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In Robots Podcast #113, Mark Tilden talks about the the efforts and events leading up to the creation of Robosapien and Femisapien, and other designs marketed by WowWee, and how his attention has turned from toys, the current market for which he terms saturated, to robots that do things people need done, and his belief that bottom up BEAM robotics (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) is essential in creating low cost, competent, robust and flexible robots. In the news segment, which precedes the interview(s) in the podcast, Rethink Robotics, the company formerly known as Heartland Robotics, has emerged from 4 years of stealth mode and introduced its first product, a humanoid called Baxter, a dual-armed, pedestal-mounted robot that's trainable and can safely work in close proximity to people. In other news, US company iRobot has acquired US company Evolution Robotics, maker of the Mint vacuum cleaner and North Star positioning system and developer of visual SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) algorithms. And, finally, a group of researchers at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland have begun marketing the Thymio II educational robot, the toolset for which is now complete. The price is 99 Swiss Francs, plus another 32 Swiss Frans for administrative and shipping costs, outside of Europe, for a total of just over US$140.
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Rodney Brooks founded Rethink Robotics in 2008. After a lot of R&D, they're ready to release their first robot, named Baxter. What makes Baxter different than all the other industrial robots out there? Baxter is behaviour-based and adapts automatically to the environment as he tries to understand the user's expectations. Basically, Baxter has a little more common sense than your typical industrial robot. There's no traditional programming process; instead, a non-technical user can teach Baxter a new task using a GUI and by directly moving the robot's arms. Baxter even has a primordial hint of Asimov's laws in the form of subsumptive safety measures that make the usual safety cage around the robot's working area unnecessary. As humans approach the robot, it detects their presence and moves more slowly and carefully to avoid hurting them. Baxter is made in the US and part of Rethink's marketing strategy is to convince US companies that might otherwise send their manufacturing off-shore, that Baxter can make US manufacturing competitive for them again. And, like most modern, socially interactive robots, Baxter is equipped with prominently displayed non-human eyes to creep you out. Read on for more photos and video of Baxter in action.
Thymio II was introduced at the 2011 EPFL Robotic Festival. Now, with the introduction of Aseba, the creative toolset associated with it is complete. Aseba allows even younger children to animate their creations by programming Thymio II. Developed within the framework of the Swiss National Center for Competence in Research Robotics, by a team of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Ecole d'Art de Lausanne (écal), the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ) and the Mobsya association, Thymio II has been distributed to more than 1000 Swiss children. Examples of what they've done with it can be found on the Aseba website.
Hector is a robot designed to assist elderly people who suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Developed as part of the CompanionAble project by researchers at the Smart Homes foundation in the Netherlands. Herjan van den Heuvel of Smart Homes writes:
"The developed care robot acts as a coach and companion, and supports the user by means of suggestions, encouragements and reminders on a physical, cognitive and social level. Think about offering structure by eating and drinking suggestions and medicines reminders, proposing activities such as going for a walk, playing a game, or calling someone, and reminding about appointments and tasks. It is expected that this will contribute to a more active, enjoyable and healthier life, not only for the end-user, but also for the partner or social carer. The robot can be considered as an helping hand for both."
A series of two-day live-in tests put Hector and real MCI patients together. So far all patients accepted the robot and found it helpful, even those who initially found it scary (which is understandable given that the robot is equipped with moving eyes that seem to serve no purpose but to make it look creepy). The tests also uncovered many aspect of the robot that still need improvement before it can be deployed for real. After the break, see video of Hector in action as well as video of an earlier prototype of the CompanionAble robot.
In Robots Podcast #112 (Sept. 7th, 2012), interviewer Per Sjoborg talks with Matthias Kohler, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication at ETH Zurich and renowned architect, about his work in robotic architecture at the Future Cities Laboratory (FCL), which is part of the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability (SEC) in Singapore. Professor Kohler discusses how he first got interested in robotics and automated architecture, and what the future plans are for his lab. He also talks about how the design of buildings and the urban landscape will change when the construction process becomes automated. The news segment, which precedes the interview in the podcast, reports on a DARPA contract, awarded to Science Applications International Corporation, under which SAIC will design, develop, and conduct sea trials of an unmanned submarine that is capable of tracking enemy vessels for thousands of kilometers, the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). DARPA has also released an online game to aid in the development of strategies for the effective use of ACTUV. Also mentioned is the the Kinect@Home project, sponsored by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, which aims at crowdsourcing 3D models of everyday objects.
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As usual the mailbox is overflowing with robots news. First off, don't forget to vote for the robots you want inducted in CMU's 2012 Robot Hall of Fame ceremony. Joanne Pransky let us know about a new line of robot grippers being launched by ST Robotics. Jessica from Robotdalen sends news that Japanese firm Cyberdyne Inc, the company that makes the HAL exoskeleton, is setting up shop in Sweden. Shawn, from the University of Dayton, sent a press release and video of a new battlefield medic robot they're developing to be air-dropped into dangerous areas to locate and evacuate wounded soldiers. Wondering what The Swirling Brain has been up to lately? Building papercraft mech robots. And one last item - Curtis Ellzey of EngineeringTV sent some cool video of SparkFun's autonomous vehicle competition from earlier this year. 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.
In Episode 111, Robots Podcast speaks with Francesco Mondada, organizer of the Robotics Festival at EPFL, a yearly event which this year gathered over 15,000 visitors for hands-on workshops and demonstrations. They also walk you through the many exhibits showcasing multi-robot systems, flying robots, rehabilitation robots, and robotic salamanders. In the news segment, which precedes the interviews, they mention research at Harvard which has produced a soft robot which can change color to blend with or stand out from its surroundings, and research at the University of Geneva which has produced a collar that measures and transmits a sheep's heartbeat. Aggregation of this information over a flock is significant enough to detect, for example, an imminent wolf attack, and the collars are also capable of dispensing wolf repellant.
