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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 2 Nov 2012 at 18:41 UTC by steve

This week's roundup starts with news from Joanne Pransky about a new tandem robot arm system from ST Robotics. Juxi from IDSIA let us know about a new promo video they've made called "Towards Intelligent Humanoids" - it's about their "ongoing efforts to apply AI algorithms to create autonomous, adaptive, intelligent behaviors". The Swirling Brain sent a few stories our way including news that a human driver narrowly won over an autonomous robot car in an auto race where speeds reached 185kph. It seems robots may soon beat the world's best ping-pong players too. And the Brain also sent a link to a cool, crowd-funded, open-source software created, CC-licensed movie about robots and cyborgs called Tears of Steel. We also heard from Andrew of PhoenixGarage.org, who saw our recent interview with David L. Heiserman and thought readers might like to check out his interview with Dave back in 2008. Finally, Kra5h sent a link to his instructable demonstrating clever uses for a 555 timer in astable mode. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. Don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. And now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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First Micro-structure Atlas of Human Brain

Posted 1 Nov 2012 at 18:35 UTC by steve

A University College of London news release has announced the completion of the first ever Micro-structure Atlas of the human brain by a consortium of EU organizations known as the CONNECT Project. The release notes that "the project’s final results have the potential to change the face of neuroscience and medicine over the coming decade." The brain atlas combines 3D images from MRI brain scans of 100 volunteers. Along the way, the CONNECT project developed new MRI methods to give unprecedented detail and improved accuracy. From the CONNECT project's final report:

"This unprecedented insight into white matter will open up new realms of possibilities in terms of both diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, as well as providing fundamental new insights to the connectivity and workings of the brain. By being able to probe white matter to this new level of detail, and combined with detailed assessment of brain function, we will obtain
an unparalleled holistic view of the brain."

For a much more in-depth description along with graphics and other data, see the CONNECT project's Executive Summary (PDF format). The proliferation of new brain mapping projects in recent years gives the feel of the early days of the Human Genome project and may well prove to have an equally large impact on all fields science including AI and robotics. See also our recent coverage of the Brain Architecture Project, which completed a 500 Tera-byte whole-brain wiring diagram. Unlike the Brain Architecture Project, the CONNECT Project is mapping in-vivo, or living brains.

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Aquatic Robotics

Wave Glider Mercury Rides out Sandy

Posted 31 Oct 2012 at 21:54 UTC (updated 1 Nov 2012 at 03:07 UTC) by steve

An autonomous Wave Glider robot named Mercury floated alone in the path of Hurricane Sandy about 100 miles east of Toms River, New Jersey. The robot survived 70 knot winds on the ocean's surface while its sensors gathered weather data and transmitted it in real time. The robot recorded a drop in barometric pressure of more than 54 mbars with a low of 946 mbars. The robot also carries cameras, wave sensors, fish trackers, hydrophones, temperature sensors, conductivity sensors, dissolved oxygen sensors, magnetometer, GPS, and a flurometer. For more details on what this robot does, see the article Air-Sea Interface Monitoring of Hurricanes at the Liquid Robots website. For some technical details of the robot itself, see the Wave Glider Technology Brief (PDF format) and Wave Glider Specifications document (PDF format). We've covered a variety of ocean glider robots in the past including a Robots Podcast interview with Oscar Schofield of Rutgers on underwater gliders, and older articles on the Rutgers Gliders and Slocum Gliders. Read on to see more photos and video of Wave Gliders in action.

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Robots Help in Aftermath of Hurricane

Posted 30 Oct 2012 at 18:32 UTC by steve

Expect to see a lot of robots helping in rescue, repair, and cleanup efforts after Hurricane Sandy. These days, even smaller organizations have access to robots. For example, Vernon, CT Emergency Management Department will be flying a Parrot AR Drone to provide live HD video feeds for damage inspection. Larger cities now have multiple emergency robots at their disposal. Consultant Mark Merritt expects power utility companies in the area will be deploying drones to speed inspection of infrastructure damage, though he notes there may be "sensitivity" about using drones due to their recent politicization. A recent New York Times article describes power utility drones such as the Aeryon Scout pictured above. No word yet on whether Robin R. Murphy or CRASAR's Roboticists Without Borders program will be sending in search and rescue robots but we'll keep you updated. While not ready in time to help with Hurricane Sandy, NASA has been prepping a pair of Global Hawk UAVs for hurricane tracking duties. The autonomous Global Hawk has a flight time of 30 hours and can reach much further than NOAA's WP-3D Orion manned flights. The robot planes are part of NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) program If you see more stories about local robots being used to help after Hurricane Sandy, send 'em our way!

