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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

American Quadrotor Swarms - Here They Come!

Researchers at the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania have performed new exciting experiments  with a team of nano quadrotors developed by Philadelphia based  KMel Robotics. The video below shows impressive agile flight capabilities, formation flights of 16 quadrotors in 3D, navigation in environments with obstacles.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Made in America

"Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in America." 
"Foxconn opened robot factory in USA"
"China lost millions of manufacturing jobs."

This is the new American dream and future vision of the American president. In his State of the Nation Speech President Obama asked the Congress to "Stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America." The goal is to bring back manufacturing to the America. Obama's message to business leaders was: "Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed."
Obama proposes no tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas, lower taxes for companies that choose to stay and hire in America, American manufacturer should get a bigger tax cut, double tax deduction for high-tech manufacturers, relocation should mean help in financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
War Against Trade Pirates
To bring back jobs to America Obama will double U.S. exports, opening of new markets for American products and fight trade cases against China, piracy and subsidies. He announced a new Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.

New Start or Old Mercantilism
The Alliance for American Manufacturing's (AAM)  welcomes Obamas  proposal to fight against unfair trade practices especially in China and call  " a package of innovation, education, insourcing, tax, trade, and infrastructure incentives as a good start." AAM´s own agenda is to expand American production, hiring, and capital expenditures, invest in America’s infrastructure, enhance our workforce, make trade work for America, rebuild America’s innovation base

5 Million Jobs lost to China
According to AAM the U.S. lost in the last decade due to 5.5 million lost manufacturing jobs plus at least $245 billion in manufacturing wages, exclusive the “ripple effect” through other sectors. AAM claims that ending China’s currency manipulation would create more than 1 million jobs, add to economic growth, and reduce the budget deficit by $500 billion over the next six years. If California had held its share of manufacturing jobs from 2000-2007, its state budget would be in balance.
According to a study of  the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) 2.8 million jobs, largely in manufacturing, have been lost as a result of the growing U.S. trade deficit with China since that country’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.

3 Million Jobs back to USA 
New research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Chicago suggests transportation goods such as vehicles and auto parts, electrical equipment including household appliances, and furniture are among seven sectors that will reach a tipping point by 2015 and could create up to 3 million jobs as some of the manufacturing returns to North America. BCG expects the trend to accelerate starting in the next five years.
Chris Kuehl, economic analyst for the Rockford, Ill.-based Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. (FMA), notes the rising costs of production in China has become a major concern for the Chinese.  He claims that wages and salaries have been going up fast in China – estimates are that wages have risen by more than 1,000% in the coastal regions just in the last year or so. China is now losing ground to rivals in other parts of Asia and to nations such as Mexico, where wages have risen by less than 25%.

23 Million Jobs back to Europe?
Eurostat estimates that 23.674 million men and women in the EU-27, of whom 16.372 million were in the euro area (EA-17), were unemployed in November 2011. Compared with October 2011, the number of persons unemployed increased by 55 000 in the EU-27 and by 45 000 in the euro area. Compared with November 2010, unemployment increased by 723 000 in the EU-27 and by 587 000 in the euro area.
EU27 Youth Unemployment Rate 20%
Youth unemployment rates are generally much higher than unemployment rates for all ages. High youth unemployment rates do reflect the difficulties faced by young people in finding jobs.

New Robot Trial at Fukushima No.1

According to a recent report of Asahi Shimbun a second attempt is planed to send a second Japanese-made Quince rescue robot in the harsh, highly radioactive environment at the crippled Fukushima No 1. nuclear power plant later this month. Eiji Koyanagi, deputy director of the Chiba Institute of Technology's Future Robotics Technology Center, describes this new attempt "as a valuable opportunity to improve the technology."
Quince Rescue Robot

In October 2011 a Quince robot failed to return from an inspection mission inside the No. 2 nuclear reactor building and filming the surrounding area. It suddenly shut down and all communication was lost. Rescue workers were forced to abandon the robot, as the radiation there, at tens of millisieverts per hour, was is too high for them to approach and retrieve the robot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

60 Million Euro Investing in Service Robots

Bruno Bonnell, founder and former CEO of Infogames Entertainment, SA,  founder of French Federation of service robots SYROBO and actual CEO of Robopolis just launched a 60 million Euro (80 million USD) investment fund named Robolution Capital to support the development of Robotics in Europe. It is the First European investment fund dedicated to service robot and will invest in 30 startups, ranging from 300,000 to $3 million for each. The fund is supported by Orkos Capital and CDC Enterprises, a public group and long term investor serving general interest and the economic development of the country.

