Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remote-controlled throwable robots

throw me

Carnegie Mellon University robotics researchers, in conjunction with the U.S. Marine Corps' Warfighting Laboratory, have developed a small, throwable, remote-controlled prototype robot designed for surveillance in urban settings, several of which are being sent to Iraq for testing. The robot, known as Dragon Runner, has the ability to see around corners and deliver information to Marines while keeping them out of danger in urban settings where human access is impractical, dangerous or unsustainable. And look for Sarah Connor.

Deep Green, pool playing robot

g robot

big green

First chess, now pool. Michael Greenspan of Queen's Univerisity has developed a pool-playing robot called Deep Green. Deep Green is equipped with a vision system that can identify striped and solid balls, and supposedly has an understanding of physics that allows it rival any human player at making a shot. The ability to hustle you out of your money is optional.


Helen Greiner, Chairman and Cofounder of iRobot, Corp. by Phillip Torrone posted Aug 2


We recently got a chance to chat with Helen Griener, Cofounder and Chairman of iRobot (best known for the Roomba Robot Vacuum).� With the launch of new Roomba Discovery, the PackBots as well as I, Robot the movie, we had a few questions she was gracious enough to answer for us.

Helen was named the Ernst and Young New England Entrepreneur of the Year for 2003 (with iRobot co-founder Colin Angle). She has also been honored as a Technology Review Magazine "Innovator for the Next Century," invited to the World Economic Forums as a Global Leader of Tomorrow, and has been awarded the prestigious DEMO God Award at the DEMO Conference. Her 15 years of experience in robotic technology includes work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Computer Science, both from MIT.

Needless to say, we have a slight crush.

First up? name, rank, serial number?
Helen Greiner
Chairman and Cofounder
iRobot Corporation

Could you tell us how iRobot Corporation was founded?
Colin, Rod and I founded iRobot out of MIT after Colin and I graduated (in 1990).� The vision has always been to make robots that touch people's lives everyday and create a robotics industry.�� The plan has evolved over time by creating business model around the state of technology, the state of capitalization, and the state of manufacturing capability that existed.� We have built robots that go deep into the bore of oil wells, toys that were marketed by Hasbro, museum displays, a prototype planetary explorer, a legged robot for underwater mines, a robotic fish, a swarm of 100 robots, and a robot that explored shafts in the great pyramid. �

What's your daily schedule like at iRobot now?
Crazy, but always interesting.

What are some interesting things about the Roomba in general, and what are the new features folks should be excited about with the new Discovery Roomba?
The most interesting thing about is its ability to get around in any home on its own and clean well.� This was thought to be impossible at such a low cost.� So the combination of very inexpensive sensors made effective by very clever design, the multithreaded operating system running on very a very small microprocessor, and the really low power sweeper/vac. Also, The Discovery has a 16-bit microprocessor and flash memory.

The Discoveries make a lot of improvement in the cleaning, lifetime, quick charge, and dirt storage, but the most compelling are the new robotic features.� These guys actually know when they are picking up dirt and change the cleaning pattern to pick it up more efficiently.� The coolest though is the home base station.� The robot actually knows it is running low on juice and starts looking for its charger.� When it sees the infrared lobes that the base station transmits, it gets lined up, then like under control of a tractor beam it heads into the dock and starts a recharging cycle.� The first model that has this cost 249.99 but the other new model are compatible with the recharger accessory, which can be bought separately. �


PackBot is different division of iRobot, can you tell us about what these robots are intended for?
Government and Industrial Robotics and Consumer Robotics are our division names.� iRobot's PackBot is the new standard in unmanned reconnaissance and bomb disposal. It is a lightweight, rugged robot that can be carried and deployed by a single soldier. PackBot offers unprecedented mobility and durability?it can be thrown into a building through a window, climb stairs, drop 20 feet and still function properly. The robot was originally developed under the Tactical Mobile Robotics program, which was sponsored by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).� Designed as a versatile payload carrier, iRobot has added reconnaissance payloads with pan/tilt head and night vision, Chem/gas/rad payloads, and a bomb disposal (EOD) payloads.
The PackBot EOD has been used on thousands of bomb disposal missions and we are very proud of its life saving function.� The one pictured was sent back to us from Iraq for analysis after a bomb detonated.� In most missions, the PackBot EOD returns safely, but in the case where it is blown up, better a robot than a soldier.� A geek aside: the PackBot is running a Linux OS with
iRobot's Aware robot control software.
Pictured: PackBot #129. Killed In Action. April 8, 2004 Iraq. Click here for a larger view.

