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Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Credit: KUKA youBot Store
German KUKA youBot Store has announced a new initiative to promote education in mobile manipulation. Research groups and labs in universities and public research facilities are invited to organize an one-week programming marathon ("hackathon") for under-graduate or graduate students around mobile manipulation at large.
Participants will get a KUKA youBot on a loan basis *free of cost* for a period of four weeks. They will only have to cover the cost for shipping and insurance of the youBot and for hosting a group of students in their labs.

The youBot HACKATHONS organized in Germany during the second European Robotics Week in 2012 attracted around 40 undergraduate students at hackathons at the Bonn-Rhine-Sieg University of Applied Science,  at the Institute for Software & Systems Engineering, Augsburg University and at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

For more information about the project, please visit the KUKA youBot store website

Nuke plant decommissioning robots wanted

Credit: TEPCO Fukushima Dai-ichi
The Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. (MRI) invites the global robotics community to upgrade and to develop a technical catalog about robotic technologies to move and investigate inside nuclear reactor buildings, namely
1) a flight technology to enable access to the top floor of the nuclear reactor building and
2) a technology to move around and conduct investigations under water in a flooded reactor building.
MRI is entrusted from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in conducting Machine/Equipment Development for Decommissioning the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Planth.

40 years of decommissioning

On December 21, 2011, Government-TEPCO Council on Mid and Long Term Response for Decommissioning adopted "Mid-to-Long-Term Roadmap towards the Decommissioning of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Units 1-4, TEPCO." The roadmap indicates three phase approach towards 40 years decommissioning period.

Japanese decommissioning robots

Credit: fuRo, Sakura
The Sakura remote-controlled transfer robot, developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology, is the latest version in a line of disaster response robots, and has been designed so it can enter and survey the basements of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor buildings. It is specifically designed to collect information in underground facilities, where surveys are considered most difficult. The underground portion of the nuclear reactor building has severe conditions not seen in the above ground portion. There, a robot needs to have high mobility and be able to withstand high radiation levels.

Credit: fuRo, Quince
Quince is a rescue robot designed for CBRNE disasters – situations involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive hazards. It was developed to perform on-site surveys on behalf of humans, such as fire-fighters. Hypothetical disasters include accidents at plants handling toxic substances, leaks of hazardous chemicals from chemical plants, explosions, and acts of terror like the notorious subway sarin incident. Risks are particularly high in enclosed spaces (underground and inside buildings), and expectations are high for robots as they will protect officers from secondary disasters. 
Quince surveyed the inside of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant whose damages were caused by the East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Quince, with modifications for operations at nuclear power plants, has photographed the details of the buildings of the power plant, created radiation dose maps, and sampled radioactive materials floating in the air. It has been helping to reduce the radiation dose of on-site workers and to shorten the work period.

Toshiba tetrapod

In November 2012 Toshiba Corporation unveiled a new 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 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.

Mitsubishi MEISTeR

Credit: MHI Meister

In December 2012 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has unveiled a prototype of the "MEISTeR (Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot)," a two-armed robot to assist recovery work after disasters or severe accidents by performing light-duty tasks in areas inaccessible by humans. By changing its arms' attachment tools, the robot can perform various tasks such as carrying objects, drilling and opening/closing of valves. Going forward MHI will strive for further improvements and explore demand for broad applications of the robot in crisis management.

See also

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

UK stop the killer robots campaign

Lägg till bildtext
A new global campaign to persuade nations to ban “killer robots” before they reach the production stage is to be launched in the UK by a group of academics, pressure groups and Nobel peace prize laureates. The Stop the Killer Robots campaign will be launched in April at the House of Commons and includes many of the groups that successfully campaigned to have international action taken against cluster bombs and landmines. They hope to get a similar global treaty against autonomous weapons.

Robot warfare and autonomous weapons, the next step from unmanned drones, are already being worked on by scientists and will be available within the decade, said Dr Noel Sharkey, a leading robotics and artificial intelligence expert and professor at Sheffield University. He believes that development of the weapons is taking place in an effectively unregulated environment, with little attention being paid to moral implications and international law.

According to the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, ICRAC, almost 50 countries either already have or are developing war robots. The committee fears that advances in robotic systems will lead to more countries committing to war, since robots would be taking the place of humans on the battlefield.
The German Institute for International and Security Affairs SWP, has recently expressed concerns about  the trend towards automated combat in the report "Combat Drones – Killing Drones. A Plea against Flying Robots".

In November 2012 Human Right Watch published "Losing Humanity", a 50-page report outlining concerns about 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.

Big brother's drone eyes  

A PBS' "Nova" program on January 23, entitled "Rise of the Drones," featured Dr. John Antoniades, technical group director for ISR Exploitation Technologies in the Technology Solutions business area. The show explored the cutting edge technologies that are writing a new chapter in aviation history, including ARGUS-IS, or the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System, which flies aboard an unmanned helicopter. Developed collaboratively by Technology Solutions and ISR Solutions, this 1.8-Gigapixel camera has the most powerful real-time, high-resolution video sensor, enabling unprecedented capability in finding, tracking and monitoring events in real time.

