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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year from Robotland!

Service robotics for the elderly in the future will only have a chance if the potential users of the service robotics, the elderly, their family and professional care personal will accept these technical aids. This is the conclusion of the German study "My friend the robot" conducted by SIBIS Institute for Social Studies. According to SIBIS there is no empirical evidence today in Germany for the acceptance of robots for the elderly. SIBIS explains the main reason for this result that it is the difficulty to investigate the real benefits of a technical system, that is still under development.

But the findings of this study, based on a relatively small group of elderly, can also be seen as a poor outcome of consumer robotics development in general. The quantitative survey shows that more than half of those surveyed seniors (56%) are spontaneous positive to service robotics in everyday life, while 40% are  negative.  There is high acceptance for vacuum cleaning robots, floor sweepers, robot mowers, automatic window cleaners, shopping and walking assist robots. The risk to be controlled or stigmatized by robots isn't ranked very high.

But only 36% of the elderly are convinced that robots can improve their security and independence. A majority of elderly experience robots as scary (66%) and not very reliable (86%).  Only one of three would accept a humanoid robot helper.  Bad news for those who have invested millions in projects to escape "Uncanny Valley".

European Robotics in the "Death Valley"
Despite more than 10 years of heavy public and private funding of robot research and development Europe has lost ground in consumer robotics. European service robotics i still fighting to escape "Death Valley" between research and marketing. The SIBIS study should worry research bureaucrats, EC-funders and private investors when reading about lack of plausibility of the personal benefits, skepticism about the functioning of the systems, complicated operating procedures, fear that robots were ultimately unable to be controlled by the user and risks of third-party monitoring.

There seems to be a wide gap between academia, industry and consumers. Servers are filled with thousands of robotics papers, robot labs with hundreds of robotic prototypes, while the department stores and online shops are filled with low quality domestic and toy robots from China.

Robots as Life Style for Everyone
Consumers have no problems accepting service robots when they support personal autonomy , mobility, orientation, independence, protection of privacy. If people have to decide to continue living after an accident with the assistance of a robot at home or to move into a nursing home, the vast majority of respondents would prefer a robot at home. The problem is the lack of useful, reliable and affordable robots not only for the elderly but even for young people.
More fantasy, creativity and co-creation is needed to develop a viable service robot industry that is fun for all. 2012 will be a critical year for many robotic companies, might only the most creative and viable survive.
Happy New Year from Robotland! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Transforming Hexapod Robot

Norwegian engineer Kare Halvorsen has a passion for hexapods. Since 2066 he has created robotic creatures that walks on six legs. His latest project MorpHex this is a sphere shaped hexapod that rolls freely like a ball, has different sort of locomotion for moving in any direction, variable inner-body dimensions, transforms from a sphere shape into a hexapod and vice versa, walks like a hexapod.

Many hexapod robots are biologically inspired by Hexapoda locomotion. Hexapods may be used to test biological theories about insect locomotion, motor control, and neurobiology.

Chinese Robots 2011

Ping Pong Playing Robot, Zhejiang University
China is still a small robotland compared with it's competitors in Asia, Europe and America. So far only 15 industrial robots are installed per 10.000 manufacturing workers. But this might change quickly in the coming years, when research results will be transferred to the emerging robot industry.

From 50.000 to 1 million in three Years
According to IFR statistics 2011 there were 52,290 industrial robots in China of which approximately 10,000 were in Foxconn factories.  But the company has announced  plans to invest in 1 million industrial robots within three years, aimed to increase productivity and quality in its plants.
Foxcon's parent company Hon Hai Precision Industry plans to mass produce industrial robots as part of its efforts to cope with labour shortages and rising wages. The project, which is initially forecast to cost US$ 223 million (Tw$6.7 billion ), was unveiled by Terry Gou, chairman of the conglomerate, in Oct 2011 when he broke ground for the construction of a research and development unit in Taichung, central Taiwan. 

US Robots Made in China
China is already the center of domestic robotics by manufacturing most of the worlds robotic vacuum cleaners.
Hong Kong based Jetta Company Limited has several manufacturing locations in China and has been manufacturing OEM products since 1977. The company  manufacturers iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaning robots and has recently expanded one of its facilities to increase capacity for the production of Roomba and Scooba robots.
Jetta. Jetta manufacturers also toy robot PLEO and has bought the intellectual property rights and other assets in 2009 after Ugobe has filed for bankruptcy.
Kin Yat Industrial Co. Ltd. has been in business since 1981, has several manufacturing locations in China, and began manufacturing iRobot Roomba 500 series in 2007. 
Japanese Robot Cloned in China
China has quickly adapted concepts from the west including service robot applications for elderly care, social interaction and telepresence. Many projects are very similar to the design from abroad.  At the recent robot exhibition in Shanghai a robot called  UNISROBO was demonstrated that is almost identical to Japan’s NEC PaPeRo robot.
PaPeRo, NEC, Japan
UNISROBO, Unis Corp., CN