What was the relationship between iRobot and I, Robot the movie starring Will Smith?
The name iRobot comes from a common source, the Asimov I, Robot short stories. We also like it because it can be "intelligent" robot or "I" Robot (i.e. the personal combined with the technology).

We have done some joint promotions with the 20th Century Fox folks and I have been asked to talk about the state of the art in robotics at movie screenings.� Colin Rod and I were all interviewed for the DVD version.

What did you think of the movie? Would you say it's accurate in terms of where robotics is heading?
I loved the movie.� It kept true to the Asimovian principles and many scenes described in the book, but did not just follow any one story (which would have not made a summer block buster).� The robot was a compelling character. (see final question)

Besides iRobot Corporation, what robotic projects or robot firms have you been impressed with?
Well, Rod's work at MIT on humanoids is very compelling; I just got the tour last week.� And the demo humanoid, cardea, etc.� Manuela at CMU has made great progress using robot soccer as a challenge (with Aibos) on robot cooperation, machine vision, and strategy. Acroname just came out with a line of fairly inexpensive robots for hobbyists.

For anyone interested in robotics, what resources or conferences are coming up that you would suggest?

For the first time ever the US robotic community (led by a media firm called Robotic Trends) is putting on a show to rival the Japanese robot shows like Robodex.

RoboNexus takes the best qualities of academic and business development events, consumer electronics and toy mega events, user group meetings and robotic competitions, and combines them into a single event.� The event will be marketed to millions of business professionals, educators, developers and consumers throughout the world, and is expected to draw over 15,000 attendees, making RoboNexus the largest robotics event held in North America. The conference and exposition will be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA on October 21-23, 2004.

Last up? The movie I, Robot takes place in 2035. What types of home robotics, and robotics in general do you think we'll see in 30 years?
Neither Sonny nor the ne5 in general will exist in 2035.� Two many breakthroughs would have to happen in technology and be commercialized in too short a timeframe.� All need to exist to make a system.� Power, actuators, sensors, perception algorithms are just not close today.� Perhaps even more importantly, at the cost they would have to be, hiring a human would be more cost effective, thus without a business motivation we will continue to see humanoid demos, not real servants. �

That said, I think they will exist someday?maybe 100 years. �

Instead, in 30 years chores around the house will be a thing of the past. The robots will have evolved from automatic appliances to home automations systems.� iRobot (and others) will be selling clean floor, clear windows, organized closets, mowed lawns, sparkling toilets, and dust-free surfaces that the consumer never has to think about.� The robots just come out and do the job when it needs to be done.

There will be a robot in every squad car and it would be unthinkable to send an officer into an unknown situation.� Robots will help the massive problems cause by the world aging demographic.� Predictions currently are dire about the availability of caregivers for the folks who will need them. Enter the robots, that allow doctor to go on house calls through telepresence, that bring your grandmother water in order to hydrate, assure medication compliance, and even find the spectacles that Grandpa has lost for the 1000th time.

A step-closer to automated-cars, a step further from traffic


We know the volume of cars could be increased dramatically by computer-operated driving systems, but physicist L. Craig Davis recently published a study showing that most non-accident traffic is caused by, well, bad drivers—their excessive slow-downs cause ripple effects in the order of exponential magnitudes. Thankfully, he believes this could be prevented by a simple adaptive-cruise control system, which if one in five cars had, the flow of traffic would be dramatically improved. Instead of slamming the brakes, cars would instead absorb slowing traffic with the buffer of space between them, curbing the rippling traffic aftermath. Not bad, and when something accident-related does happen we can always deploy the robots.

