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Space Robotics

DARPA Robot to Repurpose Space Junk

Posted 12 Feb 2013 at 19:45 UTC by steve

A recent DARPA news release highlights their Phoenix program. As the name suggests, the goal of the program is give dead space junk a new life. All those dead satellites still have lots of re-usable parts such as antennas and solar arrays. DARPA hopes to develop a robot that can harvest usable parts from space junk and add them to a new class of nano satellites designed to take advantage of the old parts. From the news release:

The first keystone mission of the Phoenix program in 2015 plans to demonstrate harvesting an existing, cooperative, retired satellite aperture, by physically separating it from the host non-working satellite using on-orbit grappling tools controlled remotely from earth. The aperture will then be reconfigured into a ‘new’ free-flying space system and operated independently to demonstrate the concept of space “re-use.”

As robot-builders, we've probably all gone dumpster-diving at one point or another to scavenge high-tech trash from which to build robots. So we'll be watching to see how these dumpster-diving space bots work out. DARPA hopes to involve "non-traditional space communities" in the program to help with design and development. For more details, see the original Phoenix project solicitation. Read on to see a cool little video of a simulated mission in which the space-bot collects spare parts from old satellites.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 11 Feb 2013 at 19:19 UTC by steve

Researchers at Harvard have been building squishy silicone robots for a while and they have a new one that can jump 30 times its height by expelling and igniting methane. At the University of Illinois, researchers have built a map the brain regions responsible for our human emotional intelligence with the help of Vietnam vets. The Swirling Brain sent us stories about a tiny robot that will clean the screen of your tablet, a robotic exoskeleton for a moth, and a very cool but unbelievably expensive tiny British robot helicopter named the Hornet. 160 Hornets cost $31,000,000 USD. The Swirling Brain notes, "Why do all the little helicopters I get only fly for 5 mins max and are destroyed in less than 30 minutes? Oh, $193,750 each! That’s why!" Last up, we received a link to a good tutorial from Jack Crenshaw's Embedded Design column on the basics of Kalman filter math called Quiet down out there!. 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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Elephant Spotting Robots in Africa

Posted 8 Feb 2013 at 23:15 UTC by steve

Researchers in Africa are trying out an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for doing aerial surveys of large mammals. The drone chosen by the researchers was a Gatewing X100, a small, electric robot plane equipped with GPS, inertial measurement, and other sensors. Aerial surveys using traditional manned aircraft are very expensive to do, so this research could potentially result in new survey methods that will save wildlife researchers a lot of money. The goal was to determine flight parameters and the animals reaction to drone. From the paper:

The use of UAS such as the ×100 opens interesting possibilities for counting elephants. The technology is sufficient to count African elephants in savannahs: flight implementation is easier (very short airfield), safer (no operators on board) and the UAS is reliable in very rough conditions. The UAS flights require civil aviation authorization. However, the main drawback of the Gatewing ×100 is its low autonomy. Unlike a light aircraft, this small UAS cannot cover large areas in a minimum of time (4 to 6 hours per flight). If some UAS cost as much as an aircraft, the logistic and the running costs of the UAS are lower. However, the cost per area covered (km−2) is almost 10 times higher than that of an aircraft. Also, the characteristic shape and biometry of elephants on the nadir images allow us to consider use of computer recognition algorithms.

Overall, they had good results. The higher cost per area is due to the Gatewing X100 drone's short flight time; the drone replacement cost, given a lifetime of about 40 flights (around 24 hours total flight per drone); and a repair cost for cameras, antennas, servos, and other components. Elephants and two other large animal species were observed. The researchers noted that the drone was able to pass above all the animals almost unnoticed. The animals never exhibited any flight or warning behaviors. For more details on the project, read the researchers paper, "Unmanned Aerial Survey of Elephants". Also see our previous story on the USGS experiments using drones to reduce the costs of their aerial surveys from $30,000 USD to $3,000 USD per mission..

