Autonomous Drifting


You know how the stuntmen make fast cars drift in action movies? Have you ever wanted to make a remote-controlled toy car drift like that? Of course you have.  If there ever were awards for endeavors that sound silly, but is actually technically interesting, then the folks at MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab would surely be nominated.

Unmanned systems are rarely fully autonomous.  Instead, researchers are pursuing “sliding” autonomy, i.e. an operator retains control, while some behaviors are made autonomous. Aerospace Controls Lab decided to teach a remote-control toy car how to autonomously drift.

They started by running their learning algorithm through simulations.  Information from these simulations was transferred to performance modifiers. When the car was run through its drifting actions in reality, the algorithm was constantly modified. The result is a car that can maintain drifting in a full circle even when salt is added to the floor, or another vehicle interferes with it.


Auro Robotics: Driverless Shuttles for In-campus Travel

From Techcrunch:

Y Combinator-backed Auro Robotics is currently testing their driverless shuttle system at several universities, and is actually beginning to deploy shuttles on the campus of Santa Clara University.

The company is also planning to expand to other markets like amusement parks, retirement communities and small islands, with some projects in those spaces already set to take off “in the later part of this year.”

Auro has chosen to focus on these small, contained environments largely because they are controlled by private corporations, and thus are not subject to the heavy government regulation that Google and other companies are stuck behind with their driverless cars... (full article)

From Auro Robotics:

How does it work

Auro Prime uses latest technology to ensure safe navigation even on busy roads. The vehicle is equipped with Lasers, camera, Radar and GPS providing it complete 360 degree vision under all environment situations.

The shuttles relies on a prior 3D map of the environment, which is created once in the lifetime at the beginning. In all subsequent runs, it uses this 3D map to localise itself and interpret road topography.

Passengers can input their destinations through a simple to use touch screen mounted on the vehicle, or through their mobile app. The underlying software automatically figures out the optimum high-level route to reach safely to the destination... (more info)



Carnegie Mellon, GE Ventures bringing robotics accelerator program to Pittsburgh

By Deborah M. Todd / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  A new accelerator program and a $20 million venture fund started by Carnegie Mellon University and GE Ventures could brand Pittsburgh as the official home of the globe’s growing robotics industry.

CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center and GE Ventures, the investment arm of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric, have teamed up to create The Robotics Hub, an early-stage startup accelerator program designed to draw the nation’s best advanced robotics firms to Pittsburgh and to keep those started here firmly in place.

The for-profit Robotics Hub will provide funding through newly created Coal Hill Ventures and access to equipment at CMU and the NREC to chosen companies by 2016, in addition to putting their creations on a fast track toward commercialization.

“The strategy that’s most important to GE is to really get behind startups and help them scale. A lot of companies can come with the money, but what we bring is the ability to scale and the opportunity to commercialize quite quickly, said Alex Tepper, GE Ventures managing director.  Cont'd...

3D printing is not the miracle we were promised

Mike Murphy for Quartz:  3D printing has been hailed as the future of manufacturing for years now. Consumers and investors were sold on the idea of being able to print anything at any time from a little box in their houses. But that Jetsons-like vision hasn’t come to pass. The 3D printers available to consumers are great for making small prototypes or tchotchkes. But they’re still slow, inaccurate and generally only print one material at a time. And that’s not going to change any time soon.

That reality is setting in for 3D printer makers. Stratasys, which owns MakerBot and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial and industrial 3D printers, announced its fifth straight quarter of losses today. 3D Systems, which was founded by the man who invented 3D printing—Chuck Hull—isn’t faring much better.

Wall Street’s interest in 3D printing seems to have peaked in the first week of 2014: The stock prices for both Stratasys and 3D Systems were at their highest on January 3 last year. Stratasys had completed the purchase of MakerBot—which has been called the “Apple” of 3D printing—about three months earlier, and it looked as if things were on the up. But a little over a year later, MakerBot laid off a fifth of its staff, closed its stores, and started focusing on selling to schools.

As it stands, it seems that the market is retracting to industrial printers, for companies that benefit from rapidly prototyping objects. 3D printing makes a lot of sense when companies can quickly model and print their ideas—anything from new bike helmets to car doors or sprockets. These are where (relatively) cheap, disposable plastic models thrive, as companies can churn out all the models they need, and then turn to more traditional automated processes, like CNC milling or vacuum forming, to build their final product at scale, using materials that will actually last.  Cont'd...

Musk, Hawking, Chomsky: Why they want a ban on killer robots.

A global arms race for killer robots? Bad idea.

That’s according to more than 1,000 leading artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers, who have together signed an open letter, published Monday, from the nonprofit Future of Life Institute.

The letter calls for a ban on autonomous offensive weapons as a means of preventing just such a disaster, and represents the latest word on the global conversation around the risks and benefits of AI weaponry.  Cont'd...


Fastbrick Robotics' bricklaying machine builds investor interest

Tim Boreham for The Australian:  According to Fastbrick Robotics chief Mike Pivac, the art of bricklaying hasn’t changed much in the past 5000 years.  For brickies’ labourers in particular, it remains an unsafe and back-breaking game of messy mortar-mixing and lugging hods at height or over uneven surfaces.

