Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Robotic Pharmacists Take Over

This article about the installation of a Parata robotic pharmacy system in Alexandria, Louisiana covers some of the final mopping up as the machines are installed in the last corners of country. By the end of the year you will likely be hard pressed to find a pharmacy which isn't using one of these systems.

While the Parata system is only being used to dispense the most frequently prescribed medications, the economics of the industry and the advancing capabilities of robotics mean that the Pharmacists will soon handle only the customer facing side of the equation.

This article in Script magazine tells the story.

Previous story on Robot Pharmacists

Toyota Promises Robot Servants By 2010

Toyota aims to bring robotic servants to the home by 2010. The company hopes that descendats of its QRIO robot will be able to aid the elderly and serve tea.

The company is planning to set-up a liason committe with its group members to move forward on the project.

Robosapien V2 To See, Hear and Speak

Robosapien V2 due out this fall promises groundbreaking features. According to Mark Tilden, inventor of Beam Robotics and the Robosapien line, "V2 has its own personality, and every now and again he will just get up and start walking around by himself."

It can visually identify object such as cups or balls, pick them up and return them to their controller.

At 60cm, 25cm greater than its predecessor, and with twice as many motors, Robosapien V2 is quite an advance.

The original Robosapien has found quite a following in the hobbyist community. The advanced features of the next incarnation are likely to make it even more appealing.

Note: Prices listed in the article are in Hong Kong Dollars. US prices are likely to be about a tenth of what was mentioned; most likely around $200.

Robots To Interact Freely With Visitors At London Aquarium

As part of an experimental program on integrating robots with humans, the London Aquarium will staff its entrance with a number of robots through the summer to see how the visitors relate to them.

A team of researchers from the University of Essex will provide three robotic tour guides which will approach and greet visitors as they enter. Responding to voice and registering emotive reactions, the robots will try to engage the visitors and conversation and present them with a number of attractions on their chest-mounted screens.

Other robots including humanoids and large teddy bears will join the project through the summer.

The University of Essex researchers are open sourcing their software which uses neural networks, allowing the robots to theoretically learn from their mistakes. The team has high hopes for the machines:

"Because they have the potential to detect rudimentary emotions via cameras in their eyes, such as when tourists are bored, it is hoped that by early next year the robots will identify lost, crying children, calm down stressed individuals, or provide entertainment for people waiting in queues."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Wired Covers The Development Of The Robotic Air Force

Wired magazine has put up an excellent article which chronicles the revolution that is happening in the US military as it converts to a robotic force.

"The whole thing, from legal decision to command to execution, took five minutes. Tacticians call that time line - target acquisition, deployment of force, order to attack, destruction of target - the "sensor-to-shooter cycle" or "kill chain." It's a measure of any military's reflexes; in Gulf War I, the kill chain was often three days."

"Air Force planners aim to buy 144 more armed Predators, boosting the number of squadrons from 3 to 15."

The Air Force still seems to be caught up in the fighter jock mentality, allowing only certified fighter pilots to take the stick of their drones. The Army is taking a different tack with over 800 drones in combat flown by soldiers in the field.

In 1996 troops armed with drones were the first ever to defeat the trainers at the National Training Center in Fort Irvin, CA. The drones allowed the challengers to spot every move the elite training force was making.

Deployed via land, sea and air MilBots are fundamentally changing warfare as we know it.

Australian Groups Hopes To Revolutionize Mining

Striking a collaboration agreement with MIT Australia's CSIRO hopes to parlay that to access into offering its robotic mining technology around the world.

In December, the team completed a successful fourth trial of its Landmark automation system at the Beltana long wall mine in New South Wales without operator input or interruption of mine production.

Mining is still one of the dirtiest and dangerous professions on earth. Trying to solve these issues was what led to the creation of the original steam engine and helped drive the industrial revolution. I wouldn't be surprised if within a decade nearly all mining in industrialized countries was completely automated.

