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Space Robotics

A 10th Year of Opportunity on Mars

Posted 4 Feb 2013 at 20:50 UTC (updated 4 Feb 2013 at 20:52 UTC) by steve

A recent NASA JPL news release reminds us that with all the news about NASA's latest rover, Curiosity, and the many other robots on and above the red planet, some may not have noticed that the little Opportunity rover celebrated the start of its tenth year on Mars recently. Its companion, Spirit, went silent after six years but Opportunity keeps on going. Spirit and Opportunity were designed to have an operational life of 90 days, so even Spirit's six year life is impressive. (I can't even buy a washer and dryer that last six years and I don't drop my household appliances from orbit inside of bouncing airbags or expose them to dust storms and freezing temperatures!) From the news release:

Opportunity has driven 22.03 miles (35.46 kilometers) since it landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, PST (Jan. 25, Universal Time). Its original assignment was to keep working for three months, drive about 2,000 feet (600 meters) and provide the tools for researchers to investigate whether the area's environment had ever been wet. It landed in a backyard-size bowl, Eagle Crater. During those first three months, it transmitted back to Earth evidence that water long ago soaked the ground and flowed across the surface.

Opportunity is currently studying outcrops on the rim of Endeavour Crater, another area that shows possible signs of water from a much older era. To coincide with Opportunity's birthday, NASA has released a new panorama of the Matijevic Hill in the Endeavour Crater area. For more you can follow Opportunity's activities and discoveries on JPL's Opportunity mission status webpage, follow the rover's progress on the traverse map, check out Opportunities best photos on the pancam page or see all 176,525 photos returned so far from Opportunity on the Opportunity multimedia page.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 1 Feb 2013 at 23:06 UTC by steve

It's just not Friday without a news roundup! We received a lot of fun tips and links this week. Matt Whistler sent us a link to his 2D robot art. Frank Tobe of the Robot Report has blogged about the recent CBS news claims that robots will take away your job. The folks at NooTrix mentioned us in their post about the Best Robot Videos, Pictures, and Stories. Catherine Caudwell, a researcher in the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is asking for help from "anyone with an avid interest in robotics and companionable technologies" to take her Stories Tell Objects Project survey. Chuck Denk let us know about a new Google plus community called Robotics, Law, and Ethics. From The Swirling Brain come two stories: an Inside TV story with a photo gallery of "robots" from SyFy's Robot Combat League and a Hack a Day story about a genetic algorithm that is learning to program in the brainfuck language. Via the G+ Open Robotics University community comes news of an autonomous telemedicine robot approved by the FDA for use in hospitals. Last up, remember that story over at FreeIO.org on open hardware robot projects? The story prompted readers to send in reports of other projects, which we forwarded to FreeIO.org, so keep an eye on that article; the project list should get bigger over time. (by the way FreeIO, congrats on the nifty new logo!) 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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Aquatic Robotics

Argo Robots Collect Millionth Observation

Posted 31 Jan 2013 at 23:43 UTC by steve

Back in 2001, we first reported on the Argo project and its plan to deploy a network of 3,000 robots throughout the oceans of the world to capture precise measurements of temperature (+/- 0.005° C) and salinity. The number of deployed robot floats reached 3,000 in 2007. The robots continuously take measurements as they move from the surface to a depth of 2000 meters and back. They've been returning 100,000 measurements per year and, according to a recent news release, in January they passed the 1,000,000 measurement milestone. From the website:

Over 100 research papers per year are now being published using Argo data covering a broad range of topics including water mass properties and formation, air-sea interaction, ocean circulation, mesoscale eddies, ocean dynamics, seasonal-to-decadal variability, and global change analysis. A key objective of Argo is to observe ocean signals related to climate change. This includes regional and global changes in ocean temperature and heat content, salinity and freshwater content, the steric height of the sea surface in relation to total sea level and large-scale ocean circulation.