Based on prognosis of the International Federation of Robotics, IFR, the funders expect an extremely strong growth of up to 100 billion dollars on the horizon of 2020 and describe service robotics as one of the major economic drivers of this century.  Investments will be achieved in start-ups working in the field of personal robotics (robot cleaners, vacuums, surveillance, etc.) and professional robots (security, humanoids, UAVs, robotic platforms, telepresence).  About 400 companies working in service robotics have been identified so far.
The new robot fund is good news for French robot companies with strong sales records and growth ambitions. Many of them will be visible at the Innorob 2012 Exhibition in Lyon in March to attract investors and future customer.
Some exhibotors at INNOROBO 2012
Innorob was founded in 2011 by SYROBO.
Bruno Bonnell’s company Robopolis is a distributor of personal and domestic robots in France and in Europe (2500 distributors). The company made 54 million euros in revenues in 2011 (70 million dollars). Its big seller is the iRobot Roomba vacuum robot. Orkos Capital, a French private equity management company created in 2006,  is mainly investing in ICT company sector.  CDC Enterprises is part of Caisse des Dépôts which is devoting 1 billion Euros over 3 years to the development of medium-sized French businesses.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who Needs Humanoids?

After last years Japanese disaster robot disaster with U.S. robots  supporting human rescue teams fighting the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, while Japanese robots failed to do the dirty, dangerous and dull job, the debate about purpose and goals of robotics, humanoids and robotic intelligence has flamed up again.
After years of glossy future visions, robotic road maps, scientific poster and prototype promises robotics has again come to the critical point of prove and truth. Especially in times of financial crisis and economic downturn public and private investors ask for low risk innovations and high speed commercial success.
Who dislikes Humanoids?
The "Queen of Robotics" Helen Greiner, co-founder and former president of iRobot, now president and CEO of CyPhy Works, an early stage robotics company developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), has recently critized "blue sky" robotics for engineering "cool" robots without practical use. In her New Scientist article she asks for "practical robots that do jobs well and affordably - factors that tend to get lost as people fascinate over the latest autonomous party pieces." Referring to last years nuclear disaster in Japan, where iRobot provided robots to search the damaged power plants, she claims that "many in Japan have questioned the nation's research focus on singing, running and dancing humanoid robots." Greiner is critical to the attempt "to duplicate human intelligence or the human form robotically". She argues that "we already have about 7 billion humans on the planet and we are really good at what we do. To sell humanoid robots they would have to be better than people - and that is just not realistic yet." Instead, Greiner promotes the idea of software standardization like ROS and Linux as development platforms for highly effective software solutions running on affordable low-energy processors.
This is not the first time Greiner is critical to  humanoids and the human replacement approach. In an article in 2009 she claims "robots should complement, not imitate, what humans do. In her future robotics vision robots support humans by reducing risks in dangerous situations i.e. for warfighters, police or HAZMAT personal. Robots also provide telepresence for virtual visits of family members or to deliver medicin and food to the elderly. In Greiners mind robotic vehicles avoid highway excidents and collect litter from the side of highways.

Human-Humanoid Partnership 
Proponents of the humanoid approach such as the Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab have argued that for many humanoid robot applications, people will naturally try to interact with robots in anthropomorphic, social terms. This is a natural fit for interacting with a robot as a partner. In a paper entitlied Humanoid Robots as Cooperative Partners for People (2003) researcher Cynthia Breazeal and her collegues propose that developing robots with social abilities is a critical step towards enabling them to be intelligent and capable in their interactions with humans, able to cooperate with people as capable partners, able to learn quickly and effectively from natural human instruction, are intuitive to communicate with, and are engaging for humans to interact with. Such issues must be addressed to enable many new and exciting applications for robots that require them to play a long-term role in people’s daily lives.

