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Robots Podcast #135: Jonathon Roberts, autonomous systems

Posted 28 Jul 2013 at 17:14 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Jonathon Roberts

“As Director of the Autonomous Systems Laboratory in CSIRO's ICT Centre [Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Information and Communication Technologies], Dr. Roberts leads more than 45 scientists and engineers. Research in this laboratory spans robotics, computer vision and pervasive computing technologies such as sensor networks. Dr. Roberts' particular research interest is in robot guidance systems so robots – including flying robots – can operate autonomously in unstructured and dynamic outdoor environments.” (From Dr. Roberts' page on the ICT website) Dr. Roberts was interviewed by Ron Vanderkley.

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MIT Study Locates Stored Memories in Brain

Posted 25 Jul 2013 at 22:14 UTC by steve

Scientists have long pondered the question of how and where the brain stores episodic memories, complex associations of objects, space and time. MIT research led by Susumu Tonegawa reveals new details of the location of both actual memories and artificially induced false memories within the hippocampus of a mouse brain. The image above shows the mouse's memory traces in red. Not surprisingly, the brain demonstrated exactly the same neural mechanisms for storage of real and false memories. So how are the memory associations made?

These associations are encoded by chemical and physical changes in neurons, as well as by modifications to the connections between the neurons. Compared to most studies that treat the brain as a black box while trying to access it from the outside in, this is like we are trying to study the brain from the inside out. The technology we developed for this study allows us to fine-dissect and even potentially tinker with the memory process by directly controlling the brain cells.

It has been suspected that memories were located in the temporal lobe since the 1940s when researchers discovered that electrical stimulation of the region caused patients to spontaneously recall past events. But proof of this theory had to wait until it was possible to demonstrate that the activation of specific hippocampal cells was sufficient to produce memories. The MIT researchers are using a new technique called Optogenetics to do just that. Understanding how biological memory works may lead to new breakthroughs in machine learning. Unfortunately the MIT paper is pay-walled but the abstract is available.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 23 Jul 2013 at 20:45 UTC (updated 23 Jul 2013 at 20:46 UTC) by steve

This week's roundup includes a lot of fun and interesting stuff! We've got insects, consciousness, language, sensory awareness, backflipping robots, and more.

  • Let's start with the backflipping. RoboJenny sent us this video of a robot doing some pretty amazing gymnastics.

  • Linguistics researchers have found that the origins of human language go back a lot further than we thought. Like 500,000 years back!

  • In a new paper (PDF format) from UK researchers studying insects, evidence that passive forces may be as or more important than muscle power in limb movement, with potential applications to robot limbs.

  • Roboticists in Brazil have proposed a new goal-driven attention model for robots that combines top-down and bottom-up features. They describe it in a new paper (PDF format).

  • RoboMetric let us know about their VisitorBot kickstarter to fund an open source telepresence robot.

  • The Daily Beast weighs in with the latest round of opinion pieces on whether or not robotics helps or hurts the economy (they say it hurts). PBS Newshour offered a more balanced and in-depth look at the complexities of the issue.

  • The always thoughtful and fascinating Conscious Entities blog recently posted a piece titled "What's wrong with Killer Robots?"

  • The Swirling Brain swirled up a story about robot waiters in Bangkok restaurants.

  • And, last up this week, a new paper (PDF format) on an interesting research project investigating new technologies for telesurgery with an experimental setup that relies on Wii Remotes.

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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CMU Snake Robot Trial at Nuclear Power Plant

Posted 18 Jul 2013 at 16:27 UTC by steve

A CMU press release (PDF format) describes a recent field test of CMU's modular snake robot in which it navigates inside an Austrian nuclear power plant. The robot moved through pipes, open valves, and inside various types of vessels. The Zwentendorf nuclear power plant was built in the 1970s but never made operational and lacks any radioactive material, making it ideal for testing and training purposes. As this was the first field deployment test, the robots was limited to a maximum range of 60 feet but will make longer excursions on future tests. From the press release:

"Our robot can go places people can’t, particularly in areas of power plants that are radioactively contaminated,” Choset said. “It can go up and around multiple bends, something you can’t do with a conventional borescope, a flexible tube that can only be pushed through a pipe like a wet noodle"

The robot is 37 inches long, made up of 16 modules that have two half-joints each, giving the robot a total of 16 degrees of freedom. It can emulate the gaits of a natural snakes but can also configure itself in unique ways not possible for a biological snake. The snake bot relies on SLAM to assist it with navigation and carries a video camera and other sensors that allow it provide gravity-compensated video that's always right-side-up. You can see more photos on the press release media page. A more detailed report (PDF format) of the field test is also available. Read on for video of the snake bot in action.

