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Heliostat Robot Wins Green Energy Challenge

Posted 27 Oct 2012 at 22:11 UTC by steve

An electrostatic heliostat cleaning robot won first prize in Circuit Cellar's recent Renesas RL78 Green Energy Challenge. Contestants were asked to use a Renesas RL78 microprocessor in a renewable power application. Scott Potter designed a robot that cleans heliostats, the solar tracking mirrors, used in Concentrating Solar Power Plants. The simple rectangular robot is powered by photovoltaic cells and rolls back and forth over a mirror using a high voltage AC field to clean dust and debris from the mirror. For more see the Circuit Cellar announcement. For the technical details, see Scott's contest abstract (PDF format) and his entry archive (ZIP format) which contains drawings, schematic, and source code.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 18:01 UTC by steve

Joe let us know about his new blog, Bot Scene, which focuses on humanoid robots. Olivier Garcia sent a link to his YouTube channel, where he documents his work on SLAM, sonar imaging, 3D reconstruction, and other navigational techniques. Speaking of YouTube, have you seen the latest Boston Dynamic video of the LS3 Legged Squad Support robot? Another cool visual treat is this poster of famous robots. We also have a few cogsci stories in the queue this week: a new paper, titled Sequencing the Connectome, proposes a method by which single neuron resolution connectivity maps of the brain might be generated with existing high-throughput DNA sequencing machines. Another interesting paper is Discovering Relations Between Mind, Brain, and Mental Disorders Using Topic Mapping. What they've done is datamine existing neuroimaging studies to map mental functions to brain activity. The result includes lots of cool graphics. Finally, new MIT research shows Broca's area has two distinct sub-units, one specifically for language processing while the other acts as a central processing unit for general cognition. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. Don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. And now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Kick Off

Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 19:46 UTC by steve

DARPA has announced the start of the next DARPA Robotics Challenge. This time, the goal is to develop ground robots that perform complex tasks in "dangerous, degraded human-engineered environments". That means robots that perform humanitarian, disaster relief operations. The robots must use standard human hand tools and vehicles to navigate a debris field, open doors, climb ladders, and break through a concrete wall. Most but not all of the robots will be humanoid in design. The challenge is divided into two parts with a Virtual Robotics Challenge scheduled for 10 - 24 June, 2013 to test simulated robots and the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge scheduled for 21 December, 2013. DARPA has adopted the free software Gazebo simulator, which supports ROS. There are two competition "tracks" - competitors in Track A will develop their own humanoid robot and control software, while competitors in Track B will develop control software that runs on a DARPA-supplied Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics. Already University teams are making announcements of participation. Read on for more info about some of the teams, as well as some awesome photos and videos of the robots in action.

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Raspberry Pi Frees Broadcom Drivers

Posted 24 Oct 2012 at 18:22 UTC (updated 24 Oct 2012 at 18:25 UTC) by steve

The Raspberrry Pi Foundation announced some big news today. They've released full source code for the Broadcom BCM2835 SoC used on the Raspberry Pi board under a GPL-compatible BSD style license, meeting the guidelines of both Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation. This includes code for the VideoCore GPU and is the first time ever that a vendor has provided a full set of open source drivers for an ARM-based multimedia SoC. Access to the GPU should provide robot builders with much needed additional processing power for neural networks, vision, and other applications. Read on for a block level view of the software stack and more details.

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Aquatic Robotics

The SciGirls Build a SeaPerch ROV

Posted 23 Oct 2012 at 20:22 UTC by steve

SeaPerch, the ROV kit and competition for students, is part of the Office of Naval Research's STEM program. The goal is to provide a low-cost underwater robot kit that teaches students basic engineering, math, and science concepts while encouraging an interest in marine engineering. A recent episode of The PBS science program SciGirls, titled Aquabots, took the girls through the process of building, deploying, and using a SeaPerch ROV. The girls were trying to learn more about why the oysters in Chesapeake Bay are dying off and discover whether or not efforts to restore the reefs were working. The girls also take a trip to the Naval Academy to learn more about the SeaPerch and other underwater robots. You can watch the entire episode on the SciGirls website. And if you'd like to buy a SeaPerch kit for yourself or want lesson plans to help bootstrap an ROV team at your school visit the SeaPerch website.

