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Commercial Robotics

CMU to Develop Commercial Mining Robots

Posted 12 Jan 2013 at 17:03 UTC by steve

According to a CMU news release, CMU's Robotics Institute has entered a five year agreement with Anglo American PLC to develop autonomous robots for a variety of mining tasks including mapping and inspection. From the news release:

Automating the most difficult, costly and dangerous mining jobs will improve safety and increase the productivity and efficiency of Anglo American’s operations. Advances in robotics will allow the mining of hard-to-reach ore deposits that cannot be economically extracted under existing methods and mine layouts

Mining is a very dangerous business and seems like an ideal job for robots. The robot pictured above is a multi-purpose mining robot that is being developed at the Robotics Institute NREC facility. More information can be found in the NREC new release. The technology described here is probably descended from the CMU Groundhog mine-mapping robot that we've reported on as far back as 2002.

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Cornell Cup 2013 Teams Announced

Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 18:35 UTC (updated 10 Jan 2013 at 18:36 UTC) by steve

The annual Cornell Cup USA competition is a general engineering contest sponsored by Intel. But, while it's not a robot competition, many of the entries are robots, such as the University of Pennsylvania HAWK (Helicopter Aircraft Wielding Kinect) UAV, pictured above, one of the 2012 winners. This year is no exception. Cornell announced the 30 teams who will participate in the 2013 event. Among this year's entries are speech recognition systems, STEM robots, a wheelchair mounted robot arm, several elder-care robots, an autonomous ocean search robot, a smart-home project, a brain-interfaced wheelchair, AUVs, UAVs, a robot shopping cart, a robot for firefighters, a black box for humans, a leaf collection robot, an upper-body exoskeleton, and a swarm of robot that will sanitize hospitals with UV light. Cornell is in the process of creating blogs for each of the teams to post status updates. You can find the team descriptions and blog links in the news release.

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Scientists Map Skin's Sensory Nerves

Posted 8 Jan 2013 at 20:02 UTC by steve

Skin is the human body's largest sensory organ. Understanding how it works will help roboticists create more useful android skins. We're a step closer to understanding the skin's sensory system thanks to a new report announced by Johns Hopkins researchers. The scientists created detailed maps of the branching patterns of sensory nerves in mouse skin. The resulting maps revealed ten distinct groups that seem to correspond to differences in nerve functions. For example, some nerve types gather information from a single hair follicle while others branch into groups that collect averaged information from 200 or more different locations. From the new release:

Nathans says the images now in hand will help scientists “make more sense” out of known responses to stimulation of the skin. For example, if a single nerve cell is responsible for monitoring a patch of skin a quarter of an inch square, multiple simultaneous points of pressure within that patch will only be perceived by the brain as a single signal. “That is why we can’t read Braille using the skin on our backs: the multiple bumps that make up a Braille symbol are within such a small area that the axon branches can’t distinguish them. By contrast, each sensory axon on the fingertip occupies a much smaller territory and this permits our fingertips to accurately distinguish small objects.

For all the details on the research, including lots of diagrams and images of the nerve networks, see the paper, "Morphological diversity of cutaneous sensory afferents revealed by genetically directed sparse labeling" (PDF format). In a related new release, Johns Hopkins researchers announced the discovery of strong evidence that there are specific nerve cells responsible for itch signals, distinct from nerves involved in pain.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 7 Jan 2013 at 21:16 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week just goes to show that humans and robots love to hang out together. Whether it's at dance parties, school, coffee shops, bus stops, or the park; humans and robots can run into each other anywhere and enjoy some much needed digital to analog social interaction. Every week we post a collection of the best robot photos submitted by our readers to our robots.net flickr group. Why? Because everyone likes to see cool new robots! Want to see your robot here? Post it to flickr and add it to the robots.net flickr group. It's easy. If you're not already a flickr member, it's free and easy to sign up. Read on to see the best robot photos of the week!

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 4 Jan 2013 at 20:34 UTC by steve

Several mainstream news items on robots this week including an interesting piece in the New Yorker titled, Why Making Robots Is So Darn Hard. Meanwhile Salon and the New York Times dragged robots into the growing debate of "profits without prosperity" - the recent phenomenon in which big corporations are making more and more profit but without the traditional increase in general prosperity among corporate employees. In the New York Times article, Robots and Robber Barons, economist Paul Krugman cites robots as one of two possible causes for the problem. Salon, in the article, Robots don't destroy jobs by economist William Lazonick, counters that for every human worker a robot replaces, it adds multiple new job opportunities for humans. The Salon article posits the real problem is not robots but corporate abuse of profits, the fault of humans, not machines. Leaving economics behind, The Swirling Brain pointed us to some cool photos and video of a robot ornithoper made from 3D printed parts. And everybody loves a top ten list, right? The Public Library of Science (PLOS) recently posted a list of Ten Simple Rules for the Open Development of Scientific Software. 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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ROS Groovy Galapagos Released

Posted 3 Jan 2013 at 20:27 UTC by steve

The latest release of the popular robot operating system ROS, nicknamed Groovy Galapagos, was released on 31 December. The Groovy release includes a lot of changes to the core infrastructure aimed at making ROS easier to use, more modular, and more scalable. Portability has also been improved with support for most GNU/Linux distros, Android, and even some proprietary operating systems such as Mac OS X and Windows. Developers will also be happy to see that all ROS packages have been consolidated on GitHub:

Traditionally, ROS code has been scattered across numerous version control systems (git, svn, hg, etc) across different hosting services throughout the world. Though the ROS wiki has acted as a central point of documentation, issue/ticket tracking has been just as disparate as the usage of VCS tools. With ROS Groovy, an effort has been made to move core packages to GitHub along with all issue tracking. This has brought several benefits including making ROS more available to the wider open source community and providing VCS consistency for ROS packages. Most importantly, utilizing GitHub has involved the ROS community more and given it more ownership of the codebase. GitHub's pull requests have made it much easier for the core ROS development team to apply patches from the community as well as respond to design feedback more rapidly.

