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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The nEUROn maiden flight

Credit: Dessault Aviation, nEUROn 2012
On December 1st, the nEUROn, Europe’s unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) stealth technology demonstrator, successfully completed its maiden flight from the Dassault Aviation company’s flight test base in Istres, in collaboration with the flight test personnel of the French defense procurement agency (DGA).
The a €405 million nEUROn was launched in 2005 with Dassault Aviation as prime contractor. The program was designed to pool the skills and know-how of Alenia Aermacchi (Italy), Saab (Sweden), EADS-CASA (Spain), HAI (Greece), RUAG (Switzerland) and Thales (France). It defines a future for the aeronautic excellence of Europe.
With a length of 10 meters, a wingspan of 12.5 meters and an empty weight of 5 tons, the aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca “Adour” engine.  The nEUROn will continue to undergo testing in France until 2014, at which time it will be sent to Vidsel in Sweden for a series of operational trials. It will then go to the Perdadesfogu range (Italy) for further tests, in particular firing and stealth measurements.
The nEUROn programme is promoted as "a major opportunity for the European industry to develop its capabilities in the UAV field, to keep and maintain its competences in order to be ready for the design of the next generation of European combat aircraft, and to experience a new programme management process, optimized through an innovative international cooperation scheme."
Check out the official maiden flight video here.

AeroVironment invests $3 million in Swedish CybAero

Credit. CybAero
AeroVironment Inc.(NASDAQ: AVAV) the clear leader in the man-portable, hand-launched UAS market, has announced a strategic partnership with Sweden-based CybAero (NASDAQOMXS: CBA) and will invest up to $3 million in CybAero convertible notes. The agreement secures exclusive rights to distribute larger, higher flying, longer endurance vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in United States, NATO and other countries. The agreement expands AeroVironment family of unmanned aircraft systems capabilities beyond hand-launched category to address market requirements.

United States military customers typically segment the numerous types of unmanned aircraft systems they employ by size, weight, endurance and range into different tiers. Man-portable, hand-launched systems such as AeroVironment’s RQ-11B Raven®, RQ-20A Puma® AE and Wasp® AE that weight less than 20 pounds comprise the Tier I segment. Tier II UAS include heavier, larger and longer endurance systems with longer range, such as CybAero’s VTOL offering. Tiers III and IV include air vehicles of increasing size, capable of even longer endurance and range and requiring larger support teams and infrastructure requirements.

CybAero APID 60

The APID 60 is a safe, reliable, and cost-effective alternative for both civilian and military use in remote and hazardous regions, or even in life-threatening situations where personnel may be in danger. The APID 60 helps to minimize unnecessary use of personnel, vehicles, and equipment while conducting dangerous and/or monotonous and repetitive work over long durations of time

APID 60 is an unmanned autonomous helicopter designed to carry payload and fuel up to 75 kg. The helicopter has a maximum take-off weight of 180 kg and small enough to be transported in a trailer or a small truck.The control system for APID 60 flies the helicopter without assistance from the operator and also takes care of autonomous take-offs and landings. With the help of inertial navigation sensors, GPS, and other sensors the control system keeps the helicopter stable in the air and navigates according to the operator’s commands.

The helicopter is powered by a 55 horsepower water-cooled two-stroke engine. The Bell-Hiller system main rotor has a diameter of 3.3 m. The operator controls the helicopter from the ground station via a radio link. The operator uses an ordinary laptop computer with a graphical user interface for controlling the helicopter. The operator uses the computer to plan the helicopter’s route and to monitor it during flight.

CybAero AB, formed in 2003 and headquartered in Mjärdevi Science Park in Linköping, develops, manufactures and sells autonomous, unmanned helicopters (called VTOL UAVs) and related sensor systems for both defense and civilian missions. CybAero was formed on the foundations laid in 1992 through research collaboration between Linköping University and the FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency). Today, with its CybAero brand APID has established itself as a leading global player in VTOL UAV  field. The company's product APID has received considerable global attention through its ease of use, robustness, and price effciency. The company has about 20 employees and reported 12 million SEK sales in 2011 (-58%).

AeroVironment is a world leading system provider and operator in the UAV field and in electricity based transport solutions. Customers in the U.S. Department of Defense and the armed forces are using electric and hand launched UAVs for tactical requirements such as realtime reconnaissance, surveillance and communication. A number of U.S.government agencies have participated in the financing, development and demonstration of Global Observer ®, which is a hybrid technology-driven UAVs operating in the stratosphere and can be used for communication or surveillance globally from a single base. AeroVironment’s electricity-based transport solutions covering a wide range of systems such as charging systems for electric vehicles, installation and network services for consumers, automakers, suppliers and government agencies, as well as test systems and industrial charging systems.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Danish hospital first in Europe with TUG logistics robot

Credit: DTI/Aethon
The Danish hospital Sygehus Sønderjylland is first in Europe to use logistics robot TUG, developed by the American company Aethon. TUG specially constructed for intern logistics is already used in more than 140 hospitals in the USA.
With TUG project supported by the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) Sygehus Sønderjylland seeks to automate the transportation of blood samples from the emergency department to the laboratory, saving staff time that can be re-allocated to improving patient care. Eventually, TUG will be assigned more routes and other things to transport at Sygehus Sønderjylland.

Will robots take over hospital jobs?
Aethon markets the logistics robot TUG as ‘augmenting’ human workers – giving medical personnel more time to work with patients and less time hauling supplies. For hospitals robots mean improved productivity and cost saving. According to a hospital administrator at the El Camino Hospital in Silicon Valley quoted in the Businessweek article 19 TUGs performed US$ 1 million of human labor per year, but only cost $350,000. A 65% reduction in labor costs. It's obvisious that TUG robots have a cost advantage over human workers doing the same job. In times of exploding medical costs and budget crisis robots and other forms of machine automation are therefor a serious threat for hospital workers.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Will sentient robot companions rescue aging Europe?