FeiFei - The Dancing Robot

Developed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Automation in Beijing, FeiFei a child-sized robot is capable of dancing as well and walking and talking. IT can even detect applause using cameras and respond by saluting or applauding back.

Going beyond simply mimicking motion , the robot also model emotional states and has more than 12 joints in its face allowing it to mimic more than 40 human expressions.

FeiFei is capable of answering simple questions.

The institute has the aim of developing robots for entertainment purpose going up against Honda and Sony in Japan. "We'd like to upgrade our robots to the level of people's home companions just like the Japanese Asimo and Aibo," according to Li Chengrong, a leading robot scientist.

OCRobotics Snake-Arm

English company OCRobotics markets a snake-arm robot useful for remotely accessing tight spaces where control and maneuverability are critical.

The arm was used in 2003 to repair a damaged pipe in reactor in Sweden which was otherwise inaccessible.

The arm has also be wed to a mobile platform for use in remote inspection and defense work for the UK Ministry of Defense.

The tentacle like design is controlled via cables running back to motors which allow for fine control of the individual segments. The arms can be controlled using a variety of modes. Joystick control using tip mounted cameras allows remote operators to guide the arm to its target without worrying about movement of the individual segments. Path following or 'nose-following' means that each segment will follow the motion of the tip. A Cartesian mode allows the operator to specify where relative to the base they want the tip to be located.

The accuracy of the control is impressive with a 60mm diameter arm under joystick control having a spatial resolution of better than 50 microns, capable of tracking lines in space. That precise motion can be achieved even while carrying a 10kg payload.

The design of the arm is inherently modular allowing for easy interchange of end effectors and mounting to the drive unit to a variety of different bases.

Videos of the arm in operation are available on the site.

Via RoboticsDaily

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Engadget Visits the Intelligent Robotics Research Center at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology

A correspondent for Engadget visited the Korean Intelligent Robots Research Center and received a tour around the lab. Interesting notes:

"Each brain actually consists of four to five computer stations connected to a server, one each for voice/speech recognition, face recognition, object recognition, motion and movement, and general AI features such as speech."

The robots should have deductive reasoning by the end of the year.

Dr. Beomjae Yoo, Director of the center, expects " non-humanoid household bots in to be widespread within three years, but that humanoid bots will most likely take a decade or more before they’re ready for primetime."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Robotic Controllable Endoscope Available In Europe By The End Of The Year

Japanes company Olympus has developed a robotic endoscope system which it ready to begin marketing by the end of 2005. 26mm long the capsule is designed to be swallowed but is then capable of self-propulsion through the GI tract. Powered externally via magnetic induction, the capsule is capable of sustained duration inside the body.

The capsule can carry drug payloads for precise delivery and is also capable of extracting small amounts of body fluids for examination upon retrieval. Additionally, the capsule is capable of generating ultrasound from within the body allowing higher quality imaging than with existing ultrasound techniques.

WallWalker To Clean High-Rise Windows

Miraikikai, a company founded to commercialize research from Kagawa University, will be showing off it's WallWalker robot at the World Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan. The machine can stick to windows and clean them autonomously.

Toyota Deploys Automated Buses To Aichi Expo

The Intelligent Multimode Transportation System (IMTS)developed by Toyota is zipping as many as 18,400 people per day around the Aichi Expo in Japan. The vehicles use automatic steering and control based on magnetic markers embedded in the center of the road to stay within their lane. They can also automatically form platoons using wireless communication. Powered by compressed natural gas, 13 of the vehicles are in operation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Shadow Dexterous Hand

London-based Shadow Robot Company is offering for sale a new robotic hand design which couples 186 force sensors with individually powered joints. The hand is actuated by 36 air muscles which are powered by compressed air.

An optional tactile system is available which covers the fingertips with 34 tactels each and the phalanges with an array of larger tactels.

PDF Technical Overview

Video of the hand twisting off a cap.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Singapore Deploys New Robotic Fleet

Singapore unveiled its new fleet of Spartan Scout Unmanned Surface Vessels(USV). Augmenting an existing fleet of Protector fleet, the Spartans will allow "ships to deploy such a vessel without getting the men into too close contact with a suspicious boat, which may have undesirable intentions," according to Singapore's Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The USVs are controlled by a central warship and are equipped with surveillance gear and weapons allowing them to be used for a variety of missions.

