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Monday, October 31, 2011

$ 26,3 Million Mannequin Robot Catwalk

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

U.S. Army has invested $26,3 million to develop a humanoid robot to test chemical suits and other protective gear used by troops. The first robotic catwalk video has now been released by developer Boston Dynamics, demonstrating the "undressed" and headless humanoid robot called PETMAN, short for Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin, running and exercising at his training lab. The robot has to be capable of moving just like a soldier -- walking, running, bending, reaching, army crawling -- to test the suit's durability in a full range of motion.

Today there is no National Defense Authorization Act that sets a goal for creating a robotics war fighting army, but it would be very surprising if this advanced technology wouldn't be used in more advanced applications than catwalking in the future.
In 2001, the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act set a goal for the U.S. Armed Forces -- create an unmanned combat vehicle force that would account for one third of all vehicles in operation. In 2005 unmanned vehicles successfully crossed the DARPA Challenge line and started the global robotics race to develop new military and civil applications.
It may take some decades before humanoid army robots might be ready "trav'ling in the footsteps of those who've gone before" but be sure, the bots will go marching in."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Tactile Sensor for Robotic Finger Tips

Next generation robots are expected to interact safely with humans and in real-world environments. The ability to touch and sense objects and living things will be critical in many robotics applications. In the future robots will need very sensible tactile sensors to estimate touch related properties like shape, texture, hardness, material type etc. A new tactile sensor technology developed at MIT might provide super-sensitivity for robot fingers.
By combining a clever physical interface with computer-vision algorithms, researchers in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have created a simple, portable imaging system that can achieve resolutions previously possible only with large and expensive lab equipment. The device could provide manufacturers with a way to inspect products too large to fit under a microscope and could also have applications in medicine, forensics, biometrics and next generation robotics.
Start-up company GelSight, Inc. provides extremely detailed and rapid surface measurements through  the novel GelSight elastomeric technology for tactile sensing, called GelSight, which converts touch to images, and which opens up new possibilities in sensing 3D microscale topography.
Brains behind GelSight
The brains behind the new technology and co-founders of GelSight are Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Micah Kimo Johnson, former research scientist at MIT.
The video below demonstrates the range of performance that can be achieved with various configurations of the GelSight sensor.

Friday, October 28, 2011

SLICE - Snake Locomotion in Challenging Environments

Kulko - A snake robot with tactile sensors
A four year project SLICE - snake robot locomotion in challenging environments started at the Norwegian Gemini Centre for Advanced Robotics in Januari 2011. The project will target methods for snake robot obstacle-aided locomotion, which has been an active field of research for some time now at NTNU/SINTEF. A snake arm robot is a robotic mechanism with a long and flexible body that can move like a biological snake. In a few years, such mechanisms will be used in search & rescue operations after earthquakes, in fire fighting operations, in pipe inspection tasks, and in subsea operations.
The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council.

Experimental investigation of a control strategy for obstacle-aided locomotion. The snake robot is called Kulko and is covered by tactile force sensors. This video was developed as part of the ongoing research on snake robots at SINTEF and NTNU in Norway. 

The Gemini Center for Advanced Robotics was formed in 2007 by the Norwegian research organisation SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) to meet the growing need for a collective Norwegian research community within advanced robotic systems and solutions. The centre specializes in modeling, control and design of advanced robotic and production systems and has a strong focus on robotic inspection and maintenance solutions for the Norwegian offshore industry.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bicycle Riding Robots from Japan

Japanese robot enthusiast Dr. Guero has adapted a diminutive Kondo KHR-3HV humanoid robot to ride a little bicycle. The robot balances by steering the bicycle and brakes by putting its feet down. Dr. Guero calls his bicycle riding robot Primer-V2.

But this is not the first bicycling robot from Japan. Murata Manufacturing was first with it´s bicycling robot Murata Boy demonstrated at the CEATEC Japan 2005 in Makuhari. The robot was equipped with four types of sensors: two gyro sensors used to detect angular velocity and inclination; an ultrasonic sensor to detect obstacles; and a shock sensor to detect rough surfaces. The robot was connected to a PC via wireless LAN connection for forward, stop, and backward type commands and he can follow pre-programmed paths. It was about 2 foot tall and reached speeds of 30 inches per second and could even balance while at a complete stop.

The components in the 2010 version of Murata Boy include IR sensor, electronic double rayer capacitor,
Bluetooth® low energy module, power supply module to exchange the power voltage efficiently with the one battery, wireless power transmission system and a Wi-Fi Module.

