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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.

DARPA Robotics Challenge 2013-2014

Credit: DARPA/Boston Dynamics, GFE Platform
DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, this week launched a new "Robotics Challenge," to develop ground robotic capabilities to execute complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. The program will focus on robots that can use available human tools, ranging from hand tools to vehicles. The seven hardware teams below announced this week they will compete for a $2 million prize.

The Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC) event to be held in June 2013 aims to test teams’ abilities to control a simulation of the Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) robot to accomplish a subset of the physical challenge. In December of 2013, teams with both the GFE robot and custom robots developed for the competition will participate in the first physical competition, the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge. In December of 2014, DARPA will host the final Challenge event, an end-to-end disaster-style scenario in which teams will compete for the final prize of $2,000,000 USD.

The GFE platform is being developed by Boston Dynamics, Inc., based on its Atlas humanoid robot platform and modified to meet the needs of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The GFE Platform will be physically capable of performing all of the tasks in the disaster response scenario. The platform has two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, for a total of 28 degrees of freedom.

The Robotics Challenge is a direct answer to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster that befell Japan following a massive earthquake in March 2011. Japan, despite being known as a leader in the field of humanoid robotics, had no readily available robots that could enter the plant site – besieged by water from a tsunami after-effect of the earthquake, lacking power, and under meltdown conditions – to take stock of damage and begin work to stave off disaster and/or repair damage to the nuclear facility.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mixed Reality Communication Robot

At the Digital Content Expo 2012 in Tokyo the U- interactive "mixed reality" humanoid robot, U-Tsu-Shi-O-Mi, originally developed by Michihiko Shoji, Center for Economic Growth Strategy, Yokohama National University and NTT DoCoMo, will be exhibited. The virtual humanoid is an interactive "augmented reality" system that lets the user be able to both see and touch virtual 3D characters. The system consists of a special headset, a synchronized pair of a robot and virtual 3D characters. When the headset is put on, the user will see a computer animated human overlaying the featureless robot. The headset has a pair of video cams in it, and the images captured by the cameras are transported to a PC which makes composite images of real and virtual world together in real-time. Then, through the headset, an augmented reality world can be seen. Using Virtual Humanoid, the user will be able to invite its favorite celebrity to its living room. Check out a the demo video below.

Foresight: Multi-sense Robotic Internet Communication

Credit: Keio-NUS, Petimo
Next generation of Internet will become multi-sensitive including sight, sound, touch, taste and smell for experience communication. This will boost new concepts of entertainment, marketing and education.
Researchers at the Cute Center, Keio-NUS, Singapore, are exploring and developing Experience Media, “media that uses multi-sensory connection technology to engage millions of children, families and friends in playful, creative and affective interactive dialogue”.

One research area is senses over the Internet developing concepts and prototypes of robotic communication. “Petimo” is an interactive robotic toy designed to protect children from potential risks in social networks and the virtual world and helps them to make a safely connected social networking environment. Adding friends is done by physically touching two robots. This proximity requirement increases safety and adds a new physical dimension to social networking. The physical authorization layer prevents malevolent adult strangers to connect with the child. In a futuristic scenario, Petimo will be able to connect to any social network protecting the child on any social network.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Robotic Co-Creation & Co-Funding

The world-renowned Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab) from the University of Zuerich, Switzerland, has a new challenge: the development of Roboy within 9 months! The development of Roboy will be crowd funded and with support from exclusive main sponsors from academia. The community decides how Roboy will look and what he will be capable of.
Roboy is going to be the first prototype of the next generation of humanoid robots. The AI Lab and its director Prof. Dr. Rolf Pfeifer plan to develop Roboy by 8 March 2013, in order to celebrate the lab’s 25th anniversary. In March 2013, they will introduce Roboy to the general public in Zurich at the Robots on Tour for the first time.
Roboy is going to be developed within 9 months. A unique project team composed of scholars and industry representatives has been working on the conception of Roboy since June 2012. The team combines the latest discoveries from research and essential experience from the industry, thus representing the state-of-the-art of robotics science and technology.

