Robytes | January 2008 | Goodbye E-Harmony, Hello Bot-Harmony
You may have noticed (or tried not to notice) that some robots are becoming a lot more lifelike and even alluring. One example is Dion, a Chinese babe who is said to mimic all sorts of human features, including facial expressions, skin temperature and elasticity, breath, and heartbeat. According to the manufacturer, she can even be built to resemble the specific person of your choice. Another deliberately seductive mechanism is Actroid DER2, developed at the University of Osaka and ...
Robytes | February 2008 | UAV Imitates Sea Birds
So one day Guy Meadows, director of the Marine Hydrodynamics Labs at the University of Michigan (http://www.umich.edu), was floating around and saw a flying fish pop out of the water and soar over the waves. He was so impressed and inspired that he said, “Wow. I’ll bet I can build one of those,” hence the name of the UAV that he and some engineering researchers designed and built. Somehow the concept evolved away from fish and focused on sea birds, but the name stuck. In any event, Meadows and his ...
Robytes | March 2008 | Climbing the Walls
In the common tradition of borrowing robotic concepts from nature is Waalbot, which needs no magnets or vacuum devices to attach itself to vertical planes. Like a common gecko, this Carnegie Mellon (http://www.cmu.edu) invention uses tiny fibers on its feet to adhere to just about any surface. The little guy isn’t much bigger than a quarter, but he sports two sets of three-footed wheels, each with its own motor. The spring-loaded tail keeps the critter pushing against the wall’s surface ...
Robytes | April 2008 | Monkey to Bot Interface Successful
Back in January, history was made when researchers at Duke University (http://www.duke.edu) via the “Network Brain Machine Interface,” connected a monkey brain’s motor and sensory cortex to a humanoid robot located at the Japan Science and Technology agency. As certain neurons fired at different phases and varying frequencies, the signals were interpreted and converted to control the robot’s legs. Thus, as the monkey walked on a treadmill, the bot imitated its movements. The monkey was provided ...
Robytes | May 2008 | Chatty Cathy Reincarnated
The concept of a mechanical talking adolescent isn’t exactly new, with the terminally cute Chatty Cathy dating back to 1960. But while Cathy — at her peak —could only speak 18 phrases, the iCub, designed by the RobotCub Consortium (http://www.robotcub.org), may soon be generating complex conversations on its own. An international group, led by the University of Plymouth (http://www.plymouth.ac.uk), began its Integration and Transfer of Action and Language Knowledge in Robots (ITALK) program on March 1 ...
Robytes | June 2008
Prof. Noel Sharkey is not exactly a silent, plodding evil genius, toiling away somewhere in an obscure lab. In fact, the rather colorful guy appears regularly on TV (about 300 appearances so far) and radio, and in a range of publications. But he is also — among other things — a Professor of AI and Robotics at the University of Sheffield (http://www.sheffield.ac.uk) and has an impressive string of academic abbreviations after his name. It is therefore worth noting that, in a keynote address to the ...
The Vulture Seldom Comes Home to Roost
On a more celestial level, DARPA is also funding a competition to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle that will shatter endurance records. The bird will draw 5 kW of power, carry a 1,000 lb (450 kg) payload, stay aloft for at least five years, and remain in its assigned airspace 99 percent of the time while fighting winds encountered at operating altitudes, reportedly ranging from 60,000 to 90,000 ft (18,000 to 27,000 m). The goal is to provide long-term intelligence, surveillance...
New Hopperbot Sets Record
Mechanical jumpers are nothing new, but one that was unveiled at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation appears to have, um, leaped ahead of its competitors in terms of jump distance. The tiny, 7 g mechanical grasshopper can jump 1.4 m, which is said to be 10 times farther — relative to its size — than any other existing jumping robot. The little bug was developed at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL, http://www.epfl.ch)...
More Little Ones
One of the latest additions to the world of artificial arthropods is the Hexbug Crab from Innovation First, Inc. (http://www.innovationfirst.com). The company specializes in providing control systems for educational robot competitions worldwide. The minirobots are geared toward kids, but Crabbie is proving to be a fine companion to the stress ball on your desktop...
Fecundity Begets Rotundity
If you tip over the average robot, all it can do is thrash around helplessly until someone picks it up. But being round and without external appendages, the Groundbot™ from Rotundus (http://www.rotundus.se) is always upright. It also can move through mud, snow, and sand without getting stuck, and, being hermetically sealed, is pretty much impervious to environmental threats. It’s also tough enough to survive drops of up to 10 ft (3 m)...
Bot Gets Bio Brain
Placing a functioning human brain into a robot is still well within the realm of science fiction, but some folks at the University of Reading (http://www.reading.ac.uk) have created a biological brain of sorts and hooked it up as a robot controller. It has been known for some time that cultured neurons are somewhat like ants that have been scattered away from the anthill in that they can no longer function as a single unit. However, when interconnected in a culture dish, such neurons form simple...
Stereo Vision System Introduced
If your bot or other homebuilt device needs 3D vision, check out the Surveyor SVT™ : a dual-camera, dual-processor Wi-Fi system geared for robotics, embedded image processing, and Web-based remote monitoring. Surveyor (http://www.surveyor.com) points to features including on-board programmability, Wi-Fi connectivity, easy sensor and actuator interface, open source architecture, and a list price of $550 as key attributes...
In many nooks and crannies of the bot industry, miniaturization is the name of the game. Not so at Caterpillar, Inc. (http://www.cat.com), which is working with Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute (http://www.ri.cmu.edu) to develop autonomous versions of haul trucks used in mining operations. Among them is the 793D haul truck, which can handle payloads of 240+ tons. Aimed at increased productivity and zero-injury safety levels, the behemoths will be fitted with an array of gadgets to keep...
Stimulating Robot Tidbits
These tasty treats are big (up to seven inches [18 cm] long), fast (able to travel 1 cm/sec through wet sand), and highly desired for food (clammers are generally limited to 15 per day and must keep the first ones caught, regardless of size or condition). But as of lately, Pacific razor clams are of particular interest to Anette "Peko" Hosoi, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT (http://www.mit.edu), for different reasons....
Automated Blade Inspection
Back when oil was selling for $4 per gallon and US banks still appeared to have money, T. Boone Pickens' announced a $10 billion wind farm project that would have added 2,700 wind turbines to the grid and 4,000 MW of generation capacity. The old skinflint has since changed his mind, but as of the end of 2007, the USA already had nearly 17,000 MW of installed wind capacity, ranking it no. 2 in the world. Nr. eine was Germany, with better than 22,000 MW, so it is perhaps not surprising that the...
Robot Theme Park on Track
A few weeks ago, the South Korean government authorized construction of the “world’s first robot theme park,” emphasizing the country’s view of the robotics industry as a prime area for economic growth. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy has set aside a 767,286 m2 (about 8.3 million ft2) development area in the Incheon Free Economic Zone for the park, which is budgeted at 784.5 billion won ($562.3 million)...
Stimulating Robot Tidbits
If you’ve always coveted a robot’s ability to lift heavy weights and work tirelessly, Lockheed Martin (http://www.lockheedmartin.com) has a treat for you. At the recent Association of the United States’ Army Winter Symposium, the company introduced the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) exoskeleton, designed to provide enhanced strength and survivability to soldiers involved in ground operations...