Mobile Robots on the Rise

Gartner Hype Cycles 2011
Mobile robotics is one of the new  emerging technologies on the rise that might fundamentally reshape processes and even industries according to Gartner. In 2011 mobile robots have  reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations, which means early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not. It is the first time mobile robotics is represented on the Gartner Hype Cycles (GHC) that provides a graph of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities. GHC methodology gives you a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing a sound source of insight to manage its deployment within the context of your specific business goals.
Life after the Hype
What`s next on the GHC graph is the "Death valley", when the interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Gartner calls it "Trough of Disillusionment", when producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters. This cycle phase might be the most critical before the benefit of the technology for customers start to crystallize and become more widely understood and the race to the Slope of Enlightenment begins. Now second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers and more enterprises fund pilots, while conservative companies remain cautious. In the last cycle phase, the Plateau of Productivity, mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

Here are some examples from the domestic robot death valley: Trilobite/Electrolux (1999-2010), Furby/Tiger (1998-2000/2005-2007), i-Cybie/Silverlit Electronics (2000-2005), Aibo/Sony (1999-2006), QRIO/Sony (2006),  Pleo/Ugobe (2006-2009), Wakamaru/Mishubishi (2005-2007).
Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world's leading information technology research and advisory company.

Disruptive Innovation: Flying Robot Swarm

Swarm robotics is a new approach to the coordination of multirobot systems which consist of large numbers of mostly simple physical robots. It is supposed that a desired collective behavior emerges from the interactions between the robots and interactions of robots with the environment. This approach emerged on the field of artificial swarm intelligence, as well as the biological studies of insects, ants and other fields in nature, where swarm behaviour occurs. 

Flyfire, a project initiated by the SENSEable City Laboratory in collaboration with ARES Lab (Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory) aims to transform any ordinary space into a highly immersive and interactive display environment. Check out the video below for some inspiration. 

In its first implementation, the Flyfire project sets out to explore the capabilities of this display system by using a large number of self-organizing micro helicopters. Each helicopter contains small LEDs and acts as a smart pixel. Through precisely controlled movements, the helicopters perform elaborate and synchronized motions and form an elastic display surface for any desired scenario.

With the self-stabilizing and precise controlling technology from the ARES Lab, the motion of the pixels is adaptable in real time. The Flyfire canvas can transform itself from one shape to another or morph a two-dimensional photographic image into an articulated shape. The pixels are physically engaged in transitioning images from one state to another, which allows the Flyfire canvas to demonstrate a spatially animated viewing experience.

Flyfire serves as an initial step to explore and imagine the possibilities of this free-form display: a swarm of pixels in a space.

Ping Pong Robots

Researchers at the Zhejiang University’s Institute of Cyber Systems and Control in Hangzhou have developed two humanoid robots, Wang and Zu, that can play ping pong. The robots track the ball with head-mounted cameras and calculate its path. The arm that hits the ball has 30 different motors and can perform 7 distinct motions. The swinging motion is pretty smooth and humanlike.
Check out the video below.

In 2007 at the Tokyo International Robot Exhibition (IREX) the robotic company TOSY from Vietnam demonstrated TOPIO a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. It had been developed since 2005. TOPIO 3.0 (the latest version of TOPIO) was appr. 1.88 m tall and weighed 120 kg. and uses an advanced artificial intelligence system to learn and continuously improve its skill level while playing.
TOPIO from Tosy Robotics

Book Review: Race Against the Machine

The average life time of people in industrial countries has increased over the last 100 years. An 80 year old American, European och Japanese  has lived 700.800 hours. About 9-10 percent of this life time have been used for "paid" work, that in the end has to finance the 91 percent "free" time including consumption, welfare services from education to medical care. Relative to our life length we work fewer hours, but on the other hand we have increased productivity with help of technology.
MIT researchers prof. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee investigate in the their new e-book "Race Against the Machine", how the digital revolution is accelerating innovation, driving productivity, and irreversibly transforming employment and the economy. The authors focus on two important facts. 1) Technology continues to progress rapidly. In fact, the past decade has seen the fastest productivity growth since the 1960s, but 2) median wages and employment have both stagnated, leaving millions of people worse off than before. This presents a paradox: if technology and productivity are improving so much why are millions being left behind?
In the book, they document remarkable advances in digital technologies in particular. Innovations like IBM’s Watson, Google’s self-driving car, Apple’s Siri are turning science fiction into reality. Machines are doing more and more tasks that once only humans could do.

Robots are mentioned 11 times in the book as a technology that "have been substituting for routine tasks , displacing workers". Humanoid robots are described as "still quite primitive, with poor fine motor skills and a habit for falling down stairs."  The authors mention Foxconn's 1 million robot plan as an example for the ongoing productivity race even in China. As an example from the USA the authors mention US robotic startup Heartland Robotics providing "cheap robots-in-a-box, that make it possible for small business people to set up their own highly automated factory, dramatically reducing the cost and increasing the flexibility of manufacturing." In that case we should talk about the "Race with the Machine", a concept that is heavily promoted in Europe and Japan.
In summary the authors are optimistic that we can harness the benefits of accelerating innovation. The book is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about "The Real Job Threat", long term effects of ICT and public acceptance of robotics in peace and war.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crossing the Robotic Chasm

Researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management found that investors consistently values certain types of  business models more highly than others. 
80% of total revenue from companies listed on U.S. exchanges comes from physical assets. Manufacturing — creating physical assets — generated about 57% of all company revenues. Manufacturers are generally highly valued by investors, with manufacturers who innovate even more highly valued.
  • 28% of all company revenues derives from landlord type transactions but with major differences in total stock market returns. Financial and physical landlords were the poorest performing of the common business models, while IP landlords were the second-highest performing. Contractors — a model that includes consulting firms and other businesses that primarily “rent out” human assets — had performance in the middle of the pack.
In recent years, investors have favored business models focusing on licensing intellectual property (such as Walt Disney’s business model) and a certain kind of highly innovative manufacturing (such as Apple’s).
Innovative manufacturers, who invest more than their industry average in research and development, are the top performers in the market. Apple is an example of an innovative manufacturer. Apple’s business model in 2008 was 86% manufacturer, 7% contractor and 7% IP landlord, and the results — products like the iPhone, iPhone apps, iPad, MacBook Air, iTunes — have paid big dividends. This is a powerful combination from an investor perspective.  In 2010 Apple´s total research and development expense was $1.8 billion compared with $1.3 billion in 2009.  The R&D expense of iRobot was $24,8 million in 2010 and $14,7 million in 2009. For the first nine month 2011 the R&D expense was $25,8 million.  

Explore more AAPL Data at Wikinvest
Investing opportunities: iRobot vs Apple
Google Finance: Apple vs iRobot 2001-2011 
Robotics companies, especially consumer robotics companies, are identified as highly innovative companies focused on R&D, hardware design and manufacturing. But so far very few have crossed the chasm (Geoffrey A. Moore) between the early adopters of the product (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). Market leader iRobot has outperformed high price pioneer Electrolux with the launch of the Roomba series in 2002. But since then no new, innovative consumer product has been launched. Two of the three original founders have left iRobot to start new robotics companies instead of driving innovation within the company.

Investors are still while waiting for disruptive innovations, that can lay ground of the next trillion robotics  industry. Despite billions of $/€/¥ of public and private investments in robotics R&D very few robotic spin-offs have survived outside the defense-robotics-industrial complex. The gap between research, industry and consumers has been to far to create a viable consumer robotics industry that can deliver consumer value like other high-tech industries.  
US Robotics Renaissance
Meanwhile the robotics R&D community continues feeding politicians and media with visionary road maps, robotic animations and prototypes to secure public funding. The latest U.S. robotics initiative NRI supported by the U.S. president with $40-$50 million annually is promoted as "a game-changer" (prof. Vijay Kumar),  "a vehicle to transform American lives and revitalize the American economy, (Helen Greiner, co-founder, iRobot, now president and CEO, CyPhy Works and president, Robotics Technology Consortium), a tool for  "repatriation of US manufacturing jobs" (John Dulchinos, president and CEO, Adept Technology). 
Robotic Cleaning Market 
After 10 years robotic R&D floor cleaning is still a robotic challenge and a great business opportunity for new solutions and new business models. According to U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) the cleaning services industry is a $46 billion dollar industry, expected to grow 5.5%  annually with current business trends toward outsourcing and purchasing by two income families looking for more leisure time. Residential maid service is the highest requested service by women. The number of empty-nest households is growing and as these "middle age" households move into the 55-64 age bracket, they are driving the growth of domestic cleaning services.  Additionally, disposable personal income is expected to grow over the same period, further supporting demand.
iRobot valued the U.S. market for traditional vacuum cleaners (priced over $200) about $ 1 billion and has sold about 6 million units so far. New competitors such as Mint, Neato Robotics, Philips, Samsung, LG, may have some technical innovations but these are far from disruptive to replace traditional vacuum cleaners or residential maid services.

iRobot announced Oct 25 its financial results for the third quarter ended October 1, 2011. Revenue for the third quarter of 2011 increased 28 percent to $120.4 million, compared with $94.2 million for the same quarter one year ago. Revenue for the first nine months of 2011 increased 17 percent to $334.7 million from $287.0 million last year. Net income in the third quarter of 2011 was $14.1 million, compared with $7.0 million in the third quarter of 2010. For the first nine months, net income was $29.6 million, up from $18.5 million a year ago.

New American Robotics Network Launched

NFS Roboics Research Funding Map 2011
A new American Robotics Network called Robotics Virtual Organization (Robotics-VO) has been launched. The aim of the network is to maintenance of a research roadmap for robotics in the US, to support for educational efforts across all levels, to document and promote processes to ensure adoption of robotics technology by industry and society at large and to disseminate information about robotics.
A discussion about the revision of the roadmap will be launched before end of November 2011 and it is planned to have a revised roadmap published by May 2012. The roadmap process is managed by prof. Vijay Kumar, UPENN and prof. Henrik I Christensen, GaTech.
National Robotics Initiative
The network is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NSF, as part of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). The goal of the NRI is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people. Innovative robotics research and applications emphasizing the realization of such co-robots acting in direct support of and in a symbiotic relationship with human partners is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government including the National Science Foundation/ (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration/ (NASA), the National Institutes of Health/ (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/ (USDA).
The purpose of this program is the development of this next generation of robotic/s, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas. It will address the entire life cycle from fundamental research and development to industry  manufacturing and deployment/.  Methods for the establishment and infusion of robotics in educational curricula and research/ to gain a better understanding of the long term social, behavioral and economic implications of co-robots across all areas of human activity are important parts of this initiative. Collaboration between academic, industry, non-profit and other organizations/ is strongly encouraged to establish better linkages between fundamental science and technology development, deployment and use.

