Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the global economy.

Ruchir Sharma for The Washington Post:  The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the “rise of the robots” is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding.

Before long, though, we’re more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.  Cont'd...

Metallic glass gears make for graceful robots

Science Daily:  Throw a baseball, and you might say it's all in the wrist.  For robots, it's all in the gears.  

Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you're designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, the kind of gears you'll need won't come from a hardware store.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, technologist Douglas Hofmann and his collaborators are building a better gear. Hofmann is the lead author of two recent papers on gears made from bulk metallic glass (BMG), a specially crafted alloy with properties that make it ideal for robotics.  Cont'd...

A new standard in robotics

Phys.org:  On the wall of Aaron Dollar's office is a poster for R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), the 1920 Czech play that gave us the word "robot." The story ends with the nominal robots seizing control of the factory of their origin and then wiping out nearly all of humanity. