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Military Robotics

DARPA Warrior Web Exoskeleton Prototype

Posted 23 May 2013 at 22:32 UTC by steve

While it may not be quite up to Tony Stark's standards, DARPA's Warrior Web suit has the advantage of being real. DARPA has revealed photos and video of an early prototype of its Warrior Web project. Warrior Web is a flexible exoskeleton suit that uses only 100 Watts of power. The goal is to reduce the injuries and fatigue that result from a soldier carrying a typical 100 pound load for extended periods of time. DARPA hopes the exoskeleton will boost the soldier's endurance and carrying capacity. The DARPA Warrior Web program page provides this description:

The Warrior Web program seeks to develop the technologies required to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries caused by dynamic events typically found in the warfighter’s environment. The ultimate program goal is a lightweight, conformal under-suit that is transparent to the user (like a diver’s wetsuit). The suit seeks to employ a system (or web) of closed-loop controlled actuation, transmission, and functional structures that protect injury prone areas, focusing on the soft tissues that connect and interface with the skeletal system.

The current prototypes are part of what's know as "Task A" and embody only certain key elements of the final design. Warrior Web Task B, which begins this fall, will attempt to integrate all the Task A technologies into a single suit. For more, visit the Warrior Web Program website or read on to see a video of the Task A prototype suit in action.

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The Brain as a Model for Future Supercomputers

Posted 22 May 2013 at 18:37 UTC by steve

A news release from Sandia National Labs discusses the fall and rise of the human brain as a model for computers. They suggest a waning interest in the brain after IBM's supercomputer defeated Gary Kasparov in chess. But the brain is getting more respect these days, in part because of the rapid increase in knowledge about how it works. Some researchers now believe that brain-inspired computers could lead to a new industrial revolution. It's not that the brain is fast, but it is powerful and flexible. From the news release:

Slow signal speed didn’t faze Christof Koch, chief scientific officer of Allen Institute for Brain Science. “I have a modest proposal,” he told the group. “Imagine a 1-kilogram, three-dimensional block of silicon, or stacks of chips, all with 10 kilohertz clocks and each consuming microwatts of power. There’s much more silicon, and therefore it’s very expensive and heavy, like the brain! But, much less cost for heat sinks, much less air conditioning.”

The article goes on to question whether this is really the right approach and whether brain-like pattern-matching is actually well-suited to handle the sorts of problems we want to solve. Cultural and ethic questions are also brought up. Whatever the answers to these questions, it seems inevitable that the massive amounts of new knowledge about the human brain will influence the design of future computers in some way.

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Robots Podcast #130: Autonomous lethal weapons

Posted 18 May 2013 at 23:45 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

Stop Killer Robots campaign logo

In episode #130, interviewer AJung talks with Peter Asaro (an Assistant Professor at The New School and affiliated with The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School) about the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a consortium of NGOs working to secure an international ban on autonomous weapons systems. This interview follows closely on an article about the Campaign, coauthored by AJung, which itself followed Robohub's focus on Robots and warfare.

Read On | Tune In

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Ready for the Official Arduino Robot?

Posted 17 May 2013 at 19:54 UTC by steve

Via FreeIO.org comes news of a new open hardware robot: the official Arduino Robot. The Arduino Robot will be on sale at the Maker Faire in San Mateo immediately but will be generally available for online orders starting in July. The robot has two ATmega32u4 microprocessors. It has a standard differential drive arrangement with two DC motors but apparently no encoders. Sensors include a compass and five bottom-facing IR sensors for line following. There are several push buttons and potentiometers for input and, for output, a speaker and LCD screen. Multiple prototyping areas are available for adding your own sensors and actuators. The MAKE blog ran an interesting account of how the designers of this robot went from knowing nothing about robotics to designing this beginner robot for kids in just a few years. The most important aspect of the Arduino Robot is that, like other Arduino hardware, it's under a free license:

As always with Arduino, every element of the platform – hardware, software and documentation – is freely available and open-source. This means you can learn exactly how it's made and use its design as the starting point for your own robots.