Credit: Dan Chen, End of life caring machine
In "End of Life Caring Machine", media artist and roboticist Dan Chen explores the deceptions through technology and replacement of humanity with robotics. With his provocative installation Chen ultimately asks: "What is intimacy without humanity?
The artistic robot reflects a complex issue in the cross road of human values, global trends, sci-tech interests and socio-economic challenges.

European robot visions

While a majority of European citizens will ban the use of robots in child and elderly care, as reported here before, hundred of million Euros have already been invested in robotic road maps and research projects to develop robot companions and ambient living assistants for elderly and disabled people.
In the last decade the European Commission has co-funded appr. 100-150 M€ in robotics research to develop advanced technical aids for promoting independent living and improving quality of life. So far the transfer of scientific knowledge from prototypes into reliable, human-safe and affordable consumer products has been very limited. Much more investment in research, development and testing will be needed in the coming decade before robots are ready to take place in private homes or public care facilities in Europe and other parts of the world.

1000 million Euro Companion Robot

Credit: RoboCom
The most ambitious European initiative comes from Italy and Paolo Dario, Professor of robotics at Scuola Superiore Sant’Ann, who will launch a large scale European S&T Research Programme to create robots that will co-exist and work together with humans. The RoboCom project, which stands for Robot Companions for Citizens, is promoted as "a bridge between science and sustainable welfare ...designed to capitalize on the synergy resulting from the convergence of science and engineering." Prof. Dario and his multidisciplinary research consortium of 73 partners from 24 European and other collaborating countries including the leading research centers of science and technology are finally competing with 5 other pilot projects in the European Future and Emerging Technology (FET) Flagship Challenge to be chosen as a full FET Flagship Initiative in 2013 with a funding support of appr. 1000 million EURO from the European Commission.

Sustainable welfare and quality of life

According to the public project proposal report the benefits for the European society will be "sustainable welfare that will enhance the quality of life of the European population with its rapidly changing demographics. This sustainable welfare will take the form of sentient robot companions that will be produced, distributed and serviced through a unique value chain with a substantial and revolutionary economic impact."  In the report the researchers envisage impacts in many spheres of human existence—private, social, economic, urban and physical. Illustrated by a use-case scenario for the year 2023 a future robot companion might be smart enough to assist an elderly couple when shopping. When getting older and disabled more complex support and assisting tasks will be needed of  an increasing number of European citizens.
Credit: RoboCom, Illustration of a use-case of the
WorkCompanion Platforms at year 10 and beyond.

Higher Aging Costs in Europe

According to the “The 2012 Ageing Report: Economic and budgetary projections for the EU27 Member States (2010-2060)”, analyzing the economic and budgetary impact of an ageing population over the long-term, the share of older people is project to rise from 17% to 30% in 2060. As a consequence, the EU would move from having four people of working-age to each person aged over 65 years to about two people of working-age.
On the basis of current policies, age-related public expenditures (pensions, health-care and long-term care) are projected to increase by 4.1 percentage points to around to around 29% of GDP between 2010 and 2060. Public pension expenditure alone is projected to rise by 1.5 percentage points to nearly 13% of GDP by 2060.

Robotic Care Vision

Credit: ALIAS, Metra Lab
European policy makers, researchers and welfare experts are convinced that Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) and Social  Service Robots (SSR) have the potential to become key components in coping with Europe’s demographic and aging cost changes in the coming decades. There is also consensus from past experiences with service robots that acceptance, usability and affordability will be the prime factors for any successful introduction of robotic technology into the homes of older people.
Service robotics has been identified and is promoted as a new sector with strong industrial potential of growth and development. Integration and interoperability of robotics components with smart environments and more precise services are key objectives for further research and development.

European Care Robotics Projects 

In the minds of many young robot researchers elderly people might expect mobile robot systems that interacts with them, monitor them and provide cognitive assistance in daily life, and will support social inclusion. (ALIAS).
Credit: Robosoft/Domeo
In the future human-robot interaction will increase from the range of minutes to the range of days thanks to robotic companions as part of an intelligent environment (ALIZE-E). Robots will provide a range of services to older users to facilitate independent living at home. Robots will offer assistance at every stage of life, new robotics platforms will integrate and adapt to personalized home care services, including cognitive and physical assistance (ACCOMPANY). Low-budget mass-market robots will improve well-being of elderly and efficiency in elderly care (FLORENCE). Smart nurse-bots and socially assistive robots will use the World Wide Web to store and retrieve learned tasks and actions. These robots will learn form each other and apply new knowledge in their own setting (RoboEarth). Robots will be able to follow a user and guide him or her through their home, assisting with alert functions and also learning user-defined objects to be able to retrieve them (HOBBIT). Robots will help elderly people, especially those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), with their daily activities and care needs and provide the means for effective self-management of their disease (KSERA). Home care robots will also monitor and detect critical situations which need prompt medical attention for elderly people, especially people with cardiovascular diseases (Robo M.D.). Remotely-controlled, semi-autonomous robotic solutions will support elderly people in domestic, intelligent environments. (SRS, MoBiServe).