Chinese Robots Made in China
Robotics research started in early 70th but very slowly. From 1985 robotics research was supported by the five year national plans. In China robots are categorized in industrial and special robots. Special robots include service robots, underwater robots, military robots, agricultural robots, micro-operation robots. Chinese economy is still in fast developing period, and it is expected that the robotics R&D and its applications will have more progress in the coming ten years in China.
Chinese Robot to the Moon
The chief scientist of China's lunar exploration program, Ziyuan Ouyang, presented at the ICRA 2011 conference in Shanghai details about Chinas plans to to send robots to the moon and
eventually send humans to the moon beyond 2017. China is also considering building a permanent lunar outpost. The design and technical concept of the Chinese moon rover is very similar the NASA Mars rover, Curiosity.

Robotic Car 
Down to earth China is challenged to develop driverless cars. In August 2011 the China Daily reported that a Hongqi HQ3 robotic car with "full intellectual property rights" developed by the National University of Defense Technology, has traveled in daytime, taking only three hours and 20 minutes to finish its trip from Changsha and Wuhan, the capitals of Hunan and Hubei provinces under full computer and sensor control. 
Elderly Care Robot
An even greater future challenge will be elderly care. China has the world's largest elderly population with 159 million people over 60, accounting for 12 percent of its total population. According to a survey by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, more than 10 million caretakers and nurses are needed to attend the elderly population, as most of Chinese elderly prefer to live their retired lives at home.
Shortage of Workers
China's one child policy will very soon result in a shrinking number of workers. According to prof. Chen Xiaoping from University of Science & Technology of China more robots are needed to provide work force to society and for the support in everyday life. There are several projects under way to develop domestic service robots that might help the elderly in the future.  Even here the similarities with projects in Japan and Europe are obvious.

Japanese Robot Market 2011

Japan accounts for 34% of global robot demand thanks, in large part, to its highly robotized automobile industry.

Industrial Robots +13% 
The total shipment of manipulators and robots in the first three quarters of 2011 was 376831 million yen (US$ 4.85 billion), an increase of +13,3% compared with 2010. 
Domestic +23%
The total domestic shipments was 94391 million yen (+23%) and accounts for 25% of the total shipments.  
Export +10%
The total export was 282440 million yen (+10%), which accounts for 75% of the total shipments. 

Post Disaster Recovery
Despite the devastating earth quake and tsunami disaster in March 11, 2011, the country's worst disaster of the post-war period, the Japanese industry recovered very quickly. The economy began to rebound in May 2011 driven by public and private reconstruction spending. 

Recovery in demand for semiconductors used in smartphones and netbooks (mini-notebook computers) was driving orders for robots for semiconductor manufacturing but also large-scale robots used in vacuum environments and new automobile production lines, notably in China and other Asian countries contributed to increase of domestic and export shipments. 

The Big Three
The big three Japanese robot manufacturers Fanuc, Yaskawa Electric and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, accounting for over half of global robot sales, reported strong increase in sales and operating income. 

Yaskawa Robotics posted consolidated net sales of 83843 million yen in FY 2010/2011, up +46% compared with the previous fiscal year. The group sales accounted for 28,2% of consolidated net sales. Operating income was 1673 million yen with represents 2% operating income ratio. 

The Fanuc Robot Group posted consolidated sales of 77989 yen million in FY 2010/2011, up 6.0 % compared with the previous fiscal year. Robot Group sales accounted for 17.5 % of consolidated net sales. 

Kawasaki's robot division was transferred from the Motorcycle & Engine segment to the “Precision Machinery” segment in 2010. The net sales of the precision machinery division were significantly higher than the previous fiscal year at 140328 million yen, due in part to an increase in sales of hydraulic machinery to the construction machinery industry, as well as various clean robots for semiconductor production equipment. Operating income increased to 22318 million yen. 

