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Robots

Agricultural Robotics at European Robotics Forum 2012

Posted 16 Apr 2012 at 16:09 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Among the many topics discussed at the European Robotics Forum 2012, was the application of robotics technology to agriculture. In a press release posted on the European Robotics Technology Platform website, Prof. Simon Blackmore, head of Engineering at Harper Adams University College is quoted as saying

We’ve started with a clean sheet of paper. We’re re-evaluating the whole approach to agriculture. At the moment, crops are drilled in straight rows to suit machines, but what if they were drilled to follow the contours of the land, or to take account of the micro level environmental conditions within a portion of a field? The potential boost to production we could generate if harvests were staggered to suit the crop rather than mechanisation is immense. We’re talking about micro tillage, mechanical weeding and planting using small, smart, autonomous, modular machines.
Demonstrations of working machines were provided by the University of Copenhagen, the University of Southern Denmark, Wageningen University, and the University of Kaiserslautern. There's much more in the press release.
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Military Robotics

Boston Dynamics to Supply Hardware for software teams

Posted 14 Apr 2012 at 21:53 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

DARPA has issued a Sole Source Intent Notice for humanoid robot systems for their Robotics Challenge Program. The contract is to go to Boston Dynamics, who will produce a set of eight identical humanoid robots based upon the PETMAN and Atlas projects they have already undertaken with DARPA support (see above video). These robots will be supplied to software teams competing for the Challenge prize. Automaton provides additional detail.

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Tools

Printing in 3D with Chocolate

Posted 14 Apr 2012 at 16:07 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Do you like your chocolate shaped into 3D forms? If so you're in luck. A 3D printer for chocolate, developed at the University of Exeter, has gone on sale. Create your own chocolate castles! Next question, does it work with white chocolate?

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Robots

MorpHex by Zenta

Posted 13 Apr 2012 at 16:56 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

The above video is the third in a series demonstrating the MorpHex morphing ball robot by Kåre Halvorsen (aka Zenta), whose day job is as a consultant engineer at the Assistive Technology Centre for Rogaland (a part of the Norwegian Welfare Services). As with his earlier, ant-like project, the A-Pod, which is available from Lynxmotion as a kit, the MorpHex has many degrees of freedom and moves more like an organism than most robots. More videos of Zenta's work are available on YouTube.

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Robots

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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Robots

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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Interviews

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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Science

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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Competitions

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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Robots

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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