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Space Robotics

Japanese Space Bot Headed for ISS

Posted 6 Mar 2013 at 21:15 UTC by steve

A small Japanese humanoid robot, named Kirobo, is bound for the International Space Station, where it will join the crew as "communications robot". The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Dentsu, Inc created the Kibo Robot Project, based on a commercially available robot known as Robi. Kibo's design was created by Tomotaka Takahashi of Robo Garage. Toyota worked on the project too, providing natural language support for the bot. Apparently the "communication" the robot will be in charge of is speaking tweets sent from Earth to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Two identical robots have been made, Kirobo, who will go into space and Mirata, who will remain on Earth for PR and educational appearances. Read on to see a video of the Kibo robot on its first micro-gravity training mission.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 5 Mar 2013 at 23:25 UTC by steve


Today's edition of best robot photos of the week show robots interacting with cavemen, pets, scientists, and babies. You'll also get a glimpse of an attractive but deadly cyborg boob-bot from a recent robot dance-off. And we threw in a few assorted DIY and FIRST robots for good measure. 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 Mar 2013 at 22:45 UTC by steve

You've probably already seen the videos of BigDog throwing a cinder block and the air-muscle powered cheetah robot. But as we dig deeper into the editor's inbox this week, we find more interesting things like Joanne "robot psychiatrist" Pransky's press release awarding "Media’s Most Inaccurate Depiction of Robotics’ Award" to 60 Minutes.There's also Nissan's recent announcement of an Autonomous Vehicle research facility in Silicon Valley. Looking for another new mobile robot platform designed for smartphone? Check out the Overdrive Robotics SmartBot. Last up this week, The Swirling Brain spotted some cool video of an EPFL flying robot called the AirBurr that explores and maps its environment not by using SLAM but by literally slamming into things. 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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Space Robotics

NASA Probes Discover New Van Allen Belt

Posted 1 Mar 2013 at 17:16 UTC by steve

Within days of being launched, two NASA Van Allen probes made a major discovery: the Earth has a previously unknown third Van Allen radiation belt! Normally, a new probe goes through a slow power up and testing procedure that may take months but an unexpected Coronal mass ejection from the Sun caused the Van Allen belts to swell and caused the scientists to risk a quick power up to take advantage of the rare opportunity. The findings were so unexpected, they took the researchers by surprise and even made them doubt the instrument readings:

"By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt," says Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and a coauthor of a paper on these results. "We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks."

The Van Allen probes are eight-sided robotic spacecraft about 6 feet across, 3 feet high and weighing in at 1,475 lbs each. The probes contain a wide range of sensors including a Relativistic Proton Spectrometer, an electric field and wave sensor with six antenna that are each 130 feet long, and a 3 axis magnetic field sensor that can determine the speed and energy level of particles in the Van Allen belts. Because the probes must operate within the Van Allen belts, they're designed to withstand radiation levels and constant particle bombardment that would destroy conventional satellites. In fact, part of what researchers hope to learn from the data collected by these probes is how to build better radiation-hardened spacecraft. Read on to see a video representation of the actual data returned by the probes as well as a video explaining the mission.

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Texas Declares War on Robots

Posted 28 Feb 2013 at 18:52 UTC by steve

There's growing privacy concern over flying robots, or "drones". Organizations like the EFF and ACLU have been raising the alarm over increased government surveillance of US citizens. Legislators haven't been quick to respond to concerns of government spying on citizens. But Texas legislators are apparently quite concerned that private citizens operating hobby drones might spot environmental violations by businesses. You may recall the story from 2012 in which a hobbyist operating a small UAV over public land in Dallas, TX accidentally photographed a Dallas meat-packing plant illegally dumping pig blood into the Trinity river, resulting in an EPA indictment. Representative Lance Gooden has introduced HB912 to solve this "problem". But the badly worded bill could also outlaw most outdoor hobby and STEM robotics activities, stop university robotics research programs, endanger commercial robotics R&D, and end many common commercial uses of robots such as commercial aerial photography. What exactly does the bill outlaw?

"A person commits an offense if the person uses or authorizes the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft to capture an image without the express consent of the person who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image." ("Image" is defined as including any type of recorded telemetry from sensors that measure "sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions".)