Monday, October 24, 2011

India's first telepresence robot

Indian Gridbots, started in 2007 and based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is a technology company driven by innovation and persistence towards achieving the perfection in the domain of robotics, Machine vision technology and Artificial Intelligence.
At the techno-management festival Techniche 2011 the company presented the latest model of telepresence robot GSR-1, India's first tele-presence robot. The 30 kg robot comes with a rugged chassis, high resolution video and audio streamer and precise motion control system. The robot is equipped with onboard rechargeable power unit which can be charged from AC mains. Run time (single charge) is 4 hrs. With smart sensors and automatic localisation technology it can automatically find its way back to charging dock or navigate to user defined waypoints.
Gridbots developes also GroundZERO (Battlefield Robot), G-Transporter (Smart - Intelligent Material Transport Vehicle), Aviator (High end - Robotic Research Platform), SleuthHOUND (Robotic Surveillance Camera), and GridEYE (Video Analytics System).

Book review: Meta Products: Meaningful Design For Our Connected World

The web has become the standard for communication, advertising, socializing, financing and much more. A platform consisting of bits and bytes that has a life on its own and grows as it empowers people to fulfill their aspirations. In the next few years the web will keep on growing and will extend across new aspects of our lives. Products, services, places, knowledge and people will be web-enabled, creating new connections and new interactions; hence new networks. Business success will rely on harmonious and valuable networks, called Meta Products. Designing meaningful Meta Products will be the key for innovation and brand differentiation.

This new book written by Sara Córdoba Rubino, Wimer Hazenberg & Menno Huisman talks about the phenomenon of Meta Products, and also presents Network Focused Design as a design approach, usable for everyone who wants to design successful solutions for our connected world. Expert interviews and many cases are provided along the way to support the theory. " With an introduction from Mike Kuniavsky, author of Smart Things, Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Robobowl Winner 2011: Therapy Robot Popchilla from Interbots

Interbots Popchilla
The winner of the Robotbowl 2011 competition is Interbots, a (four-year-old) spin-off company out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (CMU-ETC). Interbots is specializes in the design and construction of custom interactive characters (both physical and virtual), control software, and interactive multimedia content.  The team’s winning design, “Popchilla,” is a toy robot designed to help children with autism.
According to Interbots CEO Seema Patel, recent research shows that autistic children have an easier time interacting with robots than with humans. Think of Popchilla as a technologically sophisticated puppet: Parents and therapists can speak through Popchilla remotely, allowing them to interact and guide children through activities.

RoboBowl – Healthcare and Quality of Life Robotics Ventures Competition. The competition is intended to find and foster start-up and early-stage companies seeking to develop “big idea” products and services that address unmet and under-served market needs in targeted industrial sectors.
RoboBowl is organized by the Innovation Accelerator (IA) and the Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC), two organizations attempting to promote American technological innovation. IA provides funding assistance for start-up and mid-stage technology ventures across many disciplines and applications. RTC is an industry group that advocates for robotics development for use by the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

New App-Controlled Telepresence Rover

Lägg till bildtext
The new Rover Spy Tank AC13, designed and manufactured by Brookstone, is App-Controlled by your iPod touch® (2nd, 3rd and 4th generation), iPhone® device, or iPad® tablet. It generates its own Wi-Fi wireless connection for your smart device (no frequency interference!). The impressive wireless range lets it travel up to 200 ft. unobstructed, up to 100 ft. around walls into other rooms. Navigate it with the on-screen driving arrows or use the G-Drive Mode that uses your device’s accelerometer like a steering wheel in your hand. To get started, simply download the Free App from the iTunes® App StoreSM.

The audio/visual-enabled and photo-taking Rover has  built-in microphone that transmits sound back to your device in real time. So you can hear everything as it’s being said. The manually adjustable camera streams live video and takes still photos.  (US$ 149.99)

Brookstone, Inc. is an innovative product development and specialty lifestyle retail company that operates approximately 300 Brookstone Brand stores nationwide and in Puerto Rico. Typically located in hightraffic regional shopping malls and airports, the stores feature unique and innovative consumer products. The Company also operates a Direct Marketing business that includes the Brookstone catalog and an ecommerce website at

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dental patient robot "Showa HANAKO 2" first in the world

tmsuk: Hanako2 Showa Face and body
The department of Orthodontics, Showa University has introduced the dentistry patient robot as the official curriculum of clinical training for student first in the world.

