Giving Artificial Hands a Sense of Touch

One of the biggest challenges in prosthetic hand development is designing a method that would let prosthetic hands transmit haptic information — the sense of touch — to patients. Machine Design magazine has an article about Kinea Design's new approach that provides wearers with more sensory information, including contact pressure, friction, texture, and temperature. The full article can be read here.

Improvements To 3D Navigation Using Octomap And ROS

Armin Hornung made major improvements to the OctoMap 3D mapping library. Scan insertions are now twice as fast as before for real-time map updates and tree traversals are now possible in a flexible and efficient manner using iterators. The new ROS interface provides conversions from most common ROS datatypes, and Octomap server was updated for incremental 3D mapping. Armin also worked on creating a dynamically updatable collision map for tabletop manipulation. The collider package uses OctoMap to provide map updates from laser and dense stereo sensors at a rate of about 10Hz.

The complete summary is available here.

Using The Kinect As A 3D Scanner

“3D Scan 2.0″ is a project at Bergakademie Freiberg University that uses the Microsoft Kinect and a set of AR markers as a 3d scanner. Using the AR markers for positioning guides you move the Kinect camera around the object collecting point clouds that are then assembled into a solid mesh using Poisson Surface Reconstruction. Further information along with the source code is available at the project homepage.

Steerable Vibrobots

Hizook has a article featuring examples of robots that use simple vibration motors to achieve steerable motion.  The website is also looking into producing and selling a tiny (18mm long) IR  controlled steerable vibrobot origanlly designed by Naghi Sotoudeh. The article can be found here and be sure to leave them a comment if you would be interested in purchasing a Hizook robot.

New Cornell Research On Object Identification Within Enviroments

In Cornell's Personal Robotics Laboratory, a team led by Ashutosh Saxena, assistant professor of computer science, is teaching robots to manipulate objects and find their way around in new environments. The researchers trained a robot by giving it 24 office scenes and 28 home scenes in which they had labeled most objects. The computer examines such features as color, texture and what is nearby and decides what characteristics all objects with the same label have in common. In a new environment, it compares each segment of its scan with the objects in its memory and chooses the ones with the best fit.

 

Handroid

Handroid is a new robotic hand made by Japanese company ITK. It uses a system of tendon-like wires and their differential contraction moves every digit with precision. ITK plans to commercialize the Handroid in about two years for about $6,500 per unit.

'Father of Java' leaves Android maker Google For A True Robotics Company

James Gosling -- the so-called "father of Java" -- left Google on Tuesday to join a company that is looking to scatter thousands of robots around the Earth's oceans. Gosling will become chief software architect for Sunnyvale startup Liquid Robotics, a 4-year-old company that places 7-foot-long robots resembling surfboards in the ocean to collect and transmit data for a variety of uses. Called Wave Gliders, the devices are powered by wave energy, with the constant up-and-down motion providing energy that pulls the robots through the ocean.

New ISO Robot Safety Standards Published

Recently they announced the ISO 10218-1 standard for the robot, and the ISO 10218-2 standard for the robot systems and integration. For more info on what's changed from the older paper and what's been added read more here.

New Research Brings Simulations Of Complex Objects To Real-time

Jernej Barbič and Yili Zhao of USC preseneted a paper at this years SIGGRAPH that demonstrates a method of simulating deformation of large complex objects in real-time by decomposing the mesh into several subdomains. Here is the abstract:

This paper shows a method to extend 3D nonlinear elasticity model reduction to open-loop multi-level reduced deformable structures. Given a volumetric mesh, we decompose the mesh into several subdomains, build a reduced deformable model for each domain, and connect the domains using inertia coupling. This makes model reduction deformable simulations much more versatile: localized deformations can be supported without prohibitive computational costs, parts can be re-used and precomputation times shortened. Our method does not use constraints, and can handle large domain rigid body motion in addition to large deformations, due to our derivation of the gradient and Hessian of the rotation matrix in polar decomposition. We show real-time examples with multi-level domain hierarchies and hundreds of reduced degrees of freedom.

