Dec 22 2008

KAR – the Kitchen Assistant Robot does the dishes

KAR (Kitchen Assistant Robot) is a dishwashing robot from Japan. Developed by teams at Panasonic and The University of Tokyo, the one armed robot can gingerly handle your most precious chinaware, wash the entire set and then place the dishes in a kitchen dish rack.

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KAR accomplishes this feat via the use of 18 different sensors in its hand. The scientists behind the robot hope to have KAR ready for commercial use in about five years. For now the KAR robot is just a prototype, but grizzled drifters counting on greasy spoon diner dishwashing work might want to take notice. You can check out video of the KAR robot in action here.


Dec 21 2008

Fleets of robotic aircraft could improve weather forecasts.

Weather forecasters may not have the best reputation for accuracy, but with today’s computational modeling, it’s possible to make pretty reliable weather predictions up to 48 hours in advance. Researchers at MIT, however, believe that autonomous aircraft running smart storm-chasing algorithms could get that figure up to four days. Better weather forecasting could help farmers and transportation authorities with planning and even save lives by providing earlier warnings about storms and severe weather, says Jonathan How, principal investigator at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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Long-term predictions don’t necessarily go wrong because of forecasting models, but rather because initial conditions were inaccurately measured, says Martin Ralph, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s earth systems laboratory, in Boulder, CO. Such inaccuracies come from gaps in the data, he says.

Ground-based sensors are already used to record temperature, wind speed, humidity, air density, and rainfall, but they gauge conditions only at ground level, says How. At sea, where many severe weather fronts originate, the coverage is much sparser. Satellite observations help build up a picture, but satellites are blind to a number of useful types of data, such as low-altitude wind speed and atmospheric boundary conditions, says Ralph.

To get the most accurate readings, you really want to get your sensors into the weather itself, says How. In theory, weather balloons can do this, but only if they happen to be in the right place at the right time. So weather services currently attempt to track down weather systems using piloted planes that fly prescribed routes, taking measurements along the way. The logistics of deploying such planes is so complicated, however, that it’s difficult to change their routes in response to changing weather conditions.

Consequently, says How, there has been a lot of interest in using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, instead. The idea is that there would be a constant number of UAVs in the air, continuously working together to position themselves in what would collectively be the most useful locations.

The problem, says How, is that calculating the most useful locations is an enormously complex task. It involves analyzing more than a million data states from hundreds of thousands of sensor locations, and using this data to predict the weather conditions six to eight hours from now. But that’s exactly the challenge that the MIT researchers tackled.

So far, the algorithms they developed have been used only in a simulation, as part of a National Science Foundation project. MIT’s Han-Lim Choi, who has been working on the algorithms as part of his PhD research, presented the latest results of the project last week at the IEEE Conference on Decision Control in Cancun, Mexico. The work has attracted the interest of the U.S. Navy, and the MIT group is applying for funding to put the algorithms into practice, says How.

One of the challenges presented by the project is fuel management, says Dario Floreano, an expert in flying robotics and head of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland. The algorithms will need to be able to quickly and efficiently reroute the UAVs so that they maintain optimal coverage, he says. “This will have to take into account many variables, including energy requirements for different reallocation strategies.”

Another challenge is size, says Floreano. The UAVs need to be small and safe enough to not harm humans and objects if they are deployed in large numbers. He points out, however, that subkilogram UAVs are now becoming available.

In fact, How and his colleagues are more interested in testing their algorithms on the relatively large ScanEagle UAVs from Boeing, which weigh about 18 kilograms apiece. These would be capable of flying distances in excess of 1,000 miles, even laden with sensors and communications equipment. With this sort of range, a fleet of just four could reasonably cover a good-sized area, reducing the risk of collisions with manmade objects.