European Space Agency robotic competition

Credit: ESA
Registration is open for ESA’s first robotic competition on a mock-up of the International Space Station. The competition combines do-it-yourself and gaming skills in a robotic race to unload, carry and store cargo.
The European Space Agency, ESA, invites school students aged 11-19, after-school programmes and robotics groups to participate in a new space robotics  competition which will involve multiple interactions with ESA robtics experts in the form of live video conferencing and video/document submissions.
This summer, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will fly to the ISS for a 6 month mission called Volare.  ESA have arranged an education programme around this mission because of the large amount of robotic activities during this mission (e.g. Robotic arm operations grappling cargo vehicles or manipulating astronauts during extra-vehicular activities (EVA), Automated Transport Vehicle approach).
The finalists will be welcomed at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA/ESTEC) in the Netherlands to demonstrate their robots on a miniture version of the ISS.  Included in the finals is a chance to speak to Luca Parmitano live from the International Space Station.  Amongst the prizes
for the competition winners is a trip to the European Space Operations Centre (ESA/ESOC) in Darmstad to witness a robotics operation live on the ISS at a convenient time.

For more information about the project, please visit the website.

New CEO restructs Adept Technology

Adept Technology, a global provider of intelligent robots and autonomous mobile solutions and services, has announced that its Board of Directors has appointed Rob Cain as President and Chief Executive Officer succeeding John Dulchinos, who has resigned as President and Chief Executive Officer and as a director of the Company.
Credit: HCP, Rob Cain
Rob Cain, a operating partner at Hale Capital, has been working with Adept over the past several months in an advisory capacity, and has been a primary architect of the restructuring plan adopted by the company. As new CEO he will lead the corporate vision towards an increased emphasis on profitable growth in both its traditional markets and the new exciting mobile business, the company said.
Rob Cain is an Operating Partner of HCP and currently served as Chief Operating Officer of Telanetix Inc. Prior to joining HCP, Rob served as a board member and Senior Vice President of Operations at Avure Technologies, a division of Flow Corporation. At Avure, Rob and his team accomplished a successful turnaround by instilling a culture of execution and accountability in a unionized environment, while finding ways to outperform competitors worldwide. 

Share price comparison Adept, iRobot 2005-2013 
Adept Technology financial results for its fiscal 2013 second quarter ended December 29, 2012 reflect weaknesses in strategy and business performance. Revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2013 was $10.8 million, below $15.2 million in revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2012, and slightly below $11.4 million in revenue for the previous first quarter of fiscal 2013. Adept reported a GAAP net loss of $5.2 million, or $0.49 per share in the second quarter of fiscal 2013, compared to a net loss of $1.2 million, or $0.13 per share in the second quarter of fiscal 2012, and a net loss of $3.1 million, or $0.29 per share in the first quarter of fiscal 2013.

Monday, February 25, 2013

iRobot buys back own shares up to $25 million

iRobot Corp. (NASDAQ: IRBT), a leader in delivering robotic technology-based solutions, today announced that its Board of Directors has authorized a stock repurchase program. Under the program, iRobot may purchase up to $25 million of its common stock beginning March 28, 2013 and ending March 27, 2014.
According to Colin Angle, chairman and chief executive officer of iRobot, the Board’s authorization of a share repurchase program reflects the companies confidence in the health and long-term outlook of the company. “With a strong balance sheet and cash flows, we believe we can take advantage of current market conditions to buy back our shares while maintaining the flexibility to make strategic investments in our future, ” Angle said.

As of February 11, 2013, iRobot had 27,872,850 shares of common stock outstanding.

According to Morningstar data 64.19 percent of iRobot shares are owned by institutions, 37.04 percent of shares are owned by funds and 4.23 percent by insiders.
Credit: Google Finance, IRBT share price 2006-2013

What might be the motive for iRobot to initiate a share repurchase program. One likely motive might be to increase share value for its share owners, by reducing the total number of shares outstanding. This could also protect the company from unfriendly takeover. There have been some speculations about a strategic takeover by Google to become one of the largest suppliers of robotics in the world.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Underwater gliders for European ocean observation

Credit: ACSA, SeaExplorer
Seas and oceans provide an essential part of the European wealth and well-being. But they are also under huge pressure from human activities and climate change. according to the final report from the Expert Group on Marine Research Infrastructures "Towards European Ocean Observation". Marine observation infrastructures are essential to support the maritime economy, study the marine environment, ocean / climate interactions and support marine safety.
An important component of the European Marine Research Infrastructure will be Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and underwater gliders (UWGs) with a typical endurance reaching now up to 4-6 months. Gliders move horizontally on wings and profile vertically by controlling buoyancy, from the surface down to more than 1.000 m, monitoring physical, biogeochemical or acoustic data in quasireal time.

GROOM project

Credit: GROOM

The “Gliders for Research, Ocean Observation and Management” (GROOM) project co-funded by the EU with €3,5 million started in 2011 and will evaluate the requirements to set up a sustainable European glider infrastructure to safely operate individual as well as fleets of gliders in order to create a continuum of observations. In the future operations shall be coordinated to fill the gaps left by present marine observation systems on global, regional and coastal scale, with benefits for both fundamental marine research and operational oceanography. The GROOM consortium is composed of 19 partners representing 9 European countries. The partners have a wealth of experience and expertise in all aspects of ocean observations from the technology used to collect the data through to outputs and dissemination of data products. GROOM will define the scientific, technological and organizational/legal levels, of a European glider capacity for research and sustained observations of the oceans, in line with the other European and international initiatives for marine in-situ observations. The proposal for this new infrastructure strongly relies on EuroARGO and JERICO infrastructures which are emerging and also considers the relevant international coordinating bodies such as GOOS. The proposed technological infrastructures will be based on several dedicated 'gliderports' to maintain and operate a European fleet of gliders in coordination with US, Canadian, Australian and other similar infrastructures. This new infrastructure would be beneficial for both academic oceanographic research and operational oceanography systems on which a large number of marine activities and societal applications now rely.
For more information about the project, please visit the GROOM website

EURATHLON outdoor robotics competition

Credit: euRathlon 2013
EURATHLON is a new outdoor robotics competition, which will invite teams to test the intelligence and autonomy of their robots in realistic mock emergency-response scenarios. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima accident the EURATHLON competition will require a team of land, underwater and flying robots to work together to survey the scene, collect environmental data, and identify critical hazards. Linked public engagement activities will connect EURATHLON with robotics research, industry and emergency services, as well as the general public. By targeting a specific and urgent need, EURATHLON will provide European robotics with a platform for challenging, extending and showcasing European cognitive robotics technologies.

