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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 20:34 UTC by steve

Kitty Gifford alerted us to an upcoming event in Ithaca, NY on 26 Feb called Science Cabaret that will include a discussion of walking robots. New neuroscience research may have identified some novel network structures that evolved in the human brain. Meanwhile, a study of machine visual recognition suggests that non-metric recognition algorithms may be the best way to go. Garret Fisher of F5 Robotics, let us know about an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for an ROV that looks like a proprietary version of the very successful open hardware / open software Open ROV project. Our friends at the NooTriX blog let us know about their latest post on questions of robot ethics. The Swirling Brain rounded up stories on the Veter Project, a $10 robot fish pet, and an experiment that torments lab rats using robot rats. 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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Robots Podcast #124: Insect-inspired navigation

Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 03:45 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of ant

In this episode Per talks with Michael Mangan from the University of Edinburgh, where he did his PhD in the Insect Robotics Group, with Professor Barbara Webb (previously interviewed by Robots Podcast), about using robotics to study and replicate insect behaviour. His current research focuses on the navigational abilities of desert ants. These ants scavenge for food over long distances despite searing surface temperatures that evaporate pheromone trails too quickly to be useful for guidance. He has recently documented the impressive individual route following behavior of desert ants in southern Spain. This has allowed the first rigorous testing of robotic and biologically plausible models of navigation in the ant world, as viewed by the ant. Mangan is currently constructing these virtual worlds for public use and they will be available from AntNav.org.

Read On | Tune In

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A Model-driven Approach to Robot Architecture

Posted 21 Feb 2013 at 19:37 UTC by steve

While you might have trouble getting any two roboticists to agree on what exactly a "robot architecture" is or which one is best, you would probably find agreement that the process of designing a robot architecture is a form of engineering. Piotr Trojanek argues that, if that is the case, then it might be worthwhile to apply the workflow of model-driven engineering development to the task of designing a robot architecture. He lays out his thoughts in a recently published paper called, Model-driven engineering approach to design and implementation of robot control systems (PDF format). From the paper:

"We believe, that model-driven engineering provides the necessary framework that enables the development of methods and tools for robot control and programming in a much more disciplined and efficient manner than before. Dedicated tools for all the steps involved (i.e., definition of domain meta-model, multiple notations, model-to-model and modelto-text transformations) promise that the final solution can be delivered with much less effort."

The paper gives a brief introduction to the predominate 1960s robot architecture known as sense-plan-act (SPA) and its subsequent replacement by the modern subsumption architecture championed by Brooks. The author proceeds to use the Eclipse Modeling Framework to take the reader through the process of using a model-driven approach that ends with a subsumption architecture that is then tested on simulated robots as well as on a real-world LEGO Mindstorms NXT platfrom. The complete architecture modeler and an ADA code generator are available for download from github

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 19 Feb 2013 at 19:48 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week features a tiny junkbot, a giant Japanese robot, robots at two different Maker Faires and a science fair. We're also beginning to see photos of FIRST robots and I expect more. Come on, FIRST teams, let's see enough FIRST robots posted to Flickr that we can do an entire edition of best robot photos of the week with nothing but FIRST bots! 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.Video: Reboot Robot Robot Reboot

Posted 18 Feb 2013 at 20:11 UTC by steve

It's been a while since we brought you a diversion from all this robot science stuff in the form of a robot music video. How about a look at a strange little song and video by Kim Manning and Andrea Wittgens called, Reboot Robot Robot Reboot. Kim says,

"Writing Reboot Robot was the most fun I’ve had since kindergarten. We locked ourselves away in a room at the Holiday Music Motel with a piano and an iPhone filled with tracks by Matt Willson. We had the intention of writing another serious soulful song and ended up laughing til we cried and writing a song about robots falling in love. We got stuck on this idea that robots reboot themselves when they have sex, it was so ridiculous we knew it just might work."

You may notice a little binary solo in the middle, probably a borrowing from the Flight of the Conchords robot song, The Humans Are Dead. I haven't compared the lyrics to see if it's the same string or not, I'll leave that as an exercise for our readers. For more, you can check out the website, Reboot Robot Robot Reboot.