Ball Rolling Robots

Credit: Bossa Nova Robotics, mObi
San Francisco based Bossa Nova Robotics develops personal robots for the home based on the ballbot technology under license from CMU. Founded by robotics entrepreneur Sarjoun Skaff as a spin-off out of Carnegie Mellon University´s Robotics Institute in 2005, the company  manufactures the mObi robot that will be available for researchers and developers in 2013. The platform will feature PrimeSense 3D depth sensors, next generation Intel hardware and a reconfigurable plartform. The Intel processor runs either Windows or ROS (Robot Operating System).  As the first commercially available ballbot platform, mObi will provide unique capabilities for a broad range of robotics research and Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) applications.

The ballbot locomotive technology was invented by Professor Ralph Hollis and the rapid deploy safety mechanism was developed by Ben Brown. The ballbot technology allows the robot to balance and move on a sphere enabling slender design profiles, elegant motion and superior navigation in human environments.

Credit: ETHZ, Rezero Vision
A similar ballbot robot, called Rezero, has been developed at the Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH Zurich. Especially designed for high acceleration, it moves in a very organic and elegant way. Rezero was the first Ballbot prototype which was able to show the full capacities of a ballbot.

iRobot close down Maritime Operation

Credit: iRobot Seaglider
Due to the current defense spending environment and expectations for decreased spending in 2013,  iRobot recently announced the implementation of a broad restructuring of the business. The company has closed down the maritime operations in n Durham, N.C  where it produced its Seaglider robot for defense. The company is stopping production of those robots immediately and moving the unit to its Bedford headquarters. All 80 of the company’s layoffs of full-time employees are from that office, and 11 contractors were also affected.  
Overall, this year’s revenue is expected to be as much as $47 million less than the $465 million to $485 million iRobot predicted in July. According to a statement from the company, it now believes its defense and security unit to bring in $75 million to $80 million, rather than $100 million to $110 million.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Furby is Back!

The Robot Toy of 1998 is back and a great candidate of holiday season 2012. Furby, the electronic robotic toy resembling a hamster/owl-like creature, is back with more robotics and crazy app. The beloved toy from Tiger Electronics was launched in the holiday season of 1998, with continual sales until 2000. Furby was the first successful attempt to produce and sell a domestically-aimed robot and sold over 40 million units. In 2005 Hasbro took over and has launched a more advanced version with a series of nested personalities than can be unlocked over time. Within minutes its eyes start blinking. Furby responds to being shaken or turned, and will dance to music.
The FREE Furby app for iPhone®, iPod touch®, and iPad® is used to start feeding Furby an incredible variety of food from the app's Pantry and Deli. The translator translates Furbish in real time when holding the  app device close to Furby's mouth when it speaks. When the speech bubbles appear, the user simply taps the Furbish or English phrase to hear it aloud. Furby is meant for kids ages 6+ and costs US$54,99 at the Hasbro

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

TechForsight: Korean Service Robots Rolling In

Se-Kyong Song, CEO FutureRobot
South Korea is committed to become one of the world´s leading robot countries. Since being identified in 2003 as one of the top ten national industries with high growth potential, Korea’s robotics industry is growing and expanding into new markets. According to figures from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy about 200 Korean robotics companies are expected to have generated at least 2 trillion won ($1.77 billion) in output in 2011.

Robotic Entrepreneurs Spirit

Se-Kyong Song, CEO of Korean FutureRobot predicts that the next trend after the smartphone will be robots. He started the company in 2009 with the dream to become the first successful robot CEO. FutureRobot develops service robot called FURO-K that function as a friendly mobile kiosk. The company claims that people often prefer to wait in line to speak with a human employee rather than using an intimidating kiosk, so it has been designed to look cute and inviting. Furthermore, instead of sitting in a corner, the robot scoots around greeting customers in a synthesized voice to explain its features. In 2012 the company received a purchase order from Brazil for 100  hundred FURO robots. That version of the robot has an anime-inspired female face and can function as a waitress. The plan is to deploy the robots as mobile advertisement and information kiosks at various Brazilian venues, such as airports and malls. The company has also sold units to Japan, China, and France.
Check out the Furo at the Etland Mall.