In 2013 the competition will focus on land based vehicles. While in 2014 the competition addresses sea based vehicles, in 2015 it will be held as a joined land, sea and air event.

euRathlon 2013 will be held from 23-27 September in Berchtesgaden, Germany and is based on the previously successful ELROB competition. Deadline for the competition application is 1st March 2013!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Augmented reality interface for telepresence robots

Credit: Giraff
Telepresence robots are a new segment within mobile service robots providing solutions for advanced mobile video conferencing communication and remote navigation. Telepresence robots are remote controlled cameras on wheels and connected via Wi-Fi to the users computer, moble phone or tablet. The user can communicate via a "human-scale" robot with other people and move around a workplace or home from anywhere.
Researcher Giovanni Mosiello from the Department of Technology at Örebro University, has investigated how to enhance the depth perception when using a telepresence robot interacting to other people between long distance. In his experiments he found out that very often users do not have any knowledge of how to drive a robot and in most cases are not even familiar with the typical movement commands in the field of 3D gaming. Users do not feel themselves into the environment in which telepresence robot works. But this kind of perception is critical for operating because it allows the users to effectively estimate the distance between the objects and how the robot can avoid collisions. Telepresence robots allow people to explore remote environments,  A person only needs to know how to drive them in order to feel his/herself inside a remote environment. The main goal of the project was  to provide a user interface that improves the user’s depth perception through a 2D visual feedback and, as a secondary target, to allow non-expert users to become familiar with the robot control interface. In his thesis "Telepresence robot: an effective drive interface using the augmented reality" Mosiello describes how a more user friendly interface can reduce the effort needed to drive the robot properly, especially for non-expert users.

Green energy for solar robots

Credit: NREL
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL of the U.S. Department of Energy the price per Watt of solar modules (not counting installation) drop from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today. If it continues for 20 years, which is well within the realm of scientific and technical possibility, then we’ll have a green power source half the price of coal for electricity. Robots will not only help to bring down costs for installation and maintenance of solar power plants but also become more and more solar powered.

Solar plant robots 

Building open area solar parks is mostly manual work. Identical processes are repeated hundreds of thousands of times. German PV-Kraftwerker have been looking into automation options for some time and has presented a robot called Momo, designed to install solar panels at ground mount solar farms.
Credit: PV Kraftwerker
Momo includes a "gripper" system, equipped with sensors, which the company says enables the automated assembly of modules on mounting systems in a range of terrain. The robot also features a three-dimensional camera, which captures the assembly process of the modules and adjusts deviations from the defined standard to the millimeter. PV Kraftwerker notes that this allows assembly around the clock, regardless of weather conditions. The robot moves to the designated site carrying the solar panels required and installs the modules using a sensor-equipped gripper system.  The robot can also disassemble PV plants, operating in reverse order.
Credit: PV Kraftwerker
The company says Momo can carry out automated assembly of modules on support racks in any terrain. Working off a software program detailing the solar farm's design, the module installation process can be repeated 100,000-times and the robot can cover up to 70 kilometres per assembly. Momo can reportedly work in any weather. The company claims that two robots can do the work of the 250 labourers needed to build a 100-megawatt PV power plant.

Robotic solar plant

QBotix, based in Menlo Park, CA, employs distributed robotics to significantly increase the economics and improve the capabilities of the solar industry. The company is composed of solar industry veterans and robotics innovators from Silicon Valley, MIT, Caltech and Stanfordand has so far raised $7.5 million funding from New Enterprise Associates, Firelake Capital, Siemens Venture Capital, and DFJ JAIC.
Credit: QBotix
In 2012 the company has unveiled the QBotix Tracking System™ (QTS), a comprehensive dual-axis tracking system that employs rugged, intelligent and mobile robots to dynamically operate solar power plants and maximize energy output. QTS provides the higher performance and energy output of dual-axis tracking at conventional single-axis tracking prices. QTS increases the energy production of ground-mounted solar power plants by up to 40 percent over existing fixed mount systems and lowers the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) by up to 20 percent. In addition, QTS offers fast installation, has low operations and maintenance costs, and is compatible with all solar panels and mounting foundations.
Solbot is an autonomous, rugged and mobile robot that can manage up to up to 300 kW PV array. It automatically travels to each tracker, returning in regular 40 minutes intervals to make precise adjustments. Solbot is intelligent, providing real-time information to optimize your solar array and maximize system availability. Certified waterproof and dustproof through IP-65 rating, and designed to operate in extreme conditions, each Solbot is quality-manufactured in the United States for outstanding durability.

Solar powered Mars rovers record - 8 years, 301 days

Previous Mars missions have relied on solar panels to power the rovers. NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004). While Spirit became immobile in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010, Opportunity remains active as of 2013, having already exceeded its planned 90 sol (Martian days) duration of activity by 8 years, 301 days (in Earth time). Opportunity has continued to move, gather scientific observations, and report back to Earth for nearly 35 times its designed lifespan. 
But exploration was slowed down by dust build-up on the solar panels or short winters days with little sunlight. The SUV-sized rover, Curiosity, launched in late November 2011 and landed on Mars in August 2012, is now powered by a nuclear generator, that delivers both heat and 110 watts of steady electric power from an array of iridium capsules holding a ceramic form of plutonium dioxide. 