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Salah Sukkarieh is an Associate Professor in the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, within the Faculty of Engineering & Information Technologies, at The University of Sydney. He is also Director of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), which is included within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems. In this interview he provides us with an overview of the Centre's past and present projects, pointing out how Australia's geography and demographics have acted to galvanize interest in field robotics there, particularly in the mining sector, and how they are likely to continue to shape the distribution of resources for ongoing research. He also discusses how the context for robotics has changed with the accumulation of experience and proven designs, such that a roboticist can now speak to a client with confidence about various potential approaches to addressing their needs.
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Depending on which time zone you're in, either yesterday evening or early this morning, a rocket-powered sky crane lowered the Curiosity rover gently to the surface of Mars, just in time for Curiosity to send a few low-res images before the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Odyssey, either of which could relay its signal back to Earth, dropped below the horizon and lost contact, culminating years of planning and months of anxious anticipation. Considering the complex sequence of steps involved, the narrow window of time within which each had to be performed, and the fact that all were performed autonomously by the system in flight or by the rover itself, this successful landing is a major victory for the incorporation of robotic technologies into rocket science. Congratulations to all involved!
Last week, SenseFly and Pix4D announced deals with drone maker Parrot, in which Parrot will invest in both companies, 5 million Swiss francs in SenseFly and 2.4 million in Pix4D. Both spinoffs of EPFL, SenseFly and Pix4D have a history of cooperation, with SenseFly providing the camera-equipped UAVs for which they have also developed navigational software that allows them to fly complete missions autonomously, and Pix4D providing the software that transforms the thousands of images produced by the drones into unified geographical information. (Kudos to Engadget for their prompt reportage.)
Ask any roboticist of a certain age, whether a professional or hobbyist, how they first got interested in robots. Odds are good they'll mention a 1976 TAB book, written by David L. Heiserman, called Build Your Own Working Robot. The book described the construction of Buster, a small, wheeled robot. This was before the era of ubiquitous microprocessors. Buster's brain was a mass of TTL logic chips that implemented surprisingly complex behaviours. In some ways, Buster was not unlike Grey Walter's vacuum tube-based turtle robots from the late 1940s and was likely the first significant step forward in behavior-based robots since Walter's turtles. Did you ever wonder what Dave did after writing those books or what he's up to today? Read on to find out!
Many robots, one controller, or at least that's the idea.
The Tactical Robot Controller (or TRC) is the latest innovation out of QinetiQ North America's Unmanned Systems Group. The TRC is a lightweight, wearable controller that allows the Marine or Soldier to control a family of unmanned ground vehicles, various unmanned air vehicles, and unattended ground sensors. The TRC can also be used to control a variety of third party unmanned aerial vehicles.
As he was planning on attending anyway, Australian Ron Vanderkley volunteered to cover JPL's Open House 2012 for Robots Podcast. He managed to get interviews with several JPL staff members, which are collected together in this episode, along with his own narration. (Great job, Ron!) The above video is just one of many from the Open House that have been posted to YouTube.
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Mazor Robotics announced on July 16th that its Renaissance robotic platform, already in wide use for spinal surgery, has received U.S. FDA clearance for use in brain surgery. The Renaissance platform is a surgical guidance system which first builds a 3D model based on a high-quality CAT scan, assits the surgeon in planning the surgery, and then during the surgery assists the surgeon by guiding the placement of instruments and implants. Mazor Robotics has, over the past year, accumulated an extensive collection of Videos in their YouTube channel.
In a joint press release, US companies InTouch Health and iRobot have announced a new telepresence robot for hospitals. The robot called "RP-VITA" builds on iRobot's AVA platform introduced at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. Similar to the AVA, the RP-VITA uses a tablet as the user interface and has autonomous mapping and navigation capabilities. The RP-VITA can also connect with diagnostic devices, such as otoscopes and ultrasound, and comes equipped with the latest electronic stethoscope. The robot is currently pending clearance by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), with results expected in the last quarter of 2012.
The 2012 (2nd annual) Robot Film Festival screening took place nine days ago, in the 3LD Art & Technology Center (New York City). Selected entries appear on the Robot Film Festival website, and Automaton has put together a highlights video.
On which side of the 'uncanny valley' would you place the robotic child in the above video? Researchers at Osaka University are developing a robot in the form of a 1-to-2 year old child, with the idea that it should be so realistic that it will elicit natural responses from human caregivers, enabling studies of human social development that can't otherwise be documented from the perspective of the child. For more information, see Automaton's article and this paper by the researchers.
Researchers in the Department of Computer Architecture and Technology, University of Granada, and in the Department of Computer Architecture and Electronics, University of Almería, have developed a biologically-inspired adaptive microcircuit which functions as an artificial cerebellum, controlling a robotic arm with human-like precision.
To date, although robot designers have achieved very precise movements, such movements are performed at very high speed, require strong forces and are power consuming. This approach cannot be applied to robots that interact with humans, as a malfunction might be potentially dangerous. To solve this challenge, University of Granada researchers have implemented a new cerebellar spiking model that adapts to corrections and stores their sensorial effects; in addition, it records motor commands to predict the action or movement to be performed by the robotic arm. This cerebellar model allows the user to articulate a state-of-the-art robotic arm with extraordinary mobility.(Source: Canal UGR)
Having noticed a recent trend towards robotics companies releasing videos with high production values, this one caught my eye. Aldebaran Robotics is hiring, and produced an edgy video called Shape the World to call attention to that fact.
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