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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

IBM Uses DNA Origami to Build Tiny Chips

Posted 17 Aug 2009 at 22:13 UTC by steve

An IBM news release describes the results of their research into using DNA origami structures, combining traditional lithographic patterning with self-assembling molecules, to produce chips smaller than now possible with state of the art 22nm lithography. The little DNA-bots can act as scaffolding for precise assembly of new types of transistors that employ carbon nanotubes, carbon nanowires, and silicon nanowires. It is hoped this new technology will allow computers (and robots) to keep pace with Moore's Law, continuing to become smaller and faster.


Robots: Brain-Machine Interfaces

Posted 14 Aug 2009 at 09:55 UTC (updated 14 Aug 2009 at 15:25 UTC) by mwaibel

Like reported a few days ago, insects have an amazing vision system, far surpassing any of our current sensing technology. Charles Higgins from the University of Arizona has now told the Robots podcast how he taps into the spinal cord of dragonflies to use them as extremely powerful sensors for his robots (compare his work on Neuromorphic Vision). The picture above shows an earlier version of the robot with an onboard moth used as a sensor in a closed-loop control system and a dragonfly. The same episode also features an interview with Steve Potter at the Laboratory for NeuroEngineering at Emory and Georgia Tech famous for his Hybrots (hybrid robots). Rather than interfacing with existing animals, he grows neural circuits in Petri-dishes and hooks them up to the sensors and actuators of robots. Potter describes the resulting semi-living animals or animats, and he discusses both technical and ethical implications of this technology. Tune in to this episode on brain-machine interfaces or listen to two previous, related episodes on building robot flies and manufacturing insect-sized robots.


Robot Operating System (ROS) in the News Again

Posted 13 Aug 2009 at 22:46 UTC by steve has posted a story on the need for a standardized robot operating system and point to the, aptly named, Robot Operating System from Willow Garage and Stanford as a likely candidate. We've mentioned Willow Garage and ROS several times before. It a development environment that loads on top of an operating system such as GNU/Linux to provide a standardized set of APIs forming a "meta operating system" for robot software. ROS source code is available under the BSD license, making it Free Software and Open Source Software. While not mentioned in the article, there are other contenders for a freely available, community developed robot API standard including the well-known Player/Stage, Orca, MARIE, Orocos, and OpenJAUS, among others.


Change the World by Walking with Robots

Posted 10 Aug 2009 at 17:49 UTC by steve

The University of the West of England said in a news release that Professor Alan Winfield of UWE has been awarded a prestigious Media Fellowship to further his research and public relations work. Winfield leads the Walking with Robots project which works in the lab and in public to entertain and education children about robots while gathering information about the children's understanding and expectation of robots. In the video above, children learn how robot hands work by building one of their own. Why all this concern about how kids view robots? Winfield writes:

“Some fictional views of the future paint a very bleak picture of what could happen with intelligent robots, but equally robots could change the world for the better. The point is that we have a choice. The future is too important to be allowed to just happen – instead we and our children must own it.”

Winfield is also doing research on the origin of culture among humans and is performing experiments with artificial societies of robots to see if cultures and traditions evolve naturally. For more, see Walking with Robot's 2008 report on Young People's Views on Advanced Robotics (PDF format).


ERP: An Open Source Robot Design

Posted 7 Aug 2009 at 18:38 UTC by steve

It's always good to see more free software and open source software for robot builders and even better to see more open source hardware designs. John Palmisano of the Society of Robots website writes:

Most robot builders quickly hack up a not so well thought out robot, get it to mostly work, take a few pics and vids, then get bored of it and finally start the next robot. Rarely do they work on pesky things such as multiple iterations, documentation, manufacturability, instructional assembly tutorials, etc. I made the famous $50 Robot for beginners, and now I've fully open sourced my Experimental Robot Platform (ERP) for intermediate builders. The ERP is fairly modular, in that a builder can just copy parts of it for their own projects, such as the pan/tilt camera head, the robot arms, the vision software, the 3D mapping software, and much more.

