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UAVs for Weather and Environmental Research

Posted 15 Apr 2013 at 19:19 UTC by steve

Researchers at the University of Virginia are testing UAVs as potential replacements for weather balloons which could simplify some types of weather and climate measurements. A recent UVA news release describes the use of a hexcopter "drone" that rises up to 30 meters into the boundary layer of the atmosphere while taking precise sensor readings. From the news release:

It will measure humidity and temperature, and possibly one day wind speed and direction. Currently, we usually have to take these measurements with a helium balloon, and conditions can be difficult. The copter is a way to take such measurements more continuously and easily.

This idea sounds similar in principal to the ocean float robots, which move between the ocean surface and depths measuring conditions and report the sensor data back to researchers. Right now this UAV is being used primarily as a proof-of-concept model in the classroom at University of Virginia's Department of Environmental Sciences. If the use of UAVs for weather measurements become widespread it could lead to another very accurate source for global climate data. For more, read on to see a video of weather drone in action.

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Language and Spatio-temporal Cognition

Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 20:32 UTC (updated 12 Apr 2013 at 20:35 UTC) by steve

We're all familiar with the checkered history of the Whorf Hypothesis; the idea that a person's worldview and cognition are limited by their language. At first it was widely accepted, to the point it evolved into an urban legend about Eskimo words for snow, allowing them to conceptualize it differently than English speakers. Eventually this was recognized as nonsense. It was easy in practice to translate any idea of snow between languages without either language speaker having trouble conceptualizing and agreeing on the meanings. Then, when Whorfianism seemed on the decline, scientists discovered real, testable cases where natural language affects the brain's development and capabilities. The best known is in languages lacking words for relative direction such as left and right, having instead only absolute direction such as east and west. In this case, the brain develops the ability to maintain constant awareness of absolute cardinal positioning in a way relative direction speakers are incapable of. Lera Boroditsky, a Standord University researcher in the fields of neuroscience and symbolic systems, wanted to find out if these cardinal oriented languages affect the brain's temporal capacities as well. She's done a fascinated piece for the Edge blog on this subject. Here's an excerpt:

"I gave people a really simple task. I would give them a set of cards, and the cards might show a temporal progression, like my grandfather at different ages from when he was a boy to when he's an old man. I would shuffle them, give them to the person, and say "Lay these out on the ground so that they're in the correct order." If you ask English speakers to do this, they will lay the cards out from left to right. And it doesn't matter which way the English speaker is facing. So if you're facing north or south or east or west, the cards will always go left to right. Time seems to go from left to right with respect to our bodies. If you ask Hebrew speakers to do this, or Arabic speakers, they're much more likely to lay the cards out from right to left. That suggests that something about the writing direction in a language matters in how we imagine time. But nonetheless, time is laid out with respect to the body."

The results she got were unlike any system of temporal organization seen before. Instead of organizing time left to right or in some other system relative to the speaker's body, they organized it in an absolute coordinate system regardless of which way they were oriented when they began the experiment. These results prompted Lera to look for other testable differences in cognition among more conventional languages like English, Russian, and Hebrew. She talks about various examples such as finding that kids who speak genderless languages take longer to understand the differences between the sexes. There's also an amusing aside about language and causality based on the incident in which Dick Cheney shoots a hunting partner in the face. Read the full document, Encapsulated Universes over at the Edge, or watch the video. Either way it's an interesting reminder of the important relation between intelligence and language.

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Roborobo! A Fast Robot Swarm Simulator

Posted 11 Apr 2013 at 21:46 UTC by steve

Looking for a multi-platform, portable, and fast simulator for large-scale robot swarm and collective projects? Look no further. EU researchers backed by the EU FET Proactive Initiative and other robotics research grants, have developed Roborobo! Coded in C++, it relies on the SDL 2D graphic library, and provides a basic robot similar to the e-puck and Khepera robots. And Roborobo! is licensed under the BSD license, meaning it respects the users freedoms in all the ways suggested by the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative. Here's how the authors compare Roborobo! to other available robot simulators:

"With respect to other robotic simulators, Roborobo! takes an intermediate approach to model a robotic setup in order to combine (pseudo-)realistic modelling with fast-paced simulation. As such, it stands in between realistic, but slow, robotic simulation framework (such as Player/Stage, Webots, V-Rep, Gazebo or Microsoft Robotic Developer Studio), and unrealistic, but easy to use, agent based simulation tools such as Netlogo and MASON. It also differs from easy-access and fast robotic agent simulators such as Breve and Simbad, by focusing solely on swarm and aggregate of robotic units, focusing on large scale population of robots in 2-dimensional worlds rather than more complex 3-dimensional models"

The image above shows three sample screen captures from Roborobo! with 1, 100, and 5000 robots respectively. You can download the complete source code to Roborobo! from the roborobo repository at Google code. A modified version of the code, known as RoboRoboOrganism is available that offers support for modular robot organisms. For a brief technical overview of the Roborobo! simulator, see the paper Roborobo! a Fast Robot Simulator for Swarm and Collective Robotics (PDF format).

