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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.