List of some EC-funded assisted robotics projects:
  • ACCOMPANY- Acceptable robotiCs COMPanions for AgeiNg Years
  • ALIAS - Adaptable Ambient Living Assistant
  • ALIZE - Adaptive Strategies for Sustainable Long-Term Social Interaction
  • COMPANIONABLE - Integrated Cognitive Assistive & Domotic Companion Robotic Systems for Ability & Security
  • DOMEO - Domestic Robot for Elderly Assistance
  • ExCITE - Enabling SoCial Interaction Through Embodiment
  • FLORENCE - Multi Purpose Mobile Robot for Ambient Assisted Living
  • HERMES - Cognitive care and guidance for active aging
  • HOBBIT - Multi Purpose Mobile Robot for Ambient Assisted Living
  • KSERA - Knowledgeable SErvice Robots for Aging
  • MobiServ - Integrated Intelligent Home Environment for the Provision of Health, Nutrition and -  MOBIlity SERVices to the Elderly
  • RoboEarth - Robots sharing a knowledge base for world modelling and learning actions
  • Robo M.D. - Home care robot for monitoring and detection of critical situations
  • SRS - Multi-Role Shadow Robotic System for Independent Living
For more information please visit each project´s homepage. 

If you want to watch the Last Moment Robot take care of a (fake) patient, as well as deliver its last-words-you-hear-on-earth speech, please click below:

KIBO Robot project

Credit: KIBO Robot project 
A Japanese humanoid communication robot being developed by the KIBO Robot project, a joint research project being carried out under a collaboration by Dentsu Inc., the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo (RCAST) and ROBO GARAGE Co., Ltd., is expected to be completed in February 2013. In the summer of the same year, it will be sent to the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” in the International Space Station (ISS).
The project is aimed to create a humanoid communication robot that will be a companion for the Japanese astronauts, who will be living and working in the Kibo Experiment Module. The 34 cm (13 inches) large KIBO robot will be used to communicate with the astronauts via autonomous actions and remote operations. The robot will also transmit information from the Kibo module to Earth.
In winter 2013 the robot will come face-to-face with Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese commander of the ISS, and will take part in the world’s first conversation experiment held between a person and a robot in outer space. A second robot with the same specifications will be built to serve as a backup and for demonstration purposes on Earth.  Koichi Wakata, born 1 August 1963) is a Japanese engineer and a JAXA astronaut. Wakata is a veteran of four NASA Space Shuttle missions and a long-duration stay on the International Space Station.[1] During a nearly two decade career in spaceflight he has logged five months in space. Wakata is currently assigned to the Soyuz TMA-11M/Expedition 38/Expedition 39 long duration spaceflight scheduled for 2013-2014. He will be the first Japanese commander of the Space Station during Expedition 39.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eating robots improve quality of life and save man-years

Credit: DTI,  eating robots 
"Robots should not be used to care for people!"
60% of EU citizens are saying that robots should be banned. when it comes to the care of children, elderly people and people with disabilities, according to the Special Eurobarometer survey "Public attitudes towards robots"
Meanwhile different nursing homes, assisted living facilities and municipalities in Europe are currently discovering testing and buying new robotic technology to improve support services, independence and quality of support services. A new evaluation report "Eating robot for citizens with physical handicaps" compiled by Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Robot Technology reveals positive results when using self-feeding robots.
Credit: Neater
From January 2011 to May 2012, the Danish National Board of Social Services, the Danish Center for Assistive Technology and supplier  Jadea conducted a DKR 4 million project, evaluated by DTI, Robot Technology, where two different self-feeding machines, Neater Eater Manuel (NEM ) and Neater Eater Electric (NEE) were tested in relation to 36 citizens with physical disabilities. The aim of the project has been to make individuals with disability in arms and legs, who have been fed during meals, completely or partially independent by use of the self-feeding machines. With the project, the machines have not only implied a reduced need for personal assistance and support in connection with feeding, but the citizens have also gained an increased life quality, independence, and freedom.
Save man-years
DTI estimates that 16 minutes and 44 seconds of staff assistance are saved per meal, when an eating assistance machine is used. It is calculated that the payback time typically is 95 days with the NEM model and 206 days with the NEE model, and that the annual resource reduction of national implementation in the actual target group is 317 man-years. With a professional, competent visitation of the self-feeding technology, the machines can profitably be used by a wide group of people with physical disabilities, create improved life quality, independence, and freedom for the individual besides the fact that the technology gives evident resource savings.
Based on the positive effects from the project DTI comes to the conclusion that a lot of more citizens could profit by self-feeding machines, for instance children with disabilities in arms and hands who are ready to eat by themselves, as well as physically challenged individuals with sclerosis, muscular dystrophy etc. living at home. If the machines are not only used at the residences but also at drop-in centers and nursing homes, more resident satisfaction and saved manpower are to be found.
New Korean eating robot
Credit: Intech, Won-Kyung Song, Jongbae Kim
A new and more advance eating robot has been developed at the Korea National Rehabilitation Research Institute and Korea National Rehabilitation Center capable of handling Korean food, including sticky rice. Users are people with physical disabilities who have limited arm function. During the development of the robot, the researchers considered the feedback provided by several users and experts. In addition, the user candidates tested the actual the self-feeding robot. It was determined that the input device has the most important role. Many users prefer a dual joystick for self-feeding. Most of the users who participated in the experiments gave positive feedback and some users were impressed that they were able to eat their desired food when they wanted to eat it. In future work several functions will be added to the robot, including improving the reliability of basic operations and adding a safety feature.

IEEE robot collection 2012

Credit: IEEE Spectrum
Technology magzine IEEE Spectrum has launched its first iPad app "Robots" featuring 126 robots from 19 countries. The app includes technical data, interactive images, a robotic timeline and glossary. Robots can be viewed in 360 degree views and searched by type, country, date and size.
The app is updated daily with news from Spectrum, and it even includes advice on getting started in robotics, with audio contributions from leading roboticists like Rodney Brooks and Colin Angle.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Robots in the factory of the future

The "Factories of the Future" is one of the three Public-Private Partnership included in the European Commission's recovery package launched in December 2008 to address the economic crisis. It consists of a research programme of 1.2 B$ to support the manufacturing industry in the development of new and sustainable technologies. The main goal of this initiative is to help European industry to stay competitive and to meet future challenges by converting to a demand-driven industry with higher quality, lower waste generation and energy consumption. The overall motivation is to keep high-tech and low-cost production in Europe and even getting it back from low-wage countries.