The USVs were codeveloped with the US Military. Singapore recently deployed a fleet of Protector USVs near Iraq to aid American forces.

Robots are being deployed for military purposes at an exponential rate. In 5 years the face of warfare will likely be robotic.

Throw Out The Mop - It's Time To Scooba!

Coming later this year, the Scooba from iRobot promises to keep your hard surfaces clean. The device is designed to vacuum up loose particles, apply a cleaner to remove dirt, and then dry the floor. The process should be safe for wood floors in addition to tile and linoleum.

Over a million Roombas have been sold in the two-and-a-half years they've been on the market.

The company plans to bring out other domestic robots in the future. "What I want is something that will fold my laundry," noted iRobot CEO Colin Angle.

iRobot now has a video and animation of the cleaning process of the Scooba up on their website. It's actually more impressive than I initially thought. The Scooba is able to clean, scrub and dry the floor in a single pass. It does look like you may have to invest in a supply of special Clorox cleaning solution, but if it does what it claims that may be an investment I'm willing to make.

UM OmniTread SnakeBot

The Mobile Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan has developed a novel "snakebot" design. Called the OmniTread, it is covered over 80% of its body with treads that allow the robot to conquer obstacles which stymie other machines.

Divided into 5 segments, the snakebot is connected down the center by a long driveshaft which powers the treads. The machine uses bellows in each joint to lift and turn segments. The bellows are capable of providing enough power to lift two segments at once to surmount obstacles.

According to the article, "In one test, the OmniTread climbed an 18-inch curb, which is more than twice its height. It also crossed a 66-centimeter trench, which is half its length. In another test, it inched up a pipe by pushing against opposite walls."

General Dynamic Allocated $50m More For MilBots

General Dynamics Robotics Systems of Westminster, Md., has received $50.7 million in additional funding for its Army Future Combat Systems Autonomous Navigation System from Future Combat Systems integrator Science Application Corp. The funding is to support designing and manufacturing a system to control several of the 18 test vehicles which make up the program including the Multifunctional Utility Logistics Equipment (MULE) platform, Armed Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV) and Manned Ground Vehicles (MGV). The system will provide navigation, path-planning and vehicle-following functionality.

The Stryker vehicle following technology was featured on the May 20th edition of Discoveries This Week. The program noted that anticipated deployment of the system was in two years.

DARPA Grand Challenge - MonsterMoto's "JackBot"

MonsterMoto's "JackBot" vehicle completed it's DARPA site visit on May 11th. The MonsterMoto team of amateur off-road racers has turned their expertise towards converting a 4-wheel odd-road vehicle into an autonomous ground vehicle.

The team has posted a video of their vehicle going through the paces on a test route.

DARPA Grand Challenge - Oregon Wave Runner

On May 10th the Oregon Wave Runner team put their vehicle through the paces for a DARPA Site Visit:

"The best run of the day was perfect, the vehicle was able to follow waypoints quickly and precisely. I don't think we lost any points on obstacles or boundaries, it was completed in a ball-park of 2 minutes. The worst run involved mowing through a trash can and then getting the can stuck on the vehicle's right front wheel! The other regulation run and the final fourth run went fine except for some challenges with boundaries and obstacle avoidance respectively."

The demonstration course was 200m in length and included turns, steep grades and uneven ground.

The team of 30 OSU students is utilizing an existing OSU Mini-Baja vehicle which placed second in the 2003 Mini-Baja West endurance race and first in the 2004 race. Modifications include terrain sensors, vision systems, servo controlled steering, and other features.

DARPA Grand Challenge - Team Mojávaton

Team Mojávaton of Grand Junction, Colorado are preparing a 2001 Nissan Xterra 4x4 to compete in the DARPA Grand Challenge this Fall. The team already has an operational vehicle which it has been field testing.

