Nov 26 2008

Actor robots take Japanese stage

First there were dancing robots, then house-sitting robots and now a new breed of acting robots is making its big debut on the Japanese stage.

The play, which had its premiere at Osaka University, is one of Japan’s first robot-human theatre productions.

The machines were specially programmed to speak lines with human actors and move around the stage with them.

Playwright Oriza Hirata says the work raises questions about the relationship between humanity and technology.

The play, called Hataraku Watashi (I, Worker), is set in the near future.

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It focuses on a young couple who own two housekeeping robots, one of which loses its motivation to work.

In the play, the robot complains that it has been forced into boring and demeaning jobs and enters into a discussion with the humans about its role in their lives.

So far, the play is only 20 minutes long but it is hoped to become a full-length production by 2010.

The Wakamaru robot is manufactured by Mitsubushi but the software to train it for the stage was developed over two months at the university.

The 1-m (3-ft) tall humanoid robot is best known as a mechanical house-sitter and secretary.

But soon they may be signing autographs or trying to roll away from paparazzi.

No word yet on whether they are pleased with the apparent job promotion.

via BBC


Nov 18 2008

Microsoft Unveils Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008

Software development platform allows academics, hobbyists and commercial vendors to simplify the creation of robotics applications across a wide variety of hardware.

At the RoboDevelopment Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., Microsoft Corp. announced the general availability of Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 (Microsoft RDS), the newest version of its robotics programming platform. Microsoft RDS includes a simple programming model to support building asynchronous applications, a set of visual authoring and simulation tools to aid in application development, and tutorials and sample code to help developers get started.
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This is Microsoft’s third major release of Microsoft RDS and builds upon its previous versions, which have received support throughout the robotics community, from students to researchers and commercial developers. More than 250,000 copies of Microsoft RDS have been downloaded and more than 60 hardware and software companies support or use the platform as a part of their products.

“This latest release is a demonstration of Microsoft’s continued commitment and investment in supporting the emerging new robotics community,” said Tandy Trower, general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group. “We have used the very positive response to enhance what we offer, in hopes that it will continue to provide a common ground and catalyst for the future of personal robotics.”

Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 includes enhancements in the following areas:
— Increased runtime performance. Performance is improved 1.5 to three times faster in message throughput between services, and services now load two times faster. Developers can now also define more specific message communication between services, reducing network utilization and optimizing the processing of data. Together, these improvements will result in faster applications and more efficient use of processor performance.
— Improvements to the Visual Programming Language (VPL) tool. The simple drag-and-drop-based visual programming tool now includes a simple method for defining and configuring distributed applications, making it easier to create applications that can run across networked devices. Developers also will have greater flexibility when compiling their programs.
— Improvements to the Visual Simulation Environment (VSE) tool. VSE now includes the ability to record and play back simulations, which allows for easier review of simulation experiences. VSE also adds a new floor-plan editor to simplify the definition of interior structures, and three new sample simulation environments (apartment, outdoor and urban) that enable developers to better test their robot applications. Another new feature is support for importing content from DS SolidWorks(R) 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) software and Microsoft trueSpace 3-D modeling software, which make it easier for developers to create their own simulated models and environments.
— Greater development flexibility. This new release provides support for both Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008, which makes it accessible to a broad audience of developers. Improved support for running VPL and VSE on 64-bit Windows platforms provides more flexible installation options. New support for custom message transports increases development choices.

Development Platform for the Robotics Community
A primary objective of Microsoft RDS is to provide a common ground that creates opportunities for greater contributions and participation from across the diverse community of robotics developers and hardware and software vendors. ABB, a leading supplier of industrial robots and robotics software, is among the first companies to take advantage of this opportunity by releasing a connectivity package known as ABB Connect to Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 (ACM). ACM creates a virtual environment for educational purposes, with the goal of teaching robotics students at universities to design and implement virtual robotics. The package also will contain all the services needed to build a complete virtual robot controller.

“Generation Y students approach their education in a unique manner, based on intuition and innovation. ABB Connect gives these students tools to experiment with creative robot designs in a virtual world,” said Bertil Thorvaldsson, product manager, ABB. “This is the beginning of a very exciting future for robotics. We’re eager to see what students create and to be working with Microsoft in developing this new frontier.”

Microsoft RDS also opens the doors to new opportunities for companies new to the robotics community, such as Dassault Systemes (DS) SolidWorks Corp., the world’s leading supplier of 3-D CAD technology. “It’s important that design intent be transferred into the robot development process,” said Fielder Hiss, director of product management at DS SolidWorks. “This first-of-its-kind partnership incorporates SolidWorks models into the Microsoft RDS environment, allowing developers to simulate a robot’s operation in the physical world and correct any errors early in the process.”

