Robotics, Trump and Brexit turn up the heat amid the snow of Davos

Graeme Wearden for The Guardian:  The “fourth industrial revolution” will once again be a key theme at this year’s Davos, where the focus will be on the problems created by technologies such as smart robots and driverless cars. The WEF will examine whether the loss to these innovations of millions of jobs is undermining social cohesion and contributing to the rise of populist parties.

Davos will also consider whether increased use of artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” are laying firms open to a new wave of cyberthreats and security beaches. This area of technology has until now been only lightly regulated; is the world ready to hand more decision-making powers to machines?  Full article:

Robots: Legal Affairs Committee calls for EU-wide rules

EU Parliament News:  EU rules for the fast-evolving field of robotics, to settle issues such as compliance with ethical standards and liability for accidents involving driverless cars, should be put forward by the EU Commission, urged the Legal Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Rapporteur Mady Delvaux (S&D, LU) said: “A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics. In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework”. Her report, approved by 17 votes to 2, with 2 abstentions, looks at robotics-related issues such as liability, safety and changes in the labour market.

MEPs stress that EU-wide rules are needed to fully exploit the economic potential of robotics and artificial intelligence and guarantee a standard level of safety and security. The EU needs to take the lead on regulatory standards, so as not to be forced to follow those set by third states, argues the report.  Full Release:

The 'intelligent' robot companion that plays chess as a hobby, serves coffee and learns from its own experiences

The Daily Mail:  A robot developed by engineers in Taiwan can pour coffee and move chess pieces on a board against an opponent - but he's looking for a real job.

The robot spent last week playing games against opponents at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It was displaying what developers call an 'intelligent vision system' which can see its environment and act with greater precision than its peers.

With this enhanced vision, the robot can perform variety of tasks for service and manufacturing, and can also learn on the job with artificial intelligence.  Playing chess is just a hobby showcasing the robot's visual acuity - such as the ability to distinguish between different chessmen- and dexterity in gripping and moving objects.  Cont'd...

US Military Unleashes Swarm of Micro Drones Over California

From Seeker:  The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones.

The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction.

Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers.

The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.

"The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing," it said.  Cont'd...

Why Robotics Will Change Agriculture

Rob Trice & Seana Day via Forbes:  Last month as our Mixing Bowl colleagues Michael Rose and An Wang were interviewing Sonny Ranaswamy of the USDA’s NIFA to better understand current US food and agriculture labor issues, we were representing The Mixing Bowl in discussions on potential solutions to food production labor issues through automation and robotics.

At this year’s RoboUniverse event in San Diego there was a full-day track on December 14th dedicated to the application of robotics to agriculture. The industry track, pulled together in great part by Nathan Dorn, CEO of Food Origins and an Advisor to The Mixing Bowl, featured a knowledgeable group of automation/robotics experts and food producers who drew on their experience to define the opportunities and sharpen focus on the challenges. Nathan authored a detailed summary of the day in a post on Agfunder.

Our conclusion is that there is no denying that we are still in the early days of adoption of robotics in agriculture.  Cont'd...

4 of the Coolest New Robots at CES

Sarah Solomon for The Street:  CES has kicked into high gear in Vegas this week, and companies are betting on the future of home robot companions as well as robots to entertain and teach your kids. While many of these robots perform the same smart home control functions, they have varying personalities and abilities that you can pick and choose from based on your existing home capabilities and preferences.

Here are four show-stoppers impressing those at CES. The LG Hub Robot May Soon Be Your New Housekeeper... Cont'd.

Google Tasks Robots with Learning Skills from One Another via Cloud Robotics

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Humans use language to tap into the knowledge of others and learn skills faster. This helps us hone our intuition and go through our daily activities more efficiently. Inspired by this, Google Research, DeepMind (its UK artificial intelligence lab), and Google X have decided to allow their robots share their experiences. Sharing the learning process among multiple robots, the research team has considerably expedited general-purpose skill acquisition of robots. 

Using an artificial neural network, we can teach a robot to achieve a goal by analyzing the result of its previous experiences. At first, the robot may seem to act randomly simply working based on trial and error. However, it examines the result of each trial and, if satisfactory, focuses on similar experiments during the next trials. Making a connection between each experience and the obtained result, the robot would be able to gradually make better choices.  Cont'd...

Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

Tom Simonite for MIT Technology Review:  Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.  Cont'd...

Amazon patents system to defend drones against hackers, jammers … and arrows

Alan Boyle for GeekWire:  If there are any Robin Hoods out there who are thinking about shooting down drones while they’re making deliveries, Amazon has a patented plan to stop you.

The patent, filed in 2014 but published just last week, lays out countermeasures for potential threats ranging from computer hacking to lightning flashes to bows and arrows.

If nothing else, the 33-page application illustrates how many things could possibly go wrong with an autonomous navigation system for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

The “compromise system” that Amazon’s engineers propose relies on an array of sensors to orient the drone based on the sun’s position in the sky, if need be. That’s in case the drone gets confused by, say, lightning or a muzzle flash.  Cont'd...

The Aggressively Flying Quadrotor

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Recently, Vijay Kumar’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with researchers from Qualcomm has unveiled a quadrotor which can fly aggressively through a window. You may think that you have seen similar robots before; however, there is a big difference between previously designed robots and this new technology.