They've posted an impressive video of the vehicle avoiding human cut-outs and navigating along a desert road.

The strength of the competitors this time around is impressive. I would venture to say that if a team hasn't been field testing its bot for a few months now, that it is going to be out of the running.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

QinetiQ Achieves First Automated Landing of a STOVL Aircraft

Using a technology called Autoland, a experimental Harrier jet landed vertically on the deck of the HMS Invincible. The technology QinetiQ, a British defense company, developed follows on their early work at abstracting the piloting experience using a technology called Unified. The landing achievement paves the way for use of the technology in the Joint Strike Fighter allowing missions in weather conditions that would previously not have been possible.

The company also anticipates that the technology will enable the operation of UAVs from ships. Sounding a little desperate, the company notes that "Humans Still Matter."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Matsushita Electric Works Introduces Ultrasound Sensor With Increased Resolution

Matsushita Electric Works has introduced a novel ultrasound sensor which can enable "an autonomous robot to distinguish between closely positioned object and navigate between them." The firm plans to use the sensor in its robot Hospi which is used to transports charts and medications within a hospital.

Toshiba Showcases Two New "Home Life Support" Robots

Toshiba will be presenting two new robots at the Aichi Expo from June 9th to June 19th.

ApriAlpha version 3, is the latest iteration of a robot which is designed to identify and track multiple speakers and interact with them in simple conversations. ApriAlpha is pictured in the foreground of the picture at right.

ApriAttenda is designed to accompany people and maintain a constant distance. It is even capable of maintaining contact through cluttered environments with other people present. If it loses contact with the person it is following it is designed to search and try to restore contact.

The robots are considered testbeds along the way to producing machines which can act as companions and assistants. Commercialization of the technology is projected in about 6 years.

Robosapien V3 to "do tasks around the house" !

Art Janis, Vice President and National Sales Manager at WowWee revealed to British publication T3a number of details about the next-next generation of Robosapien:

“...we want to add the ability for it do tasks around the house, help a person and live with them… he can help a mother around the home, help a guy pick up things, maybe turn on the television, maybe wake you up in the morning.”

“Robosapien V3 has to be bigger. You’re looking at maybe a foot taller.”

“We want to make it so you can call him, tell him what to do and eliminate a controller completely”

You can look forward to the V3 sometime in 2007.

DARPA Grand Challenge - Stanford Racing

New Scientist is covering Stanley, Stanford's entry for the DARPA Grand Challenge. Clocking hundreds of miles of practice, the Stanford team is confident of Stanley's chances to outperform its rivals in the race this fall. Unlike the 2004 race where many of vehicles had not even been tested, many teams this time around are already in the testing phase and the teams have been able to refine the sensor systems and driving algorithms. Stanley has already driven dozens of miles along last year's course.

The team's website is at www.stanfordracing.com.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

UltraSwarms To Combine Supercomputing and Formation Flying

University of Essex researchers are developing a system to allow a swarm of small UAVs to fly in formation and share information about the environs via a wireless links. The researchers have already constructed a craft to test the technology and are now planning to move to the next phase of building the multiple crafts needed for the swarm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Australian Inventor Develops Speed and Hone Recycling Process

Physicist Marcus Cook has developed a pair of Recyclable Polymer Sorters which can sort through plastic submitted for recycling and sort and identify the size, shape, and type of the plastic.

The two machines can sort 1.5 tons of plastic per hour, and by improving quality and accuracy should be able to generate cost savings of $300/hour. The machines use standard digital cameras to identify the size and shape of bottles and an infrared spectrometer to determine their makeup.

Mr. Cook is looking for opportunities to put his invention into production.

Eli Lily Turns To Robots To Increase Productivity

Opening a new lab in Building 87 on the Eli Lily campus in Indianapolis, the company is pioneering the use of "Robotic Chemists" to speed the drug development process. The Automation Lab can perform 120 chemical procedures a day which is equivalent to the output of 50 to 60 chemists. Custom developed by Lily researchers, the machines are designed to tackle the drudgery lab work leaving the researchers to handle more complicated reactions and supervise the process.