Licensing, Pricing and Availability
The new release also offers improved licensing options by replacing its formal noncommercial and commercial licenses with three editions: a Standard Edition for professional developers, an Academic Edition for students and educational researchers, and an Express Edition for hobbyists and casual users. While with previous versions, the user was allowed to distribute only 200 copies of the Concurrency and Coordination Runtime (CCR) and Decentralized Software Services (DSS) runtimes, each license of the new Standard and Academic editions permits the user to distribute an unlimited number of copies of the CCR and DSS runtimes. Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 Standard Edition is available for $499.95 (U.S.) and is available at http://www.microsoft.com/robotics, or from Microsoft’s Volume Licensing program starting in February 2009. Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 Express Edition will be available for no charge and downloadable from http://www.microsoft.com/robotics. More information about the release and distribution of Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 Academic Edition is available at http://www.microsoft.com/robotics.

More information about the differences between the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 editions from the perspective of features and licensing is available at http://www.microsoft.com/robotics.


Nov 14 2008

Self-propelled microbots

The 1966 science-fiction movie Fantastic Voyage famously imagined using a tiny ship to combat disease inside the body. With the advent of nanotechnology, researchers are inching closer to creating something almost as fantastic. A microscopic device that could swim through the bloodstream and directly target the site of disease, such as a tumor, could offer radical new treatments. To get to a tumor, however, such a device would have to be small and agile enough to navigate through a labyrinth of tiny blood vessels, some far thinner than a human hair.

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Researchers at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, in Canada, led by professor of computer engineering Sylvain Martel, have coupled live, swimming bacteria to microscopic beads to develop a self-propelling device, dubbed a nanobot. While other scientists have previously attached bacteria to microscopic particles to take advantage of their natural propelling motion, Martel’s team is the first to show that such hybrids can be steered through the body using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

To do this, Martel used bacteria that naturally contain magnetic particles. In nature, these particles help the bacteria navigate toward deeper water, away from oxygen. “Those nanoparticles form a chain a bit like a magnetic compass needle,” says Martel. But by changing the surrounding magnetic field using an extended set-up coupled to an MRI machine, Martel and his colleagues were able to make the bacteria propel themselves in any direction they wanted.

The bacteria swim using tiny corkscrewlike tails, or flagella, and these particular bacteria are faster and stronger than most, says Martel. What’s more, they are just two microns in diameter–small enough to fit through the smallest blood vessels in the human body. The team treated the polymer beads roughly 150 nanometers in size with antibodies so that the bacteria would attach to them. Ultimately, the researchers plan to modify the beads so that they also carry cancer-killing drugs.

“I think nature has provided an excellent solution to how to make small things swim,” says Bradley Nelson, a professor at ETH Zurich, who has researched the use of artificial flagella. “What’s interesting about Sylvain’s work is that he’s actually using nature to do it and not just learning from it.”

Last year, Martel and his group published research in the journal Applied Physics Letters detailing how they used an MRI machine to maneuver a 1.5-millimeter magnetic bead with a bacteria propeller through the carotid artery of a living pig at 10 centimeters per second. The researchers’ latest work, presented at the IEEE 2008 Biorobotics Conference last week, shows that they can track and steer microbeads and bacteria or bacteria alone through a replica of human blood vessels using the same approach. The group has carried out similar experiments in rats and rabbits, according to Martel.

Source Technology Review


Nov 14 2008

OzBot from Australia uses remote haptics

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A UNIQUE robot that can deliver sensory information to Australian soldiers as they use the machine to inspect suspicious or dangerous objects from a distance could be on the front line within two years.

The 25-kilogram robot, developed at Deakin University in Geelong over the past two years, was one of four new technologies on display at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation industry open day yesterday.

Unlike other robots, the OzBot uses haptic technology, which allows users to “feel” objects being inspected by the robot despite being up to 500 metres away at the control box.

Information such as weight, texture and pressure of objects can be assessed in real time by the operators as if they are using their own hands to inspect an object.

Saeid Nahavandi, director of Deakin’s Centre for Intelligent Systems Research, said the OzBot would allow soldiers to glean much more information in war zones and make more informed decisions about whether to detonate an object or defuse it for intelligence gathering.

“If you blow the bomb up then you will lose a lot of forensic information, but if you defuse it, you can gather up all sorts of information such as the source of materials used to make it,” Professor Nahavandi said.

He said the OzBot could also be used to remove hazardous materials and had the potential to be used in battlefield surgery.