European 1 Billion Robot Companion Daydream
The debate about human vs. robotic intelligence, humanoid design vs. non-humanoid design, short-term vs. long-range research, basic vs. applied research is highly needed and important in the light of current economic and social crisis, with bankrupt states, collapsing industries and high unemployment.
While Greiner and her industrial fans propose a pragmatic approach focused on real customer and investor value, the European consortium behind the FET Flagship candidate Robot Companions for Citizens represents a visionary large scale research approach promising to create a new generation of  soft, sentient machines that will  act and interact physically, emotionally, socially and safely with humans. The 1 Billion Euro project envisions robots that will help and assist humans in activities of daily living, in workplaces  like factories, hospitals, in infrastructure maintenance and environment monitoring and preservation, and in urban areas. The researchers ask for money to solve the mystery of intelligence and promise robotic companions that could provide elderly care in the future in return.

Daydream or Nightmare - Who Cares?
Today there is very little public debate about the value and need of robot companions in European homes.  Politicians are occupied by permanent budget crisis, reelection challenges and media hunts. Voters are occupied by daily life issues, information overflow and consumer stress. Interest in science and technology education is decreasing among young people in developed economies. What's left is a small group of researchers and industry experts who supported by national innovation agents and funding bureaucrats, are mapping robotics and future scenarios to secure their own funding without any success warranty or responsibility for future outcomes. Few citizens have competence and possibility to review and evaluate research proposals, their value and possible consequences for mankind.  But some do and create artistic visions that might impact public opinion more than expected.

Robot and Frank
One artistic contribution to the debate about robot companions has been provided by  first-time director Frank Langella, at the ongoing Sundance film festival. His movie "Robot and Frank" is a delightful dramatic comedy that explores human-robot relation in an intelligent and sensible way. Frank lives by himself. His routine involves daily visits to his local library, where he has a twinkle in his eye for the librarian. His grown children are concerned about their father’s well-being and buy him a caretaker robot. Initially resistant to the idea, Frank soon appreciates the benefits of robotic support—like nutritious meals and a clean house—and eventually begins to treat his robot like a true companion. With his robot’s assistance, Frank’s passion for his old, unlawful profession is reignited, for better or worse.  Check out the video clip from the film below.

New Robot Challenge "Tower of Hanoi" 2012

On December 2, 2011 five teams from RWTH Aachen, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg Univ. of Applied Science and TU Graz competed at the London Science Museum to solve the well known "Tower of Hanoi" problem" with the help of a mobile robot.

The problem  has been known to generations of computer science students and is also an important problem for robotics research and education . It allows studying and learning the concept of recursion in algorithm design. The task is to move a pile of disks with the smallest number of moves from one location to another while obeying certain rules.
Despite available open source software and amazing performance non of the five teams managed to completely solve the task in the give time.
Since the jackpot of total 3000 Euro was not hit in the first event it will be rolled over to the 2012 event.

Time and venue of the 2012 Tower of Hanoi for Robotics Contest will be announced.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Telepresence Robot Navigation with Haptic Vision

Researcher at Toyohashi University of Technology’s Advanced Interdisciplinary Electric Research Center have developed a new robotic telepresence system that provide a high level of immersion through proprioceptive telepresence and tactile feedback. The developed interface allows the operator to use their body posture and gestures for controlling the mobile robot and at the same time to feel the remote object through tactile stimuli. The system called NAVIgoid consists of master wearable robot (ProInterface with head mounted display) and intelligent mobile robot (mobile platform, stereo cameras, and laser range finders).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Stop Unmanned Vehicles?

