Robotics makes baby steps toward solving Japan's child care shortage

Roy Bishop for The Japan Times:  Child care is a hard job, but somebody, or something, has got to do it.

Japanese researchers have developed androids to meet that need, which includes happily reading that fairy tale again and again and again.

The androids, which were created by a team of education and robotics specialists at a research facility in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, are part of a larger system called RoHo Care. Short for Robotic Hoikujo (day care center), RoHo is being touted as a high-tech solution to the staffing crisis that forced the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to announce emergency measures this week.

“I never thought I’d see this day, but we’re now confident that RoHo could blaze a trail for child care worldwide,” said team leader Makoto Hara.

At a briefing on Thursday, Hara introduced a “care-droid” prototype named Or-B, the core component of RoHo’s vision for day care assistance, and said it will undergo a trial run this summer before full-scale implementation in 2018.  Cont'd...

Collaborative Robots Will Transform Logistics Says DHL Group

Patrick Burnson for Logistics Management:  “Robots work in many industries but haven’t made an impact on logistics yet because of the complexity of the work – handling a wide array of different things in an infinite number of combinations, close to people and in confined spaces,” says Matthias Heutger, Senior Vice President Strategy for the Group.

“Current research shows that 80 percent of logistics facilities today are still manual. Recently, however, technology is just starting to catch up to meet demands for flexible and low-cost robots that could collaboratively work in logistics.”
The report highlights that the development of the next generation of robots that can see, move, react to their environment and work at precision tasks alongside people, is on a fast track powered by the explosion in labor-intensive e-commerce and diminishing and ageing workforces.  Cont'd...

Cafe X Robotic Barista

From LAUNCH Festival 2016:  CafeX unveils fully automated robotic cafe at Launch Festival; companion iOS & Android app will allow users to order drinks prior to arrival; works w/ local coffee growers in ea mkt; cafe is ~60 sq ft & is open 24 hrs/day.


Amazon Hosted A Secretive Robotics Conference In Florida

Michael Grothaus for FastCompany:  Amazon hosted a secret robotics conference in Palm Springs, Florida last weekend, reports Bloomberg. The conference, dubbed "MARS," which stands for "Machine-Learning (Home) Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration," was an invite-only event held at the Parker Palm Springs that brought together experts in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and home automation.

Amazon has not publicly commented on the conference, but reports on social media from attendees leaked its existence. Bloomberg notes that the conference hosted some big names, including film director Ron Howard and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The event was also attended by a number of academics from MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and ETH Zurich, sources told Bloomberg. Also in attendance were some CEOs and representatives from companies including Rethink Robotics, Toyota Motor Corp., and iRobot.  Cont'd...

OpenROV Trident Pre-orders

From OpenROV:

OpenROV Trident Features:

Depth: Capable of 100m (will ship with a 25m  tether - longer tethers will be sold separately)
Mass: 2.9 kg
Top Speed: 2 m/s
Run Time: 3 hours


The data connection to Trident is a major evolution from the connection setup of the original OpenROV kit. It uses a neutrally buoyant tether to communicate to a towable buoy on the surface (radio waves don't travel well in water) and the buoy connects to the pilot using a long range WiFi signal. Using a wireless towable buoy greatly increases the practical range of the vehicle while doing transects and search patterns since a physical connection between the vehicle and the pilot doesn't need to be maintained. You can connect to the buoy and control Trident using a tablet or laptop from a boat or from the shore... (preorder $1,199.00)


America, Regulate Drones Now or Get Left Behind

Missy Cummings for Wired:  Drones are a big business and getting bigger, a reality that comes with both economic opportunities and risks. The UAV market is set to jump from $5.2 billion in 2013 to $11.6 billion in 2023. Opportunities for delivery services, cinematography, and even flying cell towers could introduce thousands of jobs and reinvigorate an ailing aerospace market.

At the same time, drone sales to hobbyists have exploded. Registered drone operators in the US now outnumber registered manned aircraft. In tandem with that growth, close calls with commercial aircraft have more than doubled in the past two years. An analysis of FAA reports by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone counts 28 instances in which pilots changed course in order to avoid a collision.  Cont'd...

Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

Brad Stone and Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf -- then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology. 

But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.  Full Article:

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...

Image Processing 101

Sher Minn Chong wrote a good introductory to image processing in Python:

In this article, I will go through some basic building blocks of image processing, and share some code and approaches to basic how-tos. All code written is in Python and uses OpenCV, a powerful image processing and computer vision library...

... When we’re trying to gather information about an image, we’ll first need to break it up into the features we are interested in. This is called segmentation. Image segmentation is the process representing an image in segments to make it more meaningful for easier to analyze3.


One of the simplest ways of segmenting an image isthresholding. The basic idea of thresholding is to replace each pixel in an image with a white pixel if a channel value of that pixel exceeds a certain threshold... (full tutorial) (iPython Notebook)

18 months since the toolkit's release, soft robotics is flying

Gordon Hunt for SiliconRepublic:  Pioneered in Ireland by the likes of Dr Dónal Holland, with a plethora of departments in Harvard University in the US involved, the Soft Robotics Toolkit has gone on to foster significant interest in an area exploding into the mainstream.

More than 76,000 people have engaged with the service since it was created, represented across 150 different countries, with the toolkit identified as having made one of the most significant contributions to the development of the nascent industry to date.

While robotics engineering used to focus much more attention on creating the rigid, hard-bodied prototypes like Bender from Futurama, for example, lately there has been a push towards soft, malleable structures that take their inspiration from nature.  Cont'd...

Carnegie Mellon robotics selected for research projects totaling more than $11 million

Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) has been selected as a prime contractor or subcontractor on four major new federal research projects totaling more than $11 million over the next three years. The projects range from research on a wheel that can transform into a track to automated stress testing for critical software. 
Herman Herman, NREC director, said the center has hired 10 new technical staff members in the past six months and anticipates hiring another five-to-10 staff members in the coming months to augment its existing staff of about 100. 

"For the past 20 years, NREC has been an important national resource, combining unique technical skills and testing capabilities to solve problems that other groups can't," said Martial Hebert, director of CMU's Robotics Institute, which includes the NREC. "These new projects are a reminder that NREC continues to advance the art and science of robotics and that it remains a vital part of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute."   Full Press Release:

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...

Would you buy meat from a robot butcher?

Greg Nichols for The Kernel:  In an era when hunks of cow and pig are packaged and distributed like Amazon Prime parcels, butchering has retained a surprising degree of its old-world craftsmanship. Workers armed with knives and hooks anachronistically slice flesh from bone the same way they have for hundreds of years. That’s because cutting meat—be it on an assembly line or in a niche shop in Santa Monica, California, or Brooklyn, New York—is a skill that requires exceptional dexterity, a good eye, and a honed tactile sense for texture and firmness. Industrial robots may be perfectly suited to welding chassis and painting cars, but they don’t have the touch to cut a succulent T-bone steak.

That’s likely to change. JBS, one of the country’s largest meat processors, recently acquired a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm. Now JBS is looking at ways to automate its facilities. Robots don’t sleep, don’t collect overtime, and don’t suffer the horrific repetitive stress injuries that plague meat workers. Meat is already packed using machines, and if engineers can figure out how to make automated systems that approximate the deft hands of a butcher, there’s little question giants like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson will replace many of their line workers with robots. In the next decade, adroit robots that can see, feel, and move like humans may finally kill off the butcher.  Cont'd...

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