US to sail submarine drones in South China Sea

Geoff Dyer for CNBC:  As it watches China build up its presence in the South China Sea, one reclaimed island at a time, the US military is betting on a new technology to help retain its edge — submarine drones.

During the past six months, the Pentagon has started to talk publicly about a once-secret program to develop unmanned undersea vehicles, the term given to the drone subs that are becoming part of its plan to deter China from trying to dominate the region.

Ashton Carter, US defense secretary, made special mention of drone subs in a speech about military strategy in Asia and hinted at their potential use in the South China Sea, which has large areas of shallower water.

The Pentagon's investment in subs "includes new undersea drones in multiple sizes and diverse payloads that can, importantly, operate in shallow water, where manned submarines cannot", said Mr Carter, who visited a US warship in the South China Sea on Friday.  Cont'd...

Over 1,000 Student-Led Robotics Teams Converge At VEX Worlds

VEX Worlds 2016 kicks off this week! Presented by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation and the Northrop Grumman Foundation, this culminating event brings together the top 1,000 teams from around the world in one city and under one roof for one incredible celebration of robotics engineering, featuring the world's largest and fastest growing international robotics programs - the VEX IQ Challenge, the VEX Robotics Competition and VEX U. On April 20-23, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., over 16,000 participants from 37 nations will come together to put their engineering expertise to the test as they seek to be crowned the Champions of VEX Worlds.   Follow the competition here:

Shockingly, Robots Are Really Bad at Waiting Tables

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  According to Chinese newspaper Workers’ Daily, two restaurants in Guangzhou, China, that gained some amount of notoriety for their use of robotic waiters have now been forced to close down. One employee said, “the robots weren’t able to carry soup or other food steady and they would frequently break down. The boss has decided never to use them again.” Yeah, we can’t say we’re surprised.

As far as I can tell, all of these waiter robots can do essentially one thing: travel along a set path while holding food. They can probably stop at specific tables, and maybe turn or sense when something has been taken from them, but that seems to be about it. “Their skills are somewhat limited,” a robot restaurant employee told Workers’ Daily. “They can’t take orders or pour hot water for customers.” Those are just two of the many, many more skills that human servers have, because it’s necessary to have many, many more skills than this to be a good server.  Cont'd...

Toyota Expands AI, Robotics Research to Third Facility

Kirsten Korosec for Fortune:  Toyota  will expand the footprint of its artificial intelligence and robotics research center by adding a third facility in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, made the announcement on Thursday during his keynote speech at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose. The Ann Arbor facility will be located near the University of Michigan, where it will fund research in artificial intelligence, robotics, and materials science.

Last year, the world’s largest automaker said it would invest $1 billion over the next five years in a research center for artificial intelligence to be based in Palo Alto, Calif. The institute aims to bridge the gap between research in AI and robotics in order to bring this technology to market. The technology is largely being developed for self-driving cars, but the institute is also researching and developing AI products for the home.  Cont'd...

Efficient 3D Object Segmentation from Densely Sampled Light Fields with Applications to 3D Reconstruction

From Kaan Yücer, Alexander Sorkine-Hornung, Oliver Wang, Olga Sorkine-Hornung:

Precise object segmentation in image data is a fundamental problem with various applications, including 3D object reconstruction. We present an efficient algorithm to automatically segment a static foreground object from highly cluttered background in light fields. A key insight and contribution of our paper is that a significant increase of the available input data can enable the design of novel, highly efficient approaches. In particular, the central idea of our method is to exploit high spatio-angular sampling on the order of thousands of input frames, e.g. captured as a hand-held video, such that new structures are revealed due to the increased coherence in the data. We first show how purely local gradient information contained in slices of such a dense light field can be combined with information about the camera trajectory to make efficient estimates of the foreground and background. These estimates are then propagated to textureless regions using edge-aware filtering in the epipolar volume. Finally, we enforce global consistency in a gathering step to derive a precise object segmentation both in 2D and 3D space, which captures fine geometric details even in very cluttered scenes. The design of each of these steps is motivated by efficiency and scalability, allowing us to handle large, real-world video datasets on a standard desktop computer... (paper)

Robotics makes baby steps toward solving Japan's child care shortage

Roy Bishop for The Japan Times:  Child care is a hard job, but somebody, or something, has got to do it.

Japanese researchers have developed androids to meet that need, which includes happily reading that fairy tale again and again and again.

The androids, which were created by a team of education and robotics specialists at a research facility in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, are part of a larger system called RoHo Care. Short for Robotic Hoikujo (day care center), RoHo is being touted as a high-tech solution to the staffing crisis that forced the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to announce emergency measures this week.

“I never thought I’d see this day, but we’re now confident that RoHo could blaze a trail for child care worldwide,” said team leader Makoto Hara.

At a briefing on Thursday, Hara introduced a “care-droid” prototype named Or-B, the core component of RoHo’s vision for day care assistance, and said it will undergo a trial run this summer before full-scale implementation in 2018.  Cont'd...

