Virtual Immortality: Reanimating characters from TV shows

From James Charles, Derek Magee, David Hogg:

The objective of this work is to build virtual talking avatars of characters fully automatically from TV shows. From this unconstrained data, we show how to capture a character’s style of speech, visual appearance and language in an effort to construct an interactive avatar of the person and effectively immortalize them in a computational model. We make three contributions (i) a complete framework for producing a generative model of the audiovisual and language of characters from TV shows; (ii) a novel method for aligning transcripts to video using the audio; and (iii) a fast audio segmentation system for silencing nonspoken audio from TV shows. Our framework is demonstrated using all 236 episodes from the TV series Friends (≈ 97hrs of video) and shown to generate novel sentences as well as character specific speech and video... (full paper) 

As China Invests in Robotics, iRobot and Other Companies Eye Deals

Jeff Engel for Xconomy:  China emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse over the past few decades, thanks in large part to a deep pool of cheap labor. Now, the country is investing heavily in factory automation, and Boston-area robotics companies and their allies smell opportunity.

Executives from 11 New England robotics firms will travel to several cities in China later this month on a trade mission aimed at sparking business deals and more technology collaboration between the U.S. and China.

The trip is being organized by InTeahouse, along with local nonprofit robotics support group MassRobotics.   Cont'd...

Full Press Release:

This Robot Can Do More Push-Ups Because It Sweats

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  When we use our muscles, they produce heat as a byproduct. When we use them a lot, we need to actively cool them, which is why we sweat. By sweating, we pump water out of our bodies, and as that water evaporates, it cools us down. Robots, especially dynamic robots like humanoids that place near-constant high torque demands on their motors, generate enough heat that it regularly becomes a major constraint on their performance. One of the reasons that SCHAFT did so well at the DRC Trials, for example, was their fancy liquid-cooled motors that could put out lots of torque over an extended period of time without overheating.

Engineers solve this heat-generating problem in most mechanical systems by using fans, heat sinks, and radiators, which means that you’ve got all of this dedicated cooling infrastructure that takes up space and adds mass. At the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) this week, Japanese researchers presented a novel idea of how to cool humanoid robots in a much more efficient way: Design them to be able to sweat water straight out of their bones.  Cont'd...

What Leading AI, Machine Learning And Robotics Scientists Say About The Future

Jason Lim for Forbes:  Every year there is a new hot topic in tech. Today, it’s all about artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and autonomous vehicles. The difference between now and the past is that everything is becoming interconnected at a faster rate.

We are entering an extremely critical time in history where society will change dramatically – how we work, live and play. Science fiction is morphing into reality. Flying cars exist, cars that drive themselves are on the road, and artificial intelligence that automates our lives is here.

To make all of this amazing science and technology happen, it takes some extremely intelligent and curious people. In many ways, scientists are still at the helm of discovering breakthroughs through research.   Cont'd...

Omnidirectional Mobile Robot Has Just Two Moving Parts

Byron Spice for Carnegie Mellon University:  More than a decade ago, Ralph Hollisinvented the ballbot, an elegantly simple robot whose tall, thin body glides atop a sphere slightly smaller than a bowling ball. The latest version, called SIMbot, has an equally elegant motor with just one moving part: the ball.

The only other active moving part of the robot is the body itself.       

The spherical induction motor (SIM) invented by Hollis, a research professor in Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, and Masaaki Kumagai, a professor of engineering at Tohoku Gakuin University in Tagajo, Japan, eliminates the mechanical drive systems that each used on previous ballbots. Because of this extreme mechanical simplicity, SIMbot requires less routine maintenance and is less likely to suffer mechanical failures.   Cont'd...

Reviving Japan's Dairy Industry, One Milking Robot at a Time

Aya Takada for Bloomberg:  Jin Kawaguchiya gave up a career in finance to help revive Japan’s ailing dairy industry -- one robot at a time.

In a country that relies increasingly on imported foods like cheese and butter, Japan’s milk output tumbled over two decades, touching a 30-year low in 2014. Costs rose faster than prices as the economy stagnated, eroding profit, and aging farmers quit the business because they couldn’t find enough young people willing to take on the hard labor of tending to cows every day.