Backed with seed funding from the publicly listed Brickworks, Mr Pivac and his cousin Mark have devised a robotic bricklaying machine to eliminate the drudge work.  About the size of a garbage truck, the prototype Hadrian 105 unit can erect an average house in one to two days, within an accuracy of half a millimetre.  That’s far more accurate than the brickies’ time-honoured string and spirit level method.

Led by Cygnet Capital, the ­Pivacs have been on an investor roadshow ahead of a $3 million raising and reverse IPO, via the shell of former winery owner DMY Capital.  Interest has been enormous, with inquiries from as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Russia.  “We had 500,000 hits on our website in just over five days,’’ Mr Pivac says.  “We have had interest from 35 countries, including some outstanding big organisations.’’  Cygnet Capital director of ­corporate finance Darien Jagger says no other IPO has attracted as much interest.  “We have fielded thousands of emails from all sorts of parties.’’  The Hadrian unit has already demonstrated end-to-end construction, without the need for human intervention.

The innovation lies not with the robotic arms, but the laser-guided system that allows the bricks to be placed accurately.  “If you put this machine on a rocking boat it would lay a house on the shore correctly to an inch or two,’’ Mr Pivac said.  Cont'd...

Why Drones are Ditching their DIY Roots

By AINSLEY O'CONNELL for FastCompany:  When hobbyist drone pilot Michael Kolowich ordered his Cinestar-8 octocopter in 2013, he traveled from Boston to Montana, where it had been assembled, to pick it up. "I went up there for four days of training in how to fly it safely, how to get great shots with it, the ins and outs of the platform," he says. "It really did take that much training to get the most out of it."

How the world has changed in just two years. "Almost every serious video drone then was somewhat custom-built," he says. Now, for a fraction of what Kolowich paid, aspiring drone pilots can pick up a "serious" drone at their local Best Buy. The drone community, circa 2015, is at an inflection point, with DIY tinkering giving way to mass-market distribution.

"A year or two ago it was far more custom builds. Now you see it standardizing quite a bit," says Dan Burton, CEO and cofounder of Dronebase, an online platform for booking commercial drone services. Burton was first introduced to drones while serving in the Marines; after returning to the U.S. and attending business school, he began helping commercial drone pilots manage their financials. Dronebase, which effectively allows pilots to outsource their sales and operations, is a natural extension of that hands-on experience.

Burton describes the drone community as comprised of "very passionate hobbyists." But increasingly, the community’s creative, maker mindset is directed toward the cinematics of operating the drone camera, rather than toward the construction of the flying robot itself.  Cont'd...

Toyota Accelerates Home Helper Robot Program

Toyota is accelerating development of a robot that can perform tasks in the home to help elderly and disabled people lead independent lives.

The Human Support Robot (HSR) is its response to the rising demand for long-term elderly care. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2050, 22 per cent of the world’s population will be over 60 years old.

The HSR is compact and highly manoeuvrable, with a lightweight, cylindrical body and a folding arm. It can pick up objects off the floor, reach things down from shelves and perform a variety of other tasks.

Toyota is teaming up with a number of research bodies to set up the HSR Developers’ Community, making a combined effort to hasten development and early practical adoption of the HSR.

Artificial intelligence is not yet a substitute for human care, but the HSR will be able to be operated remotely by family and friends, with the operator’s face and voice being relayed in real-time. This will allow for genuine human interaction as the HSR goes about its work.  Cont'd...

Companies are making human-like robots and they think they've stumbled on the biggest thing since the iPhone

Cadie Thompson for Business Insider:  Downloading apps on your own personal robot may become as common as downloading apps on your smartphone.

Robot makers Jibo and Blue Frog Robotics are creating social robots that are aimed at living with humans and in order to entice consumers they are selling them for about the same cost as an iPhone.

Jibo’s robot called Jibo is priced at about $749 for pre-order and Blue Frog Robotics’ robot called Buddy is priced at $549.

But these companies are also promising consumers that these little live-in robots are going to become the biggest platform since Apple’s iPhone, capable of performing all kinds of functions via apps.

“It’s like the iPhone, if we want to reach the mainstream and have success we need many very interesting apps,” said Frack de Visme, the chief financial officer of Blue Frog Robotics.

“We are going to have an open system so many developers can develop and create amazing apps so that it become mainstream.”  Cont'd...

Japan's robot hotel: a dinosaur at reception, a machine for room service

The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes.

“If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says. The visitor still has to punch a button on the desk and type in information on a touch panel screen.

From the front desk to the porter that is an automated trolley taking luggage to the room, this hotel in south-western Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labour costs.

Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, insists using robots is not a gimmick but a serious effort to use technology and achieve efficiency.  Cont'd...