So any robot in the air, underwater, on the ground, even if operating on public property, that inadvertently records any type of sensor data originating on private property, is deemed illegal. The bill ignores long-standing legal precedent establishing 1st amendment protections for photography of private property and individuals from public land. Todd Humphreys of the UTA Radionavigation Lab has warned, "the legislation is overly broad. It doesn't allow for a distinction between intentional peeping toms and inadvertent or unwitting surveillance". Ben Gielow of AUVSI has pointed out several illogical aspects of the bill including its odd focus on whether the photographer is inside a vehicle. For example, a Google street view car could photograph your house because the driver is in the vehicle but Google could not use a ground or air robot to take the same image because the photographer would be outside the vehicle. While it's possible Gooden is simply technically illiterate when it comes to robotics, the more cynical view seems to be that the wording is intentional. The bill is worded to sound as if it prevents government drones from spying on citizens but then exempts most federal, state, and even local police spying under various circumstances. The bill also says: "an image captured in violation ... may not be used as evidence in any criminal ... proceeding" -- which would have handily protected the meat-packing plant from that meddling citizen and his robot. For more, see the Popular Science article "Even Hobby Drones Could Be Made Illegal in Texas". If you're in Texas and concerned about this bill, there's an FPVLAb discussion thread about it with information on contacting your representatives. For fun, click through to see some ironic drone video shot of Rep. Gooden by aerial photographer Justin Edwards of Drone Above.

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Raffaello D'Andrea on Feedback Control

Posted 27 Feb 2013 at 23:16 UTC by steve

Raffaello D'Andrea gave a really nice talk that introduces the basic concepts of feedback control using live demonstrations from his quad-copter research. The video above is the full talk as given at ZURICH.MINDS. If you want to see his quad-copters do one more cool trick, click through for the latest video of two pole-balancing copters tossing the pole back and forth between each other. The flying robots are great attention-getters but the talk covers some interesting and important topics, so it's worth a listen anyway.

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Best Robot Photos of the Week

Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 20:13 UTC by steve

Crunch Time...

Today's edition of best robot photos of the week should be called the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most fall easily into the "good" category including art bots, the Doctor's favorite robot, and a pair of gay Google Androids showing their robot love for each other. But in the "bad" category we've got at least one killer robot, and for "ugly" we offer a creepy female android who wants to hug you. 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 25 Feb 2013 at 20:34 UTC by steve

Kitty Gifford alerted us to an upcoming event in Ithaca, NY on 26 Feb called Science Cabaret that will include a discussion of walking robots. New neuroscience research may have identified some novel network structures that evolved in the human brain. Meanwhile, a study of machine visual recognition suggests that non-metric recognition algorithms may be the best way to go. Garret Fisher of F5 Robotics, let us know about an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for an ROV that looks like a proprietary version of the very successful open hardware / open software Open ROV project. Our friends at the NooTriX blog let us know about their latest post on questions of robot ethics. The Swirling Brain rounded up stories on the Veter Project, a $10 robot fish pet, and an experiment that torments lab rats using robot rats. 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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Robots Podcast #124: Insect-inspired navigation

Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 03:45 UTC by John_RobotsPodcast

photo of ant

In this episode Per talks with Michael Mangan from the University of Edinburgh, where he did his PhD in the Insect Robotics Group, with Professor Barbara Webb (previously interviewed by Robots Podcast), about using robotics to study and replicate insect behaviour. His current research focuses on the navigational abilities of desert ants. These ants scavenge for food over long distances despite searing surface temperatures that evaporate pheromone trails too quickly to be useful for guidance. He has recently documented the impressive individual route following behavior of desert ants in southern Spain. This has allowed the first rigorous testing of robotic and biologically plausible models of navigation in the ant world, as viewed by the ant. Mangan is currently constructing these virtual worlds for public use and they will be available from AntNav.org.

Read On | Tune In

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A Model-driven Approach to Robot Architecture

Posted 21 Feb 2013 at 19:37 UTC by steve

While you might have trouble getting any two roboticists to agree on what exactly a "robot architecture" is or which one is best, you would probably find agreement that the process of designing a robot architecture is a form of engineering. Piotr Trojanek argues that, if that is the case, then it might be worthwhile to apply the workflow of model-driven engineering development to the task of designing a robot architecture. He lays out his thoughts in a recently published paper called, Model-driven engineering approach to design and implementation of robot control systems (PDF format). From the paper:

"We believe, that model-driven engineering provides the necessary framework that enables the development of methods and tools for robot control and programming in a much more disciplined and efficient manner than before. Dedicated tools for all the steps involved (i.e., definition of domain meta-model, multiple notations, model-to-model and modelto-text transformations) promise that the final solution can be delivered with much less effort."

The paper gives a brief introduction to the predominate 1960s robot architecture known as sense-plan-act (SPA) and its subsequent replacement by the modern subsumption architecture championed by Brooks. The author proceeds to use the Eclipse Modeling Framework to take the reader through the process of using a model-driven approach that ends with a subsumption architecture that is then tested on simulated robots as well as on a real-world LEGO Mindstorms NXT platfrom. The complete architecture modeler and an ADA code generator are available for download from github

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