The Big Three Stock Price 1999-2011 
Yaskawa (blue), Fanuc (red), Kawasaki (Yellow)

(Souces: Jara, Yaskawa, Fanuc, Kawasaki, Google Financial)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Great Robotic Design 2011

Engineering Excellence: 
The world’s first remote controlled robot that can ride like a human. 
Primer v2 by Masahiko Yamaguchi

Disruptive Shopping Experience: FitBots Robotic Mannequins

Funny Fund Raising Robot
Don-8r byTim Pryde

Disruptive Nanophea Robot vacuum cleaner
Design by Zaier Jihed

Mars Explorer Curiosity

Open source robotics platform

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Personal Robotics: Facts, Myths and Blindspots

AIBO is gone!
U.S.start-up RobotAppStore, has published an infographics aimed to promote its' new marketplace for robot apps. The graph includes facts and some market statistics including data about the worldwide stock of personal and service robots of 14 million units, including 200.000 AIBO robotic dogs and 150.000 Pleo robotic dinosaurs.

A robot stock of 14 million units might  by far not be so attractive for app developers than the 500 million smartphone market IDC expects to be sold in 2011. One issue to consider is  how many of there 14 million robots are still alive and available to host some apps. Here are some historical facts and personal reflections.
The AIBO Case
Robotic dog AIBO was sold between 1999-2006 mainly in Japan for about $2500.  It was a visionary robotic toy in 1999 and is still an eye catcher.  Sony claimed in 1999 it had recorded 135.000 orders in one single launch week. According to a press release in 2001 Sony had sold as of April 2001 approx. 95.000 units.  In 2005, when the termination of AIBO was announced a Sony spokesman stated that the total number of dogs sold was slightly more than 150 000. (Cnet) How many of these 6-13 year old robotic pets might still be alive or revitalizable to host robotic apps?  Repair part stock is closed for most models (110, 210. 220. 310 Series) and service termination date for the last model sold March 2006 is March 2013.  Especially original batteries are rare.

The PLEO Case
Pleo re-born 
The robotic dinosaur Pleo shipments started on December 5, 2007and was priced about $350. In in June 2008 when Ugobe raised $12,8 million in a third round of financing  CEO Bob Christopher said, the company had sold more than 50,000 units. In April 2009, Ugobe laid off all of its employees and filed for bankruptcy. According to Wired  Ugobe had sold about 100,000 Pleos.
Chinese Jetta bought the IPR and other assets from Ugobe and relaunched PLEO in 2010.  The total global Pleo stock might be around 150.000 units, but not all units might be working.

Therefore the total number of robotic pets that can be used as app hosts might be much lower than the infographics figures, may be between 75-150.000 units. What about other 13,7 million personal robots?

The iRobot Case
Half of the figure accounts to iRobot, the market leader in vacuum cleaning robots. iRobot has sold about 6 million units since 20002, which represents almost 90 percent of total domestic robotics market. It is unlikely that all of these 6 million are still working. A guess is that 10-30 percent might have been replaced or terminated due to technical or practical reasons.  The operational stock might be 4.2-5.4 million units.

The replacement or failure rate might be even higher for the other 6 million low price robotic toys such as WoWWee, Mindstorm, Humanoids etc. Quality is often low and disfunction rates are high.

In summary the total number of personal robot stock should be below the 10 million mark.

IFR Robot Statistics
According to IFR Statistical Department the stock of robots for personal/domestic use  at end 2009 was about 8,6 million units. IFR estimates that about 2.2 million service robots for personal/domestic use were sold in 2010 (+35%). This means a total stock of 10,8 million units at the end of 2010.

IFR forecasts some 14.4 million units may be added in the period 2011-2014, including over 9.8 million units sales of all types of domestic robots (vacuum cleaning, lawn-mowing, window cleaning and other types) and sales of about 4.6 million units of all types of entertainment and leisure robots.

Independent which statistical estimate is used the global market of personal robots is still very small compared with other personal technology markets. There are few, short time success stories, the industry is still in search of viable business models, consumers get much more value from other ICT sectors.
There is a latent tendency to over estimate market size based on more or less reliable market forecasts.  
Currently the main source of global robotics statistics is IFR, the International Federation of Robotics, who publishes statistical robot data based on information supplied by national robot associations and additional robot suppliers who report consolidated data by country. Few market research studies are available that are based on independent robot user data research. Official international statistics about personal robots production and trade is not available.

User-based Market Data
An independent and open platform for collection, analysis and reporting of personal/domestic robot data based on user data instead of supply data would be an alternative for consumers and suppliers to get better insights about demand and supply and to fight speculations and myths about the industry.  Ideas and proposals are very welcome!  