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32 bit ARM-based Arduino Due Released

Posted 22 Oct 2012 at 19:57 UTC by steve

After a long wait, the Arduino Due is finally available. The Due is based on an Atmel ARM Cortex M3 running at 84 Mhz, bringing a 32 bit processor to the Arduino world. Rumors and early sightings have been floating around for a while but the official announcement was made in the Arduino blog today. The only downside to all that new power is that, being ARM-based, a lot of existing AVR code won't be compatible without some work. There are a few other caveats, like getting used to the 3.3 volt levels on the I/O pins. Using 5 volts can damage the board. Like previous Ardunio boards, the design is open source hardware. So download the schematic, Eagle PCB files, and pin mappings and get to work on a robot controller! The price is $49. Read on for full specifications of the new Arduino Due board.

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Robots Podcast #115: Stephen Gorevan of Honeybee Robotics

Posted 21 Oct 2012 at 02:46 UTC (updated 21 Oct 2012 at 02:49 UTC) by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of Stephen Gorevan

In episode #115 (Oct. 20, 2012), Robots Podcast speaks with Stephen Gorevan from Honeybee Robotics about how he and Chris Chapman started the company and how his childhood dream of working for NASA got them into space robotics. The interview, which was recorded before the landing of Curiosity on Mars, gives us all the details about the equipment they built for the Mars Science Laboratory, including the Sample Manipulation System (SMS) and the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) which will enable the mission to explore and analyze the Martian environment. We also hear about their latest developments in small scale satellites called CubeSats.

Read On | Tune In | Transcript

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But can I buy your Magic Bus?

Posted 20 Oct 2012 at 15:40 UTC by steve

One of the hurdles faced in the construction of a quantum computer is how to move qubits around inside. According to an NIST news release, NIST's Joint Quantum Institute joined forces with researchers at Princenton to solve this problem by creating a "quantum bus". Physicist Jacob Taylor explains the problem this way:

"In order to couple qubits, we need to be able to move information about one to the other. There are a few ways that this can be done and they usually involve moving around the particles themselves, which is very difficult to do quickly without destabilizing their spins - which are carrying the information - or transferring information about the spins to light. While this is easier than moving the particles themselves, the interaction between light and matter is generally very weak."

Their solution uses the latter method. First, they combined spin-orbit qubits with circuit quantum electrodynamics. The resulting device couples the spins of electrons trapped in an indium-arsenide quantum dot with the electron's positions. This allows the magnetic field of the qubit (which now reflects the spins), to interact with microwave photons moving in a superconducting cavity. In effect, they've got half of a bus - the spin information is moved from the qubit to a photon. So you can't buy that quantum brain for your robot just yet. They still need to get the spin information from the photon into another qubit at the other end of the bus. For a more detailed explanation of the work, with schematics and links to papers, see the JQI news release. A Princeton news release also mentions the work.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 19 Oct 2012 at 18:13 UTC by steve

Let's start off this week's news roundup by welcoming two new robot websites: first is Robotics.gd, which will include forums, chat, and photo galleries. Next up is Robohub, a robot news site where you'll see some familiar faces from here on robots.net and the robots podcast. We're always happy to see new robot sites and look forward to collaborating! In other news, Wendy Hughson of Intellibot Robotics wrote to let us know about a donation of two robots they made recently to the Upper Merion School District in Pennsylvania. The robots will be used in the STEM program by students at the Upper Merion Middle School. Tim Smith writes, "Just wanted to share some news from the Open Source Robotics Foundation, the spin-off from personal robotics company Willow Garage. Two recent OSRF blog posts have covered their relationship with DARPA and the Disaster Robotics Challenge, as well as the fact that Toyota's Human Support Robot (HSR) will be running on ROS." Finally Aldebaran Robotics sent an announcement saying their URBI robot operating system suite is now being distributed as free software under the BSD license. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. And don't forget to follow us on twitter and Facebook. Now you can add us to your Google+ circles too.

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Military Robotics

Global Hawk Closer to Autonomous Refueling

Posted 18 Oct 2012 at 16:34 UTC by steve

DARPA's Autonomous High-Altitude Refueling (AHR) program hopes to bring autonomous refueling to the Global Hawk and other flying robots. A recent DARPA news release says the AHR program has completed a test flight that brings their goal one step closer. During the test, two Global Hawks flew within 100 feet or less of each other for 2.5 hours at 44,800 feet. The aircraft were fitted with a refueling probe and a receiver drogue, which were brought into the correct orientation to connect but were not actually connected during this test flight. According to Jim McCormick of DARPA:

"The goal of this demonstration was to create the expectation that future HALE aircraft will be refueled in flight. Such designs should be more affordable to own and operate across a range of mission profiles than systems built to satisfy the most stressing case without refueling. The lessons from AHR certainly extend beyond the HALE flight regime, and insights into non-traditional tanker concepts may offer further operational advantages."

Read on for two videos showing the Global Hawks during one of the approach maneuvers from the point of view of each UAV.

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