When the project started over a decade ago there was still widespread uncertainty over the rate and nature of climate change. Today, thanks in part to the precise data returned by these robots, researchers are able to build and test much more accurate models of climate change and carbon sequestration. As rising ocean temperatures cause more and more dramatic weather events, data from the Argo robots will be increasingly important to researchers as they try to accurately model and predict the coming changes. The Argo network data itself is available if you'd like to download it or get it on CD. Argo data is also available through standard climate research databases like the KNMI Climate Explorer and is now the primary source of data used for the NOAA Global Ocean Heat and Salt Content graphs. For more see the special Argo Brochure (PDF format) released for the one millionth measurement profile. Read on to see some cool videos of the Argo bots in action.
CC BY-NC-ND Argo photo by flickr user fruchtzwerg's world

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Cafe Neu Romance Robot Festival

Posted 30 Jan 2013 at 19:14 UTC (updated 30 Jan 2013 at 19:23 UTC) by steve

Christian Gjørret, leader of Vive Les Robots! sent us a report on Café Neu Romance, billed as the world's first international robot performance festival, held in Prague last November. Why Prague? Because Karel Čapek's R.U.R. premiered there, giving us the word robot, of course:

The 800 visitors to the festival were given an introduction to what connects magical Prague with robots. During the opening, the R.U.R expert, Professor Jana Horakova from the Masaryk University in Brno hold the lecture “Karel Čapek - Czech Frankenstein”, on the notion robot, and how the play R.U.R spread to various European cities after its first performance at the National Theatre in Prague 25 January 1921.

The festival included a wide variety of robots and robotic art, ranging from a fashion show with robotic dresses to robotic origami. Read on for the full new release about the event as well as several nice videos of the sites and sounds from the first international robot performance festival. And keep in mind as you watch them that planning has already started for the second event to be held in November of 2013.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 28 Jan 2013 at 21:59 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week is the Robot Graffiti Edition. Robot artwork has been popping up on buildings around the world with increasing frequency and our readers have posted some fun and amazing examples for your consideration. Did we miss some robot graffiti in your city? If you see some, be sure to photograph it and post the photo to our flickr group! Every week (well, almost 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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Robots Podcast #122: Robolution Capital

Posted 28 Jan 2013 at 17:19 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Renaud Champion, interviewee and partner in Robolution Capital

In this episode Per talks to robotics enthusiast and investment fund manager Renaud Champion. Champion is co-founder of the professional investment fund Robolution Capital, that focuses on investing in service robotics in the European market. Champion believes that service robotics has great growth potential, both in the professional and the domestic market. With a target of 60 million euros in funding, he is actively trying to promote development by building an effective ecosystem for robotics, including entrepreneurs, investors, advisers and users.

Read On | Tune In

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Free/Open Hardware Robot Projects

Posted 27 Jan 2013 at 19:32 UTC by steve

FreeIO.org, one of the oldest websites devoted to free and open hardware design, has posted a new article providing a good survey of robot designs under free hardware / open hardware licenses. There are 14 different robot designs dating from 1997 to 2012. The lists includes tiny, inexpensive robots that can be 3D printed, underwater ROVs, service robots, and even advanced humanoid robots. From the article:

"I’ve attempted to list the projects roughly in chronological order by the project’s creation date. To qualify for this list, a project needs several attributes: 1) it must be a complete mobile robot, not just part of a robot such as a manipulator arm 2) the hardware design documents (e.g. CAD files, schematics, etc) must be available under a free license (i.e. a license that protects the user’s basic freedoms – licenses with commercial-use restrictions are NOT free/open licenses, 3) at least one working robot must have been developed and demonstrated. Projects that are in the planning stages didn’t make the list as we’d like to see well-proven designs that have been well-tested in the real world."

The list of open hardware robots is definitely worth checking out if you're thinking about building a robot as there are lots of good designs that you might be able to adapt for your next project. The image above is the SERB Arduino Controlled Servo Robot designed by oomlout in 2008.

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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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