But technology is altering that dynamic. On the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan’s top dairy-producing region, Kawaguchiya transformed the 20-cow farm he inherited from his father-in-law 16 years ago into Asia’s largest automated milking factory. Robots extract the white fluid from 360 cows three times a day and make sure the animals are fed and healthy. The machines even gather up poop and deposits it in a furnace that generates electricity.  Cont'd...

Could the future of pizza be in the hands of robots?

CARTER EVANS for CBS:   In this emerging age of drone deliveries, anddriverless cars​, technology now brings us -- robo-pizza. 

Silicon Valley is at the forefront of reinventing the pie. The kitchen at Zume Pizza is where technology and culinary arts collide.

Humans and robots work side-by-side at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, California.

Veteran restaurateur Julia Collins founded the delivery-only pizza company with Alex Garden, the former president of online gaming company, Zynga.

“I saw an opportunity to go after the $40 billion domestic delivery pizza market,” Garden said.   Cont'd...

Deep-Diving Robots Zap, Kill Invasive Lionfish

Mindy Weisberger for Live Science:  The robotics company iRobot, known for creating the autonomous and endearing Roomba vacuums, is taking steps to make a clean sweep of lionfish in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with a robot designed to target and dispatch the invasive fish.

A diving robot will enable individuals on the ocean surface to remotely zap and kill lionfish with electrical charges. The effort is meant to help curb the fast-growing populations of these voracious predators, which are recognized by environmental officials as a serious threat to marine ecosystems in the western Atlantic.

The initiative to launch the lionfish-targeting robot is called Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE) and represents an iRobot partnership with organizations and volunteer experts in the fields of robotics, engineering and conservation.  Cont'd...

Autonomous mobile robots can accomplish a variety of tasks.

Bob Violino for ZDNet:  Autonomous robots can perform actions or complete tasks with a high degree of autonomy, which makes them ideal for applications such as space exploration or cleaning your living room carpet. Mobile robots are capable of moving from place to place.

Put these capabilities together and you got a powerful machine that can handle lots of tasks in industrial environments such as factories, as well as in hospitals, hotels, and other areas. And, in fact, one of the more prominent trends in robotics today is the growing popularity of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), with new vendors jumping into the market and sales on the rise.

AMRs are modular, self-driving mobile robots that can be used for a variety of business applications, such as locomotion, mapping, navigation, and inspection.  Cont'd...

Robodex Ghost Robotics™ Launches Ghost Minitaur™ Direct-Drive Legged Robot Platform

Ghost Minitaur™ is a patent-pending medium-sized legged robot highly adept at perceiving tactile sensations. Its high torque motors, motor controllers, and specialized leg design allow this machine to run and jump over difficult terrain while actively balancing, climb fences, and rapidly reorient from falls. High-speed and high-resolution encoders let the robot see and feel the ground through the motors and adapt faster than the blink of an eye. 

Full Press Release:

Ford, U-M Accelerate Autonomous Vehicle Research with Ford Researchers In-House at New Robotics Lab on U-M Campus

Ford and the University of Michigan today announce they are teaming up to accelerate autonomous vehicle research and development with a first-ever arrangement that embeds Ford researchers and engineers into a new state-of-the-art robotics laboratory on U-M's Ann Arbor campus. 
While the new robotics laboratory opens in 2020, by the end of this year Ford will move a dozen researchers into the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). 
The announcement is the latest in a series of actions by Ford as it moves toward having fully autonomous SAE-defined level 4-capable vehicles available for high-volume commercial use in 2021. Autonomous vehicles are part of Ford's expansion to be an auto and a mobility company.   Full Press Release:

Canada Is Using Lasers and Robots to Study a Mysterious Curling 'Frankenbroom'

From Martin Smith at Vice:  Inside a slightly shabby building on the outskirts of of Kemptville, near Ottawa, the World Curling Federation (WCF) has gathered a world-class team of scientists and premier curling talent to unravel a scientific mystery that is rattling the foundations of curling.

