Tag Archives: robot

Opening Doors on the Way to a Personal Robot

Consider it one small step — or a roll, actually — for a robot, one not giant, but significant step for robotics.

Willow Garage, a Silicon Valley robotics research group, said that its experimental PR2 robot, which has wheels and can travel at speeds up to a mile and a quarter per hour, was able to open and pass through 10 doors and plug itself into 10 standard wall sockets in less than an hour. In a different test, the same robot completed a marathon in the company’s office, traveling 26.2 miles. PR2 will not compete with humans yet; it took more than four days.

For the person who wants to buy a fully functioning robot butler, this may not seem so impressive. But for roboticists and a new generation of technologists in Silicon Valley, this is a significant achievement, a step along the way to the personal robot industry.

Willow Garage was founded by Scott Hassan, one of the designers of the original Google search engine. The company’s name is a reference to a small garage on Willow Road in Menlo Park, Calif., which was Google’s first office. The company is trying to develop a new generation of robotic personal assistants. Roboticists here and at other companies envision creating something on the scale of the personal computer industry, with mechanical personal assistants taking over a lot of drudgery, from cleaning up to fetching a beer from the refrigerator.

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The future of robots is rat-shaped

If so, it will be time to scream… but out of joy, rather than fear, for it could be a turning point in the history of robotics.

Psikharpax — named after a cunning king of the , according to a tale attributed to Homer — is the brainchild of European researchers who believe it may push back a frontier in .

Scientists have strived for decades to make a robot that can do some more than make repetitive, programmed gestures. These are fine for making cars or amusing small children, but are of little help in the real world.

One of the biggest obstacles is learning ability. Without the smarts to figure out dangers and opportunities, a robot is helpless without human intervention.

“The autonomy of robots today is similar to that of an insect,” snorts Guillot, a researcher at France’s Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics (ISIR), one of the “Psikharpax” team.

Such failures mean it is time to change tack, argue some roboticist.

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Morphing programmable matter gadgets could soon be a reality

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Imagine a bracelet or a watch that morphs into something else when you take it off. Perhaps it becomes a phone, or perhaps a small computer screen and keyboard.

Researchers are just a few years away from bringing to life revolutionary morphing devices known as programmable matter which can change size, shape and function.

Programmable matter, or “claytronics”, involves creating devices made of millions of microscopic robots that are to 3D objects what pixels are to a screen.

These devices sound like pure science fiction, but they might be closer than anyone would have dreamed. And that includes Jason Campbell, one of the key members of the research team developing the technology at the Intel Research Centre.

“It’s a really challenging research vision, but we are making steady progress and we’re now more convinced that we are actually going to do it,” says Mr Campbell.

“My estimates of how long it is going to take have gone from 50 years down to just a couple more years. That has changed over the four years I’ve been working on the project.”

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The Pentagon’s Bionic Arm

When Americans are wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, no expense is spared to save their lives. But once they’re home, if they have suffered an amputation of their arm, they usually end up wearing an artificial limb that hasn’t changed much since World War II.

In all the wonders of modern medicine, building a robotic arm with a fully functioning hand has not been remotely possible.

But as 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reports, that is starting to change. One remarkable leap in technology is called the DEKA arm and it’s just one of the breakthroughs in a $100 million Pentagon program called “Revolutionizing Prosthetics.”

Fred Downs has been wearing the standard prosthetic arm since 1968, after he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam.

“It’s a basic hook. And I can rotate the hook like this and lock it,” Downs told Pelley, demonstrating the limited movement ability of his prosthetic arm. “In those days they didn’t have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and say, ‘This is your arm, this is your leg.’ And it was the best technology in those days and you just had to make yourself learn how to use it and I did.”

Today, Downs is the head of prosthetics for the Veterans Health Administration. He told Pelley the technology used for his arm was developed during the World War II era.