Sci-fi visions of electronic warfare and cyber wars has become reality and business opportunity. 
The successful hijacking of the U.S. stealth drone  RQ-170 Sentinel by IRAN in December 2011 demonstrated the vulnerability and navigational weakness of the most advanced high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles.
Conductive Liquid War
Stopping drones is only one example of the increasing tech-fight. Immobilizing dangerous and criminal car drivers is a risky task for police and security personal. Now the U.S. Navy seeks to commercialize U.S. Patent 6,723,225 - Automobile engine disabling device (AEDD). The device, developed by SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, allows a user to disable a vehicle from a safe distance during high-speed pursuits. The device is composed of a fluid delivery system coupled to an electrical power source, which propels streams of conductive liquid onto a target vehicle. The streams act as tethers creating a closed circuit for pulses of electrical energy to be delivered, disrupting and disabling the vehicle’s electrical systems. The device can be outfitted to various mobile and aerial platforms.

Commercializing the conductive liquid patent might open a new era of law enforcing tactics, but the risk is also high that the bad guys will start spraying conductive liquid on high-tech police vehicles. The high-tech war has only started. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Swedish Robot Dystopia 2012

While the European robotics elite is planing for a 1 Billion Euro Robot Companions for Citizens project, aimed to develop a new generation of robots that will be self-adaptive machines helpful to humans throughout their lifetimes,  public Swedish Television "enlights" in good old Western tradition with a robotic dystopia including job killing, robot love, crime and luddites.
On Sunday January 22, Swedish Television will start a new 10 hours robotics series called "Real Humans"(Äkta Människor). "Real humans" is an robotic dystopia where some people's lives change dramatically by the new generation of humanoid robots - hubots. Mimi abducted from the group of wild hubots to be sold on the black market and Leo break away to find her. In the meantime, the Engman family buys a hubot to Lennart's grandfather, when his old workhorse has crashed. The purchase includes a used hubot copy with a mysterious past. Warehouse worker Roger feels regret for step-son Kevin and his disgust with all hubots grow, especially against the hubot as his ex-wife decided to live with.

Beautiful people

On the other side of the Atlantic NBC has cast the first two regulars for its futuristic drama pilot Beautiful People, written by Cougar Town co-executive producer/director/actor Michael McDonald. The story takes place in the near future in a world where humans co-exist with mechanical androids that look like people but are treated like second-class citizens. More specifically the story explores the concept of ‘what if’, in a scenario where mechanical humans serve the human population. That begins to change when the automatons start to “awaken”.

Autopilots take over Driver Seats

Driverless cars are still rare on the streets of the world, but the investments in research and development of autonomous cars are starting to pay off .  Automobile nation Germany had demonstrated its engineering excellence since the DARPA Challenges. The German AutoNOMOS team reached the semi-finals of the DARPA Urban Challenge 2007.

are In 2011 France and UK demonstrated their ambitions to become players in the global autonomous car race.
Autopilot System, Stähle 
France has entered the global autonomous vehicle race with a modified Renault Grand Espace developed by research company IFSTTAR and engineers from the ESIGELEC school in Rouen. The car is equipped with a German Stahle autonomous driving system,  including a robot that works as actuator system to an overlaid host automation system and executes scaled actuator commands through its integration interface.  The car has also sensors, cameras, and a control bay on the roof.  A GPS RTK and an iXSea inertial unit guides the vehicle with data acquired and processed using the RTMaps multisensor engine. There are three cameras to monitor the vehicle's surroundings and one forward-facing used to track road lanes and markings. A LIDAR unit at the front detects other cars and pedestrians.

Off-Road and Driverless in Oxford, UK
In Oxford, UK, a modified Bowler Wildcat vehicle, one of the most advanced autonomous vehicles in the world, is  used by academics to continue research into vehicle autonomy and robotics thanks to a research partnership between BAE Systems and Oxford University.  The Wildcat driverless vehicle has been the subject of over five years of research and development by scientists at BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre at Filton in Bristol.
The Wildcat vehicle is a 4x4 off-road production car from Bowler, modified by BAE System's engineers. The vehicle is equipped with computer controlled steering servos, an secondary braking system and a hotline into the vehicle's engine management system for speed control. In addition, wireless data links, GPS and laser ranging sensors were installed so that the Wildcat could receive instructions, navigate and avoid hitting obstacles.
For more information about driverless car projects see also trend report 2011 and Global Robotics Brain.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Robots in High-Risk Lab Animal Facilities

Estimates of animals used globally for experiments range from tens of millions to 100 million or more annually. Between 80 and 800 animals are now needed per drug. And there isn't universal agreement among scientists that ending testing on animals will ever be possible or should stop, considering the life-saving advances that have come from such studies.