Patients Positive to Telecare Robots

InTouch Health

According to a study published in The American Journal (2011) 202, 843– 847 of Surgery robotic telepresence was viewed positively by patients and their families in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU). Furthermore, they believed the robot was beneficial to their care and indicated their support for its continued use.
Twenty-four patients and 26 family members completed the survey. Ninety-two percent of respondents were comfortable with the robot, and 84% believed communication was “easy.” Ninety percent did not perceive the robot as “annoying” and 92% did not believe that “the doctor cared less about them” because of the robot. Ninety-two percent of respondents supported the continued use of the robot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yobot Takes Care of Your Luggage

An ABB IRB 6640 robotic system – the only one of its kind in the world – is picking up, storing and retrieving guests' luggage in the lobby of the new Yotel Manhattan hotel in New York City. It takes Yobot only 30 seconds or less to complete a storage or retrieval operation.

Appropriately named ‘Yobot,’ the theatrically illuminated robot is the central feature in the lobby and a star attraction in its own right for hotel guests and the many passersby on busy 10th Avenue. Housed behind a secure glass enclosure, the robot picks up and stores guests’ luggage in one of 117 lockers. When the guests are ready to leave, they present their bar-coded receipt to Yobot who promptly retrieves their bags.

Creative Robotics in Europe 2011

For seven months, 45 pupils from three Munich schools worked together on the project “I am reaching for the stars and building the 21st century – even if only for a moment”. 
The objective of this “TheoPrax model” project in Munich was to develop ideas for project work of a serious nature for secondary schools and commercial colleges in Munich. TheoPrax is a teaching and learning system that combines theoretical and practical elements in the skills development and career guidance of young people.  Based on an idea by Munich-based performing artist Berkan Karpat, and under the guidance of the Department for Employment and Economic Affairs, the pupils set up an artistic installation depicting the topic of “creation” and combining audiovisual elements and the programming of a MOTOMAN robot. The resulting work was on show at an exhibition in Munich from 26 to 28 July 2011.

The Roberta "Hands-on" Robotics Education Network

Since 2002 "Roberta" takes girls and young women into the fascinating world of robots, where they can learn science, technology and math (STEM).
Every year Roberta reaches more than 20.000 students in over 500 registered Roberta Courses. The concept, developed at Fraunhofer IAIS, shows impressively how the interest of young people, especially of girls, for technology and science can be raised. Students from the age of 10 years on are headed to the world of robotics!

Gender-appropriate educational materials, certified Roberta-teachers and the Roberta-network provide "hands-on" robot courses that are suitable for girls and boys alike.
Fear of contact with science and technology don't even emerge with Roberta.

Roberta® is a registered trademark of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft e. V.
In 2011 "Roberta" extended her range: in addition to build and program Robots. Students got the chance in the future Roberta courses to develop their own smartphone apps. The Foundation " supports the project with a total grant amount of $ 250,000.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Japanese Robots Made in China?

The world’s leading manufacturer of industrial robots, Yaskawa Electric, plans to move some robot production overseas to Asia. Speculations have started where in Asia the company will locate the new robot plant. One hot guess is China, where the company already has established a plant for servo motors, which are used in robots and machine tools. Yaskawa currently makes 1,600 to 1,800 units a month at its main plant in Kitakyushu. The Chinese market for industrial robots was about 15,000 units last year, and is expected to grow to 32,000 units in 2014 driven by increased automation and surging labor costs.
Yaskawa Service Robot
Yaskawa has recently demonstrated its ambitions to compete on the emerging service robot market by  developing non-manufacturing applications for their industrial robots. The SmartPal VII is a telepresence robot that can be controlled remotely using Microsoft's Kinect.

iRobot Roomba Revenge at Apple ITunes

iRobot, the leader in floor cleaning robots has recently launched a game app - developed by Australian Millipede - at Apple iTunes called Roomba Revenge. The mission is to clean all dust by controlling a Roomba vacuum cleaner as he battles his way trough the first 5 challenging and puzzling features (20 levels in the 99c version), riddled with filth-spreading, illtempered Dust Bunnies. Roomba Revenge Lite features  intuitive 'touch to move' control scheme, or on-screen joystick alternative, and sharing to Facebook and Twitter.  The marketing message is clear: buy a  Roomba 700 to take care of boring floor cleaning and you are free to play Roomba Revange instead. Happy Robotics!  

