Friday, March 27, 2009

Robots get bookish in libraries

A gaggle of robots
Robots mainly entertain or build electronics and cars
Robots have disappointed humans so far in their ability to mix and help people in their everyday lives.

Other than industry and research, they have mostly been for entertainment.

But a group of robotics researchers at University Jaume I in Spain is working on a robot librarian which could deliver the promise of a helpful bot.

The prototype has cameras, sensors and grippers so it can locate and collect a book. The hope is that one day teams of service robots could work in libraries.

Get a grip

The main issue with deploying service robots outside of the factory to work in domains surrounded by people has been one of safety, explained Professor Angel del Pobil.

Mixing robots and humans in an unstructured, uncontrolled environment, where there all manner of obstacles to negotiate, could have unpredictable results.

Professor Pobil thinks libraries are the best place to start introducing robots into public spaces, or at least to start showing that the technology is possible and works.

"A library is a semi-structured environment," Professor Pobil told BBC News Online.

"You can meet other humans, but it is not like an airport or somewhere like that.

The robot reaches out to grip a book (Image: Robotic Intelligence Lab)
It can read the labels and the position of the book read using its image processing and optical character recognition software
Professor Pobil, University Jaume I
"So we think it is a good environment in which service robots are out there, working in a human environment, but it is still a controlled one."

The robot is a mobile manipulator which means that it is a vehicle with three wheels, Professor Pobil explained.

It has an arm with seven joints, two fingers which form a gripper, and two micro cameras on its wrist.

Four sensors built into its gripper senses the force it is applying.

When it receives a request for a book, its voice recognition software matches the titles with the book's classification code in the database.

It can then search the database to identify which bookshelf stack to go to.

Because the database will only give an approximate location, the robot will navigate its way to the bookshelf, using its infrared and laser guidance system, and scan books within a four-metre radius.

'Hardest part'

"Once it is in there, it starts using its cameras. By moving the arm with the cameras, it takes an image of the bookshelf," said Professor Pobil.

"It can read the labels and the position of the book using its image processing and optical character recognition software," the professor said.

Once the book is located, it has to grasp it and take it off the bookshelf, which is not a simple as it might seem.

For this, the team had to develop special fingertips like a nails, with one nail longer than the other.

"For me that was the hardest part. All the other things were current state of the art technology," said Professor Pobil.

"It is mimicking the way we manipulate our hands. We have constant feedback from tactile sensors, so it is moving very slowly.

"In the first experiments, the books really got damaged because it was pressing too hard. Now it touches gently."

Professor Pobil said it was a "real possibility" that teams of robots could, in about five years' time, realistically perform searching and fetching tasks.

They could even mill around doing their work at night, working on library inventories, or identifying missing books, or mapping libraries.

He does not imagine that at any stage they will be replacing librarians and demanding payment for overdue books, however.

Orders from afar

A separate team in Japan is working on a similar robotic librarian automat, but their project is more concerned with developing robots that can be controlled remotely over the web in order to scan and read books.

But there could be room for some sort of future collaboration, said Professor Pobil, to create a more complete system.

Libraries are the "perfect environment" for robots
This would mean, some years down the line, someone in the UK could go online and request a book in a US library at 3am in the morning.

A robot in the US library could fetch the book and, as directed by the web user, turn to the correct pages and scan the text and images.

This would save on the expense of digitising tonnes of material in libraries worldwide.

But much of this is, unfortunately, still some way off.

Currently, libraries are more concerned with attracting people to their shelves, and offering users a browsing experience.

"If it actually kept a record of what it digitised on demand, it would be a good way to approach the digitalisation problem as it would be demand-led, so that someone else could also look at it," said a spokesman for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

"The problem with all of these futurologies is that something like that would require investment in hardware."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's driving China space efforts?


By Paul Rincon
Science reporter BBC

China may want to send a message to the world
The launch of Shenzhou-VII by China is another reminder of the country's growing confidence and capability in space.

It delivers a message to the traditional space powers: after a slow start, China is rising fast.

This mission is a critical step in a "three-step" human spaceflight programme aimed at docking spacecraft together to form a small orbiting laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

It has sent a robotic spacecraft, Chang'e, to the Moon and there are plans to land a robotic rover on the lunar surface in 2010.

Last year, China faced international criticism when it used a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy an ageing weather satellite in a weapons test.

But what are the forces driving Beijing's space endeavours?

Economic reasons are first and foremost, explains Dean Cheng, senior Asia analyst at think tank CNA in Washington DC.

"From a civilian perspective, you are fostering the development of advanced technologies," he explains.

Another driver is diplomacy, said Mr Cheng. A wide-ranging space programme showed the rest of the world that China had arrived on the international stage.

"That fits with hosting the Olympics, that fits with a burgeoning economy, and that fits with the world's largest foreign capital reserves," he explained.

There is also a domestic motivation: success in space helped legitimise China's regime in the eyes of its population.