[Via TechDirt]

Robot's public defender

robot on street

Even though Japan is the unrivaled world pioneer of robot tech, Japanese robot engineers have a hard time taking their bots to public places, like streets, squares, or shopping centers. Local police have put the smackdown on various public robot displays over the years, so now the Japanese cities Fukuoka and Kitakyushu have received a "Robot Tokku". Tokku are the new deregulated zones designated by the Koizumi government, and a robot tokku enables the testing of robots in the public environment — a must to develop consumer-friendly robot helpers. The first project under the new zones enabled a robot to go shopping in a busy Fukuoka district. Actually when you think about, the only thing that's bizarre about this story is that it wasn't already legal to hang out with your robot in public places.

Japanese schools break and build robots at Robot Demolition LIVE2004

Robot Demolition LIVE2004

We know that not all Japanese kids get this kind of opportunity, but the mere possibility is nearly enough to make us move over there and create spawn in a place where students get to disassemble a working humanoid robot, and then rebuild it from scratch. The event is Robot Demolition LIVE2004, and right about now we're sorely wishing it wasn't just for kids.

[Via AkihabaraNews]

The year ahead for personal robots


PC World has an article about the personal robots that are coming our way tomorrow (that is, the royal tomorrow) and the ones that are populating our homes today. They don't reveal any new robots we haven't already covered, but there are plenty of neat tidbits in the article, like that an estimated 4 million personal robots will be sold in 2006, and that people have bought over 500,000 Roomba RoboVacs from iRobot.


This year's ROBO-ONE, endorsed by...Aerosmith?

Steven Tyler-autographed robot

Japan's ROBO-ONE tournament, a yearly fixture in which a multitude of amateur robot developers gather together their creations and have them beat one another up, gained an unwitting and unusual supporter this year: Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. He apparently saw a relative of the robot above on display in Tokyo and was so taken with it that he ended up autographing its sibling. (More photos and video of the proceedings at PC Watch at the link below.)

Video of the Chroino robot in action


We wrote a while back about Chroino, a robot developed by Kyoto University's RoboGarage whose claim to fame is that it manages to walk upright far better than the bent-kneed hobble of your average bipedal robot. At the time we couldn't dig up any videos of it, but a kind reader points us to some at RoboGarage's English site, which also showcases some of their other creations.

[Thanks, Calvin!]

Robo-One's Rumble: Eight robots enter, one robot leaves


We already knew that Steven Tyler was a fan, but CNN has some more details on Robo-One, Japan's twice-yearly robotics competition which ditches all the pretense of sports or scientific advancement and focuses on what we all really want: kickboxing robots that can fight each other Mortal Combat-style, with some of them sporting special deathblow moves like being able to pull off a somersault and crash down on their opponent from above. The highlight, of course, is the Rumble, when eight robots enter the ring and battle it out until only one is left standing.

German team wins RoboCup 2004

robocupThe German team the FU-Fighters have won the small-size championships of the RoboCup, a yearly competition designed to promote robotics and artificial intelligence using soccer as the medium. They want to have a totally autonomous robotic team be able to beat the most recent World Cup winners by 2050. This goal is amusingly quirky enough for us to hope that they succeed. That a German team won this time around should come as no surprise to those familiar with the old quote "Football (soccer) is a very simple game. For 90 minutes 22 men go running after the ball and at the end the Germans win." It seems that applies to robots as well.

Evolution Robotics adds ERSP 3.0 for Windows


If you're going to build a robot, your choices for SDKs are usually only on Linux or embedded systems. But now, Evolution Robotics has a SDK for Windows developers.

The Windows version features the core navigation and vision technology of the original breakthrough SDK. Patent-pending vSLAM navigation enables robotic devices to operate completely autonomously with knowledge of their environment and surrounding objects using a single low-cost camera. Also included is Evolution Robotics' advanced object recognition technology, which is already being used to support vision functionality in consumer robots such as Sony's AIBO.

In addition, the Windows version incorporates Microsoft's speech support. This, combined with critical infrastructure and core documentation tailored to the Windows environment, gives companies increased flexibility in developing advanced software tools needed to engineer powerful, autonomous applications quickly and easily.

We're going to see what's possible with this soon and will let ya know (and no, we won't be building a locker room bot).