Japanese Seniors become RoboRunners

Credit: Asahi Shimbun, Honda SMA
Japan has one of the world's fastest ageing societies, with one in five over the age of 65. According to government data Japan  has more than 50,000 Japanese people aged 100 or more.
Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research warned that the nation’s population will plummet by more than 61 percent to just under 50 million. More than two-fifths (41.1 percent) of the total population will be above the age of 65 by then.
This dramatic demographic development will require increasing health care and rehab support for the elderly.

Robotic Walkers
At the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG)  in Obu, Aichi Prefecture, Japan seniors have walked since last year with Honda's latest walking device, called the Stride Management Assist (SMA), based on bipedal humanoid Asimo technology. The 2.4 kilogram SMA is attached to the body from the waist to the thighs and supports the locomotion with motors at the base of the legs. With this device seniors with limited walking ability can comfortably walk with a longer stride. Honda provided 40 units of the new device to a planned NCGG exercise program designed to help elderly people avoid becoming dependent on nursing care services.
According to Hiroyuki Shimada at the NCGG this is the world’s first survey to see whether technology-assisted walking improves people’s motor function and is effective in reducing the number of people dependent on nursing care. Based on the results of the test Honda plans to market the device in the future.

[Ashai Shimbun News]

Smartphone Home Robotics

Smartphone and Home Robotics are hot topics at CEATECH 2012 in Tokyo. Japan's premier provider of leading-edge mobile voice, data and multimedia services, NTT DOCOMO, is demonstrating Shabette Robot, a new concept “docomo cloud” service that incorporates a small, NEC Papero  robot as an intelligent personal assistant that talks with users to provide them with highly personalized information.
With more than 60 million customers in Japan, the company is one of the world's largest mobile communications operators and an attractive partner for home robot developers.
NEC started research and development on personal robots in 1997 with the intention to develop a partner able to operate together with humans. PaPeRo has various basic functions for the purpose of interacting with people such as  speech recognition and speech synthesis, face recognition, touch sensors, obstacle avoidance and autonomous behavior. Check out the demo video below. (Japanese only).

Eye Tracking Interface
ibeam - is a new concept user interface for tablets based on eye tracking technology of Swedish Tobii, that makes it possible to scroll a browser screen or turn pages of a book reader simply by eye movement. With ibeam’s eye-tracking technology, many applications can be operated even if the user’s other hand is busy holding a train strap, carrying bags, etc., making it difficult to operate the device with their fingers.

Crowd Funded Robot Projects 2012

Next Generation Robotics will be invented and developed by Generation Z, born from a currently undefined point in the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. These kids are already touch screened, social mediated, wikipediated and broadband mobilized. Frist Lego League fans and RoboGame heroes are already creating and sharing there robotic dreams in real-time, open source environments, hacking, tweeting and liking what will become the next robotic revolution. Disruptive robotic ideas and concepts are popping up in social and digital brains in search of fun, fans and funding.

Crowd funding is a new way to realize great ideas with the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. The two basic models are All or Nothing (AoN), and Keep it All (KiA) crowd funding.
The AoN model, sometimes called the Street Performer Protocol, collects money from the contributors if the fundraising goal is met. If the goal is not met, no money is collected.
The KiA model means no matter whether the project goal is met or not, all of the funds collected (minus commission) are handed over to the entrepreneur. If he or she has insufficient funds to meet the objectives, then it is up to the recipient to refund them to the contributors.

Crowd Funded Robot Projects
One of the leading crowd funding service provider, Kickstarter, launched in 2009, facilitates AoN based gathering of monetary resources from the general public. Below are some example of crowd funded robot projects crowd funded via Kickstarter.