The Global Manufacturing Challenge

Credit: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Statistics of the the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the last 40 years confirms the down trend of employment in manufacturing in Europe, USA and  Japan. In Britain, for example, the share of employment held by manufacturing has fallen 21.9% in the last few decades, from 33.9% in 1971 to 12% in 2008.

But manufacturing is still the driving force of the European economy, contributing over 6500 B€ in GDP and providing more than 30 million jobs. It covers more than 25 different industrial sectors, largely dominated by SMEs, and generates annually 1500 B€ of value added. The long-term shift from a cost-based competitive advantage to one based on high added value requires that European manufacturing increases its technological base and develops a number of new enabling production technologies with cross-sectoral benefits. To cope with increasing demand for greener, more customised and higher quality products European factories will need new concepts, methods and tools for competitive manufacturing.  

New human-robot interactive cooperation in advanced factory environments
One important component in the factory of the future envisioned by leading industry and research stakeholders in the Strategic mulit-annual roadmap (2010) will be smart, plug & produce, robotic co-workers which collaborate with humans in open and safe working environments.
In the minds of industrialists and manufacturing experts effective collaboration between robots and humans is based on the use of an efficient interface whereby a human can communicate and interact with a robot almost as efficiently as he would with another human. This means human-robot collaboration needs to be facilitated by a number of capabilities built into the robot and the robot interfaces, including voice recognition, natural language and gesture understanding, as well as behaviours supporting dynamic autonomy. By aiming to shorten ramp-up times and increase machine availability, the development of intrinsic machine safety concepts for increasing human-robot and human–machine interaction is required for reliable protection for machine operators and maintenance personnel.
Some research projects co-funded by the EC to develop new concepts and robotic platforms for manufacturing of the future are listed below.
Co-worker robots in the auto factory
The European automotive industry and their component manufacturers are facing the biggest shift in their history. The transition from combustion engines to electric drives (e-vehicle) requires production facilities that can initially deal with low and varying production volumes and can quickly be up-scaled to large numbers at need.
The LOCOBOT research project, coordinated by Austrian research company PROFACTOR, provides a solution to this problem by developing a flexible robotic assistant platform to support manual production processes and increase the productivity and precision of such tasks. LOCOBOT does not only include the robot itself but also the engineering tools that are required for quickly building the robot, setting up its control structure and defining its tasks.
The prime objective of LOCOBOT project is to create a tool-kit for low-cost robot assistants built from a set of plug-and-produce kinematic modules with compliant, but precise actuators and intelligent sensing for man-machine cooperation. These scenario-driven systems are socially accepted by the worker. The tool-kit will provide higher flexibility, adaptivity and scalability that are all required to enable greener, more customized and high quality products.
The 5,3 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 3.7 M€.

Plug-and-produce robots for precise machine milling
Forced by challenging and dynamic economic environments European high-end manufacturing industry focus on high flexibility, high quality, reliability and low life-cycle costs and quick respond to changes in competitive markets. The high-end manufacturing industry requests production systems that can quickly switch between diverse machining operations with short changeover, programming and set-up times without compromising quality, reliability or life-cycle costs.
Credit: COMET
Today industrial robots can be used for more precise machine milling for things such as aerospace components. One of the key goals of the COMET research project, coordinated by Delcam PLC Ltd, is to develop an innovative Plug-and-Produce robotics platform that can compete against five-axis machine tools. The consortium including partners from 8 different countries is targeting the moving control optimisation of industrial robots by making use of high qualified equipment and software, scoping on the development of an immediate exploitable platform solution. The 7.7 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 5.2 M€.

Smart robots in the footware factory 
With more than 26.000 companies and almost 400.000 employees footwear industry is still relevant in Europe. However the trend shows a clear decline on business figures; low cost countries are becoming an obvious threat for the future of the sector.

European fashion footwear production is currently mainly handcrafted. Some manufacturing processes are assisted by specialized machinery and there exist highly automated lines in mass production of technical shoes, i.e. safety footwear, but most production especially true in the case of high added value shoes production, where Europe maintains its leadership, is still handmade.
The 10 partners consortium of the Robofoot research project, coordinated by Fundación Tekniker, will increase the competitivness of the industry by introducing intelligent robotics in highly complex production processes that accounts for some of the shortest production runs to be found- eight pairs of shoes is the average order size.
The 3.7 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 2.5 M€.

The Transformable Factory of the Future
Credit: TAPAS
The TAPAS research project, coordinated by German robot manufacturer KUKA Roboter GmbH, aims to optimise European production and to prevent manufacturing jobs from migrating to low wage economies by breaking new ground in robot-based automation and logistics. TAPAS is thereby paving the ground for a new generation of transformable solutions to automation and logistics for small and large series production. Future factories will be enabled to engage in more effective and streamlined production, economically viable and flexible, regardless of changes in volumes and product type.
The overall objective of TAPAS is to break new ground in robot-based automation and logistics as the backbone of a transformable factory of the future, enabling an economic production regardless of changes in volumes and product type. The 5.2M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 3.4M€.

The robot apprentice   
Credit: PRACE
Driven by the trend to a more and more customer specific production the boundary conditions for assembly automation have changed significantly. As the systems available on the market cannot cover this extreme flexibility towards weekly changing applications new robot system concepts are needed.
The concept idea of the PRACE research project, coordinated by German Robert Bosch GmbH, is the dual-arm, mobile robot apprentice, who learns from a human master by instructing certain skills by demonstration. The apprentice robot watches the actions and effects to categorize this newly gathered knowledge into his knowledge base. Then, while applying this new skill, the master corrects the execution by refining the experience. This loop is iterated until the master is satisfied with the result. The trained robot will then operate without safeguards to reach the target of fast setup times and to remain competitive with the human worker.
The 4.8M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 3.4M€.

