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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 26 Jan 2013 at 21:02 UTC by steve

Lots of news today as we empty the editor's inbox. An MIT Technology Review article argues their are fatal flaws in Ray Kurzweil's new AI project for Google. If you read Bruce Sterling's piece in the answers to the annual Edge question, he did a little debunking of "the singularity". George Dvorsky begs to differ with Sterling, offering a collection of responses from those who are still faithful believers in the nerd rapture. And speaking of Edge, they posted a fascinating article and video detailing what philosopher Daniel Dennett has been up to lately, including why he thinks the vision of the brain as a computer is still correct, but he wants to correct a mistake he made in the past regarding the approach to homuncular functionalism. Also on the subject of human brains, remember the old science fiction novels that imagined a future with sleep learning machines? Researchers have finally discovered why our past attempts at sleep learning failed and have built a sleep learning machine that actually works, using a process called cued memory reactivation, paper is paywalled but there's an NSF summary of the research with a demonstration video. Unless you're short on sleep, you probably remember our recent story on the new release of ROS. Our friends over at NooTriX have released a ready-to-use virtual machine version of ROS Groovy Galapagos - an Open Virtualization Format .ova file that will run under VmWare, Parallels, and other VMs that support the standard format. Finally, The Swirling Brain pointed out an interesting CNN story on a humanoid robot design that can be built using parts made on a 3D printer. Unfortunately the design is not actually open source as the article suggests (the non-commercial-use license doesn't meet the guidelines of either the Open Source Hardware Association or the Free hardware definition) but it is a cool idea and hopefully will inspire similar designs under an open/free hardware license eventually. 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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Medical Robotics

Butch: A New Robo-Dog for Veterinarians

Posted 23 Jan 2013 at 21:10 UTC by steve

According to a Cornell news release, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is working on an advanced robot dog, code-named Butch, that will simulate doggy medical emergencies for veterinarians in training. The dog is part of an overall plan for a simulation center with robot cats and dogs that will be the most advanced training center of its kind in the world. More on the new robot dog from the news release:

[Dan Fletcher] is now building a more advanced model code-named “Butch.” Butch will run with inexpensive, off-the-shelf electronic components and sports a more realistic airway, a soft abdomen compartment, articulating joints, more areas for catheters, more space inside the body and a more realistic overall feel.

The new-and-improved robot dog will also integrate with a new veterinary simulation tookit called Ursula (the Universal Realistic Simulation of a Living Animal) that will be open source and shared with other veterinary institutions. Ursula will simulate physiological responses for a variety of animals and will integrate with inexpensive hardware. For more see also the Chronical Online article, the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine news release and the Cornell University Center for Advanced Computing news release.

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Should We Worry About Robots?

Posted 22 Jan 2013 at 19:34 UTC by steve

Every year Edge asks one question of the world's smartest people; people like Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Rodney Brooks, Roger Schank, and dozens of others; scientists, philosophers, artists. Every year robots and AI are recurring topics throughout the answers. This year's question is "What *should* we be worried about?" From the introduction, here's the full question:

We worry because we are built to anticipate the future. Nothing can stop us from worrying, but science can teach us how to worry better, and when to stop worrying. WHAT SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT? Tell us something that worries you (for scientific reasons), but doesn't seem to be on the popular radar yet—and why it should be. Or tell us something that you have stopped worrying about, even if others do, and why it should be taken off the radar.

And here are the responses. Kevin Kelly thinks we should worry about the "underpopulation bomb" - the first time in human history to experience a diminishing number of young people combined with an increasing number of robots. Gregory Benford warns that our life on Earth is beginning to resemble rats in a spherical trap and that we need to get off this rock before it's too late; a project that calls for robots, nuclear rockets, asteroid mining, and more robots. David Berreby worries that "global greying" will result in increasingly elderly, xenophobic populations who choose to boost their workforces with robots rather than immigrants. Paul Saffo worries about a coming fight between two extreme classes he calls "engineers" and "druids", basically optimists and pessimists respectively who either want to use technology or ban technology. "Druids fear that robot cars are unsafe; Engineers wonder why humans are allowed to drive at all." Andy Clark says we don't need to worry about Super-AIs ruling the world, unless they get culture first. That's just a sampling of the many references to robots, robotics, and machine intelligence. As it has been in past years, the full set of responses is well worth a read for anyone with an interest in the future of the world.

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Diego-San: An Expressive Android Child

Posted 21 Jan 2013 at 22:46 UTC by steve

A UCSD news release touts their new android child that is designed to mimic the expressions of a one year old human child as it learns to control its body and interact with humans. There have been a lot of creepy baby-headed robots lately but you may notice this one is a little less creepy and a little more life-like than others. Why? Because the android combines the work of some of the best technology out there: Japanese humanoid robotics hardware and a Hanson Robotics head. David Hanson's android heads have received wide-spread recognition as the most human-like and expressive around. From the news release:

"We developed machine-learning methods to analyze face-to-face interaction between mothers and infants, to extract the underlying social controller used by infants, and to port it to Diego-san. We then analyzed the resulting interaction between Diego-san and adults. With high definition cameras in the eyes, Diego San sees people, gestures, expressions, and uses A.I. modeled on human babies, to learn from people, the way that a baby hypothetically would. The facial expressions are important to establish a relationship, and communicate intuitively to people."

Diego-San was developed at the Machine Perception Lab and funded by the National Science Foundation. The robot is another small step towards robots that are able to interact emotionally with humans. There's still a long way to go, particularly with the development of affective systems in the robot itself. Most work to date has been on expressing simulated affects and on recognizing emotions in humans. For more, seen an earlier UCSD article on the development of Diego-San. Read on for some cool video of Diego-San in action.

