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Aquatic Robotics

The SciGirls Build a SeaPerch ROV

Posted 23 Oct 2012 at 20:22 UTC by steve

SeaPerch, the ROV kit and competition for students, is part of the Office of Naval Research's STEM program. The goal is to provide a low-cost underwater robot kit that teaches students basic engineering, math, and science concepts while encouraging an interest in marine engineering. A recent episode of The PBS science program SciGirls, titled Aquabots, took the girls through the process of building, deploying, and using a SeaPerch ROV. The girls were trying to learn more about why the oysters in Chesapeake Bay are dying off and discover whether or not efforts to restore the reefs were working. The girls also take a trip to the Naval Academy to learn more about the SeaPerch and other underwater robots. You can watch the entire episode on the SciGirls website. And if you'd like to buy a SeaPerch kit for yourself or want lesson plans to help bootstrap an ROV team at your school visit the SeaPerch website.

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32 bit ARM-based Arduino Due Released

Posted 22 Oct 2012 at 19:57 UTC by steve

After a long wait, the Arduino Due is finally available. The Due is based on an Atmel ARM Cortex M3 running at 84 Mhz, bringing a 32 bit processor to the Arduino world. Rumors and early sightings have been floating around for a while but the official announcement was made in the Arduino blog today. The only downside to all that new power is that, being ARM-based, a lot of existing AVR code won't be compatible without some work. There are a few other caveats, like getting used to the 3.3 volt levels on the I/O pins. Using 5 volts can damage the board. Like previous Ardunio boards, the design is open source hardware. So download the schematic, Eagle PCB files, and pin mappings and get to work on a robot controller! The price is $49. Read on for full specifications of the new Arduino Due board.

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Robots Podcast #115: Stephen Gorevan of Honeybee Robotics

Posted 21 Oct 2012 at 02:46 UTC (updated 21 Oct 2012 at 02:49 UTC) by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Stephen Gorevan

In episode #115 (Oct. 20, 2012), Robots Podcast speaks with Stephen Gorevan from Honeybee Robotics about how he and Chris Chapman started the company and how his childhood dream of working for NASA got them into space robotics. The interview, which was recorded before the landing of Curiosity on Mars, gives us all the details about the equipment they built for the Mars Science Laboratory, including the Sample Manipulation System (SMS) and the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) which will enable the mission to explore and analyze the Martian environment. We also hear about their latest developments in small scale satellites called CubeSats.

Read On | Tune In | Transcript

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But can I buy your Magic Bus?

Posted 20 Oct 2012 at 15:40 UTC by steve

One of the hurdles faced in the construction of a quantum computer is how to move qubits around inside. According to an NIST news release, NIST's Joint Quantum Institute joined forces with researchers at Princenton to solve this problem by creating a "quantum bus". Physicist Jacob Taylor explains the problem this way:

"In order to couple qubits, we need to be able to move information about one to the other. There are a few ways that this can be done and they usually involve moving around the particles themselves, which is very difficult to do quickly without destabilizing their spins - which are carrying the information - or transferring information about the spins to light. While this is easier than moving the particles themselves, the interaction between light and matter is generally very weak."

Their solution uses the latter method. First, they combined spin-orbit qubits with circuit quantum electrodynamics. The resulting device couples the spins of electrons trapped in an indium-arsenide quantum dot with the electron's positions. This allows the magnetic field of the qubit (which now reflects the spins), to interact with microwave photons moving in a superconducting cavity. In effect, they've got half of a bus - the spin information is moved from the qubit to a photon. So you can't buy that quantum brain for your robot just yet. They still need to get the spin information from the photon into another qubit at the other end of the bus. For a more detailed explanation of the work, with schematics and links to papers, see the JQI news release. A Princeton news release also mentions the work.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 19 Oct 2012 at 18:13 UTC by steve

Let's start off this week's news roundup by welcoming two new robot websites: first is Robotics.gd, which will include forums, chat, and photo galleries. Next up is Robohub, a robot news site where you'll see some familiar faces from here on robots.net and the robots podcast. We're always happy to see new robot sites and look forward to collaborating! In other news, Wendy Hughson of Intellibot Robotics wrote to let us know about a donation of two robots they made recently to the Upper Merion School District in Pennsylvania. The robots will be used in the STEM program by students at the Upper Merion Middle School. Tim Smith writes, "Just wanted to share some news from the Open Source Robotics Foundation, the spin-off from personal robotics company Willow Garage. Two recent OSRF blog posts have covered their relationship with DARPA and the Disaster Robotics Challenge, as well as the fact that Toyota's Human Support Robot (HSR) will be running on ROS." Finally Aldebaran Robotics sent an announcement saying their URBI robot operating system suite is now being distributed as free software under the BSD license. 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. Now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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Military Robotics

Global Hawk Closer to Autonomous Refueling

Posted 18 Oct 2012 at 16:34 UTC by steve

DARPA's Autonomous High-Altitude Refueling (AHR) program hopes to bring autonomous refueling to the Global Hawk and other flying robots. A recent DARPA news release says the AHR program has completed a test flight that brings their goal one step closer. During the test, two Global Hawks flew within 100 feet or less of each other for 2.5 hours at 44,800 feet. The aircraft were fitted with a refueling probe and a receiver drogue, which were brought into the correct orientation to connect but were not actually connected during this test flight. According to Jim McCormick of DARPA:

"The goal of this demonstration was to create the expectation that future HALE aircraft will be refueled in flight. Such designs should be more affordable to own and operate across a range of mission profiles than systems built to satisfy the most stressing case without refueling. The lessons from AHR certainly extend beyond the HALE flight regime, and insights into non-traditional tanker concepts may offer further operational advantages."

Read on for two videos showing the Global Hawks during one of the approach maneuvers from the point of view of each UAV.

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Aquatic Robotics

Platypus Cooperative Robotic Watercraft

Posted 17 Oct 2012 at 18:27 UTC by steve

Platypus, LLC is a company spun off from CMU's Robotics Institute this year. Their product is an autonomous robot airboat that can be deployed into bodies of water for environmental monitoring, flood response, fish farming, and other applications. The robot itself is made from a polyurethane hull with three primary components mounted on the deck: an electric propulsion fan, a watertight electronics enclosure, and an enclosure for a smartphone. The robot has a variety of water quality sensors that measure dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, and pH. The sensors are monitored by an Arduino. Water samples can be collected as well. The smartphone relays the telemetry and video through 3G or WiFi and can receive instructions from an operator. For more, see a recent Pittsburgh Business Times story on Platypus as well as the CMU Robotics Institute news release. Read more for additional photos and video of the CRW in action.

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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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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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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 Universit├Ąt 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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