Friday, June 10, 2005

Wabian-2 Offer Impressive Flexibility

Wabian-2, developed by Waseda University, has the legs with 7 degrees of freedom allowing any change of leg direction not restricted by the postures of pelvis and legs. Integrating arms and a featureless head, the version on display at Aichi is a significant advancement over what was last on the group's website.

The group has also developed a variety of robots from a walking platform, a flautist, an emotion bot, and even an anatomically-accurate(vocally speaking) talking bot.

Humanoid Android Mimics Human Appearance/Motion

Developed by researchers at Osaka University, Repliee Q1 is a the second of a pair of robots designed to mimic the appearance and motion of humans.

Covered in a silicone skin which closely mimics the appearance and flexibility of human skin, the android appears eerily lifelike. Once you see it moving, however, the illusion is quickly dispelled.

Repliee Q1 (pictured left) and Repliee R1, based on the look of a 5-year old girl, are designed as test beds to study human-machine interaction. The researchers felt that making the machines' as similar as possible to living people would help make people more comfortable with them, but I have to wonder if the effort was wasted, since as the researchers admit that as verisimilitude is approached the level of comfort drops precipitously.

It might have been more successful to simply create analogs of emotive features such as the eyes, brows, and mouth and concentrate on the interaction not the physical expression.

Repliee R1 is serving as a tour guide at a booth in the Aichi Prototype Robot Pavilion this summer.

Tasty Robot Doubles As Dietician

NEC showed off their "Health/Food Advice Robot" Thursday at the Aichi Robot Pavilion. Capable of distinguishing food an a fine level, even distiguishing different types of cheese and bread, the robot can keep a detailed record of what you've eaten and warn you if your diet isn't as balanced as it should be.

Projecting infrared light, the robot can measure the spectrum of the reflected light to determine the chemical makeup of the food. Cross-referencing that with an internal database, the precise food can be identified.

This functionality opens up a whole new realm of interaction and awareness for robots. The same technique of identifying the makeup of food could also be used in industrial environments or for environmental monitoring.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Exoskeleton Amplifies Movements

With an incredibly sleek design the HAL-5 prototype exoskeleton may be just thing for those wanting to strike out on there career as superheros or technovillains.

Even thought you might expect response to be slow, the system use bioelectric sensors which can detect and trigger the motors faster than your own nervous and muscular systems. The system also learns the user's movement patterns allowing it to anticipate and follow the user's expectations even more closely.

The upper body system allows the user to lift 40kg, 88lbs, more than they typically would be able to.

At 33lbs the system includes all the batteries, motors and electronics needed. But you're not lugging around a lot of weight. "It's like riding on a robot, rather than wearing one," according to Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba who has been working to realize the suit for ten years.

According to New Scientist, a version of the suit may be available for sale in Japan by the end of the year costing in the range of $14,000 to $19,000.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

North American Robotic Sales Up, Diversifying

In 2004 North American manufacturers purchased 14,838 robots with a market value of nearly $1 billion, a 20% rise in units over the previous year. Automotive industry purchases accounted for 64% of the total in 2004, down from 68% in 2003, indicating increased usage in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, electronics, aerospace, and life sciences.

Industrial robotic manufacturers are moving to support that trend adding machines specifically designed for the food or phamaceutical handling markets.

Adept Technology Inc. of Livermore, CA, has added a line of articulated robots called the AdeptViper. The robot is being used by various industries with an especially large order for cellular phone assembly.

Fanuc Robotics has added to the LR Mate 200iB/5WP line with a food robot that can perform such tasks as putting protective lids on trays containing ready-to-eat dinners and is designed to be doused by sanitizers.

Robotic Bartending For Fun And Profit

Industrial robot maker Motoman has come out with a robotic bartender called RoboBar. With two arms, a video screen for a face, and dressed to the nines in a tuxedo, the machine is designed to turn heads and draw attention. But Motoman intends for this to be a serious business tool as well.

The company notes that RoboBar will always pour its drinks consistently meaning better inventory control. Plus with a mean-time between failure of 60,000 hours and a cost of 30 cents per hour to operate, you'll find a hard time finding a barkeep that will meet those requirements.

Customers order their drinks from a touch-sensitive screen. RoboBar mixes them up and dishes them out. It can even fill a tray of drinks for delivery elsewhere.

The company's motto for RoboBar is "We already make your car, let us make your drink."

Six-Legged Rescue Robot

Engineers at Osaka University's Arai Lab have built a six-limbed robot that can be used for search and rescue walking on unleveled ground and hanging from net-shaped wires.

The robot, named Asterisk, can operate autnomously or can be remote controlled via a wireless connection sneding video back to the operator. The robot is on display at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture.

Monday, June 06, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge - SemiFinalists Announced

DARPA has selected the 40 semifinalist teams which will be competing in the 2005 Grand Challenge. All of the eight teams previously profiled here have been selected compete.

Congratulations to all of the Semifinalists and I hope all of the others keep on working to complete their machines. Hopes are high that several of the teams will be able to complete the course this Fall.

Even after the prize is won, robotic racing may emerge as a competitive sport much as robotic fighting leagues have sprouted up all around the country.