OpenROV Trident Pre-orders

From OpenROV:

OpenROV Trident Features:

Depth: Capable of 100m (will ship with a 25m  tether - longer tethers will be sold separately)
Mass: 2.9 kg
Top Speed: 2 m/s
Run Time: 3 hours

Connectivity

The data connection to Trident is a major evolution from the connection setup of the original OpenROV kit. It uses a neutrally buoyant tether to communicate to a towable buoy on the surface (radio waves don't travel well in water) and the buoy connects to the pilot using a long range WiFi signal. Using a wireless towable buoy greatly increases the practical range of the vehicle while doing transects and search patterns since a physical connection between the vehicle and the pilot doesn't need to be maintained. You can connect to the buoy and control Trident using a tablet or laptop from a boat or from the shore... (preorder $1,199.00)

 

America, Regulate Drones Now or Get Left Behind

Missy Cummings for Wired:  Drones are a big business and getting bigger, a reality that comes with both economic opportunities and risks. The UAV market is set to jump from $5.2 billion in 2013 to $11.6 billion in 2023. Opportunities for delivery services, cinematography, and even flying cell towers could introduce thousands of jobs and reinvigorate an ailing aerospace market.

At the same time, drone sales to hobbyists have exploded. Registered drone operators in the US now outnumber registered manned aircraft. In tandem with that growth, close calls with commercial aircraft have more than doubled in the past two years. An analysis of FAA reports by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone counts 28 instances in which pilots changed course in order to avoid a collision.  Cont'd...

Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

Brad Stone and Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf -- then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology. 

But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.  Full Article:

Robotics expert: Self-driving cars not ready for deployment

Joan Lowy for PHYS.org:  Self-driving cars are "absolutely not" ready for widespread deployment despite a rush to put them on the road, a robotics expert warned Tuesday.

The cars aren't yet able to handle bad weather, including standing water, drizzling rain, sudden downpours and snow, Missy Cummings, director of Duke University's robotics program, told the Senate commerce committee. And they certainly aren't equipped to follow the directions of a police officer, she said.

While enthusiastic about research into self-driving cars, "I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver's seat," Cummings said.

It's relatively easy for hackers to take control of the GPS navigation systems of self-driving cars, Cummings said.

"It is feasible that people could commandeer self-driving vehicles ... to do their bidding, which could be malicious or simply just for the thrill of it," she said, adding that privacy of personal data is another concern.  Cont'd...

Artificial Skin That Glows, Stretches Could Change Robotics?

By Brendan Byrne for ValueWalk:  Researchers at Cornell University have developed an electronic artificial skin that doesn’t mind being stretched to 500% its original size (cell phone), glows in the dark and can move a bit like a worm.

In a paper published yesterday in the journal Science, a team of researchers showed off glowing electric skin that could be put to use in future wearables. While artificial skin that responds to commands has been done before, electronics embedded in the skin have generally broken when stretched. However, the team seems to have leaped over this hurdle by using hyperelastic, light-emitting capacitor (HLEC) technology.

“It’s actually much, much, much more stretchable than human skin or octopus skin,” says Chris Larson, a doctoral candidate and researcher in Cornell’s Organic Robotics Lab. “In terms of texture, it’s actually more like a rubber band or a balloon.”

While Larson freely admits that he doesn’t know much about cephalopods, the team was inspired by biology, specifically, the octopus beak with its ability to both move and stretch.

“The researchers created a three-chamber robot from the material, with the newly developed ‘skin’ layers on top, and inflatable layers below that allow movement,” according to a release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “As the chambers expand linearly, the robot moves forward with a worm-like wiggle.”  Cont'd...

Postdoc's Trump Twitterbot Uses AI To Train Itself On Transcripts From Trump Speeches

From MIT:

This week a postdoc at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) developed a Trump Twitterbot that Tweets out remarkably Trump-like statements, such as “I’m what ISIS doesn’t need.” The bot is based on an artificial-intelligence algorithm that is trained on just a few hours of transcripts of Trump’s victory speeches and debate performances...

... (MIT article) (twitter feed)

How This New Drone Can Track Your Every Move

Lisa Eadicicco  for Time:  Drones can already follow professional snowboarders as they speed down a slope or keep up with mountain bikers racing through rocky terrain. But drone-equipped athletes are usually required to keep their phone nearby, since the aerial devices often rely on handheld devices’ GPS signal to track a person’s location.

DJI’s newest drone, the Phantom 4, claims to eliminate that hassle. The company says the Phantom 4’s new ActiveTrack feature uses the drone’s front-facing sensors to see and track a target.

“Being able to learn about the object, as it squats, as it rotates, as it turns, is really complicated,” says Michael Perry, DJI’s director of strategic partnerships. “When you’re flying toward something, you have to make a decision to fly around it, fly above it, or stop. And to train the system to learn those different functions is also a big challenge.”  Cont'd...

Atlas, The Next Generation

From Boston Dynamics:  A new version of Atlas, designed to operate outdoors and inside buildings. It is specialized for mobile manipulation. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. It uses sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain, help with navigation and manipulate objects. This version of Atlas is about 5' 9" tall (about a head shorter than the DRC Atlas) and weighs 180 lbs.

Roving robot 'ground drones' take to streets for deliveries

MARK BLUNDEN for Evening Standard:  A delivery robot tested among the crowds of central London is set to start being deployed in the capital. 

The self-driving, battery-powered box on wheels is poised to undertake local delivery trials in Greenwich following 3,000 hours of testing.

The robots by Starship Technologies have been described as “ground drones” and were created by former Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.

Their invention is expected to be popular at smaller local businesses, such as bakeries and corner shops, that could send out the robot containing goods in its tub body costing only a pound or two.  Cont'd...

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