Robots for Post Production
The Thermobot research project, coordinated by the University of Padua, Italy, aims to provide fully automated non-destructive testing in post production and in regular maintenance with the use of thermographic imaging, an automatic path and motion planning model and thermo-image analysis.
The 3.5 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 2.5 M€.

The MiRoR research project, coordinated by the University of Nottingham, UK,  aims to develop a fundamentally novel concept of a Miniaturised Robotic Machine (Mini-RoboMach) system, that equipped with intelligence-driven and autonomous abilities, will be demonstrated for holistic in-situ repair and maintenance of large and/or intricate installations.
The 5 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 3.4 M€.

The MAINBOT research project, coordinated by Fundación Tekniker, Spain, will take available wheeled mobile platforms and climbing robots, adapting them to fulfil the industrial objectives of autonomous navigation, mobile manipulation and sensor fusion instantiated in a real industrial scenario.
The 3.8 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 2.5 M€.

Credit: Cablebot
The CableBOT research project, coordinated by Fundación Fatronik Tecnalia, Spain, aims to develop a new generation of modular and reconfigurable robotic devices that are capable of performing many different steps in the life-cycle stages of large-scale structures. Parallel cable robots extend the payloads and workspace of conventional industrial robots by more than two orders of magnitude. The main objective is to develop a new generation of modular and reconfigurable robots able to perform many different steps in the post-production of large-scale structures.
The 4.4 M€ project is co-funded by the EC FP7 with 3 M€.

Toshiba develops tetrapod disaster robot

Credit: Toshiba

Toshiba Corporation has announced that it has developed a tetrapod robot able to carry out investigative and recovery work in locations that are too risky for people to enter, such as Tokyo Electric Power Plant Fukushima No.1 Nuclear power plant.
The new 65 kg robot integrates a camera and dosimeter and can investigate the condition of nuclear power plants by remote-controlled operation. The multiple joints of its legs are controlled by a dedicated movement algorithm that enables the robot to walk on uneven surfaces, avoid obstacles and climb stairs, securing access into areas that is challenging to be reached by wheeled robots or crawlers. The robot also has a folding arm that can release a companion smaller robot that mounts a second camera. This can be launched from the main robot and positioned to take images of narrow places and any equipment behind them, and tubes and other places that are too small for the robot to enter. It is connected to the main robot by a cable. The robot can operate 2 hours  (continuous use) and walk 1km/hr.
Toshiba will continue research and development on capabilities and operation of the robot so as to enable it to position and install shielding, stop flows of water and remove obstacles.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

HRW Warning: Stop the killer robots!

Governments should pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday. These future weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention. The 50-page report, “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots,” outlines concerns about these fully autonomous weapons, which would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. In addition, the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law’s power to deter future violations.
Based on the threats fully autonomous weapons would pose to civilians, Human Rights Watch and IHRC make the following recommendations, which are expanded on at the end of this report:

To All States

  • Prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument.
  • Adopt national laws and policies to prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.
  • Commence reviews of technologies and components that could lead to fully autonomous weapons. These reviews should take place at the very beginning of the development process and continue throughout the development and testing phases.

To Roboticists and Others Involved in the Development of Robotic Weapons

Establish a professional code of conduct governing the research and development of autonomous robotic weapons, especially those capable of becoming fully autonomous, in order to ensure that legal and ethical concerns about their use in armed conflict are adequately considered at all stages of technological development.
Download the full report (PDF, 3.51 MB)

Check also the Youtube video below

Robots on stage

Credit: Seinendan, Sayonara
The Japanese theater company Seinendan and Ishiguro Laboratory at Osaka University are exploring new dimensions of human-robot-interaction on stage, a new field involving a fusion of theater, arts and science.
The first full-scale robot-human theater production "I, Worker" in 2008 featured two robots named Takeo and Momoko and a young couple, the Mayamas, who live with two robots. While Momoko plays an essential role in the family through her work, Takeo suffers mental illness and loses his motivation to work. This play casts a question of what work means to us as humans, by portraying a robot that cannot work, although by definition, robots were made to work.
The short play Sayonara tells a story of a young girl facing terminal illness and her gentle caretaker android who reads poetry to her. But when the androids mechanics go awry, the meaning of life and death to humans and robots comes into question. Sayonara asks challenging and provocative questions about the essence of life, death and what it means to be human. The interaction between actor and robot provides a compelling narrative and exudes a powerful philosophical tension.

In 2013 the robots will be on tour in the U.S. and on stage in Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH),  January 31 – February 2, Philadelphia Live Arts (Philadelphia, PA), February 15-16, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (Burlington, VT), February 21-22, Canadian Stage (Toronto, Canada), February 26 – March 2, and Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, PA), March 8-9. More info here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The world's first mind-controlled implantable robotic arm