University of Penn. To develop Air & Ground Based Swarms

In what seems to be a game of one-up-manship, University of Pennsylvania researchers have announced that they have received a $5 million grant to develop large-scale robot swarms that would coordinate activities between the ground and sky.

The robot swarm would act autonomously sharing data to coordinate action and survey their environment. The new system would draw on knowledge of biological signaling and cooperation. The scale of the proposed swarms is described as "immense".

The researchers have previously coordinated the activity of about a dozen robots using their MARS system.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Researchers Developing Robot Swarms to Track Chemical and Biological Hazards

University of Wyoming researchers have received a grant to build and test a swarm of robots capable of tracking and locating chemical and biological hazards. Working as a team, the robots would fan out to hone in on hotspots more quickly than is possible with a single robot. A swarm would also provide redundancy which is critical in a dangerous environment.

The lab has specialized in developing robotic swarms and is looking to bring their research out of the lab.
In addition to security and military uses, these sort of devices could monitor land fills, search buildings on fire for survivors, conduct wildlife population studies, and the list goes on.

Monday, May 16, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge - Indy Robot Racing

On May 12th, IRV, Indy Robotics submission to the DARPA Grand Challenge, successfully completed five unmanned demonstration course runs, including four obstacle avoidance tests. According to co-team leader Scott Jones:

"We didn’t just complete the runs successfully, we nailed today’s preliminary trials and proved to the DARPA officials that the Indy Robot Racing team is up for the Grand Challenge."

The Carmel, Indiana based team has documented the vehicles development with copious photos and videos.

DARPA Grand Challenge - Insight Racing

Completing their DARPA site visit, Cary, NC based Insight Racing seems charged to go:

"We stayed in bounds for the entire course, every run giving us 30 completed gates. We also avoided the barrels 5 of 6 times. We completed all 7 of our objectives on our 600 meter optional course as well."

In January, the team's vehicle was the first to successfully complete the 2.5 mile alpha course at Joint Unmanned Systems Test Experimentation and Research(JOUSTER) Site at Virginia International Raceway which included dirt roads, numerous winding turns, mud, and man made obstacles.

With 5 months to go before the big race, they look like they may be one of the contenders.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

White Box Robotics Unveils World's Most Boring Robot

Harking back to the robotic craze of the early 1980s White Box Robotics has introduced the PC Bot. Basically a PC on wheels, the PC Bot is hoped by its creators to become a standard for personal robots.

Personally, I don't see a market for this product. Hobbyist can choose from a multitude of robotic kits on the market which have substantially more functionality. For the $1600 that White Box is asking, you can buy a robo-one style robot which can not only walk around but also do cartwheels!(video link).

Saturday, May 14, 2005

SGI Japan Builds World's Spookiest Robots

I'm not sure what the goal of this project is, supposedly they are meant to imitate the look of flower girls, but they look to me like white ghosts. Reinforcing that idea is the fact that in Japan white is considered the color of death. Seeing these, I have this disturbing thought that as in Ghost in the Shell, SGI is extracting the souls of young girls and trapping them in these ghost-like bodies. Maybe it's just me...

Click the image for more pictures of the robots at their unveiling in March.

Friday, May 13, 2005

North American Robotics Industry Sees Orders Surge 30%

Echoing the report Sunday from Chinese Manufacturer ABB, Robotics Online reports that the North American robotics industry has seen it's fastest ever first quarter growth.

According to the article:

Material handling, the largest robotics application, posted a 67% gain over the first quarter 2004 results. Arc welding applications jumped 76% and coating/dispensing orders rose 49%.

Automotive manufacturers and suppliers accounted for about 70% of the orders in the first quarter. In non-automotive sectors, strong growth was seen in primary metals industries (+63%) and food & consumer goods (+33%).

Robotic Skin

Vladimir Lumelsky of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is working on a new type of robotic skin covered in thousands of infrared sensors which would sense a robots environment.