Dec 20 2008

49 Foot Tall ASIMO in Pasedena

A 49-foot-tall replica of Honda’s infamous ASIMO humanoid robot will be a prominent participant in the 2009 Rose Parade. Honda’s float will serve as the parade’s opening ceremony stage and then transform itself into the supersized ASIMO, leading the beloved parade through the streets of Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

Honda’s float creation called ‘Hats Off in Celebration’ will be completed with natural materials like lettuce seed, rice, carnations and strawflower… The Honda float includes a variety of flowers, plants and seeds that will later be ground up for mulch after the parade activities are concluded. The surface of ASIMO will be covered with super fine ground white rice and super fine ground everlasting; it is accented by fine cut blue statice and fine cut red statice as well as silverleaf to create accents and “shadows.

Honda says the giant ASIMO replica is about 12 times the size of the actual ASIMO robot.

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Dec 19 2008

i-SOBOT named “Robot of the Year”

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Tomy’s i-SOBOT, which the company just discontinued, was named Robot of the Year in Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) .

Judges awarded this year’s Grand Prize to i-SOBOT due to its advanced technology, its high entertainment value, and its reasonable price of under 30,000 yen (around $300). Equipped with 17 miniature servo motors and a set of gyro sensors for balance, the 350-gram (12 oz), 16.5-centimeter (6.5 in) programmable humanoid can walk, play air guitar, dance the hula, and perform 200 other moves. The tiny hobby robot is also equipped with a set of gyro sensors for balance, and it can be controlled via remote control or simple voice commands. The robot runs for about an hour on 4 AAA batteries.

Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as “The smallest humanoid robot in production, i-SOBOT is currently available in the United States from Hammacher Schlemmer for $99 as well as Amazon.


Dec 18 2008

British scientist warns we must protect the vulnerable from robots

Top robotics expert Professor Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield, has called for international guidelines to be set for the ethical and safe application of robots before it is too late. Professor Sharkey, writing in the prestigious Science journal, believes that as the use of robots increases, decisions about their application will be left to the military, industry and busy parents instead of international legislative bodies.

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Robots have been used in laboratories and factories for many years, but their uses are changing fast. Since the turn of the century, sales of professional and personal service robots have risen sharply and are estimated to total 5.5 million in 2008. IFR Statistics estimate 11.5 million in the next two years. The price of robot manufacture is also falling. With robots 80% cheaper in 2006 than they were in 1990, they are set to enter our lives in unprecedented numbers.

Service robots are currently being used in all walks of life, from child-minding robots to robots that care for the elderly. These types of robots can be controlled by a mobile phone or from a PC, allowing input from camera “eyes” and remote talking from caregivers. Sophisticated elder-care robots like the Secom “My Spoon” automatic feeding robot; the Sanyo electric bathtub robot that automatically washes and rinses; and the Mitsubishi Wakamura robot, used for reminding people to take their medicine, are already in widespread use.

Despite this no international legislation or policy guidelines currently exist, except in terms of negligence. This is still to be tested in court for robot surrogates and may be difficult to prove in the home (relative to cases of physical abuse).

Professor Sharkey urges his fellow scientists and engineers working in robotics to be mindful of the unanticipated risks and the ethical problems linked to their work. He believes that robots for care represent just one of many ethically problematic areas that will soon arise from the increase in their use, and that policy guidelines for ethical and safe application need to be set before the guidelines set themselves.

He said: “Research into service robots has demonstrated close bonding and attachment by children, who, in most cases, prefer a robot to a teddy bear. Short-term exposure can provide an enjoyable and entertaining experience that creates interest and curiosity.

“However, because of the physical safety that robot minders provide, children could be left without human contact for many hours a day or perhaps for several days, and the possible psychological impact of the varying degrees of social isolation on development is unknown.

“At the other end of the age spectrum, the relative increase in many countries in the population of the elderly relative to available younger caregivers has spurred the development of elder-care robots. These robots can help the elderly to maintain independence in their own homes, but their presence could lead to the risk of leaving the elderly in the exclusive care of machines without sufficient human contact.”


