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Commercial Robotics

Has Your Robot Driven a Ford Lately?

Posted 16 Jun 2013 at 19:24 UTC by steve

While other companies are working to develop fully autonomous vehicles, Ford has been working on a slightly different problem. According to a news release, they want robots to drive their traditional human-piloted vehicles on the test track. Robot test drivers could stay on the road 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ford is launching a pilot program with a robot test driver for their 2014 full-size commercial Transit van. A single human can monitor up to eight simultaneous robot test drives. From the Ford news release:

“Some of the tests we do on our commercial trucks for North America are so strenuous that we limit the exposure time for human drivers,” says Dave Payne, manager, vehicle development operations. “The challenge is completing testing to meet vehicle development time lines while keeping our drivers comfortable. Robotic testing allows us to do both. We accelerate durability testing while simultaneously increasing the productivity of our other programs by redeploying drivers to those areas, such as noise level and vehicle dynamics testing.”

The robotic technology used to drive the Ford vehicles comes from Autonomous Solutions, Inc.. The Ford test track is designed to compress 10 years of driving abuse into a small course. The robots must repeatedly drive trucks over broken concrete, cobblestones, metal grates, gravel, mud pits, curbs, and speed bumps. the course is so rough that human drivers were limited to one drive per day. Read on to see video and more photos of the robot test drives.

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Commercial Robotics

Flying Robots to Tend your Vineyard

Posted 11 Jun 2013 at 23:17 UTC by steve

A recent UC Davis news release describes a remotely piloted helicopter (aka "drone") that is being field tested in a Napa Valley vineyard. The researchers are using the Yamaha RMAX unmanned helicopter on the Oakville Experimental Vineyard. UC Davis worked with the FAA for five months in order to obtain a permit for the application of herbicide and pesticide sprays from a remotely piloted vehicle. The FAA requires 48 hour advance notice of each flight and the vehicle is limited to an altitude of 20 feet. From the news release:

“We have more than two decades of data on the performance of the RMAX in Japan, but we don’t yet have that kind of information on its use in the United States,” said Steve Markofski, a Yamaha business planner and trained RMAX operator. He noted that in Japan more than 2,500 RMAX helicopters are being used to spray 40 percent of the fields planted to rice — that country’s number one crop. “What Ken and Ryan bring to the table is their spray application expertise and knowledge of the current application methods that are in use in the United States,” Markofski said. “As we collaborate with them on tests of spray deposition and efficiency, we’re gaining insight into to how the RMAX performance compares to spray application methods that are being commercially used for this crop and this terrain.”

The Napa Valley's hilly terrain offers challenges similar to those of Japan's rice fields for conventional manned aircraft. Robotic spraying is hoped to be less expensive and safer than conventional aircraft or tractor-drawn spraying rigs. More photos and video can be found on the UC Davis press kit website. Read on to see some video of the robot in action.

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Dynamic Walking 2013

Posted 7 Jun 2013 at 00:25 UTC by steve

Take your robot for a walk. The 2013 conference on Dynamic Walking is coming up at CMU next week, 10 June - 13 June. According to a CMU news release, this year's conference includes a lecture by Scott L. Delp, professor of bioengineering, mechanical engineering, and orthopaedic surgery at Stanford titled, "Insights from simulating gait dynamics and disorders". There will also be talks on biped walking using the Hubo II robot, and even esoteric subjects like that covered by the talk titled "Seven reasons to brake the swing leg just before heel strike". The conference covers both simulation and realization of various dynamic walking technologies. There will also be live demonstrations of dynamically walking robots. Oh and don't miss the "undergrad style" Pizza and beer event Monday evening. Most importantly, takes photos, shoot video so we can share some of the fun.
CC BY NA SA 2.0 licensed photo of Jonathan Borofsky's Walking to the Sky sculpture at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX by flickr user phigits

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Robots Podcast #131: Curved Artificial Compound Eye

Posted 3 Jun 2013 at 15:51 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of CurvACE shown with dragonfly

In episode #131, Sabine speaks with Ramon Pericet and Michal Dobrzynski from EPFL about their Curved Artificial Compound Eye (CurvACE) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Inspired by the fly’s vision system, their sensor can enable a large range of applications that require motion detection using a small plug-and-play device. As shown in a YouTube video (link), these sensors could be used to assist small robots with navigating through their environments, even in very dim light. Other applications might include home automation, surveillance, medical instruments, prosthetic devices, and smart clothing.

Read On | Tune In

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 30 May 2013 at 20:00 UTC by steve


This edition of best robot photos of the week includes a Willow Garage PR2 robot engaged in a light saber duel; there's also a robot wedding cake, assorted robot art, robot underpants, and a vintage Robie Sr robot. 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 28 May 2013 at 20:52 UTC by steve

It's time for a post holiday news roundup and here it is!

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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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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