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Science

Training Humans and Robots to Working Together

Posted 16 Feb 2013 at 21:41 UTC by steve

An MIT news release highlights recent research from the Interactive Robot Group at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). The researchers look at the best strategy for ensuring that humans and robots can work side-by-side in manufacturing environments. Not surprisingly, the biggest problem is that people have trouble doing things in the same way each time, which can confuse robots. Various techniques have been tried in the past to solve this problem, most of which involve trying to train the humans. A new approach was needed. From the news release:

So Shah and PhD student Stefanos Nikolaidis began to investigate whether techniques that have been shown to work well in training people could also be applied to mixed teams of humans and robots. One such technique, known as cross-training, sees team members swap roles with each other on given days. “This allows people to form a better idea of how their role affects their partner and how their partner’s role affects them.”

The researchers concluded that the cross-training approach was "an extremely effective team-building tool" when dealing with teams of robots and humans working together. The details of their research can be found in a paper that will be presented soon at the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, titled "Human-Robot Cross-Training: Computational Formulation, Modeling and Evaluation of a Human Team Training Strategy" (PDF format).

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Medical Robotics

The Blind See With Robot Eyes, Thanks to NSF

Posted 15 Feb 2013 at 22:38 UTC by steve

A National Science Foundation news release details the long history of NSF funded research that has resulted in the the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis which gained FDA approval yesterday, becoming the first "bionic eye" approved for use in the United States. The cybernetic device consists of video camera glasses that wirelessly transmit an image to a microelectrode neural stimulator array implanted in the damaged retina, providing the brain with an image. The device can restore vision to victims of retinitis pigmentosa. From the news release:

"The implant allows some individuals with RP, who are completely blind, to locate objects, detect movement, improve orientation and mobility skills and discern shapes such as large letters."

The research began in the 1980s and received a first NFS grant in 1994. Twenty years and $40 million later, we have the first cure for this type of blindness. An improved unit that will fit entirely inside the human eye and has 15 times more electrodes exists in prototype form and will someday replace this initial externally worn unit. For more see the Second Sight news release and the functional description of the prosthesis. The NFS also posted several videos detailing the history of the research.

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Interviews

Robots Podcast #123: EU Robotics Week

Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 17:32 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

EU Robotics Week logo

In episode #123 (Feb. 8, 2013) Robots Podcast covers the EU Robotics Week that took place during the last week of November and featured robotics related activities across Europe for the general public, highlighting growing importance of robotics in a wide variety of application areas. More than 130 organizations (companies, universities, research institutes) in 19 European countries organized over 360 robotics related activities. About 80,000 people have been reached across Europe, many of them high school and elementary school students. Reporter Sabine talks with Thilo Brodtmann, Director of EUnited Robotics, and Organizer of the event, about his first impressions following the EU Robotics week. Asim Ikram from the Danish Technology Institute talks about logistical robots in the healthcare sector. Finally, Barbara Klein, Professor at the Fachhochschule Frankfurt, discusses emotional robots such as Paro and their therapeutic use for kids or the elderly.

Read On | Tune In

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Robots

Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 13 Feb 2013 at 20:33 UTC by steve

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week includes a photo of the recently a restored Elektro Robot, a curvy female R2D2, a 48-wheeled rover, a Russian robot lamp, a group of way-finding bots in Dallas, a graffiti robot in Miami, and other interesting robotic curiosities. 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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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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Robots

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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Science

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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Robots

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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Science

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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