A 4" multi-motor animated mobile robot with sound for being controlled by an Open Source Android / iOS APP via Bluetooth. (334 backers with $46,671)

Stompy: The Giant, Rideable Walking Robot
1,571 backers, $97,817

OpenROV - The Open Source Underwater Robot

OpenROV is an open-source underwater robot for exploration and education. We want to provide kits for the DIY community. (484 backers with $111,622)

Romo– The Smartphone Robot
Romo is a highly functional robotic toy that uses your smartphone as its brain. (1,152 backers with $114,796)

Hexy the Hexapod - Low-Cost Six-Legged Open
Robotic Hexapod kit. Cute, cheap, easy and fun intro to advanced robots. Arduino-powered, and all Open Hardware/Software. (861 backers with $168,267)

These are the first signs of a radical change in robotics development and funding. Generation Z will become the driving force in coming robotic race, that in the long run will change our way of living, our world views, our society and our identity.

If you have a great robotic idea. Check out here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Robots with Skin

Prof. Dan Popa and his Next Generation Robotics research group at the University of Texas at Arlington are investigating fundamental design questions for multi-functional robotic skin sensors. Funded by NSF the researcher will find out how to optimize robotic skin sensors placement onto assistive robotic devices, how to have the robot and human "learn" how to use the skin sensors efficiently, and quantitatively assess the impact of this assistive technology to humans. The approach is to design and fabricate integrated micro-scale sensors in conjunction with iterative simulation and experimental studies of the performance of physical human-robot interaction enabled by this technology.
Credit: Vladimir Lumelsky, NASA GSFC
Co-robots of the future will share their living spaces with humans, and, like people, will wear sensor skins and clothing that must be interconnected, fitted, cleaned, repaired, and replaced. In addition to aesthetic purposes that increase societal acceptance, these sensorized garments will also enhance robot perception of the environment, and enable extraordinary levels of safety, cooperation, and therapy for humans. The research proposed here will unlock near-term and also unforeseen applications of robotic skin with broad applicability, and especially to home assistance, medical rehabilitation, and prosthetics.

Credit: RoboSKIN
A European consortium led by Prof. Giorgio Cannata, University of Genova behind the RoboSKIN project is investigating and developing a range of new robot capabilities based on the tactile feedback provided by a robotic skin from large areas of the robot body. Up to now, a principled investigation of these topics has been limited by the lack of tactile sensing technologies enabling large scale experimental activities, since so far skin technologies and embedded tactile sensors have been mostly demonstrated only at the prototypal stage. The new capabilities will improve the ability of robots to operate effectively and safely in unconstrained environments and also their ability to communicate and co-operate with each other and with humans.

German researchers at the Excellence Cluster CoTeSys at the Technical University Munich (TUM) have developed small hexagonal plates, which when joined together, provide a tactile-sensitive skin for autonomous robots.  This will not only help robots to better navigate in their environments, it will also enable robot self-perception for the first time. A single robotic arm has already been partially equipped with sensors and proves that the concept works.
The video below shows the newly developed Tactile Module in comparison with a human hand. On the backside the local controller is visible next to the four combined power and data ports. One BMA150 3-axis accelerometer (black box middle), six PT1000 temperature sensors (blue boxes) and four GP2S60 proximity sensors (outer black boxes) are visible on the front side. In the second part the KUKA robotic arm reacts towards the different modalities of a single sensor - proximity, acceleration and temperature.

$40M for Next Generation Robots

Credit: NSF, NRI Funded Project by US State
US Robotics university researchers are invited to advance the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), unveiled by President Obama at Carnegie Mellon University on June 24, 2011. The goal of the NRI is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people. Innovative robotics research and applications emphasizing the realization of such co-robots acting in direct support of and in a symbiotic relationship with human partners is supported with $40 million in grants funded by National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So far 39 NRI projects have been  funded with $22 million.