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Science

Researchers Map Vision in Human Brain

Posted 16 Oct 2012 at 03:27 UTC (updated 16 Oct 2012 at 18:01 UTC) by steve

A University of Pennsylvania news release describes what may be a major breakthough in our understanding of human vision. Scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine have discovered a mathematical description common across all people that maps visual function to brain anatomy. Geoffrey Aguirre notes:

"By measuring brain anatomy and applying an algorithm, we can now accurately predict how the visual world for an individual should be arranged on the surface of the brain. We are already using this advance to study how vision loss changes the organization of the brain."

The researchers used fMRI to measure brain activity of multiple people, identifying the precise relationship between brain folds and visual representation. The general schematic for this relationship was discovered in 1918 by neurologist Gordon Holmes, who reverse-engineered it by mapping blind spots caused by war injuries to patient's brains. The map will be very useful in designing brain-machine interfaces for a visual prosthesis or other applications. It may also offer new insights applicable to machine vision for robots. The full details are currently pay-walled in the paper The retinotopic organization of striate cortex is well predicted by surface topology. However, a nice summary may be found online with the raw data which you can download and run in FreeSurfer, a free software application used for analysis and visualization of brain imaging data.

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Competitions

2012 ASABE Robot Contest Photos

Posted 10 Oct 2012 at 19:09 UTC by steve

I was able to attend the 2012 robot competition of the American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers (ASABE) recently. When did agricultural engineering students start studying robots? Just as students in any field need to know about computers, it seems robots too are becoming ubiquitous. This year's contest was designed to encourage students to think about ways robots could solve agricultural problems such as optimizing distribution of feed in cattle lots. Read on for photos and more info about the contest.

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Robots

NimbRo-OP Robot: Open Source Hardware/Software

Posted 9 Oct 2012 at 18:23 UTC by steve

Michael Schreiber of the Institute for Computer Science at the Universität Bonn sent us some information on their latest robot, NimbRo-OP. The small, humanoid robot is based on a completely open platform with both the hardware and software released under free and open licenses. NimbRo-OP is 95 cm tall (37.4 inches), uses 20 Robotis Dynamixel servos, has a dual-core AMD processor, WiFi, video camera, 3-axis accelerometer, and 3-axis gyro. The initial GNU/Linux software is based on DARwin-OP. Michael says there is ongoing development of software based on ROS. The robot is size-compatible with the RoboCup Humanoid League's TeenSize class. The goal was to get a very simple, working design out as open source so that other groups can start using and improving it. Read on to see a couple of videos of NimbRo-OP in action.

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Interviews

Robots Podcast #114: Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics

Posted 8 Oct 2012 at 02:36 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

portrait photo of Rodney Brooks

In episode #114 Robots Podcast speaks with Rodney Brooks at the offices of Rethink Robotics, discussing the motivation behind his getting into robots for manufacturing, Rethink's safe, interactive approach, how low-cost drove their design decisions, and how it all came together in their first product, Baxter.

Read On | Tune In | Transcript

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Robots

Random Robot Roundup

Posted 1 Oct 2012 at 20:53 UTC by steve

Patrick Goebel wrote to let us know about his new book called ROS by Example that's available through Lulu in paperback or PDF format. If you're new to ROS, you might also be interested that NooTrix has set up a VirtualBox virtual machine with ROS to simplify getting it running on your GNU/Linux box. We have news of two new crowd-funded robot projects out there: Robert Oschler has started an Indiegogo campaign to fund his Brain Control Interface (BCI) toolkit, open source robot control software that uses the Emotiv 14-electrode consumer EEG headset; also Jose Quinones of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund his CNC Mother Board project that provides inexpensive, general purpose hardware for controlling CNC machines. Finally, Patrick Gleeson wrote to let us know about his Robot Circus, an animatronic/puppet show he's developed. What's it about? "in a junk-punk, post-apocalyptic future an incorrigible showman and a boy genius build robotic animals from trash and make them the stars of a travelling circus". 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 and Facebook.

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Video

Microlecture - How to Engineer a Dog

Posted 28 Sep 2012 at 05:21 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

This video originally appeared in an article by Markus Waibel in the Learn section of Robohub.org, and is the first in what is anticipated to be a series of such microlectures.

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Interviews

Robots Podcast #113: Mark Tilden

Posted 23 Sep 2012 at 16:30 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Mark Tilden

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.

Read On | Tune In | Transcript

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Commercial Robotics

Rethink Robotics Announces Baxter

Posted 19 Sep 2012 at 18:16 UTC by steve

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.

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Software

Thymio II Toolset Complete

Posted 12 Sep 2012 at 04:38 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

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.

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Robots

Hector: A Robot Who Helps the Elderly

Posted 10 Sep 2012 at 18:44 UTC by steve

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.

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