Robotics expert: Self-driving cars not ready for deployment

Joan Lowy for  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...

DARPA - FLA Program Takes Flight

They may not have zoomed flawlessly around obstacles like the Millennium Falcon did as it careened through the hull of a crashed Star Destroyer in Star Wars VII. But the sensor-loaded quadcopters that recently got tested in a cluttered hangar in Massachusetts did manage to edge their way around obstacles and achieve their target speeds of 20 meters per second. Moreover, the quadcopters were unmanned … and real. Thus was the initial phase of data collection for DARPA's Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program recently deemed an encouraging success.

DARPA’s FLA program aims to develop and test algorithms that could reduce the amount of processing power, communications, and human intervention needed for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to accomplish low-level tasks, such as navigation around obstacles in a cluttered environment. If successful, FLA would reduce operator workload and stress and allow humans to focus on higher-level supervision of multiple formations of manned and unmanned platforms as part of a single system.  Cont'd...

Earthbound Robots Today Need to Take Flight

Neil Tardella for IEEE Spectrum:  The DARPA Robotics Challenge this past summer showcased how far humanoid robots have come—but also how far they have yet to go before they can tackle real-world practical applications. Even the best of the DRC behemoths stumbled and fell down, proving, as IEEE Spectrum noted at the time, that “not walking is a big advantage.”

There is, in fact, a new not-walking way for robots to perform many kinds of tasks better and faster: the dexterous drone.

A lightweight flying platform with a robotic arm combines the strengths of two rapidly developing, parallel industries. Aerial drones like quadcopters and octocopters have in just the past few years emerged as a viable industrial and consumer product with substantial maneuverability, versatility, and durability. Yet the drones of today are mostly just flying bodies with no arms or hands.  Cont'd...

SoftBank's Pepper Robots to Staff Tokyo Cell Phone Store

BY ANGELA MOSCARITOLO for PCMAG:  SoftBank is giving its Pepper robot a new job with some big responsibilities.  The Japanese telecom giant is planning to open a cell phone store in Tokyo this spring staffed primarily by Pepper robots, according to a report from The Japan Times. About five to six Pepper robots will run the store from March 28 through April 3, and be responsible for helping customers and making sales.  "I don't know how this will turn out, but it should be a quite interesting experiment," SoftBank CEO Ken Miyauchi told the newspaper.  The robots will be able to answer questions about different cell phone options, and when someone's ready to buy, they'll even attempt to complete the sale. SoftBank does plan to have humans at the ready to handle tasks Pepper can't yet do — like checking customer IDs when drawing up a new contract.  Cont'd...


Adam Fabio for Hackaday:  [Kevin Harrington] loves robots, but hates reinventing the wheel every time he creates a new machine. He’s built BowlerStudio: A robotics development platform to combat this problem. BowlerStudio was asemifinalist in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. BowlerStudio is a soup-to-nuts platform for creating all sorts of robots. [Kevin] has integrated Computer Aided Design (CAD), 3D modeling, kinematics, machine vision, and a simulation engine complete with physics modeling into one whopper of a software package. To prove how versatile the system is, he designed a hexapod robot in the CAD portion of the program. The robot then taught itself to walk in the simulation. Once the design was 3D printed, the real robot walked right off the bread board. [Kevin] linked the hardware and software with DyIO, another of his projects.

BowlerStudio is a huge boon for just about any robotics hacker, as well as educators. An entire curriculum could be created around the system. Thanks to its Java roots, BowlerStudio is also a multi-platform. [Kevin] has binaries ready to go for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu.  Cont'd...

Greenbot: Driverless Tractor

From Greenbot:

The Greenbot was introduced at the Agritechnica 2015 trade fair. The Greenbot is the first driverless machine to be developed especially for professionals working in the green sector who have to carry out repetitive tasks on a regular basis, such as working in fruit cultivation, horticulture, agriculture, or the municipal sector.