The robot, which has already completed some Defence Department testing, could be on the battlefront within two years.

via theage.com.au


Nov 13 2008

Future space missions to rely on human-robot partnership

NASA: Future space missions to rely on human-robot partnership
As astronauts push out into the expanse of space, robots will be their companions, helpers

November 12, 2008 (Computerworld) The future of space exploration will depend on humans and robots working hand in hand as manned and unmanned missions head back to the moon, to Mars and the farther expanses of space, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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Robots have already made their way into several missions, but Carl Walz, director of advanced capabilities at NASA and a former astronaut, said that “we’re just starting to scratch the surface of these concepts. It’ll be absolutely critical. What we’re trying to do is figure out how best to incorporate human exploration and robots. I think the nature of exploration will be different [because of robots].”

Full article (via Computerworld)


Nov 13 2008

DARPA: Self-repairing, learning kill-robot tech is go

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Once again the observant techbeat watcher finds his or her lower-torso garments endampened by fear, as news emerges that heavyweight US military nerds believe that they have developed IT tech which can “regenerate” autonomously, allowing it to self-repair in the face of shutdown attempts – and even to learn and develop its capabilities. More terrifyingly still, plans are afoot to put this technology into the US forces’ next generation of robotic weaponry.
Armed Robotic Vehicle, Assault, Light (ARV-A-L). You don’t want to meet ARV-A Heavy.

Attempting to flee in your puny conveyance is useless, humans!

Bow before your self-regenerating software overlords!

The “Self-Regerating Systems” SRS auto-programming programme is the brainchild of the renowned Pentagon barmy-boffin bureau, DARPA, where they never saw a self-aware computer network hellbent on the extirpation of humanity they didn’t like. SRS has been underway for since 2004 at the Information Processing Techniques Office. According to DARPA:

The SRS program is to develop technology for building military computing systems that provide critical functionality at all times, in spite of damage caused by unintentional errors or attacks … The SRS program aims to develop technologies enabling military systems to learn, regenerate themselves, and automatically improve their ability to deliver critical services. If successful, self-regenerative systems will show a positive trend in reliability, actually exceeding initial operating capability and approaching a theoretical optimal performance level over long time intervals.

So far, so blah. Just because DARPA wants the moon on a stick doesn’t for a moment mean it’ll actually get it. The mere fact that the US Army is also planning to field a deadly robotic legion featuring heavily armed droid tanks, kill-choppers, hovering spy probes, man-sniffer sensors and so on shouldn’t worry us. The SRS tech will probably never work, and if it did there’s no way it could get control of the heavily armed bot horde.

Except that yesterday DARPA banged out this announcement (pdf), in which it says:

DARPA is requesting information from vendors who have developer’s access to high value, hard real time, mission critical, military information systems … The goal … is to explore the technical feasibility of dramatically improving system survivability and reliability with technology and techniques that DARPA has recently developed under the Self Regenerative Systems (SRS) program.

In other words, the SRS programme’s unshutdownable, self-repairing awareware is ready to go, and traitorous DARPA boffins (doubtless the robots are holding their families) want to put it into things being built now. The horribly beweaponed robot kill-choppers and crewless tanks of the Future Combat Systems force, for instance, or the new “Predator” missile-packing unmanned hunter-killer planes which need no human piloting even by remote.

We’ll just have to pray that rival US military brainboxes – even now toiling on humanity’s trump card in the future war against the machines, the circuitry-toasting electropulse bomb – can be ready first.

via The Register


Nov 13 2008

Two Personality-Packed Characters Join WowWee’s Robotics Line

Wrex the Dawg(TM) and Mr. Personality(TM) Robots Offer Humor, Companionship, and Unique Artificial Intelligence

Shaping the way we interact with entertainment robotic companions, WowWee has launched two new personality-packed additions to its diverse Robotics line of humanoid, reptilian, and animal creations. RS Wrex the Dawg(TM), an incorrigible robotic junkyard pooch, and RS Mr. Personality(TM), a three-wheeled fully-animated and interactive talking companion, are now available at major online retailers just in time for holiday shoppers searching for unique gifts.

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The RS Wrex the Dawg robot is not your typical robotic pet – he’s a mischievous junkyard dog, constructed from “scrap” mechanical and electrical parts, in dire need of re-programming. This hilarious mutt can perform a series of up to 80 moves and is the perfect guard dog, featuring three distinct moods – happy, angry and crazy. Wrex cocks his head, twitches his ears, wags his squeaking tail, sits, stands, and scampers freely – infrared sensors help him react to movements, avoid obstacles, and detect and avoid drop-offs like stairs. He can even be re-programmed to behave like a cat or perform various tricks like “shake hands” and “play dead.” Wrex also features three desires – Exercise, Call of Nature and Hunger – that can be altered with a flick of a Mood Dial on his intuitive industrial-styled remote control. He is also purposely programmed to occasionally “malfunction,” following which his owner must reset his circuits straight – users can even re-program him as WowWee’s original Robosapien(TM) robot!