If you're interested in robotic skin, you might also want to check out ElekTex which provides 1mm accuracy within a meter square section. It can also measure forces between 0.5psi and 30psi. The fabric is durable, lightweight and thin, which are ideal features for robotic applications. The ElekTex product is available for licensing today.


In WATSCHENDISKURS, a frog and cat discuss the finer points of language theory but when the conversation turns to frustration the robots take a more physical approach slapping each other.

The robots will be part of an exhibition in Dublin called Artbots which will be on display July 15-17.

Check out the video.

via We Make Money Not Art

Japanese Ministry Pushes For Robotic Future

The Japanese Ministry of Economy ,Trade and Industry(METI) released an interim report laying the need for a robotic future for Japan. In addition to dealing with the needs and requirements of an aging population and the subsequent labor shortage, the report make recommendations about how to move robotics forward. From universalization of communication and other standards to modifications to traffic regulations the report attempts to lay the ground work for the robotic future.

Japan more than any other country has seen the robotic revolution coming and has made it the centerpiece of its economic strategy over the coming decades. In the US there seems to be no coherent policy in place. Without a plan we are likely to fall behind as we have with internet access as the robotic revolution sweeps across the globe.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Kondo Biped Robot

Akhibara news has a video up demonstrating what is likely the cutest biped robot available today, the Kondo Panda. Akhibara News posted up pictures of the robot and its controller along with a video of the robot in action.

Unfortunately for all you panda robot lovers out there, the Kondo is only available in Japan.

via AkhibaraNews

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cornell Researchers Demonstrate Modular Robots

Though billed as self-replication the devices are really just modular robots that can create copies of itself using other modules. Each module is a cube 4 inches on a side and uses electromagnetic coupling to bind itself to other modules. While not as advanced as MTRAN-II system, the research does demonstrate the some of the capabilities of the modular approach.

via Eureka Alert

NASA Seeks To Endow Robots With Human-Like Traits

NASA Ames researchers have embarked on an ambitious research project to endow robots with human-like traits.

According to NASA press release:

"Our goal is not for robots to have the same 'thought process' as humans, but rather for them to act, respond and interact more 'naturally' in ways that humans do with other humans. This requires that robots possess traits such as self-awareness (recognition of their limits and when they need to ask for help), and human-awareness (knowing to whom they are talking, and when it is an appropriate time to ask a question)," said Illah Nourbakhsh, a scientist who leads a group developing human-robot teams.

The project will break down along three segments, collaborative control, reasoning mechanism, and robot-human interaction. In addition to filed tests, many experiments will occur in a simulated control room with a window looking out on robots working in an area simulating the surface of a moon or planet. Completion of the robot laboratory is planned for the fall of 2005.

There's a lot more in the article which is long but worth a read.

via Boing Boing

Focus Robotics Announces Real-time Stereo Vision System

Focus Robotics a New Hampshire based company has announced the nDepth vision processor which can handle 60 752x480 frames per second. The hardware-based solution uses Xilinx FPGAs to do depth processing. Curiously for a company which provides imaging products, there are no images from or of the product on their website.

Picture at right is not the nDepth system but Bob Mottram's Rodney, which uses his Sentience software to generate depth maps. Quite nice work. He kindly provides the source and documentation for the project. If you're impressed, please give him a job.

Point Grey Research provides a number of hardware based systems called Bumblebee, Digiclops, and Triclops and has been doing so for a number of years.

via Robots.net

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Bay Area Robotics Startup UGOBE Attracting Attention

Attracting attention from angel investors, Bay area start-up UGOBE is being billed by some in the media as the Pixar of robotics. The company is raising funds to release its first product in September. With product development lead by Caleb Chung, the inventor of the Furby, the company hopes to release products that reinvent robotics.

UGOBE has developed a technology which it dubs the Robotic Reality Platform which allows for the development of robots that move and behave like living creatures. According to the company's white paper, "Balance, emotive gesture and multiple servo
coordination is inherently captured and translated into target robotic devices
extremely easily using UGOBE’s platform."

