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Six Lanes All Directions with No Traffic Lights

Posted 12 Apr 2012 at 16:07 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

A video on Vimeo (not embeddable here), from a user identified only as Amanda Erickson, models what appears to be an uncontrolled, multi-lane intersection with most or all of the vehicles passing through it independently computer controlled, although perhaps with better information about other vehicles in the intersection than could be accounted for by on-board sensors alone. The priorities implicit in the rules being applied appear to be collision avoidance first, followed closely by minimization of the delay caused by passing through the intersection (throughput).

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Catching up with Robots (April 10th, 2012)

Posted 10 Apr 2012 at 16:48 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

While some contextual details, such as the name of the institution within which the project took place, are missing from the above video, which shows the design, construction, and initial use of a remote-controlled vehicle with 3.5 G cellular connectivity, it seems worthy of attention, both for the project itself and for the visual experience of the video, which transforms a limitation of the hardware (a low dynamic range camera that overexposes bright areas against a darker background) into an artistic advantage. A second, longer video shows the reactions of people in the street to the presence of the vehicle. In other news, Automaton has the official word on DARPA's humanoid Grand Challenge. The first running of this Grand Challenge is expected to occur in late 2013 or early 2014, with the second running to take place one year later. And finally, while the HUBO might possibly form the basis for one or more entrants in DARPA's humanoid Grand Challenge, the HUBOs are currently otherwise engaged. A recently posted video shows four of them playing "Come Together", by the Beatles. (video after the break)

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Robots Podcast #101: George Bekey & Rodney Brooks

Posted 7 Apr 2012 at 15:46 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

composite photo of George Bekey and Rodney Brooks

In episode #101, Robots Podcast revisits the foundations of the field of robotics and peeks into the future with pioneers George Bekey and Rodney Brooks. Bekey, whose background was in engineering and computing, had his first brush with robotics in the 1960s. He returned to the field in the 80s and founded the Robotics Research Laboratory at the University of Southern California, now part of the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems. Brooks received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1981 and then held research positions at Carnegie Mellon and MIT before joining the faculty of MIT in 1984. He became Director of the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), continuing in that post until 2007. He was also a cofounder of iRobot, and has since become the founder, chairman and CTO of Heartland Robotics.

Read On or Tune In

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Long Term Memory Encoding in the Brain

Posted 4 Apr 2012 at 21:49 UTC (updated 4 Apr 2012 at 22:00 UTC) by steve

Researchers may finally have uncovered the brain mechanism for storage of long term memories. It's long been suspected that synaptic connections between neurons were part of the mechanism. But somehow our memories survive while individual neurons die and are replaced. There's a new paper on the subject by Travis J. A. Craddock, Jack A. Tuszynski, and Stuart Hameroff, titled "Cytoskeletal Signaling: Is Memory Encoded in Microtubule Lattices by CaMKII Phosphorylation?" The researchers describe complex electrostatic interactions between CaMKII, tubulin protein compounds, and microtubule protein structures inside the neurons. It turns out this may be the process used to read and write long term memories into an information storage lattice, as well as perform a variety of biocomputation based on traditional logical operations such as AND, XOR, NOT, and OR. The researchers summarize their discoveries this way:

"We demonstrate a feasible and robust mechanism for encoding synaptic information into structural and energetic changes of microtubule (MT) lattices by calcium-activated CaMKII phosphorylation. We suggest such encoded information engages in ongoing MT information processes supporting cognition and behavior, possibly by generating scale-free interference patterns via reaction-diffusion or other mechanisms. As MTs and CaMKII are widely distributed in eukaryotic cells, the hexagonal bytes and trytes suggested here may reflect a real-time biomolecular information code akin to the genetic code."

There are several theories about the low-level structures. Each storage lattice could be binary or trinary and store as little as 64 bits or as much as 5281 unique states. The article includes estimates of the brain's energy consumption rate for various data encoding rates. This new research suggests current neural network models may be woefully inadequate for artificial intelligence. In addition to implications for AI, the research suggests possible routes toward improving and even repairing memory function in human brains suffering from neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alheimer's. For more see the University of Alberta news release.

