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 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 9 2008

Winboni the window washing robot

At the touch of a button, the autonomous robot cleans the window without the help of Windex and some paper towels. Winboni, a tiny, square robot that runs on AA batteries, attaches itself to the window with a suction fan, moves across the window with powered wheels and scrubs the window clean with felt pads.

This creation is the brainchild of four MSU mechanical engineering students whose product took first place in the International Student Design Competition of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Nov. 2 in Boston. It took the students five tries and 900 hours to meet contest specifications.

“Things work differently than you think they’re going to; your assumptions might be wrong and that leads you to rebuild things over and over like five or six times,” said Emily Duszynski, a member of the award-winning team.

Duszynski, Kyle Koepf, Jonathan Luckhardt and Joshua Thomet were on the team that designed and built the window washer, which measures 5 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall. This is the second time in 12 years that an MSU team won first place and the first time a college repeated the title.

It’s the curriculum of the mechanical engineering department at MSU that allows its students to be successful in the real world, Duszynski said.

“In the real world, in terms of engineering, you need time management skills and you have to figure out how to organize things and manage your project while learning how to deal with problems you’re not expecting,” she said. “So this project is just a miniature example of things you could run into in the real world.”

While research and development took the most amount of time for the team, choosing the name Winboni was easy – and, it came early in the design process, Duszynski said. She and the rest of the team likened the way the robot would clean a window to the way a Zamboni cleans the ice at a hockey rink.

Under the coaching of Andrew Seifert and the mechatronics consulting of mechanical engineering professor Clark Radcliffe, the MSU team competed against schools from all over the world, including Carnegie-Mellon, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Colorado State University, among others.


Dec 8 2008

Toyota trumpet playing robot to make orchestral debut

The world’s first and only trumpet-playing robot will perform for the first time with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra during all four “Happy Holidays from the Pops” concerts December 12 -14 at Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall.

Read Release Below:

Toyota’s Trumpet Playing Robot will perform “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Walt Disney’s animated classic Cinderella as a solo piece. This engineering marvel will then join Maestro Kunzel and the Pops for two medleys that include such seasonal favorites as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Joy to the World,” and “Jingle Bells.”

“This is exciting for me and a first for the Pops stage,” said Erich Kunzel. “I’ve worked before with animals and children — but never with a robot!”

This high-energy extravaganza features everything one would expect from a Cincinnati Pops holiday show — singing dancing, a chorus, puppets a bell choir — but with a high-tech twist.

Standing 4 foot 9 inches, Toyota’s Trumpet Playing Robot has artificial lips which replicate the vibration of a human mouth, as well as artificial lungs. This intricate piece of engineering shows how robots can do very sophisticated functions like walking and playing a musical instrument with full dexterity.

“I’ve seen this robot in action – the audience will be amazed,’” said Mr. Kunzel. “We’re honored to be chosen by Toyota to feature this unique and interesting special guest.”

“Toyota is thrilled to showcase this innovative technology which will ultimately improve people’s quality of life in a wonderfully festive and family-friendly environment,” said Tania Saldana of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. “We are excited and honored to have our robot take the stage for the first time with the renowned Cincinnati Pops under the direction of Erich Kunzel.”

Based just south of Cincinnati in Erlanger, Kentucky, Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. is a long-time supporter and community partner of the Cincinnati Pops.

Since its founding, Toyota’s corporate spirit has been “to enrich society through making things.” Based on this spirit, Toyota has been developing human-assisting partner robots as people around the globe are starting to crave better, more diversified lifestyles. These changes are particularly prominent in Japan where dwindling birth rates and a rapidly aging population are underscoring concerns regarding the need to secure a stable labor force for the future in order for its people to be able to enjoy comfortable standards of living. Toyota hopes to contribute to solving this growing problem even if in a small way.

The Toyota group has been working on industrial robots since the 1970s. Toyota Partner Robots were developed from basic technologies accumulated by various departments since the mid 1990s, with full-scale development beginning in 2000.

Partner robots will assist people in four target fields: manufacturing, medical/nursing care, housekeeping and personal mobility. Toyota believes that the technology incorporated into these partner robots will be a core technology for production and automobile manufacture in the future.

Tickets are $25-$69 (Children 6-18: $20), the Saturday Matinee features 25% off adult tickets (Children 6-18: $10) and are available by phone at (513) 381-3300 on the Internet at www.cincinnatipops.org, or in person at: CSO Box Office at Music Hall, 1241 Elm Street, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
CSO Box Office at Music Hall two hours prior to the performance.
Student Tickets for Cincinnati Pops concerts are $20 and are available the week of the concert in person at the CSO Sales Office, over the phone at 513-381-3300, online at www.cincinnatipops.org or at the Music Hall Box Office before the concert (limit two tickets per valid student ID).


Dec 6 2008

MEIT Robot Award 2008

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has been advancing efforts to develop technologies required for the commercialization of robots and to ensure their safety, with an eye to fostering the robot industry to become one of the leading industries in the world.

As part of such efforts, METI, together with co-organizers, presents “The Robot Award 2008” with the aim of promoting R&D and application of robotic technologies in the private sector, and promoting the creation of new markets for them. This award program was established in 2006.

From among the 65 entries submitted, eight robots were selected as First Prize-winners by the selection committee for their outstanding service this year and contribution to and potential for future market development.

Here are all winners:

Category: Service robots

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Omnibot17µ i-sobot from Takara Tomy

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“Booktime” from Nishizawa [JP], an automatic page turner

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Rice-transplanting robot from Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization

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Robotics-based engineer training solution ZMP e-nuvo from ZMP

Category: Industrial robots

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Small assembly conveyance robot XR-G from Denso Wave

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10th generation LCD glass substrate processing robot MOTOMAN-CDL 3000D from Yaskawa Electric

Category: Other robots and parts

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Hose-shaped rescue robot from Tohoku University

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Ultra-small MEMS 3-axial touch sensor chip from the University of Tokyo and Panasonic

The METI will select winners of the Grand Prize and the Venture Award for SMEs from these robots and announce them December 18.