Robot Challenge 2012

Europe's Largest Robotics Competition for self-made, autonomous, and mobile robots will be taking place in Vienna in March 10-11, 2012. Robot designers will be competing against one another at the Aula der Wissenschaften in Vienna with their self-built autonomous robots in a total of 14 disciplines.  This will be the first year that flying robots will be sent into the race; they will have to outdo one another with fast and accurate navigation in three-dimensional space. This year, the event organisers, the Austrian Society for Innovative Computer Sciences (INNOC) and the Federal Ministry of Science and Research, are expecting 500 participants from over 20 countries.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Economic Outlook 2012-2013

Decisive policies must be urgently put in place to stop the euro area sovereign debt crisis from spreading and to put weakening global activity back on track, says the OECD's latest Economic Outlook. Watch Pier Carlo Padon, Chief Economist of the OECD. Check out his message below. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

World's First Elastic Cable for Robots

Roboden, Asahi Kasei
Japanese company Asahi Kasei has developed the world’s first elastic electrical cable “Roboden”. According to the video on their webside the cable can stretch by a factor of 1.5, “like the human skin.”
The company envisions humanoid robotics as one of the main applications. Typically, for robots to be able to articulate their rigid joints, roboticists have to include extra, slack wiring to accommodate the movement. A stretchy cable is more forgiving, eliminating the need for some of that slack.

European Robotics Projects 2011

Summary of a brand new report about the European Robotics Research Arena 2011.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

160 Million Euro for Robotics Projects in 2011

In 2011 about 160 million Euro have been invested in 42 new robotics FP7-projects. The European Union has funded these projects with 126 million Euro, most of them within ICT Challenge 2: Cognitive Systems and Robotics focusing at enabling technologies that apply across domains such as robotics and automation, sensing and process control, complex real-world systems, image recognition, natural language understanding, and automated reasoning and decision support.
The 2011 robotics projects cover a wide range of applications from elderly care and rehabilitation robots (ACCOMPANY,SOCIALROBOT, SCRIPT, CORBYS) to Human-robot interaction (SAPHARI, TOMSY) and Self learning robots (RUBICON, XPERIENCE).

The strengths of European robotics is an extensive network of 200+ research institutes and universities cooperating in many robotics related projects. Since year 2000 more than 200 projects with over 1000 participants and a total investment of  €700 million have been conducted. The European Commission (EC) has contributed with appr. € 550 million. More than 7000 man-months have been funded in cognitive vision, cognitive systems, advanced robotics and interaction projects.

New Language for Talking with Robots

Researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Department of Industrial Design, Designed Intelligence Group have developed a new spoken language called  RObot Interaction Language (ROILA) that is optimized for the communication between machines and humans. It is extremely easy to learn for humans and it is simple for machines to recognize. 
The simple grammar has no irregularities and the words are composed of phonemes that are shared among the majority of natural languages. The set of major phonemes was generated from the overview of natural languages. Moreover, the researchers composed a genetic algorithm that generated ROILA’s words in a way that they are easy to pronounce. The same algorithm makes sure that the words in the dictionary sound as different from each other as possible.  This helps the speech recognizer to accurately understand the human speaker.  

Below is an example of Asimov Laws in ROILA:
Jewomo kilu. Lobo waboki buse nijofa losa bebibe jilufe buno buse jilufe.
(Law 1. Robot must no damage man through act or no act.)
Jewomo seju. Lobo waboki nomes jilufe sojan fumene tuji bufo jifi pofan losa kenet similu bopup jewomo kilu.
Law 2. Robot must take act any order(s) give(n) by man, if agreement with Law one.
Jewomo tewajo. Lobo waboki pisal jalawe bamas fenob fomu takanu kenet similu bopup jewomo kilu sowu jewomo seju.
Law 3. Robot must make safe this life of self, if agreement with Law 1 and Law 2.

If you want to learn some basic ROILA please click here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

€M4,8 for Robotic Companion Elderly Project (FP7)

Care-o-bot 3, Fraunhofer

What is needed to provide quality of life for the elderly at home with help of robot companions in the future? What are the needs and preferences of the eldery and how can these needs become fulfilled with help of some interactive robotics friends? 
Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire belief in care robotics and have started developing a robotic system which they hope will be a suitable companion for older people. In the three-year, € 4.8 million  ACCOMPANY FP7 project the researchers will carry out research in the University’s Robot House, where they will use the interactive butler Care-o-bot® 3, developed by Fraunhofer IPA,to carry out a wide range of studies with focus on the specific user group of elderly people to assess their requirements and acceptance of the robot as part of an intelligent home environment. Results will then be fed back to adapt the technology so that it better suits user demands and preferences.  Other project partners are: Hogeschool Zuyd, Fraunhofer, University of Amsterdam, University of Sienna, MADoPA - a French expert centre and University of Birmingham.

Robots Target 100 Billion Stroke Care Market

Treatment of patients with stroke is a large national investment and is expected to increase 2 to 3 times in the future. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people suffer stroke worldwide each year. Of these, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled. Europe averages approximately 650,000 stroke deaths each year. (1)

The prevalence of ageing in developed  societies will lead to an increased number of people suffering from stroke leading to an enormous pressure on the healthcare systems in terms of cost. 

