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CMU Reveals Details of CHIMP Humanoid

Posted 13 Mar 2013 at 19:41 UTC by steve

You may recall from our article on the latest DARPA Robotics Challenge that one of the CMU teams was planning to build a humanoid robot named CHIMP, for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform. The contest is very ambitious, calling for humanoid rescue robots that can break through concrete walls, climb ladders, open doors, and use power tools designed for humans. CMU's Tartan Rescue team has now released details of their design. CHIMP combines features of humanoid robots with elbow and knee mounted track drives, allowing the robot to walk, climb, or resort to older style skid steered tank-like drive. The front limbs have human-like jointing and mobility. From the news release:

CHIMP will be able to perform complex, physically challenging tasks through supervised autonomy. A remote, human operator will make high-level commands controlling the robot’s path and actions, while the robot’s on-board intelligence prevents collisions, maintains stability and otherwise keeps the robot from harm. The robot also will be pre-programmed to execute tasks such as grasping a tool, stepping on a ladder rung or turning a steering wheel without step-by-step direction from the human controller, circumventing the lag between command and execution.

The team optimistically claims CHIMP will have "near human strength and dexterity" and that the robot will be able to adapt its motion to changing circumstance so that "in a pinch, it can do anything". We look forward to seeing prototypes of this robot and wish Team Tartan luck with their project. For more details, check out the Team Tartan CHIMP website.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 12 Mar 2013 at 20:16 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week includes two Standford robots that may help advance the state of the art in planetary exploration robotics, we also have a variety art robots, images of children and adults fascinated by robots, and an evil invading robot whose plans were thwarted by fog. 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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Military Robotics

DARPA Plans Long Range Ship-launched UAVs

Posted 11 Mar 2013 at 23:02 UTC by steve

Acronym-happy DARPA has announced the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program to launch Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) fixed-wing unmanned aircraft (UAVs). So what is the TERN MALE UAV program? A fleet of long-range UAVs (flying robots or "drones" as the media like to call them) that can be launched from nearly any US Naval vessel. The UAVs could be recovered by any other TERN equipped vessel, not necessarily the same one that launched the vehicle. From the announcement:

“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time. About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”

Among the technical challenges noted in the announcement for this type of flying robot launch and recovery system: launching from small ships in rough seas, designing a UAV comparable in range to existing models but meeting the requirement of a maritime environment, the system must require only reversible modifications to ship and minimal personnel. For more information, you can check out the TERN program notice from DARPA Tactical Technology Office.

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Get Ready for Brain Awareness Week

Posted 8 Mar 2013 at 21:35 UTC by steve

Brain Awareness Week starts on 11 March and organizations all over the world are preparing educational activities to highlight the importance of continued research into one of the most advanced and complicated machines we know of. As roboticists, we have a special interest in the workings of brains because the ultimate goal of robotics is to produce similar thinking machines. But there are many other reasons to study the brain. From a Virginia Tech news release: Brain Awareness Week will highlight the wonders of nature's most remarkable machine

"[the human brain is] a portable supercomputer that requires only the wattage of a dim light bulb to run and yet can decode ancient languages, invent fictional worlds, and distinguish friend from foe" ... "All brains - including those of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals - are complex organs that represent the pinnacles of the evolutionary process, capable of performing demanding tasks more efficiently and effectively than any machine. And each brain has evolved the exquisite adaptive capacity to extract, decipher, and act upon information in the world that is essential to survival.

The DANA Foundation has lots of Brain Awareness Week resources and tools available for educators. There's even a Brain Awareness Week Facebook page. Over 800 local events are planned around the world as part of Brain Awareness Week. Search the BAW calendar for one near you. The VTC Research Institute will host a lecture called "Mythbusters: The Truth about Your Brain" where they will debunk brain myths like the idea that humans use only 10% of their brain. The University of Washington plans a Neuroscience for kids event. The Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon will have a Brain Awareness Expo for families. UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas plans a full week of neurology events for their medical students. If you can't find anything in your area, consider a trip to the coffee shop to enjoy one of the brain's favorite drugs. Incidentally, today's article is illustrated by a woodcut of the brain of mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Space Robotics

Android-Based Satellite Sports Nexus 1 Phone

Posted 7 Mar 2013 at 19:06 UTC by steve

First the Japanese send a humanoid robot into space and now Surrey Satellite Technology, Ltd. have announced the successful launch of the STRaND-1 nanosatellite, a small robotic spacecraft that's based on a Nexus One phone running the Linux-based Google Android operating system. The STRaND-1 is also believed to be the first satellite built using 3D printed components, and the first to use two new propulsion methods including Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPT) and WARP DRiVE (don't get excited, it stands for Water Alcohol Resistojet Propulsion Deorbit Re-entry Velocity Experiment). So what's that Nexus One phone up to?

At the heart of the satellite is a Google Nexus One smartphone with an Android operating system. Smartphones are highly advanced and incorporate several key features that are integral to a satellite such as cameras, radio links, accelerometers and high performance computer processors - almost everything except solar panels and propulsion. During the first phase of the mission, STRaND-1 will use a number a number of experimental Apps to collect data while a new high-speed linux-based cubesat computer developed by SSC takes care of the satellite. During phase two, the STRaND team hope to switch the satellite's in-orbit operations to the smartphone, thereby testing the capabilities of a number of standard smartphone components for a space environment.