The dental patient robot "Showa Hanako2” developed by Japanese robot company tmsuk., has achieved more humanized performances than the previous model. It is more users friendly and highly functioned. She looks like a live actual woman with some behaviors. Furthermore it becomes easier to change the parts as teeth and mucous membrane. It means less maintenance and long durability.
Hanako2 Showa was developed in cooperation with Orient Industry, and has got better appearance with practical use by improving face mask and oral mucous membrane. The structure of newly developed oral cavity is under applying the patent.  Powered by electric motor, neck turn becomes more smoothly as human action.  Collaborating with IT device/software company, RayTron, a new voice recognition system specialized for dentistry training was developed so that Hanako 2 recognize the voice of student even with mouth mask. It is possible to raise her left hand and be felt her pulse on her right hand.

Yoshida Dental Trade Distribution Co., Ltd, a wholesaler of dental equipment and products in Japan, will start selling the patient robot. Yoshida expect the potentiality of the patient robot which gives students participating clinical training before human patient training. The new robot may contribute to improve clinical training and to keep good quality of dentistry ability for wider dentistry students. Selling the patient robot might boost not only advanced medical education but also developing robot industry.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First European Robotics Week: Nov 28th - Dec 4th, 2011

The first European Robotics Week will be held Nov 28th - Dec 4th, 2011 and offer various robotics related activities across Europe for the general public, highlighting growing importance of robotics in a wide variety of application areas. The week aims at inspiring technology education in students of all ages to pursue careers in STEM-related fields, i.e. science, technology, engineering and math.
So far  about 235 events have been announce in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. 

Promoting Robotics 

The public interest in robotics based on the average worldwide search traffic at Google has constantly decreased. Compared to the interest in i.e. smartphones robotics has lost much of its attractiveness in the public mind in the last 7 years. Despite heavy investment in robotics research, robotics competitions and events in Japan, Europe and in the U.S. the output of attractive consumer robotics products have been poor so far. The value proposition of consumer robotics companies haven´t been good enough for mass markets.  Lack of disruptive innovations, lack of customer focus and poor marketing have been main reasons for stagnation.  
Robotics Searches 2004-2011
Google Trends: average worldwide traffic of robotics
Smartphones Searches 2004-2011
  Google Trends: average worldwide traffic of smartphones
The robotics community in the U.S. and in Europe have been concerned about the decreasing public interest in robotics especially among young people. There have also been concerns about the dystopian Western media image of robots as job and  terrorist killers in contrast to the techno-optimistic Asian robot visions based on tradition but also heavy public investments in Robotics Promotion in Japan (Expo 2005) and South Korea (Robot Cities). 
To change the public mind about robotics the robotics community is now mobilized to organize robotics events all over the country during one week to get high media attention. USA was first with organizing the annual National Robotics Week aimed to recognize robotics   "as a pillar of 21st century American innovation, highlights its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizes its ability to inspire technology education." 
The first National Robotics Week was held in April 2010 with over 50 affiliated events in 21 states, DC, and Puerto Rico. Over 46,000 people participated, including over 24,000 K-12 students. The second annual U.S. National Robotics Week in was held April 9-17, 2011 including 100 affiliated events in 22 states, DC, and Puerto Rico

New: Robotland Library

A collection of robotics books that might change your view of the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

iRobot Robot Apps Vision 2011

iRobot, the market leader in military and home robotics, invites app developers to write apps that run on a tablet connected to the new mobile robot Ava. iRobot is promoting AVA currently as a technology demonstrator and in early stages of commercialization. iRobot has identified applications for mobile robots "that have the potential to add value and enable differentiation in many markets such as retail, manufacturing, healthcare, enterprise collaboration and consumer." Below are some ideas and illustrations of iRobot's robot app vision. 
New Shopping Experience
In the future mobile robots will enhance in-store shopping experience by meeting shoppers as Mobile Kiosk

Mobile Kiosk
Mobile robots can also provide consistent, high quality shopper experience by connecting to product experts remotely.

Product Expert Chat
Mobile robots can provide remote monitoring to ensure enterprise safety and security. 

Mobile robots can be used for communication with remote manufacturing facilities and factory inspection.

Factory inspection
Mobile robots can support collaboration with enterprise colleagues through remote telepresence without having to travel to another office location.

Mobile robots can support home-based care through virtual visits and remote telepresence
Mobile robots can enable family and professional caregivers to deliver high quality care through virtual visits

Caregiver support

Mobile robots can leverage a limited number of experts to mentor and teach students in multiple locations
Learning support

Mobile robotic kiosks at public places like railway stations, airports, ports, underground stations, hospital, museums, shopping centers could replace some humans and act as watchdogs, infospots and tour guides during the day, handle security at night and can take environmental readings 24X7. This was demonstrated at the World Exhibition 2005 in Japan with many prototype robots. Robots can also be used for mobile marketing and advertising, sales and delivery services. Prototypes have been demonstrated in Japan by Fujitsu and Vstone. Fujitsu's ENON robot (2005) interacts with customers in malls, talking them into going into stores. It is equipped with voice recognition software and can even choose between a male voice and a female voice, to appeal to individual customers.