All the software used is free software licensed under the GPL or BSD. The hardware designs don't explicitly state what license is used but, when asked, John said, "Oh, my license is simple: Free to use for anything, on condition that a link-back and full credit is given." That sounds like freedom to me! :) The ERP robot relies on the Blackfin SRV-1 camera, BlueSmirf Bluetooth modem, and Axon microcontroller.


The Cybraphon Needs Friends

Posted 5 Aug 2009 at 20:39 UTC by steve

Pelpina Trip, Internet addict, journalist, and social media lover, writes to tell us about The Cybraphon, a musical robot that spends more time online than you do: I just produced an article/TV segment about The Cybraphon: a music playing robot obsessed with social media -- for The 33 News in Dallas/Fort Worth. I thought it might be interesting. The Cybraphon has been making a lot of news lately as can be seen by a visit to Cybraphon's blog. And this makes the Cybraphon happy, as does each new friend it gets on facebook, each new contact on flickr, and every new follower on Twitter; not to mention YouTube, Myspace, Vimeo. It's just designed that way. When no one is tweeting about it, Cybraphon gets sad and plays depressing music. But when it gets new friends or sees its name mentioned in blogs and tweets, Cybraphon is happy and plays happy music.

Cybraphon is an interactive version of a mechanical band in a box. Consisting of a series of robotic instruments housed in a large display case, Cybraphon behaves like a real band. Image conscious and emotional, the band’s performance is affected by online community opinion as it searches the web for reviews and comments about itself 24 hours a day.

I guess the question we're meant to ask ourselves is, why waste time on Facebook and Twitter when we can build a machine to do it for us?


Random Robot Roundup

Posted 4 Aug 2009 at 18:50 UTC by steve

Travis Deyle writes, "The iconic Pixar animated lamp, Luxo Jr., unofficially debuted in animatronic form at Disney's Hollywood Studios in late June." Rog-a-matic spotted a detailed paper model of a MechWarrior robot. A PDF of the artwork is available for anyone who wants to build their own. He also sent a link to a RoboTokyo post suggesting 5 Robotic Home Makers for Lazy People. Emeka Okafor pointed out an article by Richard Eskow in the always interesting 3 Quarks Daily blog expressing skepticism (and perhaps a misunderstanding) of memetics titled, A Coupla Robot Heads Sitting Around Watching TV. The Swirling Brain noticed a CinemaBlend post claiming the android girl in the Surragates movie poster is copied from the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles teaser art work. What they've forgotten is that the Terminator art itself looks to be copied from the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact. Poly Bug sent a link to an interesting collection of photos, video, and info about Iowa State University's humanoid robot. Know any other robot news, gossip, or amazing facts we should report? Send 'em our way please. And don't forget to follow us on twitter.


Fly's Eyes Inspire Robot Vision

Posted 3 Aug 2009 at 19:04 UTC by steve

The Cognition for Technical Systems research group in Munich has been working on improved robot vision systems based on fly vision. Why?

The fly's brain is hardly bigger than a pinhead, too small by far to enable the fly's feats if it functioned exactly the way the human brain does. It must have a simpler and more efficient way of processing images from the eyes into visual perception, and that is a subject of intense interest for robot builders.

The article notes that some flies process images at 100 frames per second, allowing in-flight obstacle avoidance with millisecond response time, something you may have noticed if you ever tried to swat a fly. In particular the researchers are focusing (no pun intended) on optical flow, or as they call it, "optical flux fields". The fly's optical flux field implementation is made up of a first layer of neurons that process the raw input from each compound eye element and feed it to a second stage composed of only 60 neurons for each hemisphere, which reduce the visual field to a series of motion vectors giving the speed and direction of everything it sees. Condylostylus fly macro image by flickr user Opo Terser


Robots: Smart Homes

Posted 31 Jul 2009 at 09:22 UTC by mwaibel

As we've noted previously, robots may well be the future of aging. But mobile robots are not the only option - integrating sensors and actuators into buildings to create smart homes may offer different, complementary benefits. In the new episode of the Robots podcast, Roger Orpwood, director of the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering in the UK, explains how smart homes can be used to help dementia patients stay independent and receive better care. In a second interview Andrew Sixsmith, Professor of Gerontology at the Simon Fraser University in Canada, then shares his insights into the problems and some smart home solutions for dementia patients from a medical perspective. Tune in!