Risky Cleaning Jobs
3M Corporation, St Paul, MN
Animal experiments mean millions of cages must be cleaned regularly, a historically manual task, exposing staff to contaminants, allergens and possible infections in the cage bedding material. Human workers had to wear belt-mounted powered air-purifying respirator (“PAPR”) systems to control aeroallergen exposure during cage cleaning operations.
Cleaning and Bedding Robots
In 1996 Swedish company Detach AB changed the view of cage cleaning and bedding management by introducing robotic handling to the Lab Animal Research (LAR) industry. According to research by the Swedish National Institute for Working Life and Safety Assessment (Arbetslivsinstitutet) investigating the Astra Zeneca, Gartuna plant in Sodertalje, Sweden., the use of robotics, could reduce staff exposure to allergens by up to 99%.
Today more than 70 robots handle cage washing and bedding processing at laboratory animal research facilities in USA and Europe. The Ymer Automated Cage CW and Bedding Processing System is state-of-the-art and capable of handling cages up to a number of 300 per hour. Jonas Magnusson, VP ABB Industries AB, is optimistic about automation of pharmaceutical and science and he thinks "the increase will be faster than other mature industries such as the car industry."

According to the Swedish Research Council seven in ten Swedes indicate that the use of animals in research is acceptable for medical research. Young people are more negative than older people.

CES 2012 Consumer Robotics Disaster

The last 10 years consumer robotics has often been praised by academics, government officials and industry representatives as the new super growth industry. Billions of dollars, euros and yen have been invested in R&D to develop new robotic products and systems that can make life easier, safer, more convenient, viable and greener for consumers especially for the elderly.
The International CES, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow, draws more than 140,000 attendees, some 30.000 from abroad. Despite the absence of some market leaders CES is still the most important arena for trend spotting and innovation hunting on the U.S. consumer electronics market worth US$ 190 billion in 2011.
CES 2012 Robotics 
At the CES TechZones new technology markets are grouped together and feature up-and-coming products, services and companies. One of these new technologies is robotics. According to CES 2012 "robotics is taking off! More and more, we're seeing robots playing a role in our daily lives. Robots are finding their way into our homes, our offices, under our seas, in our hospitals, and soon they may even be caring for our parents.  The CES Robotics TechZone promise is to "feature a wide range of robotics and intelligent systems applications which are now commercially available." 
Sounds interesting and makes CES 2012 a place to inspect the status and viability of the emerging consumer robotics industry. 
While consumer electronics companies compete in high-tech and high touch, consumer robotics is lost in lack of innovations, insights and inspiration. CES 2012 is a complete consumer robotics disaster represented by few companies presenting retro-relaunched robotic toys, mopping and sweeping machines, desperate teen superstar promoted non-sense musicbots and vintage robotics visions.   
From an early adopters point of view CES 2012 is a boring event demonstrating the strategic weakness of the consumer robotics industry.    
Robotic research funders, private investors and robotic promotors should be worried about the poor commercial outcome of the world's leading research and development institutes, lack of transfer of scientific knowledge into disruptive innovations,  lack of inventors and creative entrepreneurs that can create great value propositions and exciting robotic solutions for global consumers.
Meanwhile consumers will spend and have much more fun with tablets, 3D, 4G, VR, AR, body hacking, gesture tech etc.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Korean Robots in Denmark

In recent years, officials from the City of Aarhus, Denmark have participated in field studies, primarily to Japan but most recently South Korea, to gather knowledge and to network with companies and scientific institutions regarding high-tech platforms. In November 2010 Aarhus municipal were on a study trip to Korea, and at Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) they were presented to robots that could help in English education. In 2011 the City has entered into a robot collaboration with KIST.
Until the middle of February 2012 a group of elderly citizens at Rehabiliteringscentret Vikærgården in Risskov will participate in a test with robots. It is also part of the plan to test the robots in elementary schools in Aarhus – among other things as a help in education children with ADHD.