Vstone's Robovie (2009) can help customers with shopping lists, shopping recommendations and logistics.

The Future of Apps is cloudy
More than a half-million apps are downloaded every single hour, and the average smartphone user has 22 according to Borrell Associates, a research and consulting firm that tracks local advertising. But the future is cloudy for those trying to tackle the mobile universe via an app. Research shows that after six months, only one of those original 22 apps is still in use. On top of that, a debate is raging as to whether apps will survive a more sophisticated mobile browser fueled by HTML5.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

RoboBowl 2011 - Finalists

RoboBowl Pittsburgh is the first in a series of contests for startup and early-stage companies that are trying to develop products for underserved markets; this competition focuses on health care and quality of life products.
The five finalists are Interbots, creating robotic toys for children with autism; Origami Robots, special needs therapy robots; TactSense Technologies, tactile feedback for robotic surgical systems; Bright Cloud International Corp., personalized video games and robotics to improve stroke and traumatic brain injury patients, and RescueBotics, human rescue robots. 
Each finalist receives $5,000, and a chance to win an additional $20,000.

RoboBowl is organized by The Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC), a non-profit industry organization created to speed the transition and deployment of robotics technology for the Defense Department and other Government organizations, and The Innovation Accelerator (IA), the private side of a public-private partnership with a Federal Agency of the United States of America.

The competition is hosted by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and The Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT).

    US Robotics supported by the U.S. President

    Washington, November 23, 2009
    President Barack Obama Robotics Timeline
    November 23, 2009.
    “As president, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”
    U.S. President Barack Obama watches on as the "Cougar Cannon" robot throws a ball at a student from Oakton High School following Obama's remarks on science, technology, engineering and math education initiatives "Educate to Innovate",  a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  

    October 18, 2010: 
    "I never miss a chance to see cool robots when I get a chance.”
    U.S. President Barack Obama at the oppening of the (first ever) White House Science Fair.
    November 15, 2010: 
    At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama,Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama met Japanese robots such as female humanoid robot HRP-4C and therapy robot PARO, both developed at AIST. He took also a short ride with the latest version of Toyota's i-REAL personal mobility vehicle.

    Thomas Jefferson High School, 2011
    Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
    June 24, 2011:
    "You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as commander-in-chief is to keep an eye on robots," "And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now."

    U.S. President Barack Obama announces National Robotics Initiative, a nationally coordinated robotics technology R&D program across multiple government agencies, initially NSF, NASA, NIH, USDA. Budget: $40-$50 million year. there is a strong coupling with industry and startups, through small business innovation research (SBIRs), emphasis on common platforms & standard interfaces,  and sponsoring of national competitions and outreach. & education. 
    September, 16, 2011:
    President Barack Obama examines a robot created in the school’s prototyping and robotics senior research labs at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia after signing the America Invents Act. The school is  named for the first official to issue U.S. patents. 
    Carnegie Mellon robotics Center on June 24, 2011
    Behind the sceen: 
    The U.S. President´s public interest in robotics seems to be the result of strategic lobbying and promoting by the US robotics community including acdemia, military and industry.
    Robotics Caucus 
    In 2007 the Congressional Bi-Partisan Robotics Caucus, chaired by Congressman Mike Doyle (PA) and co-chaired by Congressman Phil Gingrey (GA), was formed to focus on key issues facing the nation's robotics industry and related emerging technology. Members of Congress learned first hand about the use of robotics in agriculture, mining, logistics, defense, education, manufacturing and healthcare.
    Inspired by European Robotics  
    One of the brains behind the CCC initiativ was the Danish Prof. Henrik Christensen, who has served as the Founding Chairman of EURON(1999-2006) and as the research coordinator of ECVision (2000-2004). He has lead and participated in a large number of EU projects. In 2006 he became the KUKA Chair of Robotics and a Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Director of Georgia Tech Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and served as a project leader for the CCC initiative.
    Robotics Road Map
    In 2008 the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) was approved through a grant from NSF a study to formulate a targeted R&D roadmap for robotics. The process was managed by a broad group of researcher across major US institutions. In August 2008 CRA/CCC sponsored a workshop to identify a focused set of major US research goals for Emerging Technologies and Trends, and to develop a roadmap for achieving these research goals in the coming decade. The definitive report on challenges and opportunities: “A Roadmap for US Robotics- From Internet to Robotics,” was presented in May 2009.

    The Military-Robotics Complex
    In 2008 the Robotics Technology Consortium, a non-profit industry organization with over 200 corporations, universities, and non-profit organizations was formed to speed up the creation and deployment of ground robotics technology for the Defense Department and other government organizations.

    U.S. DRONE STRIKES 2004 - 2011

    The military demand of unmanned vehicles is one of the big drivers of U.S. robotics. The number of drone strikes has high jumped in 2010 and been effective according to a  study of New America Foundationa nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute. The study shows that the 273 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 60 in 2011, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,667 and 2,614 individuals, of whom around 1,374 to 2,143 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to the analysis is approximately 20 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent.