At stake is nothing less than the future of one of the world’s oldest team sports.

The aim of the tests at the so-called World Sweeping Summit, which runs from Wednesday to Friday, is to understand how controversial new brush heads—some have dubbed them ‘Frankenbrooms’—and new sweeping techniques are able to manipulate the trajectory of curling stones in radically unprecedented ways... (full story) (supplemental video related to the "great" curling stone controversy of 1870)

A.I. and robotics could replace 6% of U.S. jobs by 2021

Sharon Gaudin  for ComputerWorld:  In just five years, intelligent systems and robots may have taken up to 6% of U.S. jobs, according to Forrester Research in a report released this week.

As artificial intelligence (A.I.) advances to better understand human behavior and make decisions on its own in complicated situations, it will enable smart software and robots to take on increasingly challenging jobs.  That means robotics should be able to take over some jobs traditionally held by humans by 2021.

For instance, Forrester predicts that smart systems like autonomous robots, digital assistants, A.I. software and chatbots will take over customer service rep jobs and eventually even serve as truck and taxi drivers.  Cont'd...

Swarms of Robots Manage to Not Run Into Each Other

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  At Georgia Tech, Li Wang and professors Aaron D. Ames and Magnus Egerstedt have been developing ways to allow infinitely large teams of mobile robots to move around each other without colliding, and also without getting in each other’s way. This is very important for people like me, who have 37Roombas at home, but also for anyone imagining a future where roads are packed with autonomous cars.

The fundamental issue here is robot paranoia. When robots move around, they typically maintain a sensor-based “panic zone” for safety, and if anything enters that space, they panic, and stop moving. If you have only two robots moving around, they can keep clear of one another, but as the number of robots increases, the odds that two “panic zones” will intersect also increases, to the point where they overlap and you just end up with a completely paralyzing global robot freakout. Or as the Georgia Tech researchers put it (in a much fancier way), “as the number of robots and the complexity of the task increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to design one single controller that simultaneously achieves multiple objectives, e.g., forming shapes, collision avoidance, and connectivity maintenance.”  Cont'd...

LG Electronics To "Aggressively Invest" In Robotics

Joshua Swingle for Android Headlines:  LG is certainly no stranger when it comes to robotics and smart appliances, but until now, such products have had limited use. With the company’s latest announcement, this will change. The electronics giant has confirmed that it’s currently investing a lot of resources into robots in the hope of capitalizing on advanced AI, which could eventually be implemented into products that combine hardware with artificial intelligence in order to work with smart home appliances as well as to develop machines that could perform everyday tasks. “We will prepare for the future by aggressively investing in smart home, robots and key components and strengthen the home appliances business’s capabilities,” said Jo Seung-jin, head of LG’s appliances business.

As of now, there’s no time frame for when we’ll see the results of these investments on the shelves, but LG already has plans for products that will work with air conditioners and washing machines, though combining AI with self-driving cars is also something the company is researching. Although such plans aren’t exactly detailed, the investment does hint at a change in the way LG is treating robotics. Up until now, the company has only experimented with products of limited use, but the new change in focus hints at robotics becoming one of LG’s main focus points, meaning that, for consumers, having a robot in their homes could become the norm. Currently, LG has not confirmed the amount of money it plans to invest in robotics.  Cont'd...

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Personal & Service Robots - Featured Product

ST Robotics - r12 robot arm

ST Robotics - r12 robot arm

ST Robotics have decades of experience in industrial robots having sold hundreds of robots over the years. The company has 3 main models, R12, R17 and R19 all using a unique simple industrial technology that dramatically reduces costs resulting in the lowest priced industrial robots available. The same uncomplicated technology vastly improves reliability. ST backs this up with a 2 year warranty. Typical applications are routine testing, sample handling and also education. The software is a different paradigm from most robots. It is command based; you type a command and see immediate action. Programming is a building block approach, building confidence as you program in small 'mind-sized bytes'. ST offers free unlimited technical support.