The robot EngKey can provide simple conversation in English along with various interactive games co-developed with Seoul National University Medical Center specifically to help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Some of the games include memory, arithmetic, and reflex training exercises, as well as mahjong.

Consumer Robotics Trends in South Korea

RoboKing Triple Eye, LG, 2011
According to recent media reports sales of vacuum cleaning robots in high-tech South Korea have increased to over 110,000 units in 2010 (+100%) and is expected to grow to 170,000 units in 2012. The driving force behind this growth is the increased number of double income families, who have less time to clean their home and therefor are willing to invest in a 50% more expensive vacuum cleaning robot.
Market leader LG with about 60 % market share offers high-tech products such as the RoboKing Dual and Triple Eye robots.  The obots are equipped with cameras, Wi-Fi networked and can be controlled through any online interface such as a smartphone or tablet. The robot can be started remotely via the Internet or also be used as a video camera to monitor the home.
Cleaning Robots, Samsung 2011
Samsung with 30 % marekt share released a cleaner in 2011 called Tango Stealth that can also provide a home surveillance function as it acts like a moving CCTV camera. The robot come with two central processing units that give them a faster response time. The devices can also be connected to a range of mobile devices.

Smaller companies such as Mami Robot, Hanool Robotics and foreign suppliers, such as iRobot, have to fight hard to attract high-tech families in South Korea.

Will South Korea take over Consumer Robotics?
In 1960, South Korea was poorer than two-thirds of the nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Today it’s the world’s most digital nation, with a per capita income of nearly $29,000, higher than New Zealand ($27K) or Portugal ($22K). This transformation largely took place during 1965-1985, and is known as the “Korean Miracle.” South Korea is pushing ahead with a host of interlocking technology initiatives bold enough to potentially make the period 2010-2025 a second Korean miracle, this time focused on what Seoul National University refers to as convergence technology.

Friday, January 06, 2012

New Frontiers in Human–Robot Interaction

New Frontiers in Human–Robot Interaction
Edited by Kerstin Dautenhahn and Joe Saunders, The University of Hertfordshire

Human–Robot Interaction (HRI) considers how people can interact with robots in order to enable robots to best interact with people. HRI presents many challenges with solutions requiring a unique combination of skills from many fields, including computer science, artificial intelligence, social sciences, ethology and engineering. We have specifically aimed this work to appeal to such a multi-disciplinary audience. This volume presents new and exciting material from HRI researchers who discuss research at the frontiers of HRI. The chapters address the human aspects of interaction, such as how a robot may understand, provide feedback and act as a social being in interaction with a human, to experimental studies and field implementations of human–robot collaboration ranging from joint action, robots practically and safely helping people in real world situations, robots helping people via rehabilitation and robots acquiring concepts from communication. This volume reflects current trends in this exciting research field. e-Book – Forthcoming

Robots at the 2011 EU Innovation Convention

Hector meets EU president Barroso
Robot companion Hector was one of five robot stars at the first EC Innovation convention Expo helt December 5-6, 2011 in Brussels. The event gathered more than 1200 participants involved in the innovation chain, including high-level policy makers, leading CEOs, deans of universities and research centres, bankers, venture capitalists, top researchers and innovators.
Robot Companion for the Elderly
EU President Jose Manuel Barroso and the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Marie Geoghegan-Quinn got a short demonstration of the yellow mobile robot companion  by Prof. Badii, University of Reading, UK, the Co-ordinator of the CompanionAble project. The 10 million Euro project, started in 2008 to develop support for the elderly living alone at home. At the heart of the project is Hector, a mobile robot, who is designed to become a companion for elderly people in their intelligent home environment. Hector can engage in social interaction (via videoconferencing), cognitive training, health and safety monitoring, entertainment and reminders, thus helping to increase the quality of life of the elderly.
Swarms of Cooperating Robots 