    According to media reports U.S. President Barack Obama approved in early 2010 the targeted killing of the first U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, by the CIA. His targeted killing was carried out in a drone attack in Yemen on September 30, 2011.  

    Under U.S. President Barack Obama, the frequency of drone strikes on terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas has risen tenfold, from one every 40 days during George Bush’s presidency to one every four according to The Economist Oct. 8th, 2011.

    National Robotics Week
    In April 2010 the first annual National Robotics Week was held recognizing robotics technology as a pillar of 21st century American innovation, highlighting its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizing its ability to inspire technology education.
    The National Robotics Initiative 
    In 2011, the Administration made robotics a priority to address a broad range of national needs such as advanced manufacturing, logistics, services, transportation,  homeland security, defense, medicine, healthcare, space exploration, environmental monitoring, and agriculture. Robotics technology is identified as technology at a “tipping point” and poised for explosive growth because of improvements in core technologies such as microprocessors, sensors, and algorithms. Robotics can also play an important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education because it encourages hands-on learning and the integration of science, engineering, and creative thinking. In the 2012 budget the President proposes specifically $30 million in next generation robotics.
    Robotics Pro & Con
    The Presidential support of US robotics has been applauded by many stakeholders and beneficiaries, primarily roboticists from academia and industry to overcome the economic crisis and to "revitalize the American economy" (Helen Greiner, president and CEO, CyPhy Works; president, Robotics Technology Consortium; co-founder, iRobot). Robotics is re-praised as technology for "repatriation of US manufacturing jobs" (John Dulchinos, president and CEO, Adept Technology), "to reviving our manufacturing industries, protecting the environment, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and helping provide quality care for our growing elderly population” (Jeff Burnstein, president, Robotics Industry Association).
    Research Critics
    But not everybody is impressed by the public funded robotics research. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a member of the Republican Party, from Oklahoma, has upset the US robotics community by critizising some robotics projects in his report "The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope", April 2011. Coburn mentions the launry-folding robot project, the Human Control of Bicycle Dynamics" project and "the Robot Hoedown & Rodeo" as examples of "wasteful" research that lack useful applications and shouldn't have received government funding.  Roboticsts have reacted with concern about Senator Coburn's critisim and lack of scientific communication.
    Wasteful Robotics Research
    Autonomously folding a pile of 5 previously-unseen towels

    SIGCSE Robot Hoedown Grand Finale

    Robotic Risks and Threats 
    But there are even some scientists getting concerned about social and political consequences of broad application of robotics in our society. One of these is Sherry Turkle, the Director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. She has become deeply pessimistic about our digital future. In her controversial book, Alone Together, Turkle argues that the development of emotionally sympathetic robots like Tamagotchis and Furbies means that the “robotic moment” has arrived for the human race. She is worried about interaction that makes humans feel that robots care, when they only emulate emotions. She is also worried about the idea to use of social robots for child and elderly care, that could undermine human relations and dehumanize our welfare system.

    In the report Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design (2008) Patrick Lin, Prof. George Bekey, and Keith Abney, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University recommend "not to unduly rush the process" of introducing robots in military affairs without a rigorous testing phase of robots. They discuss the challenge of creating autonomous military robots that can act reliably according the Laws of War and most Rules of Engagement, i.e. to distinguish enemy combatants from non-combatants. They conclude that military robots aimed to also replace human soldiers, especially in ‘dull, dirty, and dangerous’ jobs, raise novel ethical and social questions that should be raised "before irrational public fears or accidents arising from military robotics derail research progress and national security interests."

    The International Committee for Robot Arms Control, ICRAC, has already proposed the regulation and control of armed military robots including a prohibition on the further development of armed autonomous robots and the setting of restrictions on armed tele-operated drones for applications such as targeted killings in sovereign territories not at war. ICRAC fears that advances in robotic systems will lead to more countries committing to war, since robots would be taking the place of humans on the battlefield. The biggest concern for the future is autonomous systems that select targets themselves.  

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Exoskeleton Research in Japan 2012

    The de-facto approach so far in humanoid robotics was to make use of non-backdrivable stiff transmissions systems that are combined with high gain servo controllers. Although these properties provide highly precise positioning, the resulting large mechanical output impedance makes them inherently incapable of handling the unpredictable environmental conditions.

    At the Control Systems Laboratory of the Toyota Technological Institute (TTI) researchers are exploring "Multimodal Biped Robot Locomotion Through the Utilization of Active/Passive Compliance" and "Exoskeleton/Power Assist Robot Control". The Japanese researchers are building a whole-body power assist robot to provide power augmentation for humans. Power augmentation is required in various situations; i) Manipulating heavy objects (upper body) or ii) providing assistance to legs for walking motion (lower body) The main goal in this research topic is to develop a control methodology which handles the aforementioned power augmentation scenes while ensuring the safe human-robot co-existence.

    The TTI is a university located in Nagoya, Japan. Founded in 1981 by a large endowment from Toyota Motors Corporation, it originally only accepted students with some industrial work experience. TTI was ranked as the 5th best Japanese university in 2010 by TSU. TTI has a best employment rate among all Japanese Universities.