Dec 17 2008

Researchers bring mind-controlled robotic limbs a few steps closer

Even the most fertile science fiction imagination might not see a link between the behaviour of insects and the development of lifelike robotic limbs, but that is the straightforward mathematical reality of research underway in the UTS Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology.

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PhD student Rami Khushaba knows it takes some explaining, but the analysis of the behaviour of social insects like ants is helping find the best way to tap into the body’s electrical signals, so that a robotic prosthetic device can be operated like a flesh and blood limb, just by thinking about it.

“I don’t think the crossover from science fiction to science reality is that far away now,” Rami said. “It has been known for some time that human muscle activity, known as the Electromyogram (EMG), carries the distinct signature of the voluntary intent of the central nervous system.

“These so-called myoelectric signals are already being used to control prosthetic devices, but there is a lot of refining to do before a robotic arm will respond instantaneously and accurately to the intention to move.

“Right now the best that can be done is a few simple tasks with rather unsatisfactory performance, due to poor signal recognition and the high computational cost that leads to extra time delays.

“Improvement in analysing the myoelectric signals will spur improvement of the hardware, and that’s where our work is directed.”

Supervised by Dr Adel Al-Jumaily and Dr Ahmed Al-Ani of the School of Electrical, Mechanical and Mechatronic Systems, Rami is developing the mathematical basis for identifying what biosignals relate to particular arm movements and where electrodes should be placed to achieve the optimum result.

“This project presents novel ‘swarm intelligence’ based algorithms to tackle many of the problems associated with the current myoelectric control strategies,” Rami said.

“The way the members of a colony of ants will interact to achieve goals like finding food is metaphor that can be expressed in algorithms that are powerful tools for pattern recognition.

“Current methods for capturing biosignals on the forearm can involve mounting up to 16 electrodes on the skin, generating a vast quantity of data to be processed. We have already demonstrated that applying swarm logic will both simplify that set-up and achieve significantly better results.

“Applying the algorithms on 16-channel EMG datasets from six people found patterns that made it clear only three surface electrodes were actually needed.

“These few electrode positions achieved 97per cent accuracy in capturing the crucial biosignals for movement. This significantly reduced the number of channels to be used for a real time problem, thus reducing the computational cost and enhancing the system’s performance.

“The result was confirmed on a second dataset consisting of eight channels of EMG data collected from the right arm of thirty normally limbed subjects (twelve males and eighteen females).

“We hope one accuracy will lead to another and it will be the very near future when amputees, who can still imagine moving a lost limb, will have access to a device that can truly respond to their intentions.”


Dec 16 2008

Autonomous floor cleaning robot uses the elevator

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd and Sumitomo Corp announced Dec 3, 2008, that they introduced their jointly developed unmanned floor cleaning robot system into Sumitomo Building in Osaka City, Japan.

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In this system, an autonomous cleaning robot moves between the floors of the office building using elevators and cleans the floor surfaces of corridors and other common spaces. It is operated by Reibi, the company that is in charge of cleaning the building and partially financed by Sumitomo.

The robot used in the system is based on the one that was introduced in Harumi Triton Square in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, in 2001. But the new robot features an enhanced drive motor, more durable power circuits and other improved functions.

Specifically, its safety was enhanced by employing a laser-type range sensor to detect obstacles and improving the signal processing program. In addition, the lifting mechanism of the vacuum device was changed from a motorized system to a manually-operated mechanism with a wire, reducing the cost and weight.

When the robot moves between floors, the light transmission devices installed in the robot and the elevator communicate with each other to open and close the door and indicate the destination. It can be equipped with a camera to record its work. It is possible to check the status of the robot and its surroundings by recording the whole operation on a hard disk.

In the past, Fuji Heavy Industries developed an outdoor cleaning robot for the “Next-Generation Robot Commercialization Project” of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). And the company demonstrated it at Expo 2005 Aichi Japan in 2005.