Swarmanoid, AILab, Vrije Univ. Belgium
The E-Swarm project, started in 2010 and funded with 2 million Euro by the European Research Council - Advanced Grants program, aims to develop a rigorous engineering methodology for the design and implementation of Swarmanoid , an artificial heterogeneous swarm robotics system composed of three different robot types: foot-bots, hand-bots and eye-bots. The project was initially developed thanks to a FET Open project and is coordinated by Prof. Marco Dorigo, AI Lab of the Université Libre de Bruxelle. Swarm robotics is inspired by the observation of social insects (e.g. ants, termites, wasps and bees) which stand as fascinating examples of how collectively intelligent systems can be generated from a large number of simple individuals. As in their natural counterpart, the robots used in swarm robotics are relatively simple, with local and limited sensing and communication abilities. It is a natural consequence of these individual characteristics that the overall systems are robust against failures of individuals and scalable with group size.

Robotic Technologies in Service of Vessel Inspections    
Air-2-Air helicopter, MINOAS, Italy
The 3 million Euro MINOAS project, started in 2009 and coordinated by RINA S.p.A., the operative company of the Registro Italiano Navale, proposes an innovative system concept for vessel inspections, assembling a fleet of robots and a set of tools aiding the surveyor in inspection tasks. The system includes several robot typologies, each with specific motion and task capabilities. For instance, there is a quadrotor helicopter  dedicated to the overall visual survey, a light crawler for close-up surveys and a heavy crawler for thickness measurements. Tools include image processing algorithms for  detecting defects. Some robots will be live exhibited at our stand; videos will support the presentation of the system.
A New Generation of High Dexterity Soft-Bodied Octopus-Inspired Robots 
Octopus arm, SSSA, Italy
The 10 million Euro OCTOPUS project, started in 2009 and coordinated by Scuola Superiore Sant' Anna, Italy,  studies the principles that give rise to the octopus sensory-motor abilities to define novel design principles and technologies for soft-bodied robots. The new technologies expected to result from the IP concern actuation (soft actuators), sensing (distributed flexible tactile sensors), control and robot architectures (distributed control, coordination of many dof), materials (variable stiffness), mechanisms (soft-bodied hydrostat structures), kinematics models. The final robotic octopus prototype will be capable of locomotion on different substrates, of squeezing into small apertures, of dextrous manipulation by coordinating the eight arms, of anchoring in order to exert forces on external environment; of controlling a flexible structure with virtually infinite dof.
Driverless Vehicle from Italy to China
Autonomous Vehicles, Vislab, Italy
The 1.75 million Euro OFAV project, started in 2008 by Prof. Alberto Broggi, Vislab University of Parma, with the goal to develop an open architecture for future autonomous vehicles to become a standard platform shared by car makers in the design of next generation intelligent vehicles.  To advance in this field, extensive tests must be performed in a large variety of scenarios. In 2010 a unique test was conceived: four autonomous cars left Italy and drove autonomously to Shanghai, China, after 13.000+ km and 3 months of driverless operations.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

US$ 52 Million for Robotic Farming in Japan

According to a Taipei Times report the Japanese government is planning a futuristic farming project, called "Dream project" on land swamped by the March tsunami. The agricultural ministry will begin on-site research later this year with a plan to spend around ¥4 billion (US$52 million) over the next six years, a ministry official said. 
High-tech companies such as Panasonic are to be invited to get involved in the project in a bid to give a much-needed boost to the beleaguered sector, the ministry spokesman said. Among other companies expected to join the project are Fujitsu, Hitachi, Sharp, NEC, Yanmar, Ajinomoto and Ito-Yokado Co, according to the Nikkei.
Lifting robots and unmanned tractors would work fields where pesticides would have been replaced by LEDs keeping rice, wheat, soybeans, fruit and vegetables safe until robots can put them in boxes.
Superhuman Farmers
This might be also a new business opportunity for Prof. Katsuya Kanaoka and his company Man-Machine Synergy Effector Inc, developer of the Man-Machine Synergy Effectors (MMSE), a high-performance robotics tools for human physical empowerment. Since 2003 the MMSE concept has been developed and prototypes has been demonstrated such as the Power Finger, more than 100 times stronger than human fingers (World Expo 2005). In 2006 he demonstrated a multi-DOF power amplificator of a human upper arm and in 2008 the Power Pedal for human lower extremities, which amplifies human leg power intuitively, has been presented. 
Check out the video below for a demonstration of the highly reactive master-slave robotic effector.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

From Flying Police to Spy Drones

Flying Police, Villemard 1910
100 years ago the French artist Villemard envisioned life in the year 2000 in some futuristic paintings. One of these paintings depicts a flying traffic police who is trying to enforce sky laws.