Solar powered UAVs

Credit: NASA Helios
The NASA Pathfinder, NASA Pathfinder Plus, NASA Centurion and NASA Helios Prototype were an evolutionary series of solar- and fuel-cell-system-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) developed by AeroVironment, Inc. under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. They were built to develop the technologies that would allow long-term, high-altitude aircraft to serve as "atmospheric satellites", to perform atmospheric research tasks as well as serve as communications platforms. On August 13, 2001, Helios demonstrated its capability when it reached an unofficial altitude record for non-rocket-powered aircraft of 96,863 feet. Unfortunately, on June 26, 2003 during a test flight over the Pacific Ocean near Kauai, Hawaii the Helios prototype was lost due to a structural failure caused by control problems.

UAV world record - 336 hours, 21 minutes

Credit: QinetiQ, Zephyr
QinetiQ in the UK developed the Zephyr family of solar-electric-powered unmanned air vehicles with the UK Ministry of Defence, under a jointly funded programme. The Zephyr high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) autonomous unmanned system can provide high-quality surveillance data over large areas in real time. The system is capable of capturing and disseminating information, while operating at altitudes of more than 18km. Solar panels power the aircraft and charge lithium batteries which keep it flying at night. In 2010 Zephyr, successfully landed after 14 days (336 hours) and 21 minutes flying over Arizona - a new world record for solar powered UAV.

The patent pending Silent Falcon™ is a solar/electric, all composite, modular small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) designed for both military and public safety applications. With Silent Falcon’s™ solar electric propulsion system, rugged composite structure, and three interchangeable wing configurations, it is the first sUAS capable of meeting both man-portable and long-endurance ISRT mission profiles. It can be easily adapted to fit other mission profiles that require industry leading flight endurance and communications capabilities to cast a broad coverage net over single or multiple units in the field.

DARPA SolarEagle 2014

Credit: DARPA, SolarEagle
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Vulture program, which aims to develop and demonstrate technology to enable a single high-altitude unmanned airplane (UAV) to operate continuously for a period of five years, has entered phase II. Under the terms of an US$89 million contract, Boeing will develop a full-scale demonstrator called the SolarEagle that will make its first demonstration flight in 2014. The aircraft will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers and a high-aspect-ratio, 400-foot wing for increased solar power and aerodynamic performance. Under the Vulture II agreement, Boeing will develop a full-scale flight demonstrator, including maturation of the critical power system and structures technologies. Key suppliers for the program include Versa Power Systems and QinetiQ.
During testing, the SolarEagle demonstrator will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days, harvesting solar energy during the day that will be stored in fuel cells and used to provide power through the night.

Solar powered AUVs

Credit: FSI
Falmouth Scientific, Inc. (FSI), based in Cataumet, MA, has developed SAUV II, a solar-powered autonomous undervater vehicle  providing extended mission endurance on the surface or at depths up to 500 meters. On-board rechargeable lithium-ion batteries provide maximum mission endurance even under conditions where minimal solar radiation is available. The SAUV is designed as a multi-mission platform to allow payload configuration by the end-user to optimize the SAUV for coastal/harbor monitoring, data portal (to moored sub-surface instruments) applications, or any other application where long-term deployment is required.

AUV world record - 9,000 nautical mile

Credit: Liquid Robotics
Liquid Robotics, Inc, based in Sunnyvale, CA, has developed the Wave Glider, the first wave-powered autonomous marine robot with solar panel for battery charging, onboard electronics & payloads. By sourcing all the energy it needs from its environment, the robot “can travel to a distant area, collect and transmit data in real-time via satellite or short-range radio, and then return for maintenance without ever requiring a ship to leave port.
In January 2009, long endurance testing began when a Wave Glider completed a nine-day circumnavigation of Hawai’i's Big Island. Later that year, a pair of Wave Gliders journeyed from Hawai’i to San Diego, an 82-day trip that covered more than 2,500 miles. Since then, Wave Gliders have covered over 250,000 nautical miles, and collected data for dozens of scientific, commercial and security applications.
In December 2012 PacX Wave Glider named “Papa Mau”, completed his 9,000 nautical mile (16,668 kilometers) scientific journey across the Pacific Ocean to set a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle. Throughout his journey, Papa Mau navigated along a prescribed route under autonomous control collecting and transmitting unprecedented amounts of high-resolution ocean data never before available over these vast distances or time frames.

Solar powered lawn mower

Credit: Husqvarna, Automower Solar Hybrid
In 2008 Swedish Husqvarna was first to launch a solar powered robotic lawn mower. The Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid gets energy from the 12-watt photovoltaic solar cell panel attached to its back. It uses no fuel or oil as a power source. When the sun is shining, the mower uses solar energy instead of battery power. When the battery does need a little juice, the mower automatically finds its way to the charging station via a signal emitted by the station. The mower senses the signal when it's within 20 to 23 feet (6 to 7 meters) of the station. The charging station is electrically powered and connects to a transformer that in turn plugs into a 120-volt wall socket. Overall, the setup uses about the same amount of energy as a standard incandescent light bulb.

Unmanned Solar Vehicles Challenge 

The world´s first contest for unmanned solar-powered ground vehicles, Unmanned Solar Challenge, was held in Oct 2012 at Korea Automobile Testing & Research Institute, KATECH. Total of eight vehicle competed in short and long distance tracks.
Check out the promotion video below.