The Cost of Stroke
In average the healthcare expenditure cost for strokes across different countries in Europe and USA is 3% of their entire healthcare expenditure. This includes inpatient treatment cost, outpatient hospital visits and long-term rehabilitation and care. Analysis showed that costs of long-term care have increased from 13% to 49% of overall costs in average in recent years.

USA $43 Billion Stroke Cost
The total cost of stroke to the United States is estimated at $43 billion per year.
The direct costs of medical care and therapy are estimated at $28 billion per year. Indirect costs from lost productivity and other factors are estimated at $15 million per year. The average cost of care for a patient up to 90 days after stroke is $15,000. For 10 percent of patients, the cost of care for the first 90 days after a stroke is $35,000. (2)

Europe €38 Billion Stroke Cost
The total cost of stroke in the EU was calculated to be over 38 billion in 2006. This figure included healthcare costs (about 49% of the total cost), productivity loss due to disability and death (23% of the total cost) and informal care costs (29% of the total cost).(3)

Telerobotics for Stroke Care & Rehabilitation
A European consortium led by the Adaptive Systems Research Group University of Hertfordshire has recently started to work together in the EU-funded SCRIPT project (Supervised Care & Rehabilitation Involving Personal Tele-robotics) to develop rehabilitation technologies for use at home in he next three years. The research team will focus on hand and wrist exercise after stroke, look at differences between passive and active actuated devices, to make therapy sessions more enjoyable, to reduce hospital or home visit frequency by remote management and support and to infer impact on health and recovery and its potential cost implications. 

For more European Assistive Robotics projects see here

Robotic Mobility to Paraplegic Users

Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) are working toward providing mobility assistance to humans through robotic exoskeletons. People with a lower extremity paralysis are generally limited to wheeled devices for mobility assistance. IHMC researchers have designed powered and unpowered robotic exoskeletons to enable someone with no or limited unaided mobility to be able to walk with the assistance of the robotic device. The IHMC exoskeleton features four motors that are aligned with the user's hip and knee joints to restore ambulation. It is worn like a backpack with additional straps at the waist, thigh, and just below the knee. An onboard computer controls the motors to move in a walking fashion while the user provides balance with a pair of forearm crutches. With just a few hours of training, the two paraplegic evaluators were able to walk with minimal physical and cognitive effort.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Creative Electronics for Everyone

Electronics is everywhere but a mystery for many. But lack of insight and knowledge about basic electronic principles is a barrier for new ideas and creative solutions.
Ayah Bdeir ,engineer, Lebanese artist, MS
MIT media lab alumni has found a way to make electronics accessible for prototyping and play for everyone with littleBits, a system of modular electronics that snap together with magnets It’s the pipe cleaner and popsicle stick of the 21st century, it’s about breaking the barrier between the electronics we consume, and the ones we create, and helping to nurture the next generation of problem-solvers. There are over 50 littleBits modules, divided into 4 categories: power, input, output, wire. littleBits are simple, intuitive, space-sensitive blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together. Each bit has a simple, unique function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap to make larger circuits. With a growing number of available modules, littleBits aims to move electronics from late stages of the design process to its earliest ones, and from the hands of experts, to those of artists, makers, students and
designers.  Check out the video below.

Webshop price: US$ 129.95

Swarmrobots Enter Research Markets

Kilobot, Wyss
The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University recently announced that it has signed an agreement to license its Kilobot robotic technology to K-Team Corporation, a Swiss manufacturer of high-quality mobile robots for use in advanced education and research. K-Team robotics solutions are used in more than 600 universities and industrial research centers internationally.
Kilobot is a low-cost, easy-to-use robotic system for advancing development of "swarms" of robots that can be programmed to perform useful functions by coordinating interactions among the many individuals. These swarms are inspired by social insects, such as ant colonies, that can efficiently search for and find food sources in large complex environments, collectively transport large objects, and coordinate the building of nests and bridges in such environments.

The Kilobot is designed to make tests of collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers. Though the Kilobots are low-cost, they maintain abilities similar to other collective robots. These abilities include differential drive locomotion, on-board computation power, neighbor-to-neighbor communication, neighbor-to-neighbor distance sensing, and ambient light sensing. Additionally they are designed to operate such that no robot requires any individual attention by a human operator. This makes controlling a group of Kilobots easy, whether there are 10 or 1000 in the group.
The following video shows a Kilobot collective of up to 29 robot demonstrating some popular collective behaviors such as follow-the-leader and foraging.