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Training Humans and Robots to Working Together

Posted 16 Feb 2013 at 21:41 UTC by steve

An MIT news release highlights recent research from the Interactive Robot Group at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). The researchers look at the best strategy for ensuring that humans and robots can work side-by-side in manufacturing environments. Not surprisingly, the biggest problem is that people have trouble doing things in the same way each time, which can confuse robots. Various techniques have been tried in the past to solve this problem, most of which involve trying to train the humans. A new approach was needed. From the news release:

So Shah and PhD student Stefanos Nikolaidis began to investigate whether techniques that have been shown to work well in training people could also be applied to mixed teams of humans and robots. One such technique, known as cross-training, sees team members swap roles with each other on given days. “This allows people to form a better idea of how their role affects their partner and how their partner’s role affects them.”

The researchers concluded that the cross-training approach was "an extremely effective team-building tool" when dealing with teams of robots and humans working together. The details of their research can be found in a paper that will be presented soon at the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, titled "Human-Robot Cross-Training: Computational Formulation, Modeling and Evaluation of a Human Team Training Strategy" (PDF format).

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Medical Robotics

The Blind See With Robot Eyes, Thanks to NSF

Posted 15 Feb 2013 at 22:38 UTC by steve

A National Science Foundation news release details the long history of NSF funded research that has resulted in the the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis which gained FDA approval yesterday, becoming the first "bionic eye" approved for use in the United States. The cybernetic device consists of video camera glasses that wirelessly transmit an image to a microelectrode neural stimulator array implanted in the damaged retina, providing the brain with an image. The device can restore vision to victims of retinitis pigmentosa. From the news release:

"The implant allows some individuals with RP, who are completely blind, to locate objects, detect movement, improve orientation and mobility skills and discern shapes such as large letters."

The research began in the 1980s and received a first NFS grant in 1994. Twenty years and $40 million later, we have the first cure for this type of blindness. An improved unit that will fit entirely inside the human eye and has 15 times more electrodes exists in prototype form and will someday replace this initial externally worn unit. For more see the Second Sight news release and the functional description of the prosthesis. The NFS also posted several videos detailing the history of the research.

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Robots Podcast #123: EU Robotics Week

Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 17:32 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

EU Robotics Week logo

In episode #123 (Feb. 8, 2013) Robots Podcast covers the EU Robotics Week that took place during the last week of November and featured robotics related activities across Europe for the general public, highlighting growing importance of robotics in a wide variety of application areas. More than 130 organizations (companies, universities, research institutes) in 19 European countries organized over 360 robotics related activities. About 80,000 people have been reached across Europe, many of them high school and elementary school students. Reporter Sabine talks with Thilo Brodtmann, Director of EUnited Robotics, and Organizer of the event, about his first impressions following the EU Robotics week. Asim Ikram from the Danish Technology Institute talks about logistical robots in the healthcare sector. Finally, Barbara Klein, Professor at the Fachhochschule Frankfurt, discusses emotional robots such as Paro and their therapeutic use for kids or the elderly.

Read On | Tune In

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 13 Feb 2013 at 20:33 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week includes a photo of the recently a restored Elektro Robot, a curvy female R2D2, a 48-wheeled rover, a Russian robot lamp, a group of way-finding bots in Dallas, a graffiti robot in Miami, and other interesting robotic curiosities. 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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Space Robotics

DARPA Robot to Repurpose Space Junk

Posted 12 Feb 2013 at 19:45 UTC by steve

A recent DARPA news release highlights their Phoenix program. As the name suggests, the goal of the program is give dead space junk a new life. All those dead satellites still have lots of re-usable parts such as antennas and solar arrays. DARPA hopes to develop a robot that can harvest usable parts from space junk and add them to a new class of nano satellites designed to take advantage of the old parts. From the news release:

The first keystone mission of the Phoenix program in 2015 plans to demonstrate harvesting an existing, cooperative, retired satellite aperture, by physically separating it from the host non-working satellite using on-orbit grappling tools controlled remotely from earth. The aperture will then be reconfigured into a ‘new’ free-flying space system and operated independently to demonstrate the concept of space “re-use.”

As robot-builders, we've probably all gone dumpster-diving at one point or another to scavenge high-tech trash from which to build robots. So we'll be watching to see how these dumpster-diving space bots work out. DARPA hopes to involve "non-traditional space communities" in the program to help with design and development. For more details, see the original Phoenix project solicitation. Read on to see a cool little video of a simulated mission in which the space-bot collects spare parts from old satellites.

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