"There are problems like melamine in milk. There are issues of corruption. But the party has shown it is able to achieve things that no previous Chinese government has ever done, and that China is among the first-rank powers in advanced technology," Mr Cheng told BBC News.

'Luxury item'

Then there is the military rationale: a nation that could launch multiple satellites on one rocket could put multiple warheads on a single rocket.

Space technology also required the development of precision capabilities which carried over to weapons systems.

Beijing's manned efforts should be considered separately from the rest of its space programme, Mr Cheng said.

"The manned programme is all the things I have mentioned and more. It is a sign of a wealthy country - this is a luxury item. It puts China ahead of every other Asian country - significantly - in terms of space," he explained.

Human spaceflight also served as advertising for the country's commercial launch capability.

If China was sufficiently confident in its own space technology to launch its citizens into space, then it was certainly safe enough to launch another country's satellites.

"It is a prestige programme, no question," said Dr Roger Launius, senior curator in the division of space history at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

"I think China has entered the [manned spaceflight] arena for the same reasons that the United States and the Soviet Union did in 1961.

"It is a demonstration of technological virtuosity. It's a method of showing the world they are second to none - which is a very important objective for them."

Steady progress

China's steady, methodical progress in space has certainly highlighted the challenges faced by Nasa as it grapples with the transition to a post-shuttle era.

The space shuttle is due to be retired in two years. But its replacement, Ares-Orion, will not begin flying until 2015. In the interim, the US will be reliant on Russia for launching crew to the International Space Station.

But tensions between the two nations over the Georgia conflict mean that Nasa has faced considerable political pressure to keep the shuttle flying beyond 2010.

And, unlike China, the European Space Agency has not developed a manned space transportation system of its own.

However, suggestions that China has engaged in a new space race with the US or the other traditional space powers are wide of the mark, experts say.

"This is not the 1960s. We are not watching China put up repeated manned shots one after the other. But they are intent on ensuring they don't have any spectacular failures either" said Dean Cheng.

Dr Launius agreed: "There is not the same level of concern or interest registered in the US for a competition with China in space. I don't think they view that as an issue in Europe either."

He added: "There is a space race underway, but it is an Asian space race. It is between China, Japan, maybe Korea, certainly India. They are competing with each other for stature in that context.

"And the Chinese, because of their full service capability - humans, robots and military - are at this point in time probably the leaders in that race. But those other countries have lots of capability too."

Though China may only be the third country to launch a human into orbit, it still has a long way to go if it plans to mirror the achievements of the US and Russia.

"When you look at the programme as an observer from the outside, they've shown success in building spacecraft that can fly humans and do certain things," said Roger Launius.

"You can't build space stations until you can do those kinds of activities. You can't go to the Moon until you can do those kinds of activities. And they're not there yet.

"They're planning an EVA (spacewalk) this time and I hope they are successful. But one EVA does not make a programme."

CEATEC 2008 Collision Avoidance Bots from Nissan


Behold the BR32C, a robotic ear featuring one of the newest and coolest technologies from one of the most “old style” companies, Nissan. Taking inspiration from your average bees, the engineers at Nissan succeeded in teaching the BR23C the ability to avoid crashing on other moving or non moving objects surrounding them.

Nissan stresses the point that even if this technology has yet to be included on futures cars, this system is currently running smoothly on our little robot.

[Source} Akihabara News


Recommend this article...

Banner EZ-LIGHT® Tower Lights Feature Easy-to-Install, Energy-Efficient Indication with an Aesthetic Design

Banner EZ-LIGHT® Tower Lights Feature Easy-to-Install, Energy-Efficient Indication with an Aesthetic DesignMinneapolis, MN—March 19, 2009—Banner Engineering Corp. introduces EZ-LIGHT® TL50 Tower Lights for highly visible operator guidance and indication of equipment status. Displaying up to five colors in one tower and allowing multiple colors to be lit simultaneously, these preassembled and preconfigured multi-segment indicators replace conventional stack lights, which often require time-consuming assembly and complex wiring. In addition, models featuring audible alert with adjustable intensity are available for applications requiring sound indication.

“EZ-LIGHT Tower Lights provide significant benefits when highly visible indication is needed,” said Chuck Dolezalek, Banner Engineering project manager. “In indication applications, it's often necessary for multiple lights to be on simultaneously, with different light combinations conveying different messages. Tower Lights allow for a wide variety of light combinations, as well as audible indication, and appear gray when off to avoid false indication from ambient light. Also, they come preassembled and preconfigured, saving time and money in the installation process.”

Tower Lights require less than 2W of power consumption, compared to 15W for competitive units, making them an energy-efficient solution. Their aesthetic shape, along with a water- and oil-tight industrial housing, makes it possible to mount directly to machines, while standoff pipe and adapters are available for elevated mounting. Green, yellow, red, blue or white LED colors are offered to meet a variety of application needs.

