Self-drive delivery van can be 'built in four hours'

Jane Wakefield for BBC News:   A self-drive electric delivery van, that could be on UK streets next year, has been unveiled at the Wired 2016 conference in London. The vehicle's stripped-back design and lightweight materials mean it can be assembled by one person in four hours, the firm behind it claims. The vehicles will be "autonomous-ready", for when self-drive legislation is in place, the firm said. The government wants to see self-drive cars on the roads by 2020. "We find trucks today totally unacceptable. Loud, polluting and unfriendly," said Denis Sverdlov, chief executive of Charge, the automotive technology firm behind the truck. "We are making trucks the way they should be - affordable, elegant, quiet, clean and safe."   Cont'd...

New US Robotics Roadmap calls for increased regulations, education and research

From Phys.org:  A new U.S. Robotics Roadmap released Oct. 31 calls for better policy frameworks to safely integrate new technologies, such as self-driving cars and commercial drones, into everyday life. The document also advocates for increased research efforts in the field of human-robot interaction to develop intelligent machines that will empower people to stay in their homes as they age. It calls for increased education efforts in the STEM fields from elementary school to adult learners The roadmap's authors, more than 150 researchers from around the nation, also call for research to create more flexible robotics systems to accommodate the need for increased customization in manufacturing, for everything from cars to consumer electronics The goal of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap is to determine how researchers can make a difference and solve societal problems in the United States. The document provides an overview of robotics in a wide range of areas, from manufacturing to consumer services, healthcare, autonomous vehicles and defense. The roadmap's authors make recommendation to ensure that the United States will continue to lead in the field of robotics, both in terms of research innovation, technology and policies.   Cont'd...

Swarm of Origami Robots Can Self Assemble Out of a Single Sheet

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  One of the biggest challenges with swarms of robots is manufacturing and deploying the swarm itself. Even if the robots are relatively small and relatively simple, you’re still dealing with a whole bunch of them, and every step in building the robots or letting them loose is multiplied over the entire number of bots in the swarm. If you’ve got more than a few robots to handle, it starts to get all kinds of tedious. The dream for swarm robotics is to be able to do away with all of that, and just push a button and have your swarm somehow magically appear. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close: At IROS this month, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard presented a paper demonstrating an autonomous collective robotic swarm that can be manufactured in a single flat composite sheet. On command, they’ll rip themselves apart from each other, fold themselves up into origami structures, and head off on a mission en masse.   Cont'd...

As seen on TV! Neural Enhance

From Alex J. Champandard:   As seen on TV! What if you could increase the resolution of your photos using technology from CSI laboratories? Thanks to deep learning and #NeuralEnhance, it's now possible to train a neural network to zoom in to your images at 2x or even 4x. You'll get even better results by increasing the number of neurons or training with a dataset similar to your low resolution image. The catch? The neural network is hallucinating details based on its training from example images. It's not reconstructing your photo exactly as it would have been if it was HD. That's only possible in Hollywood — but using deep learning as "Creative AI" works and it is just as cool!  (github)

Sweden places ban on flying camera drones without surveillance permits

Zoya Teirstein for The Verge:  The Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden just ruled that camera drones qualify as surveillance cameras and require a permit under Sweden's camera surveillance laws. The ruling requires owners to cough up a sizable fee in order to get their equipment off the ground, and paying to start the process is no guarantee a citizen will be granted the right to fly. County administrators will have to consider whether use of a "surveillance camera" overrides the public's right to privacy on a case-by-case basis. Aerial photographers and recreational drone users may have to rely on alternative methods to get their footage. The justices said dash cams and cameras affixed to bicycle handlebars are not in violation of the public's right to privacy because the devices are within reaching distance of the people who operate them. The ruling targets recreational and commercial users alike, and makes zero exceptions for journalists. Sweden's leading drone company Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) said up to 3,000 people may lose their jobs as a result of the court's decision.   Cont'd...

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)  

Foxconn reaches 40,000 robots of original 1 million robot automation goal

From Next Big Future:  In 2011, Foxconn had announced a plan to replace 500,000 mainland Chinese workers with 1 million robots over the next 3-5 years.  Foxconn is the company that builds Apple's iPhone and iPad hardware and many of the android smartphones as well. Foxconn, has so far installed 40,000 production robots across China as it looks to minimize the number of people it employs. With the exception of some components like servo motors and speed reducers, the robots are being built entirely in-house, Foxconn's Dai Chia-peng told Taiwan's Central News Agency, as quoted by DigiTimes. It's unclear how many of the so-called "Foxbots" are being used to manufacture Apple products. The machines are, however, said to be operating an industrial facility in Zhengzhou, a tablet plant in Chengdu, and computer/peripherals plants in Kunshan and Jiashan.    Cont'd...

The 10 Coolest Drones at the World's Biggest Robot War Games

David Hambling for Popular Mechanics:  Unmanned Warrior is the world's biggest robot war game, currently taking place for two weeks off the coast of Scotland. It was proposed by First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas to give airborne, surface, and underwater drones from various suppliers a chance to show off their prowess. Unmanned Warrior is part of Joint Warrior, an exercise involving 30 warships and submarines from 18 nations. But for the newly inaugurated robot portion, the U.S. is a strong presence, with teams from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). As robots continue packing increased capability in smaller, lower-cost packages, these exercises are a glimpse into the future of naval warfare. Of course, none of these drones are armed for these exercises. These Unmanned Warriors are not trusted to carry weapons—at least not yet. The first-ever Unmanned Warrior will wrap up on October 20.   Cont'd...

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...

Japanese Robotics Giant Gives Its Arms Some Brains

Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The big, dumb, monotonous industrial robots found in many factories could soon be quite a bit smarter, thanks to the introduction of machine-learning skills that are moving out of research labs at a fast pace. Fanuc, one of the world’s largest makers of industrial robots, announced that it will work with Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that specializes in artificial intelligence, to add learning capabilities to its products. The deal is important because it shows how recent advances in AI are poised to overhaul the manufacturing industry. Today’s industrial bots are typically programmed to do a single job very precisely and accurately. But each time a production run changes, the robots then need to be reprogrammed from scratch, which takes time and technical expertise.   Cont'd...

Google Canceled the Launch of a Robotic Arm After it Failed the 'Toothbrush Test'

Mark Bergen for Bloomberg:  Google published research this week detailing how its software enables robots to learn from one another. To demonstrate, the company’s scientists showed videos featuring robotic arms whirling inside its labs. Google’s robotics group built those machines and wanted to sell them to manufacturers, warehouse operators and others. However, executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc. nixed the plan because it failed Chief Executive Officer Larry Page’s "toothbrush test," a requirement that the company only ship products used daily by billions of people, according to people familiar with the situation.   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...

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