    TTI Global Network

    Book Review: Neuromorphic and brain-based robotics

    Jeffrey L. Krichmar, associate professor at the department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, and Hiroaki Wagatsuma, senior research scientist at Lab. for Dynamics of Emergent Intelligence, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan are providing an introduction to recent advances in neuromorphic and brain-based robotics. Their new book explores how robots can be used to better understand the brain. It considers their use in studying how the nervous system gives rise to complex behavior and how this knowledge could be used to develop intelligent robots.
    Neuromorphic and brain-based robotics have enormous potential for furthering our understanding of the brain. By embodying models of the brain on robotic platforms, researchers can investigate the roots of biological intelligence and work towards the development of truly intelligent machines. This book provides a broad introduction to this groundbreaking area for researchers from a wide range of fields, from engineering to neuroscience. Case studies explore how robots are being used in current research, including a whisker system that allows a robot to sense its environment and neurally inspired navigation systems that show impressive mapping results. Looking to the future, several chapters consider the development of cognitive, or even conscious robots that display the adaptability and intelligence of biological organisms. Finally, the ethical implications of intelligent robots are explored, from morality and Asimov's three laws to the question of whether robots have rights. Cambridge University Press (November 30, 2011).

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    How AI and robots will replace your job

    "Robots, vending machines and touch screen kiosks are increasingly replacing human workers." (LA Times March 2011)
    "The person who is making most sushi of the sushi of the revolving conveyor-belt sushi restaurant is "Sushi robot."! (Rie Hara, Japanese Element Symbols. 2009)

    How will job automation impact the economy in the future? How will the offshore outsourcing trend evolve in the coming years? What impact will technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence have on the job market?
    Did technology play a significant role in the 2007 subprime meltdown and the subsequent global financial crisis and recession? How fast can we expect technological change to occur in the coming years and decades?
    Which jobs and industries are likely to be most vulnerable to automation and offshoring?

    Martin Ford, the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm, employs a powerful thought experiment to explore the economy of the future in his book "The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future". An imaginary "tunnel of lights" is used to visualize the economic implications of the new technologies that are likely to appear in the coming years and decades. The book directly challenges conventional views of the future and illuminates the danger that lies ahead if we do not plan for the impact of rapidly advancing technology. It also shows how the economic realities of the future might offer solutions to issues such as poverty and climate change.

    Check also out the video below from September 2011 future tense event with Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo and a panel of experts explored questions about opportunities and risks with robots.

    Saturday, October 01, 2011

    Robot Apps

    Lawn Mowing Robot-Controlling iPhone App
    My Automower, developed by Swedish Husqvarna AB, is an iPhone app designed specifically to work with the Husqvarna robotic lawn mower Automower. The app enables an Automower owner to deploy the robot directly by simply sending SMS messages to get remote access.
    The owner can check the statur of the lawn mowing robot, tell the robot to start mowing, return to the charger or set timers.

    My Automower is available for free on the iTunes App Store!

    LEGO Robot-Controlling Android App
    Danish LEGO has launched the MINDdroid  application for Android phones (1.6 or higher). The free MINDdroid app is a remote-control application that turns an Android handset into a wireless remote control devices for robots built using a LEGO Mindstorm NXT kit. MINDroid quickly connects to an NXT robot over a standard Bluetooth connection. Once connected, the app uses the phone’s accelerometer to send directional controls to the NXT brick, which is the “brains” of an Mindstorms robot. Tilting the phone will activate motors on the robot to move left, right, forward or back, for example. An included Action button in the software can be used for other motor-based activities, such as shooting out an object from the robot or closing a gripper hand.

    The MINDdroid Application has been developed by Guenther Hoelzl, professor at the Höhere Technische Bundeslehranstalt (Higher Technical Learning Institute) Klagenfurt, Austria and Shawn Brown, Java programmer in Tokyo, Japan, in collaboration with the LEGO MINDSTORMS team.

    The source code for MINDdroid is released under the GPL v3 license and it is freely downloadable here.
    Telepresence Robot-Controlling iPhone/iPod Touch App

    Rovio Driver is an iPhone and iPod Touch application that gives the user a whole new way to control the Rovio telepresence robot. By using the built-in accelerometer the user can move around the Rovio and take advantage of the wide touchscreen to control the head position! Alternatively, the user can use a virtual joystick to move your Rovio with better accuracy.
    This application is available for $1.99 on the iTunes App Store!

    AVA Apps
    Two of iRobot’s initial Ava apps focus on navigation and map-building. It’s a key aptitude for a robot that was built to roam hospital and factory floors with minimal human oversight. One app essentially creates a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) map based on Ava’s excursions. The map, which resembles a 2D maze, can then be labeled and otherwise refined for a person to use in directing Ava around a room or floor.

    Ava’s other app also maps its environment but with an emphasis on 3D images. The view on that map resembles a high-end video game with a first-person vantage point: full of grids, planes and three-dimensional objects.