New Sky Law in Germany 2011
In 2011 almost unnoticed the German federal government has started an aviation revolution in Europe by approving unmanned aerial systems in Germany civilian aviation sky. A forthcoming amendment of the German Aviation Act will lay the foundation for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to operate in Germany. In the short run this will open a brand new market for traffic and environmental monitoring, inspection and protection of pipelines, fire  fighting, search and rescue operations. In the long run unmanned commercial freight and passenger transportation will become possible. The new law will allow the operation of drones up to 150 kg. Heavier drones will still need the permission of the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne. 

md4-200 Microdrones GmbH
Spy Drones in the Sky
Drones capable of hovering and "staring" using electro-optic or infrared sensors, are already developed and tested in Germany.  German law enforcement agencies will get new opportunities to use cutting-edge spy drones to help fight crime, protect borders and monitor protesters against nuclear waste transportation (Castor) or hooligans at soccer matches. 
Disaster Prevention
According to a report of the German Federal Office of Technology Assessment the Research Ministry is funding civilian drone projects for disaster applications with approximately € 5.9 million. 
The project Airshield developed by the Universities of Dortmund and Paderborn, Siegen, Siegen, the TU Berlin and the company Microdrones is aimed to capture poison gas clouds. The SOGRO project with the participation of the German Red Cross, Siemens and several universities will provide the overview in case of mass disasters.

But before this will become reality the German drone law will be one of the hot topics in forthcoming political and public debates. 

World’s first manned flight with an electric multicopter

At the end of October 2011, Thomas Senkel of e-volo had completed a series of unmanned tests and was ready for the first manned flight on an airstrip in the southwest of Germany. The flight lasted one minute and 30 seconds

Monday, January 02, 2012

Alan Turing Year 2012

Alan Turing, one of the founders of modern computing concepts, and creator of the Turing machine and his famous Turing test, was born June 23, 1912 in London. Turing is most famous for his work cracking the Germans enigma machine during WW2.
2012, is the Centenary of Alan Turing’s birth and will be a celebration of Turing’s life and scientific impact, with a number of major events taking place throughout the year. Most of these will be linked to places with special significance in Turing’s life, such as Cambridge, Manchester and Bletchley Park.
Can a Machine Think?
In 1950, in the article Computing Machinery and Intelligence which appeared in the philosophy journal Mind, Alan Turing asked the question "Can a Machine Think?" He answered in the affirmative, but a central question was: "If a computer could think, how could we tell?" Turing's suggestion was, that if the responses from the computer were indistinguishable from that of a human,the computer could be said to be thinking. This field is generally known as natural language processing.
The Loebner Prize Turing Test
In 1990 Hugh Loebner agreed with The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies to underwrite a contest designed to implement the Turing Test. Dr. Loebner pledged a Grand Prize of $100,000 and a Gold Medal (pictured above) for the first computer whose responses were indistinguishable from a human's. Such a computer can be said "to think." Each year an annual prize of $2000 and a bronze medal is awarded to the most human-like computer. The winner of the annual contest is the best entry relative to other entries that year, irrespective of how good it is in an absolute sense.

Bruce Wilcox has won the 2010 and 2011 Loebner Prize for Artificial Intelligence with his chatbot Rosette.

A form of the Turing Test is currently used on the internet called CAPTCHA which determines whether or not a user is a human or a computer.

The Turing Year is coordinated by the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee (TCAC), representing a range of expertise and organisational involvement in the 2012 celebrations. For more information here.