Solar powered robot toys

For those of you looking to teach your kids about the importance and fun behind solar energy, the 6 in 1 Solar Powered DIY Robot Toy Assembly Kit from OWI would be a perfect gift. It comes with everything you need to build six different toys that all function with the power from the included solar panel.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bioinspired robot STAR

Researcheras at the Biomimetic Millisystem Lab, UC Berkeley, have developed a six legged bioinspired, 12cm long, robot, named SPAR (Sprawl Tuned Autonomous Robot) The robot can vary its sprawl angle in order to adapt to different surfaces. The robot, can achieve legged performance over rough surfaces and obstacles, using a high sprawl angle, and nearly wheel-like performance over smooth surfaces for small sprawl angles. By changing the sprawl angle it can climb over obstacle or crawl underneath them. STAR can run at 5.2m/s (43 body lengths/second, Froude number 9.8) over a smooth surface which makes it the fastest untethered crawling robot. Check out the video below for its crawling performance. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Robots picking in the retail warehouse

Credit: Mercadona
The largest supermarket chain and food distributor in Spain, Mercadona, with more than 1,400 supermarkets and a 13.5 percent share of Spain’s total food retail space, has commissioned Finnish robotics specialist Cimcorp Oy (known as Cimcorp) to design and implement a fully automated, robotic order picking system for fresh produce.
Mercadona is investing in new warehouse technology at its Guadix distribution centre. To achieve improved efficiency and customer satisfaction, Mercadona has awarded Cimcorp the contract to supply the automation system for full-crate picking. The scope of supply includes order-picking robots for fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as for meat products. The total material flow will be controlled by Cimcorp’s warehouse management software, WCS. Cimcorp will also take care of the installation and start up. The system, which will start opera-tion once the construction of the new logistics building is finished at the end of 2013, is based on Cimcorp’s order processing island concept. The island is self-sufficient, taking care of goods reception; put-away; location of stored items; retrieval planning; picking of crates; sorting and preparation of crates into discrete orders; and loading of the orders onto transport units ready for delivery.
Check out the CIMCORP Automation Island 3D animation of a gauntry system below.

Cimcorp Oy, founded in 1975 and is headquartered in Ulvila, Finland, manufactures and supplies gantry robot systems for intralogistics in Europe, Asia, and North America. The company offers MultiPick systems, which is used for order picking and distribution of plastic crates and trays in food and beverage, and mail processing and distribution industries. The company was formerly known as Swisslog Oy (Cimcorp Oy is a former subsidiary of Swisslog Holding AG) changed its name to Cimcorp Oy in 2004.

Robot suit for disaster recovery workers

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima the Japanese New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, NEDO,  has implemented a "disaster unmanned systems research and development project" to support the development of robots for performing disaster response. One of the latest results was demonstrated recently by Cyberdyne, the developer of the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton. The new version of HAL is aimed to support recovery worker under harsh environments. According to Cyberdyne, the exoskeleton can reduce radiation exposure by 50 percent, and includes a cooling system to prevent heatstroke. Heart rates and vital signs are monitored in real-time, and most of the suit’s weight is carried by the skeleton’s mechanical legs — as well as tools that can be used to repair damage.

Cyberdyne was established in 2004 to facilitate commercialization of the HAL robot suit. The HAL suit was originally intended to be a rehabilitation aid, although other modifications have resulted in a significant increase of a wearer’s strength.

Disaster response robot

Researchers at the Future Robotics Technology Center (fuRo), at the Chiba Institute of Technology, have developed a new disaster response robot, the Sakura remote-controlled transfer robot. The robot is the latest in their line of disaster response robots, and has been designed so it can enter and survey the basements of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor buildings. It is specifically designed to collect information in underground facilities, where surveys are considered most difficult. The underground portion of the nuclear reactor building has severe conditions not seen in the above ground portion. There, a robot needs to have high mobility and be able to withstand high radiation levels.

The robot was funded by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, NEDO, Research and Development Project for Automated Disaster Response Systems. NEDO's R&D activities on robot technology focus on the development of safety verification methods through the implementation of safety tests, the acquisition, accumulation and analysis of safety data to establish personal safety standards as well as safety standard conformity assessment methods in order to promote Japan's efforts to realize standard establishment and dissemination of service robots.

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Robotic Floor Cleaner

Credit: O-Cedar/FHP
O-Cedar, the leading brand in traditional floor care, is introducing the O-Duster™, a new robotic floor cleaner. The O-Duster™ features an automatic navigation system that changes direction when it detects objects and walls, and is self-rotating for additional cleaning power. The exclusive disposable electrostatic cleaning cloths attract and retain dust, dirt and hair, making it ideal for pet owners. The sleek profile reaches under furniture, and the flexible base allows O-Duster™ to access corners and edging. 
The O-Duster™ will be available at U.S. retailers including HEB, Publix, ShopRite, Target, Wal-Mart and Winn Dixie for $39.99. Electrostatic pad refills are available in packs of 20 for $8.99.

O-Cedar is sold by the Freudenberg Household Products (FHP), a division of the Freudenberg Group, headquartered in Weinheim, Germany. FHP employs about 2,300 employees globally and is best known in America for its O-Cedar® brand and signature tagline “O-Cedar Makes Your Life Easier!®” Check out the demo video below. 

Elderly assist robot solutions

The population in Asia, Europe and USA is aging at an increasing rate effecting quality of life and welfare systems. Rising demand of care for the elderly, shortage of workforce, rising costs of care, and public financing crisis have been identified by researchers, industry experts and politicians as major  challenges for the future. Japan is often mentioned as the forerunner, as it is fast turning into the world’s oldest nation. In 2012 Japan was the only country in the world where more than 30% of the population is over 60.
But in 2050 64 countries will have more than 30% of the population is over 60.
The Japanese population is also starting to show signs of decline. In 2005, the country saw its first population decrease since 1899. The current Japanese population of 127 million is expected to drop to 89 million by the year 2055.

