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...

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...

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...

R&D Spending Expected to Spike in Robotics Industry Until 2020

Kagan Pittman for  As Chinese companies move to expand their market share in industrial robotics, so too are companies in the West, with some of the biggest power-plays coming from R&D departments.

A recent report by Technavio predicts that global R&D spending in the robotics industry will grow at a CAGR of more than 17 percent between 2016-2020.

Technavio analysts cite the following factors as key drivers in the growth of R&D spending:

  • A race for robotics patents
  • Demand for lower system engineering and installation costs
  • Growing demand for industrial robots from non-automotive industries

The report’s analysis considers market trends across user segments including: defense, healthcare, automotive, domestic, food and beverage, electricals, electronics, oil and gas, textiles and packaging.  Cont'd...

Stanford's 'Jackrabbot' paves way for social robotics

Caitlin Ju for The Stanford Daily:  Stanford researchers in the Computational Vision and Geometry Lab have designed an autonomously navigating robot prototype that they say understands implicit social conventions and human behavior. Named “Jackrabbot” after the swift but cautious jackrabbit, the visually intelligent and socially amicable robot is able to maneuver crowds and pedestrian spaces.

A white ball on wheels, the Jackrabbot is built on a Segway system and contains a computing unit and multiple sensors that acquire a 3-D structure of the surrounding environment. 360-degree cameras and GPS also enhance the robot’s navigation and detection capabilities.

To interact smoothly in public settings, the robot has to know how to avoid someone in a natural way, how to yield the right-of-way and how to leave personal space, among other skills.  Cont'd...

University of Surrey presents a roadmap of space robotics

ABIGAIL BEALL FOR MAILONLINE:  Many people spend their childhood peering up into the vast expanse of the sky, dreaming of growing up to become an astronaut.  But these dreams could be dashed as the idea of people venturing into space will one day become a distant memory, according to a report published today.  Robots will eventually have enough capabilities to replace humans and other animals on space missions, experts have said.  Many missions involving humans in space are dangerous and expensive.  But for years robots have been sent to places humans could not venture, like the rovers venturing to the edges of our solar system.  According to European Space Agency (Esa) Astronaut Roberto Vittori, who launched a paper on space robotics and autonomous systems, robots can help carry out these dangerous missions.  Cont'd...

The Third Offset Must Update Asimov's Laws of Robotics

JG Randall for The National Interest:  Things tend to happen in threes. An unlikely triumvirate on the surface, it would appear that Asimov’s laws on robotics and the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) will outflank the Third Offset—the nation’s search for its next silver bullet in war fighting is robotics—knowing that many nations will agree on moral grounds. These nations will reject Asimov based on semantics, and though the debate might be perceived as strictly academic, or even rhetorical, it is worth discussing for the sake of a good cautionary tale. Because, whether we like it or not, killer bots are coming to a theater of operation near you.

Before we get deep in the weeds, let’s get some clarity. First, let’s outline Asimov’s robotic laws. The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. They were introduced in his 1942 short story “Runaround,” although they had been foreshadowed in earlier stories.  Cont'd...

Artificial muscle for soft robotics: Low voltage, high hopes  Soft robots do a lot of things well but they're not exactly known for their speed. The artificial muscles that move soft robots, called actuators, tend to rely on hydraulics or pneumatics, which are slow to respond and difficult to store.

Dielectric elastomers, soft materials that have good insulating properties, could offer an alternative to pneumatic actuators but they currently require complex and inefficient circuitry to deliver high voltage as well as rigid components to maintain their form—both of which defeat the purpose of a soft robot.

Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a dielectric elastomer with a broad range of motion that requires relatively low voltage and no rigid components. They published their work recently in Advanced Materials.  Cont'd...

Robotics Gone Wild: 8 Animal-Inspired Machines

Thomas Claburn for InformationWeek:  Among programmers, there's a principle called DRY, which stands for "Don't repeat yourself." It's an attempt to avoid writing code that duplicates the function of other code.

DRY embodies the same resistance to needless repetition as the more common idiom, "Don't reinvent the wheel."

Among those making robots, a group that includes software and hardware engineers attempts to adhere to these principles, as can be seen in designs that borrow from nature, from the evolved forms of life on Earth.

Biomimicry and bioinspired design provide a way to avoid reinventing the wheel. The biological systems of living things have been honed through eons of Darwinian user testing.

Borrowing aspects of animal physiology isn't the only option or necessarily the best option for robot designers. For some purposes, something new may be necessary. For others, biomechanically systems can't be easily duplicated.  Cont'd...

Cozmo Is an Artificially Intelligent Toy Truck That's Also the Future of Robotics

CADE METZ for WIRED:  HANNS TAPPEINER TYPES a few lines of code into his laptop and hits “return.” A tiny robot sits beside the laptop, looking like one of those anthropomorphic automobiles that show up in Pixar’s Cars movies. Almost instantly, it wakes up, rolls down the table, and counts to four. This is Cozmo—an artificially intelligent toy robot unveiled late last month by San Francisco startup Anki—and Tappeiner, one of the company’s founders, is programming the little automaton to do new things.
The programs are simple—he also teaches Cozmo to stack blocks—but they’re supposed to be simple. Tappeiner is using Anki’s newly unveiled software development kit—an SDK, in coder parlance—that he says even the greenest of coders can use to tweak the behavior of the toy robot. And that’s a big deal, at least according to Anki. The company claims the SDK is the first of its kind: a kit that lets anyone program such an intelligent robot, a robot that recognizes faces and navigates new environments and even mimics emotions. With the kit, Tappeiner says, “we’re trying to advance the field of robotics.” He compares the move to Apple letting people build apps for the iPhone.  Cont'd...

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