Alarmingly lame robot alarm clock

robot alarm clockNormally we wouldn't include any kind of robot-inspired alarm clock, but the fact that this one requires an infrared gun to shoot once for snooze and twice for off, makes this clock just creepy enough to introduce. We can't imagine anyone waking early for work, reaching for the remote-gun and coherently hitting the snooze-trigger.

[Via Red Ferret Journal]

Hello Kitty robot

hello kitty robotA Hello Kitty robot seems like such a natural combo, we're surprised this hasn't been done before, but for Hello Kitty's 30th birthday (to be released Nov. 1st), Business Design Labs and NEC are developing a robotic kiti-chan. The robot's sole purpose is for its cuteness factor and, sitting 52 cm tall, inanely chatters over 20,000 programmed conversations (in Japanese), displaying "emotions" by moving its head and arms. Its 2 camera eyes can recognize up to 10 human faces and using speech recognition can respond to your voice. Robo-Kitty will sell for 400,000 yen ($4000), which seems like a lot for a non-walking, slightly higher-tech, Japanese Teddy Ruxpin.

Isaac Hayes' Three Laws of Robotics

Isaac Hayes

We're totally impressed that Issac Hayesimov has been able to write so many awesome science fiction books and record so many good funk albums and find the time to be a voice on South Park. What a career! There's been a lot of misinformation about his work, and fortunately reader "Shane" (in the comments to Phillip's I, Robot is out, do the robot dance.. post from the other day) was able to set all of us straight on what Isaac's Three Laws of Robotics really are:

A robot must risk his neck for his brother man, and may not cop out when there's danger all about.

A robot must be a sex machine to all the chicks, except where such actions conflict with the will of his main woman.

A robot must at all times strive to be one bad motha-shutchyomouth.

We're waiting patiently for the robosploitation remake of I, Robot.

The GT Turbo of guard robots

Secom robot

One thing that tends to prevent us taking guard robots seriously is that they're mostly lumbering beasts that won't do much more than stream you some pics of an intruder's rapidly retreating back. Secom's Robot X, however, takes a different tack, being essentially a radio-controlled car the size of a kiddy fairground ride that zips around at about 10km/h, with smoke and lights to disorient anyone who's up to no good. It also has a 360-degree camera and can be set to patrol on its own or taken over remotely to chase down bad guys. There's a bar for attaching "forthcoming optional add-ons", too—spiked club? Chain cannon? Somehow, we don't see them adding teamaking equipment.

Robotic sculptor

milling machineWhy spend days chipping away at a granite block when you can have a robot do ninety percent of the work for you? Studio Roc offers up its robots, computer controlled milling machines that can do the same amount of work in a matter of hours. They use either laser-scans of an original or prototype sculpture or a CAD file to direct the machines. Once the busywork is done a human artisan can put the final touches on by hand. This technology sees most of its use doing the busywork or changing the scale of a pieces for individual sculptors (present a ten-inch prototype and get a twenty-foot sculpture back), and with architects and contractors who want custom carvings but don't feel like spending the time and money necessary for it to be done by actual people. Of course there are the common questions being asked, such as whether or not these pieces qualify as art and whether it's ok to replace the craftsmen with machines (you know, the same questions people ask every time a new "art" technology comes out). Pretty soon it will just be the way things are done.

LEGO your Robot controlled Game Boy


We've covered the Bluetooth module from CharmedLabs before, but now there's more. The Xport Robot Controller (XRC) turns the Game Boy Advance and standard LEGO components into an advanced robot development system. (Bonus video clip here)

Lots of robotic suits

robotic exoskeleton

Not one, but two different robotic suits have popped up in the past few days, and crazy as it sounds, these aren't even the first ones we've heard of, there are tons of people working on these. And these aren't just for the lazy, either, Japanese researcher Yoshiyuki Sankai says his suit is meant to help people with weakened leg muscles to be able to walk smoothly, while University of Utah roboticist Stephen Jacobson is pitching his robotic exoskeleton (pictured at right) to the military so that soldiers can carry heavier loads of equipment without getting tired.