Rising Average Life Expectancy

As of 2010, the average life expectancy of a Japanese male is 79.64 and 86.39 for female. Compared to that of year 1970, which were 69.31 and 74.66 respectively, the average life expectancy has increased by 10 to 12 years for both male and female in the last 40 years. According to the bureau of social welfare and public health in Tokyo of all the elderly population in Tokyo, 72% of men and 75% of women in their sixties, and 59% of men and 56% of women in their seventies said they felt they were in good health. But the number of seniors who require support or nursing care (Senior in Need of Long-term Care) is increasing. Approximately 12.5% of seniors 65 or older are certified to “require support/nursing care for some kind of dementia”. In addition, 60% of seniors certified to “require support/nursing care due to symptoms causing difficulty in daily”. Japan is also tackling a rise in the number of people who die alone, most of whom are elderly. In Tokyo 4.6 million elderly people lived alone in 2010, and the number who died at home soared 61% between 2003 and 2010, from 1,364 to 2,194.

Robot care for the aging society  

Credit: METI/Panasonic/Matsushita Memorial Hospital
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI) predicts the emergence of a “Neo-Mechatronic Society” within the next two decades. In this society, robots will routinely provide a number of services such as cleaning, guarding buildings, providing recreational facilities and caring for the elderly. Japan thus foresees a new generation of robotics, which is also positioned as a solution for its aging society.

Life assist robot solutions

Last year Panasonic Corporation and Matsushita Memorial Hospital have presented a business model in which robots related to medicine or those suitable for autonomous transportation were exhibited in an area simulating a hospital, which helped customers to envision hospitals that would introduce such robots. They proposed using robots to solve problems in medical practice and management of hospitals by comprehensively considering such problems through consultations. At the METI 5th Robot Awards the robotic business model was awarded with the first prize in the new category of "Robot Business and Social Implementation".

Japanese assistance robot HOSPI 

One of the robotic components is "HOSPI", a automatic medication delivery robot, which is used in hospitals in Japan and other countries. HOSPI-Rimo serves as an intermediary to enable comfortable communication between people who are bed ridden or have limited mobility to communicate with other people, for example, their attending doctor in a separate room in the hospital or friends who live far away, as if they were interacting face to face. HOSPI-Rimo employs HOSPI's autonomous mobility technology and high-definition visual communications technology Panasonic is renowned for.

Robotic Nurses Needed

According to data from the U.S. Administration of Aging, AoA persons 65 years or older numbered 40.2 million in 2010. They represented 12.9% of the U.S. population, about one in every eight Americans. AoA predicts that in 2050, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to be 88.5 million, more than double its projected population of 40.2 million in 2010. The baby boomers are largely responsible for this increase in the older population, as they will begin crossing into this category in 2011.

700,000 additional nurses needed

Today about 2,7 million registered nurses (RNs) in the USA provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. BLS projects a need for 711,900 additional nurses from 2010 to 2020. Growth will occur primarily because of technological advancements; an increased emphasis on preventative care; and the large, aging baby-boomer population who will demand more healthcare services as they live longer and more active lives.

Nursebot project 

In 1998 a multi-disciplinary team of investigators from four universities, consisting of four health-care faculty, one HCI/psychology expert, and four AI researchers started the Nursebot Project. The goal of the project was to develop mobile robotic assistants for nurses and elderly people in various settings. Over the course of 36 months, the team developed two prototype autonomous mobile robots: Florence and Pearl. In their paper "Experiences with a Mobile Robotic Guide for the Elderly" reseacher M. Montemerlo, J. Pineau, N. Roy, S. Thrun and V. Varma, at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, describe a mobile robotic assistant for nurses and elderly in assisted living facilities and experiments. The researchers came to the conclusion that the elderly population requires techniques that can cope with their degradation (e.g., speaking abilities) and also pays special attention to safety issues. The area of assistive technology was identified "as a prime source for great AI problems in the future."

Ten year later researchers at Intel Labs at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), in Pittsburgh, still try to find out how to develop a Home Exploring Robot Butler, HERBto be able to enter a household, take stock of his surroundings, and be able to move around freely, avoiding obstacles and carrying objects as desired by the humans he serves. The researchers believe senior citizens and the disabled will be the early adopters of robot butlers, since they most need help around the house. 

European robot projects for elderly support 

In the last decade the European Commission has co-funded appr. 100-150 M€ in robotics research under the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7) 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.  
One example is the CompanionAble project, started in 2008 with the goal to "provide the synergy of Robotics and Ambient Intelligence technologies and their semantic integration to provide people suffering from mild cognitive impairments (MCI) with a care-giver's assistive environment.  Check out the video below. It shows the final concepts of the CompanionAble project. It has been recorded in the 'Smartest House of the Netherlands' of Smart Homes in Eindhoven. This was one of the sites where extensive user evaluations took place. In 2010 the Robot-Era project started with the ambition to significantly enhance the complexity and acceptability of current robotic services to a new level of service and performance for helping seniors in daily life. The objective is to develop, implement and demonstrate the general feasibility, scientific/technical effectiveness and social/legal plausibility and acceptability by end-users of a plurality of complete advanced robotic services, integrated in intelligent environments, which will actively work in real conditions and cooperate with real people and between them to favour independent living, improve the quality of life and the efficiency of care for elderly people. SILVER is new development project that started in January 2012 and will run for 51 months. The SILVER project searches for new technologies to assist elderly people in their everyday lives. By the use of robotics or other related technologies, the elderly can continue independent living at home even if they have physical or cognitive disabilities. The new technologies and solutions are sought by using a Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) process. In Europe, the PCP has so far been an under-utilised tool for promoting innovation. One of the aims of this project is to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach to address societal and governmental needs. After careful market consultation an international Pre-Commercial Procurement call is being opened to acquire the research and development of new robotics based technologies that support independent living for the elderly. The total bugdet of the three phase competition is 2.250.000 EUR (EU contribution 1 million EUR). SILVER has partners in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom. The consortium includes research institutions and public sector organizations. <

