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...

Safety solutions for intelligent human-robot collaboration

Fanny Platbrood for SafeToWork:  Human-robot collaboration (HRC) describes a work scenario in which humans and automated machines share and work in the same workspace at the same time. Driven by Industry 4.0, this model of collaboration promises highly flexible workflows, maximum system throughput and productivity, as well as economic efficiency. However, ensuring that HRC is actually able to live up to this promise requires exactly the right safety technology for the application in question.

One of the major issues associated with Industry 4.0 is making work processes flexible. At the extreme end of the spectrum, this may involve manufacturing products in batch size 1 under industrial mass-production conditions – that is, manufacturing unique items on a conveyor belt.   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...

Sony company chief hints at company's plans to head into robotics and AI

SHIVALI BEST FOR MAILONLINE:  While Sony is currently one of the leading producers of smartphones, cameras and home entertainment systems, the company may soon be heading into the realm of robotics and AI. On Thursday, Kazuo Hirai, CEO of the Tokyo-based company, took to the stage at the IFA electronics show in Berlin to discuss the firm's newest products.He said that Sony was keen to explore new areas of technology, and that artificial intelligence and robotics were part of that.

The move towards robotics and AI is part of Sony's 'last one inch' mantra, that refers to getting products close to consumers.  Mr Hirai said: 'I think the combination of 'the last one inch' - things that you hold in your hand to access or upload information, entertainment and so on - combined with AI and robotics is the area that is going to be a future growth area in a big way for Sony.  Cont'd...

The First Autonomous, Entirely Soft Robot

From Leah Burrows and Harvard:  A team of Harvard University researchers with expertise in 3-D printing, mechanical engineering, and microfluidics has demonstrated the first autonomous, untethered, entirely soft robot. This small, 3-D-printed robot — nicknamed the “octobot” — could pave the way for a new generation of such machines...

...Through our hybrid assembly approach, we were able to 3-D print each of the functional components required within the soft robot body, including the fuel storage, power, and actuation, in a rapid manner,” said Lewis. “The octobot is a simple embodiment designed to demonstrate our integrated design and additive fabrication strategy for embedding autonomous functionality.”... (full article)


Chinese robotics makers feast on government subsidies

Li Liuxi and Chen Na for Caixin Online:  Local governments pumped hundreds of millions of yuan into the robotics industry in the first half of the year, helping to boost profits by as much as 60 percent in those companies rushing to take advantage of the generosity.

With strong support from Beijing, China has embarked on a robot-building frenzy in the last two years in an effort to move beyond traditional manufacturing. But as often happens in industries targeted for development, poorly designed incentive programs often lead to abuse that results in millions of dollars in wasted funds.

Similar waste in China's electric-vehicle and renewable-energy sectors has led to the buildup of huge new capacity that is sometimes unusable or of such low quality that no market exists for the products.

In the case of robotics makers, Caixin found government funding made up a large portion of profits for a dozen manufactures listed in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing in the first six months of this year.  Cont'd...

The legacy of Willow Garage…The "PARC" for robotics

Kazu Komoto for ReadWrite:  The robotic industries have been one of the hottest topics worldwide since there has been progressing from the traditional manufacturing applications to the non-manufacturing applications such as service industry. Like other industries, startups in US Bay Area cover the whole area of the San Francisco-Silicon Valley has led the innovation. You have heard Savioke developing a butler robot for the hotel industry, Fetch Robotics developing a picking and transport robot for logistics that is also well known as Softbank has invested, and Suitable Technologies which has created a telepresence market.

In such robotics community in Bay Area, a group which has been recognized and respected is Willow Garage. There is a common point that all founders of companies mentioned above used to work for Willow Garage. Today, we are going to have a close look at Willow Garage, which is said: “Willow Garage in robotics industry is something like Bell Labs and Xerox Parc in the personal computer industry.”  Cont'd...

Dexmo Robotics has created a mechanical exoskeleton glove for VR use

Julia Alexander for Polygon:  With HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, the first wave of mainstream, consumer VR has officially arrived, and with it, comes the question of how to constantly better the experience for those using it.

As it stands right now, those who want to use devices like the Vive or Rift must do so with controllers; the Rift uses an Xbox One controller while the Vive comes with its own dedicated peripheral. Both are functional and serve their purpose, but they come with certain limitations when trying to achieve the ideal VR experience.