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 6 Feb 2013 at 17:22 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week includes a steampunk version of Bender, a PUMA arm with a 3D-printed hand, Dalek gardening, a citrus harvesting robot, and assorted robot sculpture. 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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BatSLAM: Biomimetic Sonar SLAM

Posted 5 Feb 2013 at 17:20 UTC by steve

Let's review: SLAM is Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, a very traditional algorithm for autonomous robot navigation that allows the robot to keep track of its own location while, at the same time, building a map of its environment. Robots using SLAM frequently rely on information about their own kinematics, and rangefinding sensors such as laser or sonar. RatSLAM appeared in 2004 in the paper RatSLAM: a hippocampal model for simultaneous localization and mapping (PDF format). It presented a new, biomemetic approach to SLAM inspired by the design of the rodent hippocampus, which evolved to handle the same type of navigation tasks. A C++ implementation of RatSLAM is available as free software under the GNU GPL. So what's new? BatSLAM:

"We propose to combine a biomimetic navigation model which solves a simultaneous localization and mapping task with a biomimetic sonar mounted on a mobile robot to address two related questions. First, can robotic sonar sensing lead to intelligent interactions with complex environments? Second, can we model sonar based spatial orientation and the construction of spatial maps by bats?"

These questions are answered in a new paper by Jan Steckel and Herbert Peremans titled, BatSLAM: Simultaneous Localization and Mapping Using Biomimetic Sonar. According to the authors, when you combine the best of rat brain and bat brain algorithms, the "biomimetic navigation model operating on the information from the biomimetic sonar allows an autonomous agent to map unmodified (office) environments efficiently and consistently". Personally, I think after the robot successfully navigates a new environment using this algorithm, it should roll up to you and say, "I'm BatSLAM!"

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Space Robotics

A 10th Year of Opportunity on Mars

Posted 4 Feb 2013 at 20:50 UTC (updated 4 Feb 2013 at 20:52 UTC) by steve

A recent NASA JPL news release reminds us that with all the news about NASA's latest rover, Curiosity, and the many other robots on and above the red planet, some may not have noticed that the little Opportunity rover celebrated the start of its tenth year on Mars recently. Its companion, Spirit, went silent after six years but Opportunity keeps on going. Spirit and Opportunity were designed to have an operational life of 90 days, so even Spirit's six year life is impressive. (I can't even buy a washer and dryer that last six years and I don't drop my household appliances from orbit inside of bouncing airbags or expose them to dust storms and freezing temperatures!) From the news release:

Opportunity has driven 22.03 miles (35.46 kilometers) since it landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, PST (Jan. 25, Universal Time). Its original assignment was to keep working for three months, drive about 2,000 feet (600 meters) and provide the tools for researchers to investigate whether the area's environment had ever been wet. It landed in a backyard-size bowl, Eagle Crater. During those first three months, it transmitted back to Earth evidence that water long ago soaked the ground and flowed across the surface.

Opportunity is currently studying outcrops on the rim of Endeavour Crater, another area that shows possible signs of water from a much older era. To coincide with Opportunity's birthday, NASA has released a new panorama of the Matijevic Hill in the Endeavour Crater area. For more you can follow Opportunity's activities and discoveries on JPL's Opportunity mission status webpage, follow the rover's progress on the traverse map, check out Opportunities best photos on the pancam page or see all 176,525 photos returned so far from Opportunity on the Opportunity multimedia page.