The STRaND team also ran a facebook contest to select some additional apps that were loaded on the phone for use during the flight including: iTesa, which will use the phone's sensors to record magnetic field data, the STRAND Data app, which will display telemetry data on the phone (another onboard camera will photograph the phone), 360, which will allow the public to request a photo of the earth via the phone's camera, and finally Scream in Space, an app generates screams using the phone's speaker to test the theory that in space, no one can hear you scream. Read on to see videos about the STRaND-1 probe and of STRaND-1 being launched on the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV C-20

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Space Robotics

Japanese Space Bot Headed for ISS

Posted 6 Mar 2013 at 21:15 UTC by steve

A small Japanese humanoid robot, named Kirobo, is bound for the International Space Station, where it will join the crew as "communications robot". The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Dentsu, Inc created the Kibo Robot Project, based on a commercially available robot known as Robi. Kibo's design was created by Tomotaka Takahashi of Robo Garage. Toyota worked on the project too, providing natural language support for the bot. Apparently the "communication" the robot will be in charge of is speaking tweets sent from Earth to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Two identical robots have been made, Kirobo, who will go into space and Mirata, who will remain on Earth for PR and educational appearances. Read on to see a video of the Kibo robot on its first micro-gravity training mission.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 5 Mar 2013 at 23:25 UTC by steve


Today's edition of best robot photos of the week show robots interacting with cavemen, pets, scientists, and babies. You'll also get a glimpse of an attractive but deadly cyborg boob-bot from a recent robot dance-off. And we threw in a few assorted DIY and FIRST robots for good measure. 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 4 Mar 2013 at 22:45 UTC by steve

You've probably already seen the videos of BigDog throwing a cinder block and the air-muscle powered cheetah robot. But as we dig deeper into the editor's inbox this week, we find more interesting things like Joanne "robot psychiatrist" Pransky's press release awarding "Media’s Most Inaccurate Depiction of Robotics’ Award" to 60 Minutes.There's also Nissan's recent announcement of an Autonomous Vehicle research facility in Silicon Valley. Looking for another new mobile robot platform designed for smartphone? Check out the Overdrive Robotics SmartBot. Last up this week, The Swirling Brain spotted some cool video of an EPFL flying robot called the AirBurr that explores and maps its environment not by using SLAM but by literally slamming into things. 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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Space Robotics

NASA Probes Discover New Van Allen Belt

Posted 1 Mar 2013 at 17:16 UTC by steve

Within days of being launched, two NASA Van Allen probes made a major discovery: the Earth has a previously unknown third Van Allen radiation belt! Normally, a new probe goes through a slow power up and testing procedure that may take months but an unexpected Coronal mass ejection from the Sun caused the Van Allen belts to swell and caused the scientists to risk a quick power up to take advantage of the rare opportunity. The findings were so unexpected, they took the researchers by surprise and even made them doubt the instrument readings:

"By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt," says Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and a coauthor of a paper on these results. "We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks."

The Van Allen probes are eight-sided robotic spacecraft about 6 feet across, 3 feet high and weighing in at 1,475 lbs each. The probes contain a wide range of sensors including a Relativistic Proton Spectrometer, an electric field and wave sensor with six antenna that are each 130 feet long, and a 3 axis magnetic field sensor that can determine the speed and energy level of particles in the Van Allen belts. Because the probes must operate within the Van Allen belts, they're designed to withstand radiation levels and constant particle bombardment that would destroy conventional satellites. In fact, part of what researchers hope to learn from the data collected by these probes is how to build better radiation-hardened spacecraft. Read on to see a video representation of the actual data returned by the probes as well as a video explaining the mission.

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Texas Declares War on Robots

Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 18:52 UTC by steve

There's growing privacy concern over flying robots, or "drones". Organizations like the EFF and ACLU have been raising the alarm over increased government surveillance of US citizens. Legislators haven't been quick to respond to concerns of government spying on citizens. But Texas legislators are apparently quite concerned that private citizens operating hobby drones might spot environmental violations by businesses. You may recall the story from 2012 in which a hobbyist operating a small UAV over public land in Dallas, TX accidentally photographed a Dallas meat-packing plant illegally dumping pig blood into the Trinity river, resulting in an EPA indictment. Representative Lance Gooden has introduced HB912 to solve this "problem". But the badly worded bill could also outlaw most outdoor hobby and STEM robotics activities, stop university robotics research programs, endanger commercial robotics R&D, and end many common commercial uses of robots such as commercial aerial photography. What exactly does the bill outlaw?

"A person commits an offense if the person uses or authorizes the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft to capture an image without the express consent of the person who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image." ("Image" is defined as including any type of recorded telemetry from sensors that measure "sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions".)

So any robot in the air, underwater, on the ground, even if operating on public property, that inadvertently records any type of sensor data originating on private property, is deemed illegal. The bill ignores long-standing legal precedent establishing 1st amendment protections for photography of private property and individuals from public land. Todd Humphreys of the UTA Radionavigation Lab has warned, "the legislation is overly broad. It doesn't allow for a distinction between intentional peeping toms and inadvertent or unwitting surveillance". Ben Gielow of AUVSI has pointed out several illogical aspects of the bill including its odd focus on whether the photographer is inside a vehicle. For example, a Google street view car could photograph your house because the driver is in the vehicle but Google could not use a ground or air robot to take the same image because the photographer would be outside the vehicle. While it's possible Gooden is simply technically illiterate when it comes to robotics, the more cynical view seems to be that the wording is intentional. The bill is worded to sound as if it prevents government drones from spying on citizens but then exempts most federal, state, and even local police spying under various circumstances. The bill also says: "an image captured in violation ... may not be used as evidence in any criminal ... proceeding" -- which would have handily protected the meat-packing plant from that meddling citizen and his robot. For more, see the Popular Science article "Even Hobby Drones Could Be Made Illegal in Texas". If you're in Texas and concerned about this bill, there's an FPVLAb discussion thread about it with information on contacting your representatives. For fun, click through to see some ironic drone video shot of Rep. Gooden by aerial photographer Justin Edwards of Drone Above.

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