Furthermore, taking advantage of the “Service Robot Market Creation Assistance Project” by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the company improved the safety, reliability and maintainability of the robot.

Fuji Heavy Industries and Sumitomo have already introduced this system to Royal Parks Shinden, a rental apartment building in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, and the Sumitomo Shoji Izumi-cho Building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. In December 2006, the system was awarded the grand prize of METI’s “Robot Award 2006.”


Dec 15 2008

Tilted Twister- a Lego Mindstorms robot that solves Rubik’s cube

Created by Hans Andersson, the Tilted Twister solves Rubik’s cube fully automatically.  Just place the scrambled cube on Tilted Twister’s turntable. An ultrasonic sensor detects its presence and starts to read the colors of the cube faces using a light sensor. The robot turns and tilts the cube in order to read all the faces. It then calculates a solution and executes the moves by turning, tilting and twisting the cube.

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Performance

  • Scanning the cube: 1 minute
  • Calculating a solution: 20 – 40 seconds
  • Executing the moves: 1 – 5 minutes. Average 4.5 minutes (60 faceturns)

Average total time: 6 minutes

Build your own Tilted Twister

You can find building instructions and programs here.

I built one of these but I have not gotten it completely working yet. It keeps slipping when it is solving the cube and getting stuck. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment.


Dec 14 2008

Robots to perform ‘Phantom of the Opera’

A Taiwan university announced yesterday the creation of what could be the world’s first robot theater, which will make its debut on Dec. 27 by performing the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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The theater is comprised of four intelligent robots developed by the Center for Intelligent Robots at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.

They include a male robot named Thomas and a female robot named Janet, who can walk and are equipped with silicon facial muscles that enable them to mimic the facial expressions and lip motions of a human being. The other two members of the theater are Pica the painter and Ringo the jazz drummer, who move on two wheels.

Chen Shi-shuenn, president of the university, said the Dec. 27 performance will feature Thomas and Janet as the two leading characters in “The Phantom of the Opera”.

There will also be singing and a Chinese comic dialogue show, Chen said. Lin Chyi-yeu, a professor of mechanical engineering who heads the Center for Intelligent Robots, said the center has started with the development of entertainment robots and will further apply the eye-hand coordination technology on the development of other service robots.

Also, the incomes generated from the theater performance will be used on related research and development, Lin said.

Via The China Post


Dec 13 2008

Project Aiko – an android with BRAINS

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Project Aiko is Canada’s first functional female android and was developed by Le Trung, a chemist graduate from York University. The project is also headed by Le Trung, who has designed the software and the hardware for the android. The name, Aiko, is derived from the combination of the word “Ai” love and “ko” child.

According to Le, Aiko is Canada’s first android that can mimic pain, and has the ability to learn what pain is and avoid it. Her first public appearance was held at the Toronto International Center Exhibition in 2007 during the Hobby Show. Aiko’s physical body and gear were built in a period of 3 months at a cost of $25,000 in US funds. However, Mr. Le is continually adding new hardware and software to Aiko, thus making the android more human like.

Mr. Le said silicone from a Japanese Doll company was used to construct Aiko’s body, which looks similar to human skin. The android weighs 30 kilograms and has a height of 151 centimeters.

The creator also said that Aiko can recognize speech, voice, faces, motion, and objects. Aiko can also solve math problems displayed to it visually. Furthermore, Aiko has access to servers to get weather information worldwide. By using the B.R.A.I.N.S. software (Biometric Robot Artificial Intelligence Neural System) Mr. Le designed, Aiko has the ability to learn simple new information from her surroundings. The android can speak Japanese and English, with 13,000 sentences to respond to questions verbally. Aiko has many sensors in her body and arms to interact with people when being touched.

Mr. Le has said that he hopes to have Aiko walk one day. In addition, he will also improve the B.R.A.I.N.S. software to make it perform better with the hardware.

You can see video of Aiko in action here, and find more information on the Project Aiko website.