 The software that controls the fourwheel steering and hydraulic four-wheel drive system is userfriendly, safe and reliable. The Greenbot can be programmed to function fully independent and can be used to replicate tasks recorded in advance using a tractor with a driver. Programs can also be activated using the remote control, and then the Greenbot repeats the instructions. This mode is called ‘Teach & Playback’. The Greenbot is furthermore able to independently plan its own route and operations for specific applications, such as spraying orchards or mowing public green areas... (site)

Is Velo3D Plotting a 3-D Printed Robot Revolution?

Tekla S. Perry for IEEE Spectrum:  Velo3D, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has $22.1 million in venture investment to do something in 3-D printing: That makes it fourth among 2015’s best-funded stealth-mode tech companies in the United States, according to CB Insights. This dollar number is about all the hard news that has come out of this startup, founded in 2014 by Benyamin Butler and Erel Milshtein. But job postings, talks at conferences, and other breadcrumbs left along Velo3D's development trail—has created a sketchy outline of this company’s plans.

Consider which 3-D printing technology is ready for disruption: metal. 3-D printing of plastics took off after 2009, when a key patent that covered the deposition technology expired; we now have desktop printers for 3-D plastic objects as cheap as $350. Printing of metal objects—done regularly in industry, particularly aerospace—uses a different, and, to date, far more expensive technology: selective laser sintering. This technology melts metal powders into solid shapes; it requires high temperatures, and far more complicated equipment than what’s found in the layering sort of printers used for plastic. The patent for this technology expired in early 2014—just before the formation of Velo3D. At the time, industry experts indicated that there wouldn’t be cheap metal printers coming anytime soon, but rather, would only come after “a significant breakthrough on the materials side,” OpenSLS’s Andreas Bastian told GigaOm in 2014. Could Velo3D’s founders have that breakthrough figured out?  Cont'd...

The artist who turned his dead cat into a drone is now building a helicopter out of a cow

From Business Insider:

It all started in 2012, when his cat Orville got hit by a car. Jansen decided it would be a shame to simply bury his late feline friend, so he drew inspiration from his pet's namesake — Orville Wright, one of the Wright Brothers, the inventors of heavier-than-air flight. Jansen gutted Orville, preserved him, and turned him into a custom quadcopter...

... When a friend offered him a dead badger, he immediately accepted and soon settled on a use for it: a submarine. The project is called "Das Boot," a play on the famous German U-boat film "Das Boot," as well as the Dutch word for "badger" — "das." (full story)

CES 2016 - Autonomous Cars Set To Dominate

BY DAVID GILBERT For International Business Times:  As cars become less about horsepower and torque and more about the technology inside, CES has become one of the most important showcases of the year for auto manufacturers. It's a sea change in how cars are built and marketed, with technology now the core, rather than an added feature. Connected, autonomous and electric vehicles will all be on display at CES 2016, with some of the world’s most talk-about companies in the field looking to make a major impact.

First up will be Faraday Future, the secretive startup based in Los Angeles and backed by a Chinese billionaire. It is set to unveil its first ever concept design on Jan. 4, and while all the company has said so far is that it will be an electric vehicle, it is widely believed to feature autonomous capabilities.

While Faraday Future is a relative unknown, one of the world’s biggest automotive companies, Ford, will also be at CES announcing news about the autonomous car it has been testing internally for several years. Among the announcements expected is apartnership with Google to build some of Google’s fleet of self-driving cars.  Cont'd...

Google Attracts Top U.S. Automakers With Self-Driving Technology

Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  Google’s self-driving car technology is attracting top U.S. automakers, as Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors talk with the company while laying the groundwork for a future with autonomous cars.

Ford Motor Co. and Google are discussing working together, including in a joint venture to build cars using Google’s technology, said a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

That follows comments in October from Mark Reuss, product development chief for General Motors Co., that the automaker was “very interested” in exploring ways its manufacturing skills could complement Google’s system. Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, has said repeatedly the past few months that his company wants to work on autonomous driving with technology companies such as Apple Inc. and Google.

“We are entering the era of the technology and software-defined vehicle,” said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president in the automotive practice at Gartner Inc. “You’re just seeing the auto industry recognize the importance of that.”  Cont'd...

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