Read - Robot Suit

Read - Robotic Exoskeleton

Robot toilets revolt in Seattle

Robot revolyAccording to some reports, the new robotic toilets in Seattle have a mind of their own. Some doors won't open, others will report they are empty when it is not and some folks are getting so frustrated they're relieving themselves behind the machine.

"When I've had some juice or some beer, I gotta go. I've got a 30-second waiting period," said Don Gardner, 52.

Sony prepares to make the Qrio smarter than us

Sony Qrio

According to the Nikkei newspaper, Sony's next project for its little Qrio robot is to up its brainpower to near-supercomputer levels. Given its size, it doesn't come as much of a surprise to find that they're not going to try and shoehorn something into its head. Instead, the plan is to link it via a high-speed wireless connection to a grid of 250 computers that'll do the thinking. The upshot is that rather than giving the Qrio instructions, they'll be letting it work things out for itself. Details beyond that are scant (we can't find a press release on this from Sony yet, either), but we assume they're thinking of something considerably more advanced than having it wander around and avoid walking into the walls. Given how big an emphasis Sony has placed so far on making the Qrio appear to interact naturally with the meat world, it seems safe to suppose that further improving its social skills could well be a big part of the latest grand experiment.

Charmed Labs releases Xport and Bluetooth module

Our pals over at Charmed Labs have released the Xport. The Xport Robot Controller (XRC) turns the Game Boy Advance and standard LEGO components into an advanced robot development system. Best of all, you can add Bluetooth now.

The Bluetooth module is an add on.

  • "Class 1" radio with 100 meter range

  • Up to 200 Kbps continuous, error-free datarate

  • Integrated chip antenna

  • Low power (55 mA typical)

  • Small (0.8" x 1.2")

We'll be trying this out soon and will post anything cool we come up with. We welcome our LEGO driven Bluetooth connected robot overlords.

Throwable Robo-Spy

dragon runner

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon's Robotic's Institute and the Naval Research Laboratory have created the ultimate lurker-bot. The 9-lb "Dragon Runner" is designed for urban combat enabling soldiers to remotely control the robot into unknown territory and spy on bad guys via built-in camera. It's also indestructable, easily surviving 2-story falls and dropkicks out windows, and always seems to land on its 4 stubby wheels. Though it's been under development for a couple years, the Dragon Runner was recently sent to Iraq for its combat-debut.

iRobot's tactical mobile robot, the Packbot!

In the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, at the 4Site conference, our favorite robot vacuum/military supplier, iRobot showed off a tactical mobile robot, the PackBot! The robot has its own brochure and site: The rad thing about this platform is its vehicle "skateboard" design, which it appears to support various plug-in modules.

They also showed a 10-minute trailer for the new movie I, Robot starring Will Smith. Apparently the company has some relationship with filmmakers—we don't know if it's in name only, or if they consulted for the film.

One thing we kinda worry about: on the site it says, "The Robot should go in first", a quote from an Airborne Division Commander. While that's okay for now, what about when these robots have feelings? Haven't we learned *anything* from sci-fi movies? First we make the bots, then we arm the bots, then they turn on us and take over. C'mon, this is textbook stuff here.

Click here for some photos!

Hospital porters go robotic


Matsushita Electric Works has come up with a robot that ships patient records, x-rays, medicine and so forth around hospitals in its password-protected innards. The HOSPI contains a PHS (a Japanese short-range digital cellphone technology) unit and so can be tracked on its progress and pinged if you need a pickup; it also uses the PHS transmitter to have the hospital elevators take it to whatever floor it's headed to. Since elevators these days are fairly smart, sounds like the makings of a class struggle right there. The HOSPI moves at about a metre per second, and runs for seven hours on an eight-hour charge assuming it's moving half the time, which almost proves our contention that everything has more battery life than an iPod these days.

ASIMO visits Epcot Center


He won't be wrestling Mickey Mouse or anything like that, but Honda is going to be demoing their humanoid-type ASIMO robot at Disney's Epcot Center later this week and all next week, mainly having him walk around, dance, balance on leg, climb stairs, and basically show off that it can do all the stuff that lazy humans don't want to do anymore.

Bonus treat: Watch tons of ASIMO videos here.

