Kinect Hackers Are Changing the Future of Robotics

For 25 years, the field of robotics has been bedeviled by a fundamental problem: If a robot is to move through the world, it needs to be able to create a map of its environment and understand its place within it. Roboticists have developed tools to accomplish this task, known as simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM. But the sensors required to build that map have traditionally been either expensive and bulky or cheap and inaccurate. On November 4, a solution was discovered-in a videogame. That's the day Microsoft released the Kinect for Xbox 360, a $150 add-on that allows players to direct the action in a game simply by moving their bodies. Most of the world focused on the controller-free interface, but roboticists saw something else entirely: an affordable, lightweight camera that could capture 3-D images in real time. Within weeks of the device's release, YouTube was filled with videos of Kinect-enabled robots. A group from UC Berkeley strapped a Kinect to a quadrotor-a small helicopter with four propellers-enabling it to fly autonomously around a room. A couple of students at the University of Bundeswehr Munich attached a Kinect to a robotic car and sent it through an obstacle course.

American Robot James and German Robot Rosie Hook Up, Make Bavarian Sausage Breakfast Together

Once upon a time, a charming American robot called James met a striking German bot by the name of Rosie. They liked each other, so they moved in together. Now they spend their days taking long walks in the lab and doing other things that robots do.  James is a PR2 robot, built by U.S. robotics firm Willow Garage, and it traveled to Germany as part of the PR2 Beta Program, an effort to popularize personal robots. At the Technical University Munich (TUM), James was introduced to Rosie, a dual-arm robot with a curvy figure and four eyes. Their courtship was at first a bit mechanical, but they soon found many things in common: Both run ROS (Robot Operating System), use Hokuyo laser scanners and Kinect 3D sensors, and have omnidirectional mobile bases. On a recent spring morning, James and Rosie were seen together cooking the traditional Weisswurst Frühstück, a Bavarian sausage breakfast.

Open Source Robotics for the Home

Presentation by Tully Foote of Willow Garage - "Open Source Robotics for the Home" which covers ROS, TurtleBot, and more.

ROS is an open source Robot Operating System that is catching on and promises to allow faster development of robotic systems.




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Intel Invests into Development of Humanoid Robots.

Intel Capital, an investment organization that belongs to Intel Corp. has made its first robotics industry investment, leading a $13 million investment in Aldebaran Robotics. The funding from Intel Capital will play a key role in allowing Aldebaran to develop its product offering into additional vertical sectors such as health and social care. “Robotics is an area that Intel Capital has been interested in for some time. Aldebaran’s work in areas such as voice interaction and video analytics really highlights the advances made in perceptual computing and has the potential to offer innovative products and solutions across a range of sectors," said Marcos Battisti, managing director of Intel Capital in Western Europe and Israel. The company currently manufactures and sells advanced, programmable humanoid robots focused on the education, personal services and research markets. Its products combine a range of facial and voice recognition technologies with location awareness capabilities, providing a flexible platform for application development. The investment from Intel Capiral and other partners will also help Aldebaran streamline its production operations and increase its research and development capabilities.

Silicon Valley Startup Raises $22 million For Solar-Powered, Ocean-Going Robots

Liquid Robotics, a Silicon Valley startup, has raised a $22 million round of funding to expand its fleet of self-propelled, solar-powered, ocean-going robots. Called Wave Gliders, the robots currently are roaming the world's oceans to monitor oil and gas wells, keep tabs water quality in the Gulf of Mexico and gather data on the melting of Arctic icecaps, according to Bill Vass, Liquid Robotics new chief executive. These Roombas-of-the-sea deploy fins that tap the up-and-down movement of waves to propel themselves through the ocean while solar panels power the Wave Gliders' sensor and communications arrays. The base model costs $100,000 and Liquid Robotics has deployed nearly 100 Wave Gliders over the past year-and-a-half that have racked up 150,000 miles of ocean travel, according to the company.

Dr. Mark W. Spong Receives Pioneer in Robotics and Automation Award

IEEE Robotics and Automation Society have awarded the 2011 Pioneer in Robotics and Automation Award to Dr. Mark W. Spong for his innovative contribution to the field of robotics. The Pioneer Award was aimed at honoring persons who have explored new areas of engineering, development or research that played a major role in the growth of robotics and automation. The society selected Spong for his original contributions in the field of robotic control and teleoperators. He has also made significant contributions in the field of robotics education. Spong has authored and co- authored numerous research papers in the robotics field. California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and New Mexico's Sandia National Labs have utilized systems based on the theoretical fundamentals of robot control established by Spong. The results of his work over the past 30 years have been applied in systems used by R&D facilities and companies worldwide.

MIT Wants Robot Servants to Flexibly Juggle Chores

Rosie the robot maid may not remain a 'Jetsons' fantasy for too much longer. MIT computer scientists have honed a decision-making process that may help robots juggle diverse chores such as preparing dinner or loading laundry into the washing machine. That means getting robots to do advance planning to accomplish their goals, but not planning out each step in such detail as to leave robots without room for flexibility. It's similar to how humans know how to get to the airport early and check in to board a plane, but don't plan their exact walking routes through the airport. "We're introducing a hierarchy and being aggressive about breaking things up into manageable chunks," said Tomas Lozano-Prez, co-director of MIT's Center for Robotics. The MIT approach creates a rough timeline of what robots may need to do, but plans detailed moves for only the first few steps. That may not be as efficient as a robot that follows a set of detailed commands like a choreographed ballet to tackle the household chores, but it allows for the unknowns

Robot to throw first pitch at Phillies game

PhillieBot for Cy Young? It's unlikely. But the one-armed, three-wheeled robot, designed by engineers at the University of Pennsylvania, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday's game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers as part of Science Day festivities at Citizens Bank Park, said Evan Lerner, a spokesman for Penn's engineering school. The pitching robot has been in the makings for a month and a half as Penn engineers Jordan Brindza and Jamie Gewirtz assembled parts and wrote software in their spare time, Lerner said. They started with a Segway, gave it a robotic arm and added a third wheel. They also gave it a pneumatic cylinder, which delivers a burst of compressed carbon dioxide to power the pitch. The robot's computer brain can be tweaked to change pitch velocity and trajectory. On Monday, Brindza and Gewirtz took PhillieBot out to the mound for its final test, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. After the press of a button, the robot's mechanical arm reared back and then moved toward home plate; at the top of its delivery, it flicked its mechanical "wrist" and shot the ball forward. The ball appeared to be traveling no more than 30 or 40 miles an hour, the Inquirer reported. But that was by design, since the Phillies didn't want the pitch approaching Major League speeds.

Robots Enter Fukushima Reactors, Detect High Radiation

The Associated Press is reporting that two PackBot ground robots from iRobot have entered Unit 1 and Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and performed readings of temperature, oxygen levels, and radioactivity. The data from the robots, the first measurements inside the reactors in more than a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, revealed high levels of radioactivity -- too high for humans to access the facilities. The remote-controlled robots entered the two reactors over the weekend. Details of the mission -- such as what areas of the reactors the robots inspected and from where they were operated -- are still scarce, but Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant's operator, said that the robots opened and closed "double doors and conducted surveys of the situation" inside the buildings.

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