Generally, to exhibit challenging maneuvers, a quadrotor depends on an array of cameras mounted on the walls and some external processors. The image captured by the cameras is processed and the outcome is delivered to the robot. The computer can issue precise commands and the only thing that the robot needs to do is to follow the orders. However, the new robot performs both the image capturing and processing onboard.

The quadrotor carries an IMU, a Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Hexagon DSP. With the onboard sensors and processors, the robot is able to perform localization, state estimation, and path planning autonomously.  Cont'd...

Robotics Veteran Raises Venture Capital to Build Exoskeleton

Alistair Blair for Bloomberg Technology:  The word "robot" conjures images of bulky, metal humanoid objects moving awkwardly. Robotics veteran Rich Mahoney is trying to change that perception by creating a robotic exoskeleton people can wear.

After more than seven years running a robotics group at Silicon Valley research institution SRI International, Mahoney left about a year ago to form a startup called Superflex. On Tuesday, the company said it raised $9.6 million from investors including Japanese venture capital group Global Brain and Horizons Ventures, the VC fund of Asian billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Superflex is developing a lightweight suit with electric "muscles" that help the elderly and other less-mobile people move around. The system, which will look a bit like a unitard, is designed to provide the wearer with extra strength to get up from a chair or stand for longer. The device has thin actuators built in that use battery power to contract at the same time as people's real muscles.  Cont'd...

Japan's Rust Belt Counting on Robonomics to Run Assembly Lines

Yoshiaki Nohara, Toru Fujioka, and Daniel Moss for Bloomberg:  A withering factory town in Japan’s Rust Belt is looking for revival through a dose of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s "robot revolution."

Kadoma’s population has declined 13 percent as the nation ages, prompting mergers among elementary schools and emergency services departments. Factories can’t find enough people to run assembly lines, further threatening an industrial base that includes titan Panasonic Corp. and smaller businesses like Izumo Co., a maker of industrial rubber.

Yet Izumo President Tsutomu Otsubo doesn’t believe the solution involves finding more people. He’d rather find more machines to do the work so his company can capitalize on Abe’s plan to quadruple Japan’s robotics sector into a 2.4 trillion yen ($20 billion) industry by 2020.  Cont'd...

An Open Source Driving Agent from comma.ai

From comma.ai:  Last week, we open sourced an advanced driver assistance system in order to help accelerate the future of self driving cars and provide a platform anyone can build on top of. We released both openpilot, driving agent research software, and NEO, a robotics platform capable of running openpilot, under the MIT license.  

openpilot is an open source adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist system, both safety features available on modern cars. We would like to build the best ones on the market, and help you retrofit them to existing cars.  

NEO is an open source robotics research platform. It is centered around an Android phone, similar to Android Based Robots. The modern smartphone is an incredible platform packed with sensors and processing power. NEO also includes a cooling solution and a CAN interface board. CAN is a networking protocol used in cars, trucks, power wheelchairs, golf carts, and many other robotics applications.  

With a forthcoming openpilot release, it will become easier for researchers to add support for their own vehicle. On older cars, some actuators may be harder to control than others, but it should be very possible to control the gas electronically to have a gas only adaptive cruise control. It's also possible for researchers to add mechanical actuators for the controls that cannot be electronically actuated.

Have fun, be safe, and let's usher in the future of self driving cars together... (Github repo)(Interview)

Future Drones Will Fly as Silent as Owls, as Steady as Bees

Glenn McDonald for Seeker:  Want to know what drones of the future will look like?

So does David Lentink, editor of Interface Focus, a journal that, as its title suggests, looks at the interface of different scientific disciplines. Each issue zeroes in on a particular intersection of physical sciences and life sciences and invites the world's top scholars to publish their latest work.

The latest issue of Interface Focus brings together biologists and engineers to discuss a topic that's relatively straightforward and, well, pretty empirically cool:

"It's completely focused on how animals fly and how that can help us build flying robots," said Lentink, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford.  Can't argue with that.

The new issue features 18 newly published papers on various ways that engineers are borrowing ideas from nature to make the next generation of drones and aerial robots. Several of the papers detail prototype drones that have already been built and tested.  Cont'd...

DIY Position Tracking Using HTC Vive's Lighthouse

 

From Alexander Shtuchkin:

Code & schematics for position tracking sensor using HTC Vive's Lighthouse system and a Teensy board.

  • General purpose indoor positioning sensor, good for robots, drones, etc.
  • 3d position accuracy: currently ~10mm; less than 2mm possible with additional work.
  • Update frequency: 30 Hz
  • Output formats: Text; Mavlink ATT_POS_MOCAP via serial; Ublox GPS emulation (in works)
  • HTC Vive Station visibility requirements: full top hemisphere from sensor. Both stations need to be visible.
  • Positioning volume: same as HTC Vive, approx up to 4x4x3 meters.
  • Cost: ~$10 + Teensy 3.2 ($20) (+ Lighthouse stations (2x $135))
  • Skills to build: Low complexity soldering; Embedded C++ recommended for integration to your project.

(Github page)

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