Robot to Model Nuances of Human Skiers

Posted 29 Jul 2009 at 15:26 UTC by Rog-a-matic

A human can learn the fine art of skiing with enough practice, but they can't explain the science behind their complex movements afterward. A research team at Kanazawa University in Japan is developing an experimental robot in an effort to understand the kinematics involved. The project will attempt to model and analyze the movements of skiers and may ultimately provide tips to improve their performance.


RoombaComm Gets an Update

Posted 28 Jul 2009 at 21:27 UTC by steve

Everybody knows about Tod E. Kurt's cool book, Hacking Roomba, right? Tod's well-known RoombaComm Java Library has been updated with support for the latest 500-series Roombas. The latest work was done by Paul Bouchier and Jonathan Pitts of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group, where there are several members working on Roomba projects. Due to the amount of new development activity going on at the DPRG, Tod decided to make the DPRG custodians of the RoombaComm code, which has moved into a new home on the group's Subversion repository. Tod will continue to take part in development too. As for future plans, there are hints that TCP/IP support may be added as an alternative to RoombaComm's current serial port support. So if you aren't already hacking Roombas, go buy a Roomba and Tod's book so you can get in on the fun! The screen shot above is the RoombaComm Test App GUI.


Japanese Robots Play Baseball

Posted 27 Jul 2009 at 23:10 UTC by steve

A baseball pitching robot that uses a hand developed by Masatoshi Ishikawa and other researchers combined with an MIT arm can lob a baseball at 40 Kph, hitting the strike zone 90% of the time. Ishikawa's sensor fusion project previously created a baseball batting robot. The batting robot relies on a high speed vision system developed by the same researches. If your goal is to understand sensor fusion in robots, what could be more natural that putting these two robots in the same room and having them play ball? Since the slow pitching speed makes things too easy on the batting robot, the researchers are working on improvements to the pitcher that will allow it to achieve ball speeds of 150 Kph. They also hope to improve the accuracy of the robot batter so that it can hit balls towards selected targets. Besides improvements in robot sensor fusion, this research will also lead to improvements in visual collision avoidance and realtime 3D shape recognition. Via, via Mainichi


First Official Tron Legacy Trailer Released

Posted 25 Jul 2009 at 00:25 UTC by steve

Fresh from Comic Con comes the first official trailer for the long awaited sequel to Tron, called Tron Legacy. This trailer includes the same wiggly light cycles from last year's teaser/CG test footage that inspired some complaints (everybody knows light cycles only move orthagonally!) but otherwise looks like it might be pretty cool. For more info check the viral marketing sites Home of Tron or Flynn Lives website


Roomba with Non-Prehensile Object Grasping

Posted 24 Jul 2009 at 22:00 UTC (updated 24 Jul 2009 at 22:09 UTC) by steve

That's a fancy way of saying this Roomba can pick things up from the floor and hand them to humans. This is not just a simple hack either but very nicely designed end-effector documented in great detail in the paper, "1000 Trials: An Empirically Validated End Effector that Robustly Grasps Objects from the Floor" (PDF format). The Roomba Dustpan End-Effector project was done at Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab as a proof-of-concept for the idea of a semi-autonomous assistive robot for home use by motor-impaired users. A future model is planned that will include a scissor-lift to elevate objects after they are grasped. Thanks to reader Travis Deyle for tipping us off to this project.



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