There's already a lot of technical info available including the EAGLE CAD files for both boards, and documentation on the new Robot library that's included with the Arduino IDE 1.0.5 and later. We look forward to hearing more about this robot or doing a review if a one should end finding it's way to the Robots.net testing lab. For more about other open source robot platforms, see the recent FreeIO article, The State of Free Hardware for Robotics.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 15 May 2013 at 22:14 UTC by steve

This edition of best robot photos of the week includes a US Army recon robot, some shabby chic robot art, a well-endowed female junkbot, a robot arm at NYC Resistor, another robotics amusements. 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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Bipedal and Quadrupedal Locomotion

Posted 13 May 2013 at 18:51 UTC by steve

Professor Üner Tan has released an interesting paper online that will be of interest to roboticists titled, "Development of Bipedal and Quadrupedal Locomotion in Humans from a Dynamical Systems Perspective" (PDF format). It starts with a quick overview of the history of gait analysis, starting with Aristotle's work and the first application of scientific experiments to test gait hypotheses by Gailileo Galilei. The paper focuses on the development of bipedal and quadrupedal walking gaits in humans. I found it particularly interesting that we have apparently inherited the neural systems used for diagonal-sequence quadrupedal locomotion from tetrapods that existed over 400 million years ago (pictured above). The paper goes over what we know about neural central pattern generators (CPGs) and self-organization of complex biological systems. From the paper:

"In contrast to the theory of stage-like motor and cognitive development, the perspective of behavioral-motor development as a self-organized process seems to be more plausible to explain why and how infants walk within a particular environment. That is, a previously coded neural network, i.e., neural coding, seems to be unlikely, because of the lack of precise point-to-point wiring in the central nervous system with immense overlaps of dendritic and axonal arbors. The integrative neuroscience emphasizes the 'inside-out' and 'outside-in' approaches for the understanding of locomotor control."

The paper covers a number of current theories on how gaits emerge in normal and abnormal human development. Each theory is examined from the perspective of what we know about dynamic systems (or dynamical systems as the kids like to call them these days). Lots of interesting information here for anyone working with bipedal and quadrupedal gaits in robotics.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 10 May 2013 at 18:46 UTC by steve

Lots of interesting robot news stacking up here. Where to start...

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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Abstraction in Informational Organisms

Posted 9 May 2013 at 19:07 UTC by steve

The history of computers is the history of abstraction. Early calculating machines, like Leibniz's Stepped Reckoner, hid the calculating process from the user, but still required the user to input numbers and provided numbers as output. With the advent of Turing-complete machines, we reached the first major abstraction level of using symbols to represent things. A paper by Federico Gobbo and Marco Benini titled, The Minimal Levels of Abstraction in the History of Modern Computing (PDF format), goes a bit further. It takes up the notion of thinking about modern machines in terms of the relation between operators, programmers, users, and computers as an interconnected informational organism or inforg, so that we can consider further levels of abstraction that have emerged. From the paper:

This point (symbolic representation) was the big change of the modern era, where the universal computing machinery started to hide some symbolic interpretation of numbers through abstractions and organisations in parallel, where each LoO (Level of Organization) is the externalisation of the correspondent LoA (Level of Abstraction). The more computers developed, the more information got hidden and needed reconstruction on demand: to correctly explain this historical process, we [propose] here a constructive based formalism

The authors consider the gradual increase in abstraction as more and more details about the underlying computation are hidden from the human elements of the inforg. First, the Von Neumann Machine, then the concept of an Operating System and applications. Then applications are abstracted into a visible part (the GUI) and an invisible part. Additional abstractions are introduced for interactivity, multitasking, distributed processing. As the abstractions accumulate, the separation between humans in the inforg (the programmer and the user) increase. How will robotics and AI affect this evolving relationship? For more historical background on their ideas, see From Computing Machineries to Cloud Computing: The Minimal Levels of Abstraction of Inforgs through History (PDF format).

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Robots Podcast #129: Controlled flight of insect-sized rob

Posted 6 May 2013 at 17:09 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

While they don't yet have on-board sensors, processors, or power, these tiny flying robots are nevertheless a dramatic step forward in the effort to create autonomous flying robots modeled on flies or bees. Part of the Micro Air Vehicles Project (a.k.a. Robobees) of the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory, within the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, in collaboration with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Both the physical design, which provides the ability to apply torque around all three axis, and the control algorithms were created by a team composed of graduate students Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon and postdoc fellow Sawyer Fuller, under the direction of Professor Robert Wood, himself the subject of a previous Robots Podcast episode. They share authorship of the paper Controlled Flight of a Biologically Inspired, Insect-Scale Robot which appeared in the May 3rd issue of Science.

Read On | Tune In

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 3 May 2013 at 20:35 UTC by steve

This edition of best robot photos of the week includes an Officer Mac robot from the Computer History Museum, Colin Angle's telepresence bot, an industrial cheese robot, a Dalek, a robo-dragonfly, a sexy wearable R2-D2, an octopod drone, some giant robot ants, and other assorted treats. 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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