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Commercial Robotics

Guardian Drone Meets Air Traffic Control

Posted 29 Oct 2012 at 22:03 UTC by steve

According to a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems news release, the Guardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) has successfully demonstrated the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system that allows drones to fly cooperatively within the national airspace system. The ADS-B gear allows Air Traffic Controllers to know the precise location and flight plan of the drone.

During the test, held in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the FAA, Guardian’s ADS-B IN-capable transponder detected other ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the vicinity and displayed the aircraft on a display within the Ground Control Station (GCS). Concurrently, Guardian’s ADS-B OUT transponder notified other aircraft and ATC of its location and velocity.

The FAA has mandated that all aircraft, including remotely piloted and autonomous robot aircraft, must be equipped with ADS-B systems by 2020. The Guardian RPA is based on the Predator B, modified for maritime operations.

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Heliostat Robot Wins Green Energy Challenge

Posted 27 Oct 2012 at 22:11 UTC by steve

An electrostatic heliostat cleaning robot won first prize in Circuit Cellar's recent Renesas RL78 Green Energy Challenge. Contestants were asked to use a Renesas RL78 microprocessor in a renewable power application. Scott Potter designed a robot that cleans heliostats, the solar tracking mirrors, used in Concentrating Solar Power Plants. The simple rectangular robot is powered by photovoltaic cells and rolls back and forth over a mirror using a high voltage AC field to clean dust and debris from the mirror. For more see the Circuit Cellar announcement. For the technical details, see Scott's contest abstract (PDF format) and his entry archive (ZIP format) which contains drawings, schematic, and source code.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 18:01 UTC by steve

Joe let us know about his new blog, Bot Scene, which focuses on humanoid robots. Olivier Garcia sent a link to his YouTube channel, where he documents his work on SLAM, sonar imaging, 3D reconstruction, and other navigational techniques. Speaking of YouTube, have you seen the latest Boston Dynamic video of the LS3 Legged Squad Support robot? Another cool visual treat is this poster of famous robots. We also have a few cogsci stories in the queue this week: a new paper, titled Sequencing the Connectome, proposes a method by which single neuron resolution connectivity maps of the brain might be generated with existing high-throughput DNA sequencing machines. Another interesting paper is Discovering Relations Between Mind, Brain, and Mental Disorders Using Topic Mapping. What they've done is datamine existing neuroimaging studies to map mental functions to brain activity. The result includes lots of cool graphics. Finally, new MIT research shows Broca's area has two distinct sub-units, one specifically for language processing while the other acts as a central processing unit for general cognition. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. Don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. And now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Kick Off

Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 19:46 UTC by steve

DARPA has announced the start of the next DARPA Robotics Challenge. This time, the goal is to develop ground robots that perform complex tasks in "dangerous, degraded human-engineered environments". That means robots that perform humanitarian, disaster relief operations. The robots must use standard human hand tools and vehicles to navigate a debris field, open doors, climb ladders, and break through a concrete wall. Most but not all of the robots will be humanoid in design. The challenge is divided into two parts with a Virtual Robotics Challenge scheduled for 10 - 24 June, 2013 to test simulated robots and the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge scheduled for 21 December, 2013. DARPA has adopted the free software Gazebo simulator, which supports ROS. There are two competition "tracks" - competitors in Track A will develop their own humanoid robot and control software, while competitors in Track B will develop control software that runs on a DARPA-supplied Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics. Already University teams are making announcements of participation. Read on for more info about some of the teams, as well as some awesome photos and videos of the robots in action.

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Raspberry Pi Frees Broadcom Drivers

Posted 24 Oct 2012 at 18:22 UTC (updated 24 Oct 2012 at 18:25 UTC) by steve

The Raspberrry Pi Foundation announced some big news today. They've released full source code for the Broadcom BCM2835 SoC used on the Raspberry Pi board under a GPL-compatible BSD style license, meeting the guidelines of both Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation. This includes code for the VideoCore GPU and is the first time ever that a vendor has provided a full set of open source drivers for an ARM-based multimedia SoC. Access to the GPU should provide robot builders with much needed additional processing power for neural networks, vision, and other applications. Read on for a block level view of the software stack and more details.

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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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