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 10 Apr 2013 at 22:17 UTC by steve

This edition of best robot photos of the week includes a rare bubble-faced RoboBrrd, ROGER the Recycled Object Gathering Electronic Robot, the Copenhagen Zinkglobal robot, the impressive "Guardian of Trafalgar Lane" robot, a full-size Wall-E, and a few other surprises. 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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Robohub.org focuses on jobs

Posted 10 Apr 2013 at 17:02 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Here is Managing Editor Hallie Siegel introducing Robohub's week of focus on the interrelationship between robotics and jobs.

For the next week, Robohub will host a special focus on robots and jobs, featuring original articles from leading experts in the fields of robotics and automation. The goal of the series is to explore the shifting employment landscape as robots become more prevalent in the workplace, and we’ve got a great lineup!
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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 8 Apr 2013 at 20:28 UTC by steve

Lots of cool robots stuff in our inbox this week, so here goes...

  • Intelligrated Robotics Lab announced an educational series of events for National Robotics Week. Check out our earlier article to find more National Robotics Week events
  • RoboteQ announced the new SBL1360 30A motor controller
  • Illah Nourbakhsh, of the CMU Robotics Institute, has a new book out, Robot Futures in which he discusses social implications of human-robot interaction
  • Jose Aisoy let us know about a new robot he's launching, called the Aisoy1
  • Check out Fritz the Robotic Puppet, a Kickstarter project that needs your help
  • IEEE Spectrum posted photos and video of the headless COMAN humanoid robot being pushed around by some humans
  • The rapid pace of discoveries about the human brain continues with a UC Irvine news release describing a gene linked to long-term memory
  • NPR posted an article that's fun on two levels. First it's a video of John Cleese explaining the human brain. Second, the article describes how to turn on YouTube's allegedly intelligent closed captioning software, which is totally baffled by Cleese's antics.

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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Robohub coverage of We Robot

Posted 8 Apr 2013 at 15:07 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

WeRobot graphic

We Robot: Getting Down to Business is the title of the 2nd annual conference on robotics and the law, being held today and tomorrow at Stanford Law School. With several contributors in attendance, Robohub.org will be providing live coverage of this event. Check back frequently for updates.

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Robots Podcast #127: Software marketplace

Posted 7 Apr 2013 at 15:53 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Celestino and Lucia of Adele

In episode #127 (April 5th, 2013), interviewer Per talks with Celestino Alvarez Martinez and Lucia Fernandez Cossio of Spanish robotic startup Adele. Adele is creating a marketplace for robotics software. Through their platform, robot developers can buy and sell robotic software components, in a practical way. Examples of these software components, which Adele calls sparks, are speech recognition, synthetic speech, vision systems, and user interface components. Their flagship project FIONA (Framework for Interactive-services Over Natural-conversational Agents) allows users to create intelligent and interactive virtual avatars.

Read On | Tune In

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Aquatic Robotics

DARPA Reveals Shark Sub-Hunting Robot

Posted 5 Apr 2013 at 18:36 UTC by steve

DARPA issued a news release today with some photos of the Phase II prototypes for the SHARK (Submarine Hold At RisK) UUV ( (unmanned underwater vehicle). The robot is designed for Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH), which is DOD acronym-speak for a distributed active sonar system which can track hard to detect silent submarines. The SHARK is built from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts to help reduce the cost. SHARK works with another platform known as TRAPS (Transformational Reliable Acoustic Path System), which is a passive sonar detector platform that will be stationed at a fixed location. When a submarine triggers the TRAPS system, a SHARK is dispatched to locate and track the submarine. From the news release:

“The goal is not only to show we can address the most challenging problem in ASW [anti-submarine warfare], but that we can do so with systems that are scalable and affordable,” said Andy Coon, DARPA program manager. “A single deep sea node provides a field of view with significant coverage allowing for a limited number of nodes to scale to large areas. Within the trade space of deep ocean sonar, we need to get creative to achieve affordable hardware and operations. We purposely have avoided increasing the size and complexity of arrays to achieve our aims. This is a gamble, but we believe the potential payoff will be high.”

The SHARK prototype looks to be a modified version of a Bluefin Robotics AUV, maybe the Bluefin-21. For more details see the Bluefin Robotics press release. Also see our article last year on DARPA's other anti-submarine robot technology, known as ACTUV (ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicles) - DARPA does like its acronyms.

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National Robotics Week is Here!

Posted 4 Apr 2013 at 18:35 UTC by steve

It's time once again for National Robotics Week in the United States. Hundreds of local events are planned by robot clubs, schools, libraries, museums, and other groups throughout the week of 6-14 April. Over 170 events have already been registered on the National Robotics Week event list but many more are planned. Events range from robot contests and exhibitions to University lab tours. Check the list to find out what's happening near you and, if you can't find anything nearby, it's not too late plan something simple like a meetup of robot geeks at the local coffee shop. If you happen to be near Dallas, TX, stop by and see me at the Tanner Electronics Robot Expo on the 13th where there will be robots from the Dallas Personal Robotics Group, Quadcopters from Dallas Makerspace, and other robot surprises from local clubs and universities.

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