They are also doing experiments to combine the simulation with haptic feedback to allow real-time interactions with the simulations. You can watch a video here, or visit the USC's page with the full paper here.

San Francisco Chronicle Profiles Willow Garage

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interview with Willow Garage about the PR2 robot, ROS and their dreams to create a new industry in personal robotics.

IBM's Cognitive Computing Chips: Further Reading

Earlier today IBM announced an experimental computer chip in which the computational elements and RAM are wired together much closer together than standard CPUs available today. IBM has made two prototypes of the new chip, which it calls a “neurosynaptic core.” Both are built on a standard semiconductor platform with 256 “neurons,” the chip’s computational components. RAM units on the chip act as synapses; one of the chips has 262,144 synapses, while the other has 65,536.

Nature magazine has a run down of what is new about theses chips, what they propose to achieve here.

To understand what makes this approach different you might want to read more about about the current CPU archecture model: Von Neumann, or stored-program architecture (wikipedia). The current model has an inherit bottleneck (wikipedia).

Also here is IBM's official research blog post about the announcement and they plan to release further details at the IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference on September 20 in San Jose, California.

 

Foot-Bots, Hand-Bots, and Eye-Bots

Travis Deyle, at Hizook has a good run down of The Swarmanoid project. Its a co-op research funded by the European Commission to build and design a distributed robotic system.  The swarmanoid that we intend to build will be comprised of numerous (about 60) autonomous robots of three types: eye-bots,hand-bots, and foot-bots.

George C. Devol, Inventor of Unimate, Dies at 99

George C. Devol, the inventor of the first robot arm: "Unimate", died on Thursday at his home in Wilton, Conn. He was 99. In May of this year, Mr. Devol was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The citation states, in part, “George Devol’s patent for the first digitally operated programmable robotic arm represents the foundation of the modern robotics industry.”

Here is his NY Times obituary and a reprint of a Robot Magazine article titled The Rise And Fall Of Unimation. It profiles the history of Unimation, the original company Devol and partner Joseph F. Engelberger formed to produce the Unimate.

Pipetel's Pipeline Inspection Robots

Pipetel's Explorer is an un-tethered, modular, remotely controllable, self-powered inspection robot for the visual and non-destructive inspection of 6" and 8" natural gas un-piggable transmission pipelines. The most prominent reasons that render a pipeline un-piggable are flow rates that are lower than needed to propel an in-line inspection tool (pig); the presence of obstacles such as valves, mitered bends, back-to-back in and out-of-plane bends; and the cost and operational complications associated with installation of launching and receiving equipment. Explorer can also be used for distribution pipelines as a pre-inspection technology for other rehabilitation and repair techniques. 

The Explorer platform uses a Remote Field Eddy Current Sensor (RFEC) which is a non-destructive inspection sensor that uses low frequency alternating current to measure wall thickness for the entire pipe circumference. Explorer also incorporates two fisheye cameras at each end of the robot that provide high quality visual inspection for locating joints, tees and other pipeline appurtenances. As an in-line inspection tool, Explorer is launced operated and retrieved under live conditions and can negotiate diameter changes, bends and tees up to 90° as well as inclined and vertical sections of the pipeline network.

Modkit

Modkit is an in-browser graphical programming environment for microcontrollers. Modkit allows you to program Arduino and Compatible hardware using simple graphical blocks and/or traditional text code. You start by configuring your hardware and then writing programs for that hardware configuration. With Modkit, you are able to configure your hardware graphically. You then snap together graphical code blocks to build programs, in a graphical programming language inside your browser. Finally using the downloadable widget you then send the finished code to your physical device.

The Modkit MotoProto Shield for Arduino that makes it easy to connect up to 4 sensors and control two DC motors as well as a 16X2 character LCD. The sensor jacks accept 2.5mm cables and provide access to VCC, GND, and an analog input.

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