Applications. EZ-LIGHT TL50 Tower Lights provide a simple, robust solution for a wide variety of applications requiring highly visible indication, including:

  • Operator guidance
  • Monitoring industrial plant machinery
  • Signaling assembly part requests
  • Assembly line proofing and verification
  • Remote fill level indication

These additional features of the EZ-LIGHT TL50 Tower Lights make them particularly effective and efficient indicators:

  • Deliver high visibility from all angles
  • Minimize costly and inconvenient bulb replacements with multi-colored, long-lasting (>100,000 hours) LEDs
  • Utilize low power consumption (less than 2W)
  • Shed debris and moisture with aesthetic design
  • Provide 18 to 30V dc and 24V ac supply voltage in one device
  • Offer bimodal NPN or PNP, depending on hookup
  • Compatible with PLC or other logic-level control outputs
  • Deliver IP65 rating for general purpose models; IP50 rating for audible models
  • Feature prewired 2 m attached cable or Euro-style quick-disconnect, depending on model

About Banner. Banner Engineering is the world's leading manufacturer of indicator lights, photoelectric and ultrasonic sensors, vision sensors, electronic machine guarding systems, wireless networks, fiber optic assemblies and precision measurement systems.

For further information, contact Banner Engineering Corp., 9714 Tenth Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55441. PH: 888.373.6767 (Toll-free North America), or 001.763.544.3164 (International). FAX: 763.544.3213. E-commerce:; Web:

Triflex R six-axis cable carriers

Cost-effective cable carriers for robotic applications: Triflex R cable carriers are designed for automated robotic machinery, and deliver 3-D and 6-axis movement. Unlike standard PMA, Triflex R rotates 360 degrees within a meter section, has a defined radius and provides fast, easy access to cables. It’s simple to install and available in three styles: an enclosed tube for complete protection from debris, E-Z style for fast, easy cable access and a low-cost, lightweight version. Smooth contours won’t snag on any protruding edges of a robot. Cost-effective Triflex R reduces downtime on the production line, saving you money in the long run. Never seen a cable carrier on a six-axis robot? Watch Triflex R in action now.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Military and Commercial MicroUAV Efforts Picking Up Worldwide

Like their big brother counterparts, unmanned aerial vehicles, Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or MicroUAVs, are expanding into many different markets. Both MicroUAV research efforts and deployments are increasing. More

Monkey thinks robotic arm into action

Brain impulses translated into 3-D manipulation

Image: Monkey and robotic arm
University of Pittsburgh
A time-lapse photograph shows a monkey raising a piece of zucchini to its lips using a thought-controlled robotic arm. The monkey's real arms are restrained.
Robotic arms used by amputees are typically controlled by moving some other part of the body, like the opposite arm. Researchers would like to make such prostheses respond to the whim of the brain.

Now it turns out researchers have found a method so easy (well, relatively so) that a monkey can do it.

In a new study, a monkey fed itself using a robotic arm electronically linked to its brain. The work was presented here Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. More

Friday, March 20, 2009

Raising the World’s I.Q.


Published: December 4, 2008

artificial_intelligenceTravelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.

Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)

It’s iodized salt.

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness. Read the rest of this entry »

Artificial Intelligence 2.0

Daphne Koller, a researcher at Stanford whose work has led to advances in artificial intelligence, sees the world as a web of probabilities.

A mathematical theoretician, she has made contributions in areas like robotics and biology. Her biggest accomplishment — and at age 39, she is expected to make more — is creating a set of computational tools for artificial intelligence that can be used by scientists and engineers to do things like predict traffic jams, improve machine vision and understand the way cancer spreads.

Ms. Koller is part of a revival of interest in artificial intelligence. After three decades of disappointments, artificial intelligence researchers are making progress. Recent developments made possible spam filters, Microsoft’s new ClearFlow traffic maps and the driverless robotic cars that Stanford teams have built for competitions sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Ms. Koller is beginning to apply her algorithms more generally to help scientists discern patterns in vast collections of data.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pheriperal Robotic

The Aurora 224: a 2 channel open source DJ mixer featuring 24 analog potentiometers, three linear sliders, and 8 buttons with LED feedback.

Uzebox is an open design video game console[1]

Bug Labs open source hardware[2][3]

The Arduino Diecimila

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence on ScienceDirect(Opens new window)

Artificial Intelligence, which commenced publication in 1970, is now the generally accepted international forum for the publication of results of current research in this field. The journal welcomes basic and applied papers describing mature work involving computational accounts of aspects of intelligence. Specifically, it welcomes papers on:
• automated reasoning
• computational theories of learning
• heuristic search
• knowledge representation
• qualitative physics
• signal, image and speech understanding
• robotics
• natural language understanding
• software and hardware architectures for AI.

The journal reports results achieved; proposals for new ways of looking at AI problems must include demonstrations of effectiveness. From time to time, the journal publishes survey articles.

Hide Aims & Scope
C.R. Perrault
A.G. Cohn