US Special Price for a 10 pack: $1,237.50
K-Team Corporation is a Swiss company that develops, manufactures and markets high quality mobile robots for use in advanced education and research. The Khepera and Koala are now a standard for academic research, while the K-Junior robot is designed for teachers and hobbyists. The KoreBot II based on the KoreBot advanced miniature single board controller is a perfect solution for Automation and custom robotics developments.

Robotics: Science and Systems VI

Robotics: Science and Systems VI spans a wide spectrum of robotics, bringing together researchers working on the foundations of robotics, robotics applications, and the analysis of robotics systems. This volume presents the proceedings of the sixth Robotics: Science and Systems conference, held in 2010 at the University of Zaragoza, Spain. The papers presented cover a wide range of topics in robotics, spanning mechanisms, kinematics, dynamics and control, human-robot interaction and human-centered systems, distributed systems, mobile systems and mobility, manipulation, field robotics, medical robotics, biological robotics, robot perception, and estimation and learning in robotic systems. The conference and its proceedings reflect not only the tremendous growth of robotics as a discipline but also the desire in the robotics community for a flagship event at which the best of the research in the field can be presented.

About the Editors
Yoky Matsuoka is Torode Family Endowed Career Development Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Hugh Durrant-Whyte is Professor of Mechatronic Engineering at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Sydney.

José Neira is Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and System Engineering at the University of Zaragoza.
Table of Content 

Book Preview 2012: Robot Ethics

Robots today serve in many roles, from entertainer to educator to executioner. As robotics technology advances, ethical concerns become more pressing: Should robots be programmed to follow a code of ethics, if this is even possible? Are there risks in forming emotional bonds with robots? How might society--and ethics--change with robotics? 
eddited by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney and George A. Bekey is the first book to bring together prominent scholars and experts from both science and the humanities to explore these and other questions in this emerging field.  
Starting with an overview of the issues and relevant ethical theories, the topics flow naturally from the possibility of programming robot ethics to the ethical use of military robots in war to legal and policy questions, including liability and privacy concerns. The contributors then turn to human-robot emotional relationships, examining the ethical implications of robots as sexual partners, caregivers, and servants. Finally, they explore the possibility that robots, whether biological-computational hybrids or pure machines, should be given rights or moral consideration.

Ethics is often slow to catch up with technological developments. This authoritative and accessible volume fills a gap in both scholarly literature and policy discussion, offering an impressive collection of expert analyses of the most crucial topics in this increasingly important field.

Patrick Lin is a philosopher and Director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, based at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Keith Abney is a philosopher of science and Senior Lecturer at California Polytechnic State University.

George A. Bekey is Professor Emeritus in Computer Science at University of Southern California and Distinguished Professor of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University.

Flying Robots Construct Six Meter Tower

On December 2 in Orléans, France, a crew of four quadrocopters assembled a six-meter-tall tower using 1,500 foam blocks as part of the FRAC Centre's "Flight Assembled Architecture" exhibit. The project was a collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, whose researchers had previously taught these flying machines to juggle ping-pong balls.

Using motion capture technology, these autonomous flying robots assembled a 1:100 model of a 600-meter tall "vertical village" arcology designed to house 30,000 inhabitants

Autonomo 2030 - Autonomous Mobility

Industrial designer Charles Rattray, Melbourne, Australia is the brain behind Autonomo, a fully autonomous vehicle designed for the year 2030 to overcome many of the major problems facing many of the world’s major cities like Los Angeles face today. Its main sources of inspiration are drawn from biomimicry, sustainability, artificial intelligence and information technology.
The objectives of the Auonomo concept are to alleviate congestion, maximize access through the already existing road network, improve energy efficiency and create a completely carbon neutral transportation option. Rattray beliefs this can be achieved with minimal restructuring of the existing road infrastructure through the use of advanced smart technologies. Check out his visionary design video below.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Robotic Swarms Winning Video 2011

The main scientific objective of the Swarmanoid project (2006-2010), a Future and Emerging Technologies (FET-OPEN) project funded by the European Commission, was the design, implementation and control of a novel distributed robotic system. The system was be made up of heterogeneous, dynamically connected, small autonomous robots. Collectively, these robots form a swarmanoid comprised of numerous autonomous robots of three types: eye-bots, hand-bots, and foot-bots.  The video below won the AAAI 2011 video competition:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Swiss Robot for Kids

