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...

Insect-Sized Drone Will Spy On Terrorists

Source - Sky News:  An insect-sized spy drone with four flapping wings and four legs is set to become Britain's latest weapon in the war on terror.

The Dragonfly drone fits in the palm of a hand and has four flapping wings and four legs.

It can fly through the air with great agility, allowing it to penetrate buildings through open windows, and perch on surfaces to eavesdrop.

It can detect incoming objects and buildings, meaning it can avoid obstacles at high speeds.

It is one of a number of pieces of kit being developed by the Ministry of Defence as part of an innovation drive.  Cont'd...

Global collaborative robots market expected to grow at a high rate

Market Reports World:  The global market for collaborative robots is expected to grow at a CAGR of 60.04% between 2016 and 2022 from USD 110.0 million in 2015 and reach USD 3.3 Billion by 2022. The market is expected to be driven by the growing demand because of higher return on investment and low price of collaborative robots that are attracting the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and the increase in investments for automation in industries.

“The market in the automotive industry and furniture & equipment industry is expected to grow rapidly”
The application in the automotive industry accounted for the largest share of the collaborative robot market in 2015 and this trend is expected to continue during the forecast period. However, the increasing installations of collaborative robots in the automotive industry and furniture & equipment industry would provide rapid growth between 2016 and 2022, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.  Full report...

Do the benefits of robotics outweigh the heavy demands on infrastructure?

Ben Rossi for Information Age:  Robotics has already been deployed in manufacturing to great effect for over a decade, performing delicate and precise tasks with greater accuracy than humans.

But now cutting-edge robots and other smart machines are set to join forces with the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, which Gartner estimates will total 25 billion devices by 2020.

In healthcare, robotic services are already operating pharmacy dispensers and robotic trolleys are now deployed in a growing number of hospitals. In hospitality, robots deliver services such as drinks dispensing and automated trolley deliveries.

Robots have even made their way into education, where they are being deployed successfully as a tutor, tool or peer in learning activities.

But what impact will this large-scale adoption of robotics have on existing networks as they encounter inevitable further strain?  Cont'd...

A Large Dataset to Train Convolutional Networks for Disparity, Optical Flow, and Scene Flow Estimation

From Computer Vision Freiburg:  Recent work has shown that optical flow estimation can be formulated as a supervised learning task and can be successfully solved with convolutional networks. Training of the so-called FlowNet was enabled by a large synthetically generated dataset. The present paper extends the concept of optical flow estimation via convolutional networks to disparity and scene flow estimation. To this end, we propose three synthetic stereo video datasets with sufficient realism, variation, and size to successfully train large networks. Our datasets are the first large-scale datasets to enable training and evaluating scene flow methods. Besides the datasets, we present a convolutional network for real-time disparity estimation that provides state-of-the-art results. By combining a flow and disparity estimation network and training it jointly, we demonstrate the first scene flow estimation with a convolutional network.

his video shows impressions from various parts of our dataset, as well as state-of-the-art realtime disparity estimation results produced by one of our new CNNs... (full paper)



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...

Siemens' World-record Electric Aircraft Motor Punches Above Its Weight

From Gizmag:  Researchers at Siemens have created a new prototype electric motor specifically designed for aircraft that weighs in at just 50 kg (110 lb) and is claimed to produce about 260 kW (348 hp) at just 2,500 RPM. With a quoted power five times greater than any comparable powerplant, the new motor promises enough grunt to get aircraft with take-off weights of up to 1,800 kg (2 ton) off the ground...

... As a result, the new aircraft electric drive system achieves a claimed weight-to-performance ratio of 5 kW per kilogram. This ratio is an exceptional figure – especially if compared to similarly powerful industrial electric motors used in heavy machinery that produce less than 1 kW per kilogram, or even to more efficient electric motors for vehicles that generate around 2 kW per kilogram... (full article)


Robotics, automation, and how a strong network is needed to connect it all up

Manish Sablokk for IoTTech:  Cutting-edge robots and other advanced smart machines are set to be added into the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, which is projected to reach 25 billion devices by 2020. Robotics has already been used in manufacturing to great effect for over a decade, performing delicate and precise tasks with a higher success rate than humans. With advancements such as 'deep learning' robots, delivery drones and ubiquitous knowledge-sharing between machines, widespread robotics adoption is becoming far more feasible.

In healthcare, there are already robotic services in operation with automated pharmacy dispensing and robotic trolleys - robots that can navigate between floors and even call the lift using a Wi-Fi sensor. The hospitality sector has also been a keen adopter of robotics to deliver services and in education, robots are being deployed successfully as a tutor, tool or peer in learning activities, providing language, science and technology education.  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...

Ford's new robots can build cars, make coffee

Ford Motor Company announced today its early testing of a new type of assembly line robot that were co-developed with German robotics company KUKA Roboter GmbH with the intention of assisting human line workers. Two of these three-foot-tall machines are in use at the Cologne, Germany factory, where they assist human workers to install shock absorbers on Ford Fiestas. These workers would have originally had to juggle the shocks and tools to install them, but now the robot helps them position and install the parts.  More...

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