Electronic skin gives your robot a more delicate touch

Electronic skin

If you've ever wished that your robot had a more delicate touch (hey, we ain't asking any questions), you may be in luck. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have invented an electronic skin that is supposedly as sensitive as human skin and that should make it possible for robots to identify objects and "carry out delicate tasks".

iRobot's battlefield medical robot

iRobot PackBot Bloodhound

We mentioned iRobot's PackBot battlefield robot the other day, but we hadn't known that they were working on a version called the Bloodhound, a semi-autonomous robot designed to dispense medical assistance to wounded soldiers during battle. Lest you think that the Bloodhound will be roving about on its own looking for soldiers to inject epinephrine into and wrap bandages around, they're actually going to be dispatched to wounded soldiers via GPS and then remotely controlled via medics (who could be anywhere in the world) to apply treatment.

[Thanks, Marc]

Air Hockey table = space?

air hockey robots

Perhaps destined to be a companion for the Robonaut, a team of researchers at the Polymorphic Robotic Laboratory is designing more robots for use by NASA. Following the current trend in artificial intelligence, the robots use group intelligence (i.e. each individual is relatively dumb but when their powers combine they form a super-smart collective) to perform complex tasks. Since the robots need to work in a frictionless environment they were put through their paces on an air-hockey table, which is apparently the closest simulation of space the researchers could come up with. Had we known air-hockey tables were that cool we never would have thrown ours out.

[Via Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends]

The SWATbot


In a very modern school project, Zack Bieber, a robot designer for television shows like BattleBots and students from the West Covina High School robotics class have designed and built a robot for their local SWAT team called the Bulldog (so why does our local SWAT team keep rejecting our robocops?). It's designed to perform simple tasks such as carrying a small payload and taking video and costs only $10,000 (which still seems to be a bit much for what is essentially an erector set grafted to a remote-control car).

Off-road wheelchairing

robotic wheelchairWe suspect that wheelchair off-roading might not turn out to be turning up at the next X Games, but regardless of the hazard-sounding nature, an Australian professor at Monash University's Intelligent Robotics Centre has been developing a 4-wheel-drive wheelchair. Combining a navigation system and off-road capabilties, the chair is meant for travel along forest trails and beach paths. Not a bad idea, since the user could gain greater access to wheelchair unfriendly terrain. Another wheelchair inroad comes from engineers at the University of Essex and the Institute of Automation in Beijing who have created the RoboChair which uses collision-avoidance technology, map building, intelligent decision making and a 3G wireless communication system. We're going to assume that the included tele-operation capacity is for emergency monitoring cases only and not for random highjackings.

Organic and robotic pets with a p900

aibo and organicsHere's a quick video shot with a Sony Ericsson p900 phone and uploaded to Textamerica's photo/video blog service. The video is of 2 organic pets and one robotic pet. We're not living on the moon or driving flying cars, but 2004 ain't that bad we think.

Wee little Pekee robot

pekee In case your first attempt at a world-conquering robot fell through, Wany Robotics has introduced its Pekee robotics development platform to get you up to speed. It's a fully assembled robot running embedded Windows or Linux with about a million sensors. It has built-in infrared, temperature, and light sensors, shock detector, and gyrometers so you know exactlywhat is going on at all times. It also has a plug-in cartridge with Ethernet, USB, color video camera and connectors for a mouse, monitor and keyboard and another with WiFi for remote control and data-streaming. To top it all off they also give you casings for five more cartridges, so you can make custom ones (laser gun, jet pack, rocket launcher, etc) if you want.

[Via Sensory Impact]

Date set for the Grand Challenge 2

sandstorm crash

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has set a date of October 8th, 2005 for their second Grand Challenge. Will it be an even Grander Challenge than the first Grand Challenge, that abortive robotic road race from Barstow, California to Las Vegas which mainly resulted in robots blowing up or malfunctioning shortly after starting? Well, they did double the prize money to $2 million, a move which we hope guarantees us double the hijinks.