Korean nurse bot 2013

Credit: Kiro-M5, Postech
The latest in a line of nurse bots comes from South Korea. The KIRO-M5 is a compact transportation robot that can carry supplies, sterilize and deodorize the air, and alert nurses when the elderly patients need their diapers changed. The robot performs daily wake-up calls, informs residents when food is served, schedules their daily exercise, and has an alarm function should an emergency arise. Besides sniffing the air to detect soiled diapers, the KIRO-M5 also has a pair of handles so it can be used as a robotic walker. The Korea Institute of Robot and Convergence, a division of the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), began work on the KIRO-M5 in early 2011 and is now conducting trials at nursing homes. Korean engineers have been developing robots for the "silver generation" over the past decade.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Disaster robots at Fukushima

Credit: Toshiba 
Toshiba has demonstrated a new remote controlled robot that uses dry ice to vacuum up radiation at Toshiba's technical center in Yokohama. The robot has two boxy machines the size of large refrigerators and moves on crawlers that are remotely controlled. Each machine has four cameras that allow the device to “see” what it is doing. The robot can theoretically clean a space of up to two square meters per hour, but the current system can only hold enough dry ice for half an hour. The engineers will test the robot first at a separate nuclear plant this month, aiming to introduce it to the battered Fukushima nuclear plant this summer, Japan Today reports.
Credit: Toshiba tetrapod
In November 2012 Toshiba unveiled a remote-controlled tetrapod robot aimed to use at the Fukushima power plant. The robot, which weighed 65 kilograms (143 pounds) and was about one metre (3 foot, four inches) tall, was designed to be able to cover difficult terrain—such as going up steep steps—that regular robots struggle with. In December, it successfully photographed some of the critical part of the plant's reactor No 2, where high radiation makes it impossible for workers to walk in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

19 gram Nano Quadcopter for pre-order

Swedish Bitcraze AB, founded in 2011 by three electronic engineers, has developed and released for pre-order the Crazyflie Nano Qquadcopter.

Crazyflie is an open source nano quadcopter kit designed for flexible development and hacking. It's among the smallest in the world, weighing only 19 grams and measuring 9 cm motor to motor.
Pre-order started on February 1st and so far 1000 Craziflies av been sold. Available for pre-order until February 18th at Seeedstudio. First batch 300 kits --- Sold Out, Time of shipping: April, 25, 2013, Second batch 500 kits, Time of shipping: May 3, 2013.
Seeed Studio is an open hardware facilitation company based in Shenzhen, China.
Seeed Studio designs modular electronics for quick prototyping and small scale projects, which could be found at Bazaar. It also carries inventories from community innovators, help people make, distribute their designs and collect the revenue. It’s a win-win situation and taking a shape towards an ecosystem. By working with Seeed Studio, innovators can focus on the designs, provide better support to the user and promote the product. Seeed Studio or similar service provider could get more traffic and bring up other product sales.

Check out the demo video below! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New business model for Willow Garage

Willow Garage, a privately-funded research lab focused on developing the next generation of robotic devices, has recently announced via its blog that it will change its "funding model". The company has decided "to enter the world of commercial opportunities with an eye to becoming a self-sustaining company."
The announcement was a reaction to an article of IEEE Spectrum spreading rumors about the shut down of Willow Garage within the next months.  

Founded in 2006 by Google search engine co-designer Scott Hassan, Willow Garage was aimed to create an innovative robotics research and development lab and technology incubator devoted to developing hardware and open source software for personal robotics applications. The company became probably best known by its open source software suite ROS (Robot Operating System), which has been rapidly and widely becoming a common, standard tool among robotics researchers and industry, since its initial release in 2007. Willow Garage has also been committed to developing open-source robots such as PR2 and TurtleBot.
Willow Garage’s spin offs include hiDOF Inc., industrial perception, inc. Open CV, Open Perception Foundation, Open Source Robotics Foundation, Redwood Robotics, a joint venture between Meka Robotics, Willow Garage, and SRI, and telepresence company Suitable Technologies.

20 Million Euro for open robotics development

Credit: ECHORD experiments 2009-2013
The European Clearing House for Open Robotics Development project, ECHORD, starting in 2009 with 19 million EURO funding support by the European Commission under FP7-IC program, aimed "to encourage and support Europe’s robot industry to bring technology forward and to build up excellence in well-defined areas", will continue in five more years ECHORD++ beginning in October 2013.

ECHORD++, has received 19,75 million EURO to create new opportunities for European robotics researchers to work directly with SME/start-ups and new users/customers to create innovative products. The 60 months ECHORD++ project coordinated by Prof. Alois Knoll, TU Munch, will continue ECHORD’s two pillars, “experiments” and “structured dialogue”, taking advantage of experience and investment in the infrastructure. In addition, robot system customers and users will be involved through pilots for potential pre-commercial procurement, connecting suppliers directly with the market. Also, ECHORD++ will provide open experimental facilities, allowing new robot customers and users to interact with roboticists with no entrance barrier and at very low cost so that new communities can form.

