If you believe that machines are destined to become our overlords, this is likely to send a chill up your spine.
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If you believe that machines are destined to become our overlords, this is likely to send a chill up your spine.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have radically shrunk the size and cost of neutron generators, opening the possibility of many new applications. The new design is flat, like a computer chip, and occupies so little space that it may be used as an implant, in cancer therapy.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Google Maps Street View technology being applied to the Amazon river and the communities along its banks.
This TED talk was delivered earlier in March, and posted on the 27th.
In a bit of serendipity worthy of Mary Poppins, the news of Amazon's acquisition of Kiva Systems arrived just in time for Robots Podcast to arrange an interview with one of the cofounders of Kiva Systems, Raffaello D’Andrea, who is also Professor of Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zürich. (Professor D'Andrea was previously featured on Robots Podcast in October, 2008.) While the Kiva Systems deal provides the motivation for the current interview, many aspects of his work are mentioned. The breadth of that work is represented by a video which appears on the homepage of his personal website.
Read On or Tune In
In the above video Yale Song, a PhD student in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, explains the project he has undertaken in concert with his advisor, computer science professor Randall Davis, and David Demirdjian, a research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), to develop a gesture recognition system that, when complete, will allow robotic aircraft to recognize and respond to the hand signals used by carrier crewmen to direct pilots, on deck and at takeoff and landing.
The above video shows CHARLI-2, from Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa), reacting to blows from behind, first without then with stabilization.
It's been too long since I've posted a news round up and the editor's mailbox is full! Norri Kageki sent a link to a GetRobo blog post that includes some great video of a tele-operated humanoid boxing robot. Our friends at the new NooTriX blog pointed out a recent post about venture capital and funding initiatives for robot start ups. Speaking of robot funding, the Plasticpals blog says the National Science Foundation has provided a $6M grant that allowed American universities to buy six HUBO 2 humanoid robots from KAIST. And, as the US economy continues to its recovery, Robotics Business Review reports that demand for roboticists grew 44% in Jan 2012. The Swirling Brain spotted a crazy video of a Japanese robot marathon from a year or so back where bipedal robots had to do 422 laps on a 100 meter indoor course. 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.
2012 Top 10 Robot Christmas Gift Ideas
DARPA Robotics Challenge Kick Off
2012 ASABE Robot Contest Photos
Interview with David L. Heiserman
David Anderson on Subsumption Robots
Review: Apocalyptic AI by Robert M. Geraci
Raspberry Pi Interview with Eben Upton
2012 VEX Robotics World Championship
Giant Dallas Robot Cited as Best Public Art
There's More Than One Way to Skin a Robot
Day of the Androids at Hanson Robotics