A robot that doesn't walk like an old man


Kyoto University's Robo Garage has announced what may be the first bipedal robot that doesn't walk like it has a bad back. The Chroino is able to keep the leg in contact with the ground straight as it walks, instead of the awkward both-knees-bent shimmy common to brethren from Honda's Asimo to Sony's Qrio. The Chroino measures about 35 cm in height and weighs about a kilo. It apparently only cost about $28,000 to develop and would probably cost about $4,500 were it to go into production, which isn't too far out of Aibo territory. No info on whether it does anything but walk, however—it looks like the intent is to license the walking technology rather than develop it in its own right, meaning that it could be something of a catwalk model of the robot world. With its superhero good looks and the Qrio's intellect, though, we're sure they'd make a lovely couple.

(If anyone has any video of the Chroino, we'd love to hear; there doesn't seem to be any around just yet.)

The Floorbot


Maybe we're crazy, but we're beginning to think that the really hard part about building a robotic vacuum cleaner is selling them for less than a thousand bucks. Case in point: the new Floorbot vacuum cleaner from Floorbotics, which is expected to retail for around a thousand bucks. That's five hundred less than Electrolux's latest Trilobite, but still a good eight hundred dollars more than iRobot's Roomba RoboVac, which has been winning hearts across America. That extra $800 apparently buys you a more "intelligent navigation system" so that the Floorbot cleans each area only once, rather than in slightly more haphazard (and battery draning) manner that the Roomba vacuums your floors.

The rock climbing robot

Lemur robot

The engineers at Stanford and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who brought you the Mars Rover are touting the first steps of a robot rock climber named the Lemur (damn cutesy scientists) which can meticulously climb cliffs much like their insane human-predecessors. Alright, so Lemur does stand for the not-so-cute Limbed Excursion Mobile Utility Robot and these scientists have previosuly created a 6-legged crab-like robot to perform dextrous small-scale assembly tasks. But this Lemur has 4 legs with claws at the end of each limb to hook into the uneven surface and attempt a foothold. This current version of the Lemur can't make the climb without being fed computer coordinates, the next-gen Lemur is supposed to be able to scope out the landscape and determine the best path on its own and have better grippers for sticking to flat surfaces. Scientists are looking to one day use Lemur to climb cliffs in Mars and also attempt daring search and rescue missions here on Earth — though something tells us if that someone trapped on a mountain somewhere might be a little freaked out about being rescued by a huge metal spider.

NASA's jet-powered Personal Satellite Assistant

NASA Personal Satellite Assistant

NASA "borrows" once again from Roddenberry and Lucas with their latest robot, a small space-roving miniature task satellite that looks like that light-saber training drone and is designed with the same basic funcionality of a Star Trek Tricorder. Six years in development, the PSA (or Personal Satellite Assistant) monitors gas contents, microgravity levels, and is expected to buzz around the International Space Station "reminding space scientists how to do their experiments right". Let's just hope it can't read lips.

Vstone's Robovie-M for the model robot hobbyist


Ok, so Vstone's Robovie-M robot costs $3,800 and it'll take you weeks, and possibly months to put it together, but at the end you'll have a robot that you can make, um, walk around and do a few other moves using a remote control. And that's about it. Sometimes it's the journey, not the destination, my friend.

The land mine detecting robot

land mine robot

At least until the day comes when they rise up against us, we're continuing to find useful new ways for them to serve us. The result of a challenge by Carl V. Nelson, a staff physicist at Johns Hopkins, to a group of engineering students, this simple robot made mostly of plastics was developed to find and mark the locations of land mines in rough terrain. The students rose to the challenge, building the whole thing for $5,000 (of their $8,000 budget) largely by using lots of off the shelf parts. The robot also has a camera that feeds real-time images to the remote control and beeps when it thinks it's found a mine, so the operator can decide whether to mark the location. Of course the metal-detector part is in the rear, so the robot has to roll over the mine before it can be picked up, which seems a bit odd. On the other hand, if the robot blows up the operators can be pretty sure they've found a land mine.

Can't make it today--I'll send my robot

Bought the tickets and don't feel much like going? NTT Communication Science Laboratories have developed a robot with a head modeled on the shape of your own, including microphones just where your ears would be, that will sit in your seat and send an audio picture of a concert back to your headphones. A sensor in your headset measures the tilt of your head and has the robot follow suit. There are plans to develop a version with cameras, too.