The RS Mr. Personality robot is an interactive humanoid robot that exudes personality in everything he does and says. RS Mr. Personality comes equipped with the hilarious “Max/Simon” character, a split-personality animated duo that inhabits his robotic core. Similar to a modern-age “Odd Couple”, “Max/Simon” will entertain users for hours with their unique and outrageous banter. The robot’s full-color LCD screen displays his personality with various animated and synchronized facial features. Through advanced infrared and audio sensors, the Mr. Personality robot interacts with his environment and entertains his human companions with jokes, conversations, games and daily fortunes found in various play modes such as “Crystal Ball” and “Fortune.” Featuring a fully-animated upper body to match his unique artificial intelligence, his movements and physical reactions are lifelike, resembling those of real animated human expressions. Equipped with an omni-directional, three-wheeled base for speed and agility, users can move Mr. Personality precisely in all directions using the remote control.

The RS Wrex the Dawg robot features 9 motors, 10 slot machine-like eye icon combinations, infrared sensors, and speakers with 3 adjustable volume settings. Available at major online retailers such as Amazon.com, Sears.com, Target.com, Walmart.com, ToysRUs.com, and the WowWee Online Store, the RS Wrex the Dawg robot has a suggested retail price of $149.99 and is appropriate for ages 8+ (Requires 4 x “C” and 2 x “AA” size batteries and 3 “AAA” for the remote).

The RS Mr. Personality robot features 7 motors, 4 infrared sensors, a built-in microphone for voice memos, a color LCD screen, speaker, audio input connector, and an LED battery indicator. Available at such major online retailers as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Sears.com and the WowWee Online Store, the RS Mr. Personality robot has a suggested retail price of $249.99 (requires 6 “C” size batteries and 3 “AAA” for the remote).


Nov 12 2008

IRobot pulls in $2M from Congress

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IRobot Corp. has been given $2 million worth of Congressional support to improve development and production of its Warrior 700 robot for combat areas. The iRobot Warrior carries up to 150-pound payloads and covers inaccessible and dangerous areas with sensor readings and real-time video and audio. The robot also features a different center of gravity than previous robots, adding to its mobility, according to iRobot.

Massachusetts senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as congressman John Tierney, pushed the defense spending as part of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, iRobot officials said.

In October, the Bedford robotics firm landed a $3.8 million research and development contract from the Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center for the delivery of two iRobot Warrior 700 platforms.

To date, the company has delivered more than 2,000 PackBot robots to military groups. The PackBot 510 with FastTac Kit is designed to protect soldiers by detecting, identifying and disabling roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices.

IRobot maintains an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity xBot contract with the Army for robot delivery that could reach $286 million. So far, these orders have hit about $67 million.

via Mass High Tech


Nov 12 2008

Video: When do robots cross the ‘realistic or creepy’ line?

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Oh, robots. I think people liked you more when you looked like Rosie than your current ‘human-light’ appearances.

Take this one, named Jules by scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK. It’s supposedly the first ‘humanoid’ robot that ‘can mimic the facial expressions and lip movements of a human being.’ It has its own software that lets it smile, frown and furrow its brow. A veritable Jim Carey circa 1994, this one.

Like most of these realistic-looking robots, it was designed with the idea that, one day, robots will be able to help people out in their daily lives. Certainly a noble goal, but golly gee there’s something a bit ‘off’ about it, right?

Oh, and there’s a video of it in action!

It looks like a video game or stop-motion animation.”

(Via CrunchGear.)


Nov 12 2008

Meet Keiko, the newest (talking) robot for medical students

Meet Keiko, the newest (talking) robot for medical students

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Gifu University’s Graduate School of Medicine [JP] (located in central Japan) has developed a new ‘sick’ robot, which is specifically geared towards medical students.

Named Keiko (’practice’ in Japanese), the robot is able to answer questions such as ‘How are you doing?’, i.e. by saying ‘I get tired easily lately’. The interactive humanoid robot, which has been jointly developed with Mizuno Technical Institute, is meant to help medical students practice conversations with patients.

They can also use Keiko for examinations by touch, before doing the same with human beings. Keiko is specifically designed for training neurological disorders so that medical students are able to learn the various ways brain and nervous system illnesses can be identified.”

(Via CrunchGear.)