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Amoeba-inspired Self-Organizing Systems

Posted 17 Jul 2013 at 19:38 UTC (updated 17 Jul 2013 at 19:39 UTC) by steve

Amoebas (or Amebas as the kids today call them) are interesting little animals that have inspired lots of thought among roboticists on how life interacts with an environment. Now they've inspired a team of researchers to develop a new self-organizing particle system. Researchers Shlomi Dolev from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel; Robert Gmyr and Christian Scheideler from the University of Paderborn, Germany; and Andréa W. Richa from Arizona State University describe their idea in a new paper, "Ameba-inspired Self-organizing Particle Systems" (PDF format). From the abstract:

Self-organizing particle systems have many interesting applications like coating objects for monitoring and repair purposes and the formation of nano-scale devices for surgery and molecular-scale electronic structures. While there has been quite a lot of systems work in this area, especially in the context of modular self-reconfigurable robotic systems, only very little theoretical work has been done in this area so far. We attempt to bridge this gap by proposing a model inspired by the behavior of ameba that allows rigorous algorithmic research on self-organizing particle systems.

The authors describe some speculative ideas of cellular-sized robots that could be mixed with paint and used to cover man-made structures like buildings, acting as sensors to measure traffic, wind load, or structural integrity. Even more advanced uses might include biological robots that act as sensor and actuator, reconfiguring themselves as needed to form biological delivery devices or chemical factories. Also, I just really like the hexagonal grid they used as an improvement over more traditional square grid spaces.

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Robots Podcast #134: Mining Automation

Posted 14 Jul 2013 at 02:23 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Martin Adams

In Robots Podcast #134, interviewer Priscila Soares speaks with Martin Adams, principal investigator at the industry funded Advanced Mining Technology Centre (AMTC) and Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Dept. of Electrical Engineering, University of Chile, about the development of robotic technologies for use in mining, and what motivates the mining industry to fund this research. He lists his research interests as robot navigation, SLAM, sensing, field robotics, and millimeter wave radar.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 12 Jul 2013 at 22:41 UTC by steve

This edition of best robot photos of the week includes some shots of the Robot Dance Party bot at the San Francisco Pride Parade. There are also pics of a variety of student-built robots ranging from RoboCup bots to ROVs. There's robot graffiti from Reykjavik and the usual assortment of art 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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DARPA ATLAS Humanoid Robot is Here

Posted 11 Jul 2013 at 19:27 UTC by steve

Get ready for endless "Atlas Shrugged" jokes in the media. DARPA has made the first official news release showing video of their new ATLAS humanoid robot. ATLAS was built by Boston Dynamics and evolved from their PETMAN humanoid prototypes which you've probably already seen. ATLAS will be used by seven of the teams in the latest DARPA Challenge. The robot has some impressive specs:

  • On-board real-time control computer
  • Hydraulic pump and thermal management
  • 28 hydraulically actuated joints
  • Carnegie Robotics sensor head with LIDAR and stereo vision
  • One had built by iRobot and one by Sandia National Labs

It runs GNU/Linux and ROS of course. Read on for a DARPA video that includes an animated overview of the robots features, a series of video clips of the robot's evolution from PETMAN to ATLAS, and finally Atlas showing off his skills. You can also find more details on the DARPA ATLAS overview webpage.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 8 Jul 2013 at 21:26 UTC by steve

Lots of interesting news in this week's roundup!

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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CMU Team Places 2nd at RoboCup 2013

Posted 2 Jul 2013 at 19:15 UTC (updated 8 Jul 2013 at 17:54 UTC) by steve

According to a CMU news release, CMU's robot soccer team, the CMDragons, placed second in the RoboCup 2013 finales small-sized league. They were beaten by the ZJUNlict team from China's Zhejiang University. In the news release, Manuela Veloso of CMU had this to say about the team's performance:

"We came in second place, in the closest possible way to first. The team from China even asked us to go up on the stage together with them for the award ceremony. Our CMDragons team was remarkably new, with new low-level skills and tactics, dynamic planning, a great goalie and defense, new robots and the best attacker robot ever."

For more, you can check out all the final scores for the RoboCup mis-sized league. We don't have video of the CMDargon's matches yet but you can check out other matches from RoboCup 2013 on Youtube include humanoid robot matches. You can also see video of prior competitions of the CMDragon team on their website. Congratulations to ZJUNlict for their win and to the CMDragons for their close performance. We're looking forward to next year's match.

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