Not to be spoilsports, but we can see a couple of problems with this idea, the main one being that a one-off personalised head presumably means that you need to get your robot to the concert somehow, which would be almost as much hassle as going yourself. A generalized version that would reshape itself to your measurements might be interesting, though: you could situate a few of them in the audience and sell "tickets" to watch the video/audio streams. A night at the opera in Covent Garden while you relax at home in Tokyo in, er, the early hours of the morning? In the future, all this will be possible.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Mini Cooper Bot

mini cooper robot

The makers of the Mini Cooper appear to be after the technosexual market with a well-crafted hoax website that's supposedly the homepage of an English engineer who's transformed a Mini Cooper r50 into a bipedal robot.

[Via Slashdot]

At least four robots to race in tomorrow's Grand Challenge


Now that three more teams have qualified for tomorrow's Grand Challenge robotic road race from LA to Las Vegas, it looks like there's going to be an actual race (pictured at right, the race's first qualifier, CMU's Sandstorm). Sure, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is holding the competition, had to relax the rules for qualification a bit even to get that many teams in the race. And expectations are now so low that none of the robots entered are expected to even finish the race. Hmmm. Maybe it's a good thing we cancelled our plans to fly out to Vegas for this.

The Aqua underwater robot


From researchers at McGill University's Centre for Intelligent Machines, a new underwater robot called the Aqua with six indivudally controlled flippers for getting around. At first we were like, "So what?", but the people behind the Aqua say that because each flipper on the robot can be controlled independently, it's able to remain silently in place while underwater and record what's going on around it without causing a disturbance, something that can't be done with undersea robots that use propellers or jets.

The Flexibot

Turns out the Japanese don't have a monopoly on elderly-helping robots. Scientists at Staffordshire University's Center for Rehabilitation Robotics in the UK (a whole research center dedicated to creating helper robots!) have built the Flexibot, a robot which the elderly and disabled will someday be able to have help them with basic tasks around the house. Has anyone spotted a photo of this?

The Toyotabot

toyotabotWe're starting to get the impression that every auto manufacturer in Japan has decided to get into the robot business: Toyota showed off a trumpet playing robot the other day and says it plans to beef up production of the humanoid robot, which is now planned for commercial sale around 2010. Clearly trailing Honda's ASIMO (not to mention non-car maker Sony), Toyota plans to create a special robot R&D site filled with hundreds of engineers to push the project along — or just catch up.

The house-building robot

Potentially obsolescing yet another line of work that doesn't involve people sitting around staring at screens all day, there's now a working prototype of a robot that can "print out" buildings. The "contour crafter", which is like a giant 3D printer, hangs from a crain and uses a computer-guided nozzle to shoot wet concrete exactly according to an architect's plans. Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineer from the University of Southern California who created the robot, says the the goal is to be able to build a single-story, 2000 square foot home in one day.

[Thanks, Jill]

Robots are hot

Robots are clearly really hot this week, and has a lengthy summary of just about everything that's going on in the world of robotics right now.

[Thanks, Alberto]

Robotcop III

robotcopIIIA new robotic cop has hit the streets of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Robotcop the Third, which was built by researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, isn't dispassionately chasing down criminals (or taking matters into its own hands and single-handedly cleaning up the streets of Detroit). Instead it's designed to teach kids about how to fight crime and stay out of trouble. Boring.

[Thanks, Roland]

Getting ready for the Grand Challenge

loghiqExtremeTech interviews two of the teams competing in this saturday's Grand Challenge, DARPA's road race to see which autonomous robot can get from Barstow, CA to Las Vegas the most quickly. First one to cross the finish line wins a cool million bucks.

Disappointingly, Anthony Levandowski, leader of the team behind the Ghost Rider, the only entrant which is a motorcycle, admits that their entry isn't even designed to win the race — it can't go fast enough to complete the course in the ten hours allotted — but that they're just hoping to land some government contracts. Fortunately, the other team interviewed, Team LoGHIQ (pictured at right with their vehicle), is in it to win it.