The winning teams are listed below:

A.I. Motorvators

Autonomous Vehicle Systems


Axion Racing

BJB Engineering

Blue Team



Desert Buckeyes

Gray Team

Indiana Robotic Navigation

Indy Robot Racing Team

Insight Racing

Intelligent Vehicle Safety Technologies I 



Oregon WAVE

Palos Verdes High School  Road Warriors

Red Team

Red Team Too

SciAutonics/Auburn Engineering

Stanford Racing Team


Team Banzai

Team CajunBot

Team Caltech

Team Cornell

Team DAD


Team Jefferson

Team Juggernaut

Team Overbot

Team TerraMax

Team Tormenta

Team UCF

Terra Engineering

The Golem Group / UCLA

The MITRE Meteorites

Virginia Tech Grand Challenge Team

Virginia Tech Team Rocky

"The high quality of vehicle performance that we witnessed during the site visits is truly impressive," said DARPA Director Dr. Anthony Tether. "We are thrilled with the sheer excitement about developing autonomous ground vehicles that the Grand Challenge has sparked among people from all walks of life. It was difficult to winnow the field from the 118 great teams to only 40 - the competition was tough."

20 or 22( some groups entered several vehicles this year) of the SemiFinalists competed in the 2004 Grand Challenge giving them a huge lead in time and experience over the rest of the field. But from reviewing a number of the submissions this time around, it looks to me like many of the newbies have somterrificic machines which will give the more seasoned competitors a run for their money.

Now that the field has been narrowed, Robots Next plans to provide a detailed review of each teams offering before the big race October 8th.

P.S. For those of you interested in getting into the technical details, DARPA hosts a lively discussion board covering all aspectes of the vehicles and control system design.

Air Force Replaces Reserve Squadrons With Predators

Moving quickly along the path towards a robotic military, the Air Force is replacing a reserve fighter aircraft squadrons in North Dakota with a pair of Predator UAVs. North Dakota will eventually have 12 of the aircraft.

Interestingly, this will actually cause an increase in needed manpower from 35 to 70 pilots since the planes are operated around the clock. A total of 500-600 personnel will be based in Fargo to support the Predators.

The Air National Guard base in North Dakota will also become the second US base for the Global Hawk.

Over the next few years the Air Force plans to deploy 7 more squadrons of 12 Predators each around the country expanding the total number of squadrons to 15. Over the next few years it plans to buy 51 Global Hawks to augment the 5 it currently has.

Dance Dance Revolution?

After six years of research, a new age is finally upon us thanks to Kazuhiro Kosuge and his team at the Department of Bioengineering and Robotics at Tohoku University. Designed to address the looming shortage of dance partners, the Pertner Ballroom Dance Robot at 5 feet 6 inchaes and 220 pounds is light on her feet. Designed to respond to her partners movements and capable of moving in any direction on her three wheels, the robot was given a decidedly artifical exterior of shiny blue or red and mickey mouse ears to make sure there was no confusion with the real thing.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Open Source Reality

Two researchers from opposite sides of the world have embarked on a project which they hope may change production, economics, and the very fabric of human society forever.

Find out more at my new blog:
Tomorrow Next.

IBM Supercomputer To Model Entire Human Brain

IBM's Blue Gene and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have embarked on a project who's eventual goal is to create a functioning computer simulation of the entire human brain. Beginning with a simulation of a column of neurons in the neocortex of a rat brain, the team hopes to eventually expand to cover the whole brain, but they admit they don't yet have the computational power:

"The whole supercomputer is going to act as a single neocortical circuit...We won't have enough computing power in the next 10 years to simulate the whole brain," according to Henry Markram, director of the University's Brain and Mind Institute.

"The neocortical microcircuit is very similar from mouse to man," Markram said. "It's a project that could explain how the human cognitive process works. We'd be able to witness in detail how information is processed, how it is stored and retrieved. And it's going to save an immense amount of animal research."

The IBM Press Release provides more details.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Antennae Offer Robotic Possibilities

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF and the University of Bielefeld have designed robotic antennae. Modeled on biology, the antenna provides touch feedback while being actuated by a pair of motors.

The researchers have integrated their antennae with hexapod robot. The motors move the feeler an oval-shaped path. Depending on where on the antenna it contacts an object an accelerometer measures changes to the oscillation frequency at the tip.

According to the researchers, "Mobile robots could be equipped with the sensor, for instance, because many optical sensors and camera systems fail in dusty or dirty environments."

Motherboard Maker Micro-Star Debuts E2R-H3

Micro-Star International, better known for its motherboards than its robots, is debuting a small pc-augmented robot at Computex. Capable of voice and face recognition via software on a blue-tooth connected PC, the biped robot can also perform a few tai-chi and kung-fu moves, "albeit slowly" according to the article.

The company is looking for investor to develop the robot for consumer applications.

It looks to me like this might simply be a Robo-one kit combined with a blue-tooth-enabled webcam/microphone.

Japanese Researchers Develop Technology To Aid Robotic Hearing

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a hearing system for robots to allow them to focus on a speaker's voice even in a noisy environment.

Combining the signals from eight microphones with visual acquisition of the speaker's location, the system allow can determine which sounds originated from the speaker. The pristine signal is then fed to the speech-recognition system for analysis.

X-47B Joint Unmanned Combat Air System

Northrop Grumman has begun construction of the first X-47B designed to be deployed from both aircraft carriers and land bases. The stealth plane will also be capable of automatic aerial refueling. Designed for both persistent surveillance and reconnaissance as well precision attacks on ground targets, design based on the plane should begin entering service early in the next decade.

For more information visit the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems J-UCAS site.