UGOBE products will focus on the toy and entertainment markets, but the company sees it developing into industrial and military realms as the technology matures.

For more information read the company's whitepaper.

via Robotics Daily

Be One With The Robot

This isn't about robots per se, but if you've ever wished you were like Commander Data on ST:TNG or even perhaps enjoyed doing the robot (you know who you are), you might want to consider the Powerseed Meal Pacekeeper. I know what you're thinking, a pacekeeper? For eating? How Did I ever live without that?

via Gizmodo

Monday, May 09, 2005

Flexibot - Disembodied Robot Arm

An incredibly original design, the Flexibot robot is an autonomous robot arm that can move through a house by connecting end over end to ports mounted on the walls and surfaces. With shades of the Adams' Family member Hand, the robot would move through the house assisting the disabled with such tasks as shaving, brushing their teeth, cooking, and cleaning up. The arm is controlled by users by blowing down a straw or pressing a button.

The arms designer, Professor Mike Topping of Rehab Robotics Limited and Staffordshire University in the UK, has high hopes for the arms and is looking for applications in industry, science, retail or wherever anyone could use a hand.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

VideoRay Underwater Robot

Video Ray offers a complete line of underwater ROVs for use from entertainment to serious exploring. Carrying a 420-line color camera their smallest ROV, Scout, can submerge to depths of up to 300ft and costs about $6k.

Deep Blue, Video Ray's premium ROV carries two cameras, one front and one back. The 520-line color front camera can be remotely tilted and focused. The robot also returns depth information, heading and sports a scanning sonar system. Deep Blue can dive to depths of 1,000 feet and costs about $46.5k.

Darpa Grand Challenge - Axion Racing

One of only seven vehicles to complete the qualifying rounds in the 2004 Grand Challenge, Axion Racing is back with their updated autonomous vehicle spirit. Unfortunately, during lat year's race the vehicle veered the wrong way out of the starting gate and was disable before it began the course. The team has been working at it since then and looks to have a strong contender. They just completed their site visit from DARPA to qualify for the 2005 race this October. A local TV news report about the new vehicle is available on their website.

Since CMU's Red Team seems to be getting all of the coverage, I intend to follow on all of the lesser known teams competing in this year's race.

A total of 118 teams are currently vying for 40 spots this October. DARPA is conducting site visits to all the teams to select the qualifiers. Some have estimated that as many as 7 or 8 teams may complete the race, meaning that we may have a true competition on our hands.

Modular Robots Are The Future

The MTRAN-II robot pictured at left is the work of the Distributed Systems Design Research Group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology which is a bit of a mouthful. The autonomous robot is composed of 10 identical modules with their own motors, processors, and batteries. Together they can do fantastic things. Take a look at their video page.

Not only do the modules allow different configurations to be operated in, but the robot is capable of reconfiguration on the fly (video link).

Why do I think modular robots are the future? There are many reasons but the ones which will drive it are the economic, cost of maintenance and efficiency of scale with mass production. If a simple, standard module can be created and scaled appropriately, the modules could be cheaply produced in vast quantities. All manner of robots could be constructed from simple, standard modules.

As to maintenance, if modules are damaged, there would be no need to have the robot repaired. It would simply disconnect the damaged modules and would integrate the fresh replacements. Likely homes and businesses would keep spare units on site for quick trade-outs. Such device would also be extremely resilient and able to adapt themselves to a wide range of tasks.

These devices would find use in items we don't even think about today when we think of robots. Imagine if your chair, your door, your walls, indeed your entire house were made up of the modules. Rooms and furniture could reconfigure to whatever form was needed. Throwing a party? Ask your house to reconfigure into a single large room. Houses could be smaller but with the functionality and virtual space of a mansion. This is just scratching the surface of what will happen.

How far off is this technology? 50, 100 even 200 years? My prediction is that in 10 years this will be leaving the laboratory. In 25 years it will be ubiquitous. It will become the fabric of our existence and we'll wonder how those sad souls of today lived without it.