Makeblock mBot: Introducing kids to robotics and programming

By Hitesh Raj Bhagat, ET Bureau:  This cute little fella is the mBot — a do-it-yourself educational robot kit from robotics experts Makeblock. Built around the Arduino open-source platform, it's designed to induct kids into the fields of robotics and programming. The company chose to build around the concept of STEM education: science, technology, engineering & mathematics. Specifically, it helps children get an early start into these disciplines. There are two versions of the mBot: a Bluetooth version for home use 2.4Ghz WiFi version, which is designed for classroom use. 
The company took to Kickstarter to generate funds for mBot and promised one unit for $49 (plus shipping). From a modest $20,000 goal, a staggering $285,463 was raised during the campaign. Now, you can buy a kit from Makeblock's website. Coming back to the mBot, everything that you need to build it is in the box — in a nutshell, you need to assemble it using the precise instructions provided and add batteries. There are 45 pieces and it's easy to put them together in about 15 minutes. It's neatly packaged and consists of very high quality materials — including some attractive anodised aluminium parts in your choice of pink or blue. Every little part that you need — from the main Arduino board, DC motors, to each screw, cable and even a set of tools — is in the box. It comes pre-programmed but it's also designed to be tinkered with. Parent of pre-teens might be familiar with Scratch — a free, graphicalbased programming language developed by MIT Media Lab. Well, Makeblock has built their own version for this and called it mBlock (it's based on Scratch 2.0 and free to download from their website). The idea behind mBlock is that younger children can start out with graphical programming and move on to text-based programming as they become more advanced.  Cont'd...

Lake fire grew after private drone flights disrupted air drops

As a hot wind shifted north and drove the flames toward Onyx Peak east of Big Bear Lake, fire crews deployed to save homes scattered among brittle-dry pines — waiting for help from a DC-10 laden with 10,800 gallons of retardant.

It never came. Shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, an incident commander on the ground spotted a hobby drone buzzing near the drop site at 11,000 feet. The air tanker had to turn back, as did two smaller planes following it.

“These folks who are handling these drones, I have to assume they have no idea what they're doing,” Chon Bribiescas, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday. “They not only endangered the folks on the ground, but they endanger the pilots.”

Officials fighting the Lake fire in the San Bernardino Mountains scrambled to warn the public that it is illegal and dangerous to fly drones in restricted airspace around a fire. Unmanned aircraft are particularly hazardous because authorities have no idea who is controlling them or how they might maneuver.  Cont'd...

Emotional 'Pepper' robots sell out in one minute in Japan

The initial batch of Pepper robots developed by Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank Corp and manufactured by Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group sold out in one minute on the first day it went on sale in Japan.

The 1,000 Pepper robots available for purchase in June sold out in 60 seconds when online orders started at 10 am on Saturday, according to a statement from SoftBank Robotics Corp, a robotics venture formed by SoftBank, Foxconn and Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group.

Orders are no longer being taken and additional sales of Pepper, which sells for 198,000 yen (US$1,625), are scheduled to be announced on SoftBank's website in July.

In addition to Pepper's emotion recognition functions, the robot generates emotions autonomously by processing information from its cameras, touch sensors, accelerometer and other sensors within its "endocrine-type multi-layer neural network," SoftBank said.

Drone Startups Grab Record Cash

By Thomas Black for Bloomberg Business:  Startup drone makers are finding record amounts of funding as venture capitalists prowl for early winners in what may become an $82 billion industry.

From Silicon Valley to New York, firms including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lightspeed Venture Partners and ff Venture Capital are lining up behind unmanned aerial vehicle companies. Google Inc., General Electric Co. and Qualcomm Inc. also are jumping in with cash.

“Everybody wants to invest in drones because they’re seeing not only the potential but actual results right now,” said Jon Ollwerther, vice president of marketing and operations at drone builder AeroCine, which operates from a waterfront Brooklyn warehouse with a view of the Statue of Liberty. “We have said no to money.”

There’s more than ever to go around. Investors have pumped $210 million into businesses like SZ DJI Technology Co. and DroneDeploy so far in 2015, almost double the total for all of last year, according to data compiler CrunchBase. The pace has quickened as U.S. regulators grant more exemptions for limited commercial operations, reassuring financial backers that they’ll see a payoff from their support.  Cont'd...

6 robotics companies in India you need to know

By Sainul Abudheen K for e27:  Be it manufacturing, design or construction — robotics is widely being used by enterprises globally to bring in efficiency, reduce cost and save time. Smart entrepreneurs are further exploring the scope and possibilities of robotics so that human beings can ultimately use robots for almost everything.
As a result of these experiments, a robot has now come into our living room, where we use it as a personal assistant. As robotics is heating up, more entrepreneurs are coming up with cutting-edge solutions that can be used in healthcare space, defense and education.
Here, we bring you a list of half-a-dozen robotics startups in India.

Grey Orange Robotics:  Based in Gurgaon and Singapore, Grey Orange creates robots catering to the warehousing and automation space. The firm aims to provide disruptive technology to make innovative products for efficient logistics and distribution.

Systemantics:  This Bangalore-based startup aims to enable widespread adoption of flexible automation in industry, for tedious and mentally-fatiguing or hazardous tasks that human labour is ill-suited to perform.

Gade Autonomous Systems:  Mumbai-based Gade aims to introduce state-of-the-art social and service robots that could communicate with human beings and their surroundings.

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