Thymio II/EPFL
Swiss scientists at EPFL have developed an educational robot designed to introduce children to technology in schools priced inexpensively (about 99 francs, or $110 U.S.).
The Thymio II is an affordable educational robot and provides three main features: a large amount of sensors and actuators, a specific interactivity based on light and touch, aimed at increasing the understanding of the robot functionalities and a very efficient programming environment based on Aseba, a simple language, that contains the principle concepts of programming.
The Thymio II is produced and sold by the mobsya association.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Effects of Robot Seal Paro in Swedish Dementia Care

A Swedish study conduced at the Department of Computer and Information Science at University of Linkoping examined how a social robot can be used in Swedish dementia care and which effects it has on patients. The robot used was the Japanese seal robot PARO that have been developed to provide the same effects as live animals in pet therapy. Contact with animals often results in activity and everyday joy which also are important concepts in the care of people with dementia.
The study was conducted as a five-week case study in a nursing home. The empirical data consisted of direct observations of the residents' interaction with Paro, and semi-structured interviews with staff. Observations were recorded as field notes. The results indicate that the seal, like real animals, can bring activity and well-being of some individuals and encourage a group discussion and increased social contact. However, the staff  compared PARO with a much simpler toys and found that they had similar effects, suggesting that its proactive behavior and functions of speech recognition is not sophisticated enough, alternatively, had been ruled out completely. It is therefore concluded that Paro, to some extent corresponds expectations but that the benefits of an advanced social robot still questionable.

Conclusions from Denmark
In Denmark PARO has been used and evaluated in the PARO project 2008-2010 at the Danish Institute of Technology. In 2008 media reported that Denmark had plans to purchase 1,000 PAROs for use in health care facilities. Denmark was the first country in the world working towards professionalizing the use of welfare robots like Paro, amongst other things, to train and certify welfare and social workers.  The conclusion in Denmark was that professional caregivers must be confident with Paro and motivated for the use and experimentation, i.e. they must learn how to use Paro (professionaly and ethically) at a one-day Certification Course. Successful use of Paro depends on an individual approach to every unique user, i.e. situation and reactions to the technology must be reflected by the caregiver. Paro can entertain, win confidence and stimulate laughter, anger, creativity, communication, discussions, (self)performance, spontaneity, dreams, care giving etc.

Hand Gesture Controlled Vacuum Cleaner

Master student Dmitrij Juzovitski, at the School of Industrial Design , University of Lund asked why robotic vacuum cleaners are not a regular part of our everyday lives. The concept of a completely automated robotic aid to help us with our chores seems, at glance, an attractive proposition. He interviewed various groups of users and found out that most robotic vacuum cleaners do have some technical problems like limitations in suction power and inability to handle long strands of hair. But, surprisingly, the typical users did not seem to mind, in fact most users were very happy with their robots. In contrast, interviews with people with little or no experience with robotic vacuums reveals a far more skeptical approach. Mainly, this group exposed a trust issue, where a majority feared that the robot would be uncontrollable and would cause problems if and when it went unsupervised. In his master thesis design project he focused on an innovative idea to provide a feeling of control to the user. The result allows for a big measure of control over the robotic vacuum cleaner, while still keeping its autonomy. This is achieved with a design concept utilizing a hand recognition system that was inspired by research into our relation and interaction with pets.

His idea correspondents very well with the new trend to apply gesture technology such as Wii and Kinect to robotic applications.  Master thesis link here.

Open Robotics from the Netherlands

TU/e AMIGO care robot
Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has launched the Robotic Open Platform (ROP), an open source system for robot hardware. The aim of this project is to become a large plug and play library to which robot builders worldwide can add their designs or improve existing ones. The higher goal is to accelerate the development of applications such as care robots, and to make them much cheaper than they are at present. TU/e itself is making available the complete blueprints of its AMIGO care robot and the well known TU/e soccer robots. The heart of the Robotic Open Platform is a Wiki, in which all participants can make their designs available for others to copy or improve. The aim is for all elements in the Wiki to fit together seamlessly, both literally and figuratively, for example by standardization.
The Robotic Open Platform will be the hardware counterpart of the existing ROS (Robot Operating System) open source system for robot software. This was started in 2007 in the USA, and many robot developers have joined in the initiative. For example the software of AMIGO is also based on the principles developed in ROS. 
Elderly Care Robotics in the Netherlands
The recently started Bobbie project aims to bootstrap a Dutch industry for personal robots for the elderly care by setting design standards, Integrating existing robot components and testing the system, and developing a research platform based on these tests. 
Robotic Hand Made in The Netherlands
Lacquey BV develops robotic hands that can handle a broad variety of shapes and sizes, and can delicately handle fragile products. The patented technology is based on extensive research at Delft University of Technology.