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Robots Podcast #121: Rob Saunders

Posted 17 Jan 2013 at 18:49 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Rob Saunders

Rob Saunders is Lecturer in Design Computing and Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney where he joined the Design Lab. His research interest lies in understanding human creativity and producing tools that support it. His curious design assistants for example are interface agents that have been developed to support human creativity by filtering and exploring design spaces. Saunders also aims to build minimal and well rounded models of creativity at the individual, social and cultural level for autonomous systems that work independently from humans. Curiosity is one of the driving forces behind creative activity. As such, Saunders creates curious agents that are computational models of self-motivated learning based on interest in novelty.

Read On | Tune In

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 14 Jan 2013 at 20:44 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week includes fan art of androids Lore and Data, some freaky Japanese half-robot half-woman things, a cow-milking robot, kids with robots, cats with robots, a Robby the Robot diorama, and a coffee shop sign warning customers about the robot shortage. Every week we post a collection of the best robot photos submitted by our readers to our robots.net flickr group. Why? Because everyone likes to see cool new robots! Want to see your robot here? Post it to flickr and add it to the robots.net flickr group. It's easy! If you're not already a flickr member, it's free and easy to sign up. Read on to see the best robot photos of the week!

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 13 Jan 2013 at 23:11 UTC by steve

Are you using the open hardware Raspberry Pi for your robot? If so, or even if you don't have a Pi yet, you may want to check out MAKE's First International Raspberry Pi Meetup. It's on Thursday, 17 Jan in cities all over the world. Check for the location nearest you. Bring a Raspberry Pi project along to show off if you have one. I'll be at the Dallas, TX meetup. LEGO's MINDSTORMS may not be open hardware yet but the new MINDSTORMS EV3 platform is moving in the right direction, dumping proprietary software for standard GNU/Linux (lots of other new features too). Arduino is open hardware all the way and they've got a new toy too, the Arduino Esplora, an Arduino-based input or control device. The Esplora might come in handy for roboticists. The Swirling Brain sent some news our way on robotic clothing, a dress with spider like appendages that use sensors to react to the environment, and a dress that shifts from opaque to transparent depending the arousal level of the wearer (NSFW). He also spotted a cyborg music project in which sensors alter the music based on the performer's facial expressions. If robots that make love and music aren't your thing, maybe you'll prefer a story about Army researchers training mobile robots to navigate by voice command. 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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Commercial Robotics

CMU to Develop Commercial Mining Robots

Posted 12 Jan 2013 at 17:03 UTC by steve

According to a CMU news release, CMU's Robotics Institute has entered a five year agreement with Anglo American PLC to develop autonomous robots for a variety of mining tasks including mapping and inspection. From the news release:

Automating the most difficult, costly and dangerous mining jobs will improve safety and increase the productivity and efficiency of Anglo American’s operations. Advances in robotics will allow the mining of hard-to-reach ore deposits that cannot be economically extracted under existing methods and mine layouts

Mining is a very dangerous business and seems like an ideal job for robots. The robot pictured above is a multi-purpose mining robot that is being developed at the Robotics Institute NREC facility. More information can be found in the NREC new release. The technology described here is probably descended from the CMU Groundhog mine-mapping robot that we've reported on as far back as 2002.

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Cornell Cup 2013 Teams Announced

Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 18:35 UTC (updated 10 Jan 2013 at 18:36 UTC) by steve

The annual Cornell Cup USA competition is a general engineering contest sponsored by Intel. But, while it's not a robot competition, many of the entries are robots, such as the University of Pennsylvania HAWK (Helicopter Aircraft Wielding Kinect) UAV, pictured above, one of the 2012 winners. This year is no exception. Cornell announced the 30 teams who will participate in the 2013 event. Among this year's entries are speech recognition systems, STEM robots, a wheelchair mounted robot arm, several elder-care robots, an autonomous ocean search robot, a smart-home project, a brain-interfaced wheelchair, AUVs, UAVs, a robot shopping cart, a robot for firefighters, a black box for humans, a leaf collection robot, an upper-body exoskeleton, and a swarm of robot that will sanitize hospitals with UV light. Cornell is in the process of creating blogs for each of the teams to post status updates. You can find the team descriptions and blog links in the news release.

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Scientists Map Skin's Sensory Nerves

Posted 8 Jan 2013 at 20:02 UTC by steve

Skin is the human body's largest sensory organ. Understanding how it works will help roboticists create more useful android skins. We're a step closer to understanding the skin's sensory system thanks to a new report announced by Johns Hopkins researchers. The scientists created detailed maps of the branching patterns of sensory nerves in mouse skin. The resulting maps revealed ten distinct groups that seem to correspond to differences in nerve functions. For example, some nerve types gather information from a single hair follicle while others branch into groups that collect averaged information from 200 or more different locations. From the new release:

Nathans says the images now in hand will help scientists “make more sense” out of known responses to stimulation of the skin. For example, if a single nerve cell is responsible for monitoring a patch of skin a quarter of an inch square, multiple simultaneous points of pressure within that patch will only be perceived by the brain as a single signal. “That is why we can’t read Braille using the skin on our backs: the multiple bumps that make up a Braille symbol are within such a small area that the axon branches can’t distinguish them. By contrast, each sensory axon on the fingertip occupies a much smaller territory and this permits our fingertips to accurately distinguish small objects.

For all the details on the research, including lots of diagrams and images of the nerve networks, see the paper, "Morphological diversity of cutaneous sensory afferents revealed by genetically directed sparse labeling" (PDF format). In a related new release, Johns Hopkins researchers announced the discovery of strong evidence that there are specific nerve cells responsible for itch signals, distinct from nerves involved in pain.

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