omnizero.9, "Pretty cool homebuilt biped transformer robot". He also sent a link to Omnizero.9's website. Remember that Power Loader exoskeleton suit that Sigourney Weaver used in the film, Aliens? Pink Tentacle has a story with video on a very similar real-life exoskeleton being developed in Kyoto, Japan. Closer to home, the AssemblyBlog posted a report on robot agriculture developments. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. And don't forget to follow us on twitter.

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Interviews

Robots: Active Touch

Posted 13 Oct 2009 at 09:54 UTC by mwaibel

As reported in some previous posts, whiskers are a great sensing device for autonomous robots, because they allow to detect and categorize objects and surface textures while only lightly touching them. The latest episode of the Robots podcast takes a closer look at using Active Touch in robotic applications. Our first guest, Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield in the UK, has been looking at how rats actively use their whiskers to sense their environment. Prescott has pursued his goals of understanding how Active Touch can be used in robotics and its role for the brain in the scope of several large European projects, such as BIOTACT and ICEA. To test models inferred from high-speed images of real rats, Prescott has been working with a rat-like robot called SCRATCHbot (see video above) developed in collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Lab. Our second guest, Elio Tuci, is working on applying active touch to more complex scenarios, such as a robot arm touching an object. Read on or tune in!

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Space Robotics

TRESSA: NASA's Rock Climbing Robot Project

Posted 12 Oct 2009 at 18:28 UTC by steve

NASA has published a new Tech Brief on TRESSA, the Three-Robot System for Traversing Steep Slopes (TB login needed to view full brief). TRESSA is a group of three autonomous robots that work together to climb steep slopes. And by steep we mean up to 90 degree slope angles. Two of the robots, called Anchorbots, remaining at the top and support the third robot, named Cliffbot, with tethers as it negotiates the rocks. The Anchorbots dynamically adjust the tension of the tethers, allowing Cliffbot to go up, down, or across the slope. This is more complicated than it sounds as the Anchorbots have to combine the amount of tether tension needed to offset gravitational forces with anticipation of desired motion of Cliffbot. The robots also monitor themselves and each other for faults and communicate any potentially unsafe conditions to each other. For more detail on the TRESSA project, see the 2007 JPL paper, TRESSA: Teamed Robots for Exploration and Science on Steep Areas (PDF format).

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Hardware

Piano-based Voice Synthesizer

Posted 9 Oct 2009 at 19:32 UTC by steve

Ed Okerson writes, "at a DPRG club meeting a few months ago, some of the members were discussing building robotic musical instruments. Well, here is a very interesting application for a mechanically actuated piano." Ed's talking about Austrian composer Peter Ablinger's mechanically actuated piano which speaks by breaking human speech down into "pixels", each of which is a piano note. The voice processing and piano control was done using custom software developed by the Ablinger and run on a GNU/Linux machine. A translation of the German narration describing the process can be found in the "more info" section of the YouTube page.

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Robots

Security Risks of Household Robots

Posted 8 Oct 2009 at 21:13 UTC by steve

Tamara Denning and other researchers at the University of Washington have released a paper on the privacy and security risks of household robots, titled "A Spotlight on Security and Privacy Risks with Future Household Robots: Attacks and Lessons" (PDF format). Under the assumption that future homes will be populated with numerous commercially designed household robots, the researchers examined the security of the three currently available robots: The WowWee Rovio, the Erector Spykee, and the WowWee RoboSapien v2. What did they find?

Our experiments uncovered a number of vulnerabilities — some of which we deem to be quite serious, such as the possibility of an attacker compromising a Rovio or a Spykee and leveraging the built-in video camera to spy on a child in her bedroom

In addition to SSIDs and other leaked information over home WiFi networks, the researchers found that the Spykee, the least secure of the robots, is susceptible to Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks and makes remote connections to the spykeeworld.com server in some configurations. The research use their findings to develop a set of questions designed to promote more secure household robots that will preserve their human's privacy. As an aside the research hit the usual problem of finding no adequate definition of the word robot. They choose to define it as "a cyber-physical system with sensors, actuators, and mobility".

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