“There’s a hook, something out of Peter Pan. And that’s just unacceptable,” Dr. Geoffrey Ling, an Army colonel and neurologist who’s leading the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, told Pelley

Col. Ling is a physician with big dreams and little patience, especially when touring Walter Reed Army Medical Center and meeting the troops he’s working for. “We have a saying in the military, ‘Leave no one behind.’ And we are very serious about that. And that doesn’t mean just on the battlefield, but also back at home,” he said.

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Regulate armed robots before it’s too late

In this age of super-rapid technological advance, we do well to obey the Boy Scout injunction: “Be prepared”. That requires nimbleness of mind, given that the ever accelerating power of computers is being applied across such a wide range of applications, making it hard to keep track of everything that is happening. The danger is that we only wake up to the need for forethought when in the midst of a storm created by innovations that have already overtaken us.

We are on the brink, and perhaps to some degree already over the edge, in one hugely important area: robotics. Robot sentries patrol the borders of South Korea and Israel. Remote-controlled aircraft mount missile attacks on enemy positions. Other military robots are already in service, and not just for defusing bombs or detecting landmines: a coming generation of autonomous combat robots capable of deep penetration into enemy territory raises questions about whether they will be able to discriminate between soldiers and innocent civilians. Police forces are looking to acquire miniature Taser-firing robot helicopters. In South Korea and Japan the development of robots for feeding and bathing the elderly and children is already advanced. Even in a robot-backward country like the UK, some vacuum cleaners sense their autonomous way around furniture. A driverless car has already negotiated its way through Los Angeles traffic.

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Tokyo school to host first robot teacher

Students at a Tokyo primary school will soon be learning from the first robot teacher, a Japanese science professor says.

University of Tokyo Professor Hiroshi Kobayashi has created a robot capable of teaching human students while also expressing a limited range of emotions, including anger in case of unruly children, The Daily Telegraph said Thursday.

The robot is named Saya and has been under development for 15 years leading up to the scheduled school trial.

The robot’s 18 facial motors are what give it the ability to mimic certain human emotions while the humanoid’s other inner workings allow it to speak multiple languages and set tasks, the newspaper said.

Saya’s planned appearance at the primary school will mark the most recent attempt by Japan to integrate robotics into everyday life.

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Child-like robots only a few years away

The iCub robot, modelled on a human child, made its first appearance in Britain this week – the latest result of cutting edge robotics research funded by the European Commission

iCub is capable of human style eye, head and leg movement as well as basic object recognition and a realistic hand grasping movement.

The mini humanoid robot has been modelled on a three-and-a-half-year-old child and is the result of a five-year £7.5m project is to develop a fully functioning child-like robot.

“Scientists want to give it the ability to crawl on all fours and sit up, to handle objects with precision and to have head and eye movements that echo those of humans,” reports PA News.

Open source robotic development

For more details you can head over to the RobotCub website, which details the background to the project and is the “home of the iCub”

“Our main goal is to study cognition through the implementation of a humanoid robot the size of a 3.5 year old child: the iCub,” reads the site’s blurb.

“This is an open project in many different ways: we distribute the platform openly, we develop software open-source, and we are open to including new partners and form collaboration worldwide.

The iCub made its first trip to the UK this week to attend the University of Manchester at the Symposium on Humanoid Robotics.

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Will Artificial Organism with Advanced Group Intelligence Evolve?

Remember Michael Crichton’s science-fiction novel, “Prey”? Well,  researchers at the University of York have investigated large swarms of up to 10,000 miniature robots which can work together to form a single, artificial life form. The multi-robot approach to artificial intelligence is a relatively new one, and has developed from studies of the swarm behavior of social insects such as ants.

Swarm robotics is a field of study based on the supposition that simple, individual robots can interact and collaborate to form a single artificial organism with more advanced group intelligence.

As a part of an international collaboration dubbed the “Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms” project, or “Symbrion” for short, researchers are developing an artificial immune system which can protect both the individual robots that form part of a swarm, as well as the larger, collective organism.

