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The Free Universal Construction Kit

Posted 21 Mar 2012 at 16:15 UTC by steve

The F.A.T. Lab and Sy-Lab hackerspaces have combined forces to develop the Free Universal Construction Kit (don't worry, they drop "Free" for the acronym: UCK). The kit consists of 3D printer design files for 80 adapters that provide interconnections and interoperability between ten popular children's construction toys including Lego, Duplo, K'Nex, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Zome, and other less well known kits. They even have one adapter brick that has all ten connectors on it! All of the part designs are released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Lots of robot builders use one or more of these construction kits, so I expect these will be a boon to roboticists. The group has anticipated negative reaction from the corporations who control the "intellectual property" (doing the right thing is seldom profitable). So the groups also see this project as a "transgressive architecture" that promotes civic activity.

Most market leaders regard interoperability as an anti-competitive nuisance, a regulatory check on their ambition, or a concession to the whining of lesser players. Quite simply, interoperability is the request of the disenfranchised. And which end-user, in so many ways, is less enfranchised than a preliterate child?

You can download individual adapters from Thingiverse.com. The entire kit of designs is expected to be available via bittorrent from The Pirate Bay's physibles channel soon (which should protect it from any legal threats). Hit the 'read more' link to see videos explaining the problem and UCK as the solution.

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Commercial Robotics

Amazon to buy Kiva Systems for $775 Million

Posted 20 Mar 2012 at 05:09 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Monday afternoon Amazon and Kiva Systems announced that the companies had reached an agreement whereby Amazon will acquire Kiva Systems for approximately $775 Million in cash, with the deal expected to close next quarter. Kiva Systems produces robotic material handling equipment that brings warehouse inventory to the people who fill orders rather than making them walk the warehouse to find it, as depicted in the above video. Amazon's own warehouse operations have been rapidly expanding, and the company is expected to make good use of Kiva's technology in-house, as well as continuing to offer it to others.

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DARPA High Assurance Systems

Posted 16 Mar 2012 at 16:29 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

DARPA PM Kathleen Fisher talks about the program to make high assurance systems possible, using the hackability of recent automobile automation as an example. More information, including slides, available here.

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DARPA's Cyber Analytical Framework

Posted 16 Mar 2012 at 16:07 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

DARPA Deputy Director Daniel Kaufman discusses the exposure of supposedly secure networks and the Cyber Analytical Framework, which aims to dramatically improve their security. His manner is refreshingly straightforward. The slides for his presentation are here.

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Robots Podcast, episode #99: Manipulators & Morphogenesis

Posted 12 Mar 2012 at 02:43 UTC (updated 12 Mar 2012 at 02:47 UTC) by John_RobotsPodcast

photos of Bruno Siciliano and Rolf Pfeifer

While attending SCHUNK Expert Days, the symposium on service robotics, Amanda took advantage of the opportunity to interview Bruno Siciliano, Professor of Control and Robotics, and Director of the PRISMA Lab, in the Department of Computer and Systems Engineering at the University of Naples Federico II, and Rolf Pfiefer Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the Department of Informatics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Read On or Tune In

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Microsoft Robotics Studio 4 Ships

Posted 11 Mar 2012 at 02:10 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Microsoft Robotics Studio 4 is no longer beta. The above video shows Follow Me and glimpses of other demo applications created using MSRS4 running on the MSRS Reference Platform.

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Commercial Robotics

Rodney Brooks Keynote at Robotdalen

Posted 5 Mar 2012 at 23:07 UTC by steve

It's been a while since we've heard from Rodney Brooks, so we were pleased to hear from Robotdalen communications manager, Jessica Karlsson, about a recent keynote presentation he gave at their event.

Robotdalen is a Swedish robotics cluster enabling commercial success of new ideas and research within robotics and automation. On February 9 we arranged the event Robotics Innovation Challenge. One of the key note speakers at the event was Rodney Brooks, one of the world's foremost roboticists and founder of the robot companies iRobot and Heartland Robotics.

It's a short video but packed with good stuff. He discusses why the world needs robots. He offers advice to academics on adapting from expensive, one-off research to the turn-key, mass produced robot technologies that attract venture capital. He suggests robots today are about where the PC was in 1973, right on the verge of taking off. He points out that talking to venture capitalists about "killer apps" when discussing a robot business plan may not be a good idea. He gives a quick overview of the 14 failed business models iRobot went through before it was successful. And he offers the advice that historically in robotics, the intuitive solution is almost always wrong. You can see more video from the conference on the Robotdalen YouTube channel.

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DARPA's 'Cheetah' record breaking legged robot

Posted 5 Mar 2012 at 16:58 UTC by IKE_RobotsPodcast

This is the first video showing the ‘Cheetah’ robot, created by Boston Dynamics under DARPA’s M3 (maximum mobility and manipulation) program. The robot broke the previous speed record for legged robots by demonstrating its ability to run at a speed of 18mph (~30km/h). The robot uses flexible legs that provide it with the fast reaction time necessary to follow the terrain at such speed and the record-breaking performance was displayed on a treadmill with the robot powered by an external hydraulic pump. The patterns used for its motion are similar to those of fast-running animals in nature. It certainly looks less imposing than the preview released before and although it is inspired by its nature analogs its legs are quite dissimilar in structure. A prosthetic leg also named 'Cheetah' performs under the same principal by flexing and un-flexing its back at every step in order to quickly react to fast running. Athletes are using it with great results. DARPA’s ‘cheetah’ is expecting to run without an external power source later this year. For more information you can read the full press release here.

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CatBot: an Automated Cat Laser Toy

Posted 5 Mar 2012 at 16:34 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Keep your cat engaged long after you can no longer lift your arm to aim the laser. CatBot is an automated cat laser toy with an Arduino controller. (via Laughing Squid)

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Can Human Consciousness be Transferred to a Machine?

Posted 5 Mar 2012 at 04:26 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

The blog Homo Artificialis has posted a three-part series on the potential for creating artificial bodies into which human minds might be transfered. The series begins with Russian media entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov discussing a stepwise approach, then continues with MIT Professor of Computational Neuroscience, Sebastian Seung talking about his work mapping the neurons in a human brain and the connections between them. Finally, Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project explains his efforts to create a computer model of the human brain.

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