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A New Grand Challenge: Humanoid Robots

Posted 4 Apr 2012 at 04:49 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

According to Hizook, DARPA will soon be announcing another Grand Challenge, this one focused on humanoid robots. To win the competition, a robot will have to climb into an open vehicle, drive to a designated building, enter the building using a key, navigate a 100 meter, rubble-strewn hallway, climb a ladder, locate a leaking pipe and stop the leak by closing a nearby valve, and then replace a faulty pump, all semi-autonomously. This challenge will be run for two successive years, as it is not expected any team will be able to build a machine that can accomplish all this the first year. Teams will be divided between hardware and software, and there will be both funded and unpaid teams in both categories, with the potential for unpaid teams doing excellent work to displace funded teams showing less promise. More details to be forthcoming when the formal announcement is made.

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DoodleBOT: automated drawing on whiteboards

Posted 3 Apr 2012 at 17:26 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

GarabatoBOT (in English DoodleBOT) is a little robot that can make simple doodles on a vertical white-board. Its five custom components, a central body, two arms, and two pulleys, are fabricated by deposition, using a MakerBot. (Designs are available from Thingiverse.) Aside from those it consists of two stepper motors, a corresponding power driver, an Arduino Pro Mini microcontroller, and a Bluetooth modem. The pulleys are press-fit on the stepper motor shafts, and are used to reel in/out strings or thin cables which attach to the upper corners of the whiteboard, or at least to points which are widely separated. The DoodleBOT is suspended on those strings/cables and moves about as their lengths are adjusted.

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Smart Sand & Robot Pebbles

Posted 3 Apr 2012 at 05:25 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

MIT Professor Daniela Rus and her student Kyle Gilpin have co-authored a paper on smart sand, and the robot pebbles they are currently using to develop the concept. They will be presenting this paper at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), to be held May 14th through 18th in St. Paul, Minnesota. Robot Pebbles are cubes, 12mm on a side, containing rudimentary microprocessors and four electorpermanent magnets each. Through these magnets they are able to communicate and transfer power, as well as using them to bond together. Rus and Gilpin have developed an algorithm that enables a pile of robot pebbles to duplicate the shape of any object placed into it. The copy is made up of robot pebbles, and all the other pebbles in the pile simply fall away when it is removed.

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Catching up with Robots

Posted 1 Apr 2012 at 22:20 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Tek Robotic Mobilization Device website

There has been more news than we've had time for lately. The Tek Robotic Mobilization Device (RMD), developed by Turkish R&D company AMS Mekatronic, allows users lacking use of their legs to stand upright, and to move about while in a standing position (via The Verge). Boston Dynamics has recently posted videos (after the break) of their RHex robot, designed to scramble over rough terrain, and their Sand Flea robot, which can jump as high as thirty feet. The Human Centered Robotics Laboratory at UT Austin has posted a video (after the break) of Hume, a bi-pedal robot they've designed in cooperation with Meka Robotics, to achieve the skill of Human Centered Hyper-Agility (HCHA), with particular focus on running. DARPA has posted video (after the break) of their tank-like Robotic Suspension System, which can level out small irregularities in the terrain it crosses, much as the suspension system of the M1 Abrams provides a stable platform for its main gun. The Robotics Suspension System was develop as part of the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program. A video from Aalborg University (after the break) shows a time-lapse view of a student of Manufacturing Technology assembling Little Helper++, a single robotic arm mounted on a mobile base.

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Google Street View Maps the Amazon

Posted 1 Apr 2012 at 19:24 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Google Maps Street View technology being applied to the Amazon river and the communities along its banks.

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Military Robotics

Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA, at TED

Posted 31 Mar 2012 at 20:07 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

This TED talk was delivered earlier in March, and posted on the 27th.

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