Robotic lawn mower with weather timer and GPS

Credit: Husqvarna, Automower 308
In early May Swedish Husqvarna, the leading manufacturer of robotic lawn mowers, will release three new Husqvarna robotic lawn mower - Automower 308, Automower 320 and Automower 330 X.
According to Husqvarna the third-generation robotic lawnmowers will be much more intelligent, convenient and eco friendly. Two of the new mowers will have a feature which Husqvarna calls weather timer. The lawn mowers can measure the thickness of the grass and calculate how often it needs to be cut. One of the new mowers will be equipped with GPS navigation, which means that it will know where on the site it has to cut. The boundary wire however will be deployed for signal transmisson. A new feature will be that two new models can be put in eco-mode, which means that the power to the cable will be turned off when the mower is in the charging station, for lower power consumption.

Israel-China robotics

The Israeli Robotics Association, IROB has identified China as an important market for the Israeli robotics industry and aims at promoting the local robotics industry through robotics education, encouraging entrepreneurship in the field, and assisting in international cooperation. According to Zvi Shalgo, chairman of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, large local companies in China are now investing in robotics and automation, because of the dramatic increase in wages. The Chinese government has identified robotics and automation as a top priority area in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and will finance the automation of the current manufacturing lines. Chinese companies that are currently considered inferior compared to foreign competitors, are likely to become leader in their fields.

Since the new regulation of labor laws in China, which led to a radical increase in salaries, many enterprises have collapsed. The Chinese industry sees robots as a solution to the diminishing workforce problem. Due to the policy of 'one child' in China, the working age population shrinks, which will naturally lose the demographic advantage.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) China has quadrupled its annual supply of industrial robots between 2006-2011, and now sits just ahead of the US but behind Korea and Japan. IFR predicts that China will become the world’s biggest consumer of robots by 2014, with supply expected to jump from 22,600 in 2011 to 32,000 units.

The Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn is already looking to replace some of their staff with robots. The company apparently had around 10,000 industrial robots on the production line in 2010 and was planning to ramp that number up to 300,000 by the end of 2012 and one million units by 2014.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Memoriam Georges Giralt

Georges Giralt
Georges Giralt passed away on Sunday 10th February 2013. 
He was a pioneer in robotics, a leader and an example for generations of roboticists. He worked hard to promote robotics and scientific collaboration at national, European and International level.
You can leave a condolence message at
Georges Giralt, Research Director at LAAS-CNRS, obtained his PhD (1958) in the field of Electronics Systems. He launched in 1976 the autonomous mobile robot project, HILARE. In 1980, he organized and led (1980-1985) a very large French national programme (ARA) on Advanced Robotics and Automation. In the framework of the French Space Agency effort on robots for planetary exploration, he led a consortium of four (CEA, CNRS, INRIA, ONERA) major R&D institutions (October 1989-September 1996). He created (1983) with five other researchers (United States: Mike Brady, R. Paul ; Japan: H. Anafusa, H. Inoue ; Europe: O. Faugeras) the International Foundation for Robotics Research (President in 1989 and Secretary from 1992 to 2001). He was France Representative and Programme Secretary of the International Advanced Robotics Programme, originated by the G7 at the Versailles Summit (1982) which associates today 16 countries (G7, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Korea, New-Zealand, Russia, Spain) and the EC as an Observer. His most recent personal field of interest is robot decisional autonomy and machine intelligence. He received the CNRS Silver Medal for his work in Electronics and Systems (1972), and the Joseph Engelberger Award for his contribution to Robotics Technology Development (1997). He was promoted Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for his contribution to international research cooperation (January 1988). He is also IEEE fellow (2002).  Source: Rachid Alami on behalf of LAAS-CNRS robotics researchers

Thursday, February 07, 2013

New outdoor robotic competiion

Credit: DFKI, Asguard
euRathlon is a new outdoor robotics competition that invites teams to test the intelligence and autonomy of their robots in realistic and demanding mock emergency-response scenarios inspired by the Fukushima accident.
A competition for land-based vehicles in 2013 will be followed by one for underwater robots in 2014 with the final competition in 2015 requiring a team of terrestrial, marine and aerial robots to work collaboratively to survey the scene, collect environmental data and identify critical hazards.
euRathlon 2013 will be held 23rd-27th September in Berchtesgaden, Germany based on the successful ELROB competition

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

iRobot: Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Financial Results

iRobot Corp. (NASDAQ: IRBT), a leader in delivering robotic technology-based solutions, today announced its financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 29, 2012.
Full-year domestic Home Robot revenue growth of more than 40 percent, coupled with international revenue growth of 22 percent, drove a 28 percent year-over-year increase in full-year Home Robot revenue. International Home Robot revenue of $239 million comprised 67 percent of total Home Robot 2012 revenue.But the decline in Defense & Security revenue resulted in revenue for the full year 2012 of $436.2 million, compared with $465.5 million for the full year. 
Net income for the full year 2012 was $17.3 million, compared with $40.2 million for the same period in 2011.
  • Revenue for the fourth quarter of 2012 was $100.7 million, compared with $130.8 million for the same quarter one year ago. Revenue .
  • Net loss in the fourth quarter of 2012 was $5.9 million, compared with net income of $10.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. 
  • Quarterly loss per share was ($0.21), compared with earnings per share of $0.38 in the fourth quarter last year. Full-year earnings per share were $0.61, compared with $1.44 last year. The Q4 and full year results include the negative impact of $0.22 and $0.27, respectively, from restructuring the Defense & Security business and the inclusion of Evolution Robotics, acquired on October 1, 2012.
  • Adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter of 2012 was $1.0 million, compared with $21.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. Adjusted EBITDA for the full year 2012 was $52.5 million, compared with $73.0 million for the same period a year ago.
CEO Colin Angel expects the home robot business to grow roughly 20% this year and comprise 90% of total company revenue.