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Robovie-II, the Robot That Helps You Buy Groceries

The ease and variety of online shopping enabled by the first dot-com explosion cast technology as the killer of in-store retail. But in Japan, with its aging population and unique consumer culture, technology facilitates grocery shopping, in the form of retail assistance robots like Robovie-II. Part of a larger network of sensors and wireless devices, Robovie provides assistance to elderly shoppers making their rounds.

The process begins at home, with the user entering their shopping list into a specialized mobile device. When the shopper arrives at the store, the robot senses the device and greets the user. Then the robot follows the shopper around the store, carrying the load, reminding the shopper of the items on the list, and recommending additional products to pick up.

At present, the system remains in the testing phase, with robot helpers assisting elderly shoppers at Apita-Seikadai supermarket in Kyoto, Japan, through March of next year. To see Robovie in action, check out the video below.

[Pink Tentacle]

Syndicated 2009-12-15 19:45:00 from Popular Science - robots

Holiday Deal: Japanese Store Sells Custom Robot Lookalikes

Just plunk down $225,000 at a Japanese department store and get your own robot twin

Japan's obsession with robotics has led to one of the ultimate sci-fi fantasies (or nightmares): life-size robots customized to look like you and speak in your own voice. The department store Sogo & Seibu wants to deliver that dream to any interested customers starting as soon as next month, but first it plans to test the waters by making this an exclusive two-robot deal. If more than three buyers show interest in having robotic doppelgangers, a lottery system kicks in.

Each robot twin is made of silicone and will only be able to move its upper body. So unlike Dwight of The Office, you won't have to request a six-foot extension cord that prevents the robot from chasing you.

The new lookalike bots come courtesy of robot-manufacturer Kokoro, which has showcased its androids at past robot expos. In this case, buyers can also supply their own recorded voices to ensure that their robot twin comes armed with witty repartee.

This still seems a far cry from the freaky fembots of the revisionist Stepford Wives and Austin Powers, not to mention the classic Metropolis. So as long as you have $225,000 to spend for an "actroid," feel free to knock yourself out -- if boredom takes over, you can always stuff the robot into a Santa suit.

[via CrunchGear]

Syndicated 2009-12-14 16:56:35 from Popular Science - robots

Video: Wild Grouses Enticed into Mating With Sexy Fembot

It could happen to you

One of America's strangest mating rituals, the chest-puffing, squeaking dance of the sage grouse, is getting closer attention, thanks to a pretty little fembot.

The sage grouse, which is sort of like a more interesting type of chicken, has long captivated scientists as well as tourists because, of its elaborate mating habits. A group of researchers have infiltrated the grouse world using a custom-designed "fembot" -- a robotic bird on wheels with a camera nestled in her breast.

During breeding season, males gather in open areas called leks, which can be found throughout most of the rural West. The males puff their chests, strut like peacocks, and make throaty whistling sounds, all in an effort to attract females, who walk around the lek and survey the goods.

Gail Patricelli, an animal behaviorist at the University of California-Davis, is now reviewing four mating seasons' worth of video recordings captured by a fembot she designed, according to Science Nation, a National Science Foundation publication.

The fembot is basically half a sage grouse body attached to a small audio recorder, a microphone and a camera. Scientists use a remote control to roll her out on a small train track set up on the lek. Like the creepy feminina machinas in Austin Powers, a little bob of the head is enough to get the males' attention. Their ensuing fights and bizarre displays are then caught on film.

Part of the reason the fembot is so successful is that male sage grouses are particularly randy, hoping to mate with as many females as they can, as often as possible. The female grouses are the picky ones, blowing off most suitors. Researchers estimate only about one in 10 male sage grouse mate in a given season. The ones who do mate are veritable prairie players -- Patricelli told Science Nation that the top male in her study mated 47 times in one season.

Sage grouse studies could provide a model to better understand the evolution of animal communication, Patricelli said.

"It helps us understand the evolution of very basic behaviors like social skills and social interactions and two-way conversations, and how these evolve by the process of sexual selection," she said.

[Via Science Nation]

Video courtesy NSF. Some weeks the robots are so good we need two.

Syndicated 2009-12-11 20:29:28 from Popular Science - robots

Darpa's Cyborg Insect Spies, Now Nuclear-Powered

When you write for Popular Science, it's easy to become desensitized to wild and crazy future tech. To wit: When I first heard that Darpa wanted to develop cyborg insects to carry surveillance equipment, I thought "ok, cyborg insect spies are pretty cool, but not blowing me away."

Then today, Cornell researchers working on the program unveiled a prototype transmitter for the cyborg bugs that runs on radioactive isotopes. Nuclear powered cyborg insect spies? Ok, now you have my attention.

While the bugs can fly under their own power, any electronics added to the lil' sentry for keeping in contact with HQ or other cyborg drones in the swarm need some kind of external power. And a radioactive isotope working as a nuclear battery does the trick perfectly. The isotope in question is Nickle-23, a barely radioactive isotope that doesn't emit enough radiation to harm a human. However, even slight beta-particle emissions are powerful enough to fuel the on board electronics of our arthropod cyborgs for up to 100 years.

For fun, let's see that cyborg moth flight test from September one more time, shall we?

Right now, those electronics only include a 5-milliwatt RFID transmitter. But eventually, the cyborgs will carry a full suite of sensors, and hopefully, since we are talking about nuclear powered cyborg insects going to war, some kind of death ray.

[IEEE Spectrum]

Syndicated 2009-12-10 23:02:02 from Popular Science - robots

Pneumatic Ball-Levitating 'Bot Preps Produce, Wins at Beer Pong

Using an air jet to make a ball appear to levitate is an old physics lab trick; the air rushing around the ball traps it in a low-pressure pocket. But guiding "floating" balls through an obstacle course of hoops, making asymmetrical objects like apples and water bottles float as carefree as perfect spheres, or launching balls across a room with precision accuracy? That's impressive.

A pair of grad students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have done exactly that, using a computer to control a gimbaled air-jet system with two degrees of motion to not only "levitate" two different-sized balls at once, but also to make them follow difficult trajectories through obstacles, and even land in a small bucket of water all the way across the room.

Stereo vision cameras keep tabs on the objects, feeding a control algorithm data that allows the jet to keep objects at equilibrium and under control. Oh, and it peels onions. Don't believe us? Check out the video below. It makes your Slap Chop look pretty simple by comparison.

[IEEE Spectrum]

Syndicated 2009-12-09 15:11:59 from Popular Science - robots

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