Developers should expect to see a few changes in the build tools as well. Stacks have been removed, rosbuild has been replaced with a new build tool called catkin, the core ROS GUI tools have been replaced by a single tool called rqt, the Wx toolkit has been replaced with Qt. For a full list of changes, see the ROS Groovy Galapagos release notes. ROS is free software released under a variety of licenses that meet the guidelines of the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative. If you'd like it try ROS, you can download the source or pre-packaged binaries for most systems.

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Aquatic Robotics

The OpenROV Project

Posted 2 Jan 2013 at 20:19 UTC by steve

The National Geographic Explorers Journal blog brought to our attention the OpenROV Project, which was recently funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $100,000 USD. The project was founded by friends Eric and David, who wanted to build an ROV from low-cost off-the-shelf parts. The OpenROV can be used for educational purposes or for actual underwater exploration. The current version of the OpenROV is limited to a depth of 100 meters but the design is open source and you're invited to modify and improve it. In addition to the open source hardware, this little underwater robot relies on open source software running on a GNU/Linux-based embedded processor. There's a USB HD video camera and LED light arrays on board too so you can see where you're going. At present the OpenROV is strictly a DIY project that you build from the designs and source code available on the OpenROV wiki. But kits for about $750 and even fully assembled ROVs should be available soon. Read on to see the original kickstarter video that describes the ROV and a more recent video of the ROV in action

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Robots Podcast #120: Mel Torrie of Autonomous Solutions

Posted 31 Dec 2012 at 00:13 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

In episode #120, reporter Per speaks with Mel Torrie of Autonomous Solutions, Inc., which he founded in 2000, with encouragement from John Deere, as a spin-off of the Center for Self Organizing and Intelligent Systems (CSOIS) at Utah State University (USU). From agriculture, the company branched out into mining and construction, then survived one lean period because it had also invested in golf course mowing. ASI has also participated in three DARPA challenges, supporting the University of Florida's team for both runnings of the DARPA Grand Challenge, and then as an independent entrant in the DARPA Urban Challenge. ASI has distilled its autonomous vehicle experience into a kit that can be quickly and easily installed in new vehicles, now marketing this kit to automotive manufacturers for use in their internal testing programs, allowing them to push their cars through grueling tests more quickly than human drivers can tolerate.

Read On | Tune In

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TOMBOT: A Behavior-based Autonomous Robot

Posted 30 Dec 2012 at 16:11 UTC by steve

Circuit Cellar magazine recently posted in full their two-part article by Tom Kibalo on the construction of his subsumption-based mobile robot, called TOMBOT. Part 1 of the article covers construction of the hardware and Part 2 covers the subsumption software and basic behaviors for obstacle avoidance, collisions, and light tracking. The robot is a differential drive design using continuous-turn RC Servos as motor. It lacks wheel encoders. The robot sports an XBee radio, a PIC32 CPU, and a small LCD display. It's a good basic introduction to behavior-based robots and well worth a read.

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Generalized Representational Information Theory

Posted 29 Dec 2012 at 19:35 UTC by steve

Just as researchers today struggle to find working definitions for words like consciousness and intelligence, they struggled to find a standardized meaning for the word information in the early 1900s. Ralph Hartley, a research for Bell Laboratories, first introduced a theory of information based on the idea that information consisted of strings of symbols, a reasonable idea in the age of telegraph, telephones, and radio. Shannon and Weaver moved things along in the 1940s, resulting in Shannon-Weaver Information Theory (SWIT). While Hartley's theory was concerned primarily with sets of symbols, SWIT was concerned with the probability or uncertainty of events (the likelihood a particular structure or sequence of symbols are meaningful). Both theories fall far short of describing what a modern cognitive scientist or AI researcher means when they talk about information. A newer theory was developed in the field of psychological research, Representational Information Theory (RIT). The idea behind RIT is that communication between animals and their environment is mediated by concepts. The only drawback of RIT is that it only supported binary dimensions. RIT looks at information in terms of complexity rather than uncertainty like SWIT. In a new paper published in the journal Information, researchers described a generalized version of RIT, called GRIT that may be useful in the fields of AI and robotics:

"concepts live in the mental space of organisms ranging from aplasia to insects and from dolphins to humans. Some may argue that they also live in the mental spaces of intelligent robots and expert systems. Regardless, the point is that only by using concepts as mediators can information as a measurable quantity reflect human intuitions as to what is informative."

The paper includes a technical appendix with mathematical examples of Generalized Representational Information Theory (GRIT) showing examples such as the one above that includes three dimensions (shape, color, and size). For all the details, read the paper, titled, "Complexity over Uncertainty in Generalized Representational Information Theory (GRIT): A Structure-Sensitive General Theory of Information" (PDF format). The paper was written by Ronalda Vigo of the Center for the Advancement of Cognitive Science, Psychology Department, Ohio University. Hartley's 1928 paper is available online as Transmission of Information (PDF format). Shannon's 1948 paper (on which the later Shannon-Weaver book was based) can be found as "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" (PDF format).

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