The aim of the project is to develop the novel principles behind the ways in which robots can evolve and work together in large ‘swarms’ so that – eventually – these can be applied to real-world applications. The swarms of robots are capable of forming themselves into a ‘symbiotic artificial organism’ and collectively interacting with the physical world using sensors.

The multi-robot organisms will be made up of large-scale swarms of robots, each slightly larger than a sugar cube, which can dock with each other and share energy and computing resources within a single artificial-life-form. The organisms will also be able to manage their own hardware and software, they will be self-healing and self organizing.

Professor Alan Winfield, a member of the project team, explains, “A future application of this technology might be for example where a Symbrion swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake, and they could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a ‘medicine bot’ to give first aid.

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Scientists Decode the Super Computer Inside Our Brains

Scientists have decoded the short-term supercomputer that sits inside your head, the processor that wraps up trajectories, wind speeds, rebounds and rough surfaces into a gut feeling that lets you catch a football.  This advance could lead to a new wave of prosthetics, as well as being another piece in the permanently interesting puzzle that is “The Brain”.

Researchers from McGill, MIT and Caltech focused on the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), the section of brain responsible for taking all the “what is going on” data from the senses and planning what your thousand muscles and bones are going to do about it.

Working with robot-arm equipped monkeys (god but science is awesome), they discovered that the PPC runs its own realtime simulation of the future.  Of course, you instinctively knew that – when you try to catch a ball you don’t flail at where you see it, you run to where it’s going to be.  More usefully they uncovered the nature of two distinct signals from this gooey futurefinder: a “goal” signal which describes what the brain wants to happen, and a “trajectory” signal which lays out the path the body part must take to get there.

This pair of signals is incredibly useful data for any robotic limbs or other extras we might add to our limited human forms – whether they be replacements for carelessly lost parts, or entirely new structures. By working from the “goal” signal the mechanical parts can swiftly prepare to move in the desired manner, preparing any components needed and checking the path for hazards, before the “trajectory” signal gets to the fine details of movement.

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iRobis Announces Complete Cognitive Software System for Robots

Institute of Robotics in Scandinavia (iRobis) has announced that the world’s first “complete cognitive software system for robotics” is ready for application. The system turns robots into self-developing, adaptive, problem-solving, “thinking” machines. http://mensnewsdaily.com/2007/05/16/robobusiness-robots-with-imagination/

Brainstorm automatically adapts to onboard sensors and actuators, immediately builds a model of any robot on which it is installed, and automatically writes control programs for the robot’s movements. It can then explore and model its environment. Through simulated interaction using these models, it solves problems and develops new behavior using “imagination.” Once it has “learned” to do something, it can use its imagination to adapt its behavior to a wide range of circumstances.

A methodology known as genetic programming (GP) is “the trick” that makes it all possible. GP is an automated programming methodology inspired by natural evolution that is used to evolve computer programs. Evolving computer programs means the logic developed by the system can be anything that can be expressed by a computer program. That basically means anything. Robots need descriptions of things they are supposed to do and they figure out how to do them. GP itself is not an approach exclusive to robotic behavior. It has been applied to a variety of problems, some already yielding commercial successes. An example well-known to scientists in the field was the development of invention machines that had created two new patentable inventions by 2002. The potential for “thinking robots” goes well beyond developing their own actions.

The system is constructed using components and the learning / adaptive mechanisms can be turned on and off. This provides a broad range of choices to satisfy requirements. It can for example, be used for rapid development of control systems that cannot be modified after testing is complete or the learning adaptive system can remain on during use allowing the robot to continue to evolve as it gains real-life experience. The level of learning and adaptation can be adjusted to requirements. It can be used to build robot software from the ground up fulfilling all requirements or an add-on to an existing system that provides learning and adaptive behavior. Although product development time can be significantly shortened and less costly, it will still follow a familiar pattern. Product developers need to define their product requirements and engineers will make decisions about the best configurations and settings.

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