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Random Robot Roundup

Posted 1 Feb 2013 at 23:06 UTC by steve

It's just not Friday without a news roundup! We received a lot of fun tips and links this week. Matt Whistler sent us a link to his 2D robot art. Frank Tobe of the Robot Report has blogged about the recent CBS news claims that robots will take away your job. The folks at NooTrix mentioned us in their post about the Best Robot Videos, Pictures, and Stories. Catherine Caudwell, a researcher in the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, is asking for help from "anyone with an avid interest in robotics and companionable technologies" to take her Stories Tell Objects Project survey. Chuck Denk let us know about a new Google plus community called Robotics, Law, and Ethics. From The Swirling Brain come two stories: an Inside TV story with a photo gallery of "robots" from SyFy's Robot Combat League and a Hack a Day story about a genetic algorithm that is learning to program in the brainfuck language. Via the G+ Open Robotics University community comes news of an autonomous telemedicine robot approved by the FDA for use in hospitals. Last up, remember that story over at FreeIO.org on open hardware robot projects? The story prompted readers to send in reports of other projects, which we forwarded to FreeIO.org, so keep an eye on that article; the project list should get bigger over time. (by the way FreeIO, congrats on the nifty new logo!) 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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Aquatic Robotics

Argo Robots Collect Millionth Observation

Posted 31 Jan 2013 at 23:43 UTC by steve

Back in 2001, we first reported on the Argo project and its plan to deploy a network of 3,000 robots throughout the oceans of the world to capture precise measurements of temperature (+/- 0.005° C) and salinity. The number of deployed robot floats reached 3,000 in 2007. The robots continuously take measurements as they move from the surface to a depth of 2000 meters and back. They've been returning 100,000 measurements per year and, according to a recent news release, in January they passed the 1,000,000 measurement milestone. From the website:

Over 100 research papers per year are now being published using Argo data covering a broad range of topics including water mass properties and formation, air-sea interaction, ocean circulation, mesoscale eddies, ocean dynamics, seasonal-to-decadal variability, and global change analysis. A key objective of Argo is to observe ocean signals related to climate change. This includes regional and global changes in ocean temperature and heat content, salinity and freshwater content, the steric height of the sea surface in relation to total sea level and large-scale ocean circulation.

When the project started over a decade ago there was still widespread uncertainty over the rate and nature of climate change. Today, thanks in part to the precise data returned by these robots, researchers are able to build and test much more accurate models of climate change and carbon sequestration. As rising ocean temperatures cause more and more dramatic weather events, data from the Argo robots will be increasingly important to researchers as they try to accurately model and predict the coming changes. The Argo network data itself is available if you'd like to download it or get it on CD. Argo data is also available through standard climate research databases like the KNMI Climate Explorer and is now the primary source of data used for the NOAA Global Ocean Heat and Salt Content graphs. For more see the special Argo Brochure (PDF format) released for the one millionth measurement profile. Read on to see some cool videos of the Argo bots in action.
CC BY-NC-ND Argo photo by flickr user fruchtzwerg's world

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Cafe Neu Romance Robot Festival

Posted 30 Jan 2013 at 19:14 UTC (updated 30 Jan 2013 at 19:23 UTC) by steve

Christian Gjørret, leader of Vive Les Robots! sent us a report on Café Neu Romance, billed as the world's first international robot performance festival, held in Prague last November. Why Prague? Because Karel Čapek's R.U.R. premiered there, giving us the word robot, of course:

The 800 visitors to the festival were given an introduction to what connects magical Prague with robots. During the opening, the R.U.R expert, Professor Jana Horakova from the Masaryk University in Brno hold the lecture “Karel Čapek - Czech Frankenstein”, on the notion robot, and how the play R.U.R spread to various European cities after its first performance at the National Theatre in Prague 25 January 1921.

The festival included a wide variety of robots and robotic art, ranging from a fashion show with robotic dresses to robotic origami. Read on for the full new release about the event as well as several nice videos of the sites and sounds from the first international robot performance festival. And keep in mind as you watch them that planning has already started for the second event to be held in November of 2013.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 28 Jan 2013 at 21:59 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week is the Robot Graffiti Edition. Robot artwork has been popping up on buildings around the world with increasing frequency and our readers have posted some fun and amazing examples for your consideration. Did we miss some robot graffiti in your city? If you see some, be sure to photograph it and post the photo to our flickr group! Every week (well, almost 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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