Now, Dexmo Robotics has unveiled what it thinks will solve some of those frustrations: a mechanical exoskeleton glove that can be paired with VR headsets. The glove, which can be seen in the video above, provides 11 degrees of freedom for movement, and the company touts the fact that each finger comes with a pressured sensor. Essentially, if you’re playing a first-person shooter, you’ll be able to feel the in-game gun's trigger bring squeezed as well as the recoil.  Full Article:

See what this squishy octopus-inspired robot can do

The latest revolutionary robot isn’t the metallic, costly machine you’d expect: It’s squishy like Silly Putty, wireless, battery-less and made for pennies by a 3D printer.

Meet Octobot. It looks like a tiny octopus and is designed to mimic that slithery creature to get through cracks and tight places, making it ideal as a rescue robot.

A team at Harvard University has created a robot - actually about 300 of them, since they are so cheap to make - that is opposite of the common view of a robot. Soft, not hard. Flexibl,e not rigid. It’s not mechanical, nor electrical. It’s powered by fluids. The discovery is described, photographed and shown on video in the scientific journal Nature.  Cont'd...


Kelsey D. Atherton for Popular Science:  Flying machines are hard secrets to keep. By their very nature, they soar into the heavens, above the heads of those below. America's military tends to keep its secret planes secret by only flying them in vast swathes of empty desert, until they’re ready for public debut.

But that’s not really an option for Amazon, which is testing delivery drones in the United Kingdom (while it attempts to weave its way through U.S. regulations). So where, exactly, are Amazon drones flying?

A field eight miles south of Cambridge named “Worsted Lodge.” No, really.

In a thorough photo-essay at Business Insider, reporter Sam Shead pinpoints and explores the site and the field, until turned away by a security guard.  Cont'd...

Robot Octopus Points the Way to Soft Robotics With Eight Wiggly Arms

Cecilia Laschi for IEEE Spectrum:  The sun was sparkling on the Mediterranean Sea on the afternoon when a graduate student from my lab tossed our prize robot into the water for the first time. I watched nervously as our electronic creation sank beneath the waves. But the bot didn’t falter: When we gave it the command to swim, it filled its expandable mantle with water, then jetted out the fluid to shoot forward. When we ordered it to crawl, it stiffened its eight floppy arms in sequence to push itself along the sandy bottom and over scattered rocks. And when we instructed it to explore a tight space beneath the dock, the robot inserted its soft body into the narrow gap without difficulty.

As a professor at the BioRobotics Institute at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in Pisa, Italy, I lead a team investigating soft robotics. This relatively new field of research has the potential to upend our ideas about what robots are capable of and where they can be useful. I chose to build robots that mimic the form of the octopus for two reasons. First, because they’re well suited to demonstrate the many advantages that come when a machine can flex and squish as needed. Also, it’s an excellent engineering challenge: An octopus with eight wiggly arms, which must work together in the face of complex hydrodynamic forces, is very difficult to design and control.  Cont'd...

NASA's new $1 million Space Robotics Challenge to prepare robots for Mars journey

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  Last year at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, NASA announced a new challenge for humanoid robots: the Space Robotics Challenge (SRC), which will “prepare robots for the journey to Mars.” Just like the DRC, the first stage of the SRC will consist of a virtual challenge, run in the Gazebo simulator, followed up by a physical challenge using NASA’s R5 Valkyrie robots.

As of yesterday, NASA has opened registration for the SRC, and we’ll take a look at the format of the competition, the challenges that teams will need to complete, and what they can take home for winning.  Cont'd...

Pepper the 'emotional robot' makes its way to Silicon Valley

Lauren Goode for The Verge:  Pepper, the humanoid robot created by Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank Mobile, is slowly making its way to the US — and it’s starting in Silicon Valley. The robot was seen in action this week at the b8ta store in Palo Alto, California, a gadget shop launched by former Nest employees.

Pepper was on a demo loop at the store, so we weren’t able to fully interact with it. But the idea behind Pepper is that it’s supposed to interpret and respond to a variety of customer needs. Using a combination of 2D and 3D cameras in its eyes and mouth, plus four multi-directional microphones, Pepper is able to "read" four human emotions — happiness, joy, sadness, and anger — and respond accordingly. It rolls up to you, raises its hands in greeting when you introduce yourself, and turns its head toward you when you move or talk. It is toylike and adorable.  Cont'd...

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