Credit: Chalmers, Max Ortiz Catalan
The world's first implantable robotic arm controlled by thoughts is developed by researcher Max Ortiz Catalan, at the Department of Signals and Systems, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, and at Integrum AB. This winter the first patients will be operated with this revolutionary device.
Every year thousands of people around the world lose an arm or a leg. With the new technology patients will get a brand new and mind controlled body part.
Ever since the 1960s amputees have been using prostheses that are controlled by electrical impulses in the muscles, but the technology for controlling prostheses has not evolved much since then. For example there are very advanced electric prosthetic hands, but they are not used as much because they are so difficult to control. All movements must be pre-programmed, says Max Ortiz Catalan. It's like having a Ferrari without a steering wheel. The researchers at Chalmers have therefore developed a new control system from scratch. The usual prostheses are fixed directly to the skin surface of the amputated stump, which is so uncomfortable that only 50 percent of the amputees are willing to use them. In this research project the prosthesis is anchored directly into the human skeleton with the world-famous Brånemark screw, so-called osseointegration. Osseointegration is crucial by employing implantable electrodes permanently accessible through the Osseointegrated Human-Machine Gateway (OHMG). The OHMG is a bidirectional interface that allows permanent communication into the human body, and it is the key development of this project.
Mind controlled prosthesis
To obtain the electrical impulses to control the prosthesis electrodes has been previously attached outside the body to the skin. The problem is that the impulse change when the skin is involved, since the electrodes are then moved to another position. The impulses are also affected if the patient sweats. In this project, researchers are implanting electrodes directly on the nerves inside the body. The body protects the electrodes and electrical impulses are more stable. Osseointegration is used to receive signals from within the body to the prosthesis. The electrical impulses from nerves in the arm stump are caught up in the OHMG interface inside the titanium screw, which enhances and transfers impulses to all parts of the prosthesis. It allows a patient to control the prosthesis in a more natural and intuitive way.
From the lab to the patients
Many of the patients in the project have been amputated for more than ten years and have never touched their hands during that time, says Max Ortiz Catalan. When they came to the lab they had to test a virtual reality environment to evaluate the researchers technical algorithms. They got electrodes on their amputation stumps so that they could control more advanced prosthesis. This made the patients very enthusiastic. By testing the method on some patients, the researchers could show that the method works, and will now go further with clinical trials and development of the method.
Check out the video demo below of controlling an arm in a virtual environment.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

European Robotics Week 2012

The 2nd European Robotics Week will will be from 26 November to 2 December 2012 and offers one week of 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.

Events are organised locally by scientists, labs, teachers, schools, robotics engineers, robot makers etc), but centrally listed and co-promoted by European Robotics Coordination Action (euRobotics) an EU project supported by the Seventh Framework Programme of the Information and Communication Technology.
Credit: euRobotics 2011, Alena and Luisa, 10th grade, 
Henry-Benrath School, Friedberg, Germany
The first European Robotics Week was held from November 28 to December 4, 2011.  More than 130 organisations (companies, universities, research institutes) in 19 European countries organised over 360 robotics related activities. About 80,000 people have been reached across Europe, many of them high school students and elementary school pupils.

Lego robot controlled from space

Credit: ESA
Researchers from the METERON space project have for the first time ever successfully controlled a LEGO robot at ESA's Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, from the International Space Station (ISS) using Nasa's Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol.
On October 23, American astronaut Sunita Williams had ~1.5 hrs to set up the ESA METERON (Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network) payload and conduct an initial Operations & Communications Test Part 1 (OPSCOM-1) of the Rover Control Software, time-sequenced with an actual LEGO rover on the ground in Germany (constrained to a 2.5-hr battery life).

METERON is an ESA led international space project for advanced telerobotics technology demonstration involving the International Space Station. METERON is targeted at validating autonomous and real-time telerobotic operations from space to ground.
METERON is being carried out in partnership with DLR (Institute of Robotics & Mechatronics), NASA (Johnson Space Centre, AMES Research Centre, Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Roscosmos with Russian partners (RTC Institute St. Petersburg, Energia).
Check out the video trailer below.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

European robotics law

Credit: Wikipedia/
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, "bladerunner" Oscar Pistorius became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics when he entered the men's 400 metres race and was part of South Africa's 4 × 400 metres relay team.
Experts in bionics, robotics and AI work intensively together to find new and better solutions to eliminate most of human disabilities in the coming decades. With the introduction of technical innovations such as bionic legs, bionic eyes and neural prostheses common ideas about disability, identity and human rights are challenged.

The European RoboLaw project funded to the tune of €1.9m ($2.3m), of which €1.4m comes from the European Commission, is an effort to anticipate critical social and ethical issues and work out where and how legal frameworks might need to be changed as the technology of bionics and neural interfaces improves. The project consortium brings together experts from engineering, law, regulation, philosophy and human enhancement. The most important outcome of the research will consist of a "White Book on Regulating Robotics", which will containing regulatory guidelines for the European Commission, in order to establish a solid framework of 'robolaw' in Europe.

Europeans attitudes towards robots 2012

Credit: Infonaut, AEC
Europeans attitudes towards robots
Overall EU citizens have a positive view of robots: more than two-thirds of Europeans are of this opinion, according to a Special Eurobarometer survey. However, further analyses show that the public are clear that while robots serve a utilitarian purpose and are useful for tasks that are too dangerous or difficult for humans, their use nevertheless requires careful management. EU citizens express widespread concern that robots could steal people’s jobs; however, a sizable minority consider that robots could boost job opportunities in the EU.
The survey shows that support for the use of robots is greatest in areas where the tasks are too difficult or too dangerous for humans, such as space exploration and manufacturing, but there is outright opposition to their use to take care of people. This also means that EU citizens would feel very uncomfortable if a robot were used to look after their children or elderly parents or even to walk their dog, although they can tolerate the idea of a robot assisting them at work. 
North-South divide
Credit: Infonaut/Honda
The survey shows a North-South divide when it comes to attitudes to robots, with EU citizens in the northern countries holding far more positive views than in the southern countries. In Sweden and Denmark 88% of respondents express a positive attitude, while 44% of respondents in Greece and 35% in Portugal express negative attitudes.  The perception that robots steal people’s jobs is greater in countries badly affected by the economic crisis than in some of the more resilient Western-European economies.  
Personal experience of robots  
Few EU citizens have experience of using robots:  in total, 12% have used or currently use a robot: six percent have experience of the use of a robot at home and six percent have used or currently use a robot at work. Conversely, 87% of EU citizens have never used a robot in their lives.  
Credit: Infonaut, Wakamaru
When asked about the prospects for robots performing tasks in the home, respondents in countries with generally more positive attitudes towards robots tend to think that it will be 10 more years whereas in countries with a more skeptical stance towards robots the tendency is to think that it will take more than 20 years.
The survey presents the results of a Special Eurobarometer survey into public attitudes towards robots. The aim of the survey is to gauge public opinion towards robots by measuring public perceptions, acceptance levels, worries  and reservations among EU citizens aged 15 and over in the 27 Member States. The survey was conducted by TNS Opinion & Social at the request of  Directorate-General for Information Society and Media (INFSO). 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Robotic TechPet

Japanese Bandai, the company that in 1996 introduced the classic virtual pet Tamaguchi, has released a new digital toy, TechPet, an app-based robotic dog that works with an iPhone or iPod. TechPet is aimed at young children, many of whom are adept at using an iPhone at a very early age. It is powered by a free iTunes App and the basic functions work with just the App. Download the TechPet app, dock an iPhone in the robotic doggy frame, and turn your phone into the cartoon face of a canine that’s eager to be fed via touchscreen. This puppy even recognizes gestures and verbal commands via the phone’s camera and microphone.

Service robots boost Danish welfare

Credit: Danish Technology Institute
In 2006, Denmark created a fund of three billion Danish kronor ($519-million) to study how technologies like service robots can be used to replace manual labour in various public services.
Social robots Recommendation
One of the first projects was a public debate all over the country about ethics and new technologies, started by the Danish Council of Ethics. After the debate, the Council publishing its considerations on social robots. The Council believes that the development of robots for use among people as everyday help, as entertainment or therapy is a development that in time will involve more and more ethical consideration, including some which are currently to difficult to foresee or describe. It is therefore important that robot technology is followed-up and commented upon from an ethical standpoint. Denmark became one of the first countries in the world with recommendations on social robots.
Technology Foresight on Cognition and Robotics
In 2006 a Technology Foresight on Cognition and Robotics was published by Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. The study identified five areas where the utilisation of cognitive robotics would be particularly promising for Denmark, including service and care, hospitals and health. 
Therapy robots for demetia patients
In 2008 a study found that therapy robot PARO soothed dementia patients and helped them communicate. Since then the Danish Technology Institute DTI has become the European distributor of PARO and encouraged every Danish nursing home to buy one. So far Danish nursing homes have purchased 110 PAROs, mainly with public funds.
Robot suit HAL
Japanese Cyberdyne established its first European subsidiary 2009 in Denmark to start a consortium to win government approval for robot suit HAL as health care equipment and for the leasing of HAL suits. HAL is a cyborg-type robot that can supplement, expand or improve physical capability. The project was funded by ABT fund of Denmark Government (a fund for projects on labour saving technology).
First eating and cleaning  robot tests
In 2009 the Municipality of Odense started first tests with the Japanese eating robot MySpoon and a large number of vacuum cleaner robots was evaluated at care centers in three municipalities from autumn 2010 to spring 2011.
Social robot drivers license
In 2010 Denmark was first in Europe to qualify care personal with a social robot drivers license. The first International Certification Workshop with a group of participants from Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden was at the DTI, in Odense. The aim of the workshop was to learn how to use PARO but also to discuss ethical issues.
Robot suit test for rehabilitation 
In 2010 Cyberdyn signed for collaboration with Rehabilitation Center in Odense  for starting a project funded by the Danish Government to introduce robot suit HAL to a rehabilitation center in Odense University Hospital for clinical trials regarding worker augmentation.
Robot Learning
In November 2010 Aarhus municipal visited the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) for a presentation of robots that can be uses in English language education. In 2011 the City has entered into a robot collaboration with KIST to test robots at Rehabiliteringscentret Vikærgården in Risskov and in elementary schools in Aarhus – among other things as a help in education children with ADHD.
First Danish Geminoid
In 2011 the first Geminiod outside Japan was developed at Aalborg University in cooperation with ATR and Kokoro. The purpose of the project led by Henrik Scharfe, Associate Professor, and Director of Center for Computer-mediated Epistemology, was to investigate certain aspects of Human Robot Interaction, the novel concept of Blended Presence, and by studying cultural differences in the perception of robots.
Robotic bed
In 2011 Japanese Panasonic and the Danish CareLab at DTI Centre for Robot Technology in Odense presented the latest version of Panasonic's robotics bed, designed for people who have limited mobility and need an extra level of independence. Panasonic has collaborated with Danish robotexperts to optimize the usability of this innovative robotic device. The expertise of the Danish experts has helped Panasonic to get access to professional environments in nursing homes, in hospitals, in municipals and research institutes in Denmark, and to get better insight in real user needs and technical requirements. This gives Panasonic a competitive advantage to reduce time to market and Denmark access to state-of-the-art robotics in real case environments.
Hospital logistics robots
At the hospital of Jutland logistics robot Aethon TUG is tested for use in Danish hospitals. These smart carts can haul supplies around the hospital, making deliveries and pickups at a fraction of the costs of human workers.

Chris Anderson new CEO of 3D Robotics

TechCrunch reports that Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief at Wired magazine, plans to shift his full-time attention to taking over as CEO of 3D Robotics, a company he co-founded several years back that makes do-it-yourself drones aimed at the mass market. He’ll be staying at Wired until the magazine finds a replacement.
In his new book,  Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, he reveals a new industrial revolution with entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, to bring manufacturing to the desktop. In an age of custom-fabricated, DIY- product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of “Makers” using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent -- creating “the long tail of things”.

New robotic ball for risky operations

Credit: Bounce Imaging
Soldiers, fire fighters, and search and rescue workers put their lives on the line every day so that we don’t have to. Life-saving imaging technology exists that could make their jobs safer, yet current applications are too expensive, classified, and impractical for wide-scale use.
Boston-based start-up Bounce Imaging is developing ultra-low-cost, easy-to-use imaging systems to meet the needs of soldiers and first responders, allowing them to explore potentially hazardous spaces without exposing them to harm.
The ball robot with its six cameras snaps pictures while its sensors detect air quality, temperature, radiation and other hazards. It then beams the data to mobile devices.

Bounce Imaging was selected as a Gold Winner at MassChallenge 2012 ($50K prize), the largest startup accelerator in the world. The company was also named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012!

NASA X1 robotic exoskeleton

Credit: NASA, X1
NASA's X1 robotic exoskeleton is a mechanical suit designed to help astronauts exercise while in space, and here on Earth it can help paraplegics walk. In space, the joints would be configured to resist movement. Astronauts would have to exert force and work their muscles in order to move around, which would help them retain muscle mass during long stays in zero gravity. This configuration can be reversed, allowing the system to assist movement for people with limited mobility. The 57-pound suit was derived from the technology used for Robonaut 2 with the help of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and of Oceaneering Space Systems, the world’s largest Work Class ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) operator and the leading provider of ROVs to the oil and gas industry.
The X1 is still in development, and NASA hopes to make it more useful by adding more joints in the future.

US$ 316M investment in Korean robotics

Credit: CIR, CIROS
The South Korean government plans to expand the country's robot industry by more than 10 times over the next decade, the Korean Times reports. Under the plan, the government will invest 350 billion won (US$316 million) over the next 10 years to develop various technologies and new industrial, as well as commercial robots, such as disaster relief robots and home assistance robots, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.
The move will help boost the size of the country's robot industry from its current value of 2 trillion won to 25 trillion won in 2022, it said. The government also seeks to set up a separate plan for the development of what it called "intelligent robots" before the end of next year.
Credit: CIR, KIBO
At the Robot World 2012 in Seoul researchers from the Korean Institute of Science and Technology KIST demonstrated their lastest version of service robot, CIROS. intended to become the homemade of the future. Besides CIROS, the researchers are also developing a bipedal humanoid robot named KIBO, and educational robot ENGKEY designed to teach students English lessons.
Credit: CIR, ENKEY

Technology giant Samsung has focused on consumer robotics technology in recent years and co-developed humanoid robots with (KIST) since 2004. At IROS 2012 researchers from Samsung Advanced Technology Institute (SAIT) presented a new bipedal humanoid named Roboray, with torque-controlled bipeds, which improves balance, push recovery, and ability to walk on uneven terrain. Check the demo video below.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Robotic Future of Retail

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University see the future of retail — with AndyVision, technology that helps to improve the shopping experience for both customers and retail staff.
AndyVision is a robotic inventory system that takes the form of an autonomous robot that can patrol and scan the aisles and shelves of a retail store.
The robot generates a detailed aisle/shelf-level interactive store map that can be displayed on an in-store digital sign for customers to browse the virtual world of the store using gestures or a touchscreen interface.
The project is part of Priya Narasimhan's work as head of the Intel Science and Technology Center for Embedded Computing at CMU. Check out the demo video below.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Incheon Robotic Theme Park Delayed

Credit: Robot Land, Incheon
Ambitious plans to open a robotic theme part in Incheon, South Korea have been changed, according to a report in the Korean Herald. The municipality of Incheon has recently announced its plans to build Robot Land in the Cheongna Area within the Incheon Free Economic Zone by 2014. It has decided to open some facilities as scheduled, including a robotics institute, but delayed the construction of for-profit facilities including a theme park. The project adjustment was a result of the ongoing real estate market woes. The municipality is now trying to secure private-sector investment to implement the project in stages.

Two-armed robot system for under US$20k

Credit: STRobotics, Tandem R125
ST Robotics announced today the latest addition to their R12 robot product line, the Tandem R125, a low cost two-armed robot system for under $20,000.
ST Robotics, based in Princeton, New Jersey and Cambridge, England, is one of the first manufacturers of bench-top robot arms. ST Robotics has been providing affordable, easy-to-use, ready-to-go, boxed robots for nearly 30 years.  ST’s robots are utilized the world over by companies and institutions such as Lockheed-Martin, Amazon, Motorola, Honeywell, MIT, NASA, Pfizer and Sony, to name a few. The numerous applications for ST’s robots benefit the manufacturing, nuclear, pharmaceutical, laboratory and semiconductor industries. Check out the demo video below.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thinking Leg Prothesis

Credit: SSSA, Cyberlegs  
The CYBERLEGs consortium, coordinated by the BioRobotics InstituteScuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Italy, and supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme with 2,5M€, aims to develop an artificial cognitive system for dysvascular trans-femoral amputees lower-limb functional replacement and assistance in activities of daily living. CYBERLEGs will be a robotic system constituted of an active cognitive artificial leg for the functional replacement of the amputated limb and a wearable active orthosis for assisting the contralateral sound limb. CYBERLEGs will allow the amputee to walk back and forward, go up and down stairs, and move from sit-to-stand and stand-to-sit with a minimum cognitive and energetic effort. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the control system of CYBERLEGs will be based on motor primitives as fundamental building blocks, thus endowing CYBERLEGs with semi-autonomous behaviour for planning the motion of the prosthesis joints and the assistive action of the orthosis module. CYBERLEGs will be capable of high-level cognitive skills, interfaced to the amputee through a bi-directional interaction. It will be able to understand user-motor intentions smoothly and effectively and to prevent the risk of fall for the amputee, by means of a multi-sensory fusion algorithm based on (i) the observation of the motion of the amputee body, (ii) the interaction force between CYBERLEGs and the amputee, and (iii) their force interaction with ground. Finally, CYBERLEGs will be capable of closing the loop with the amputee: the amputee will receive an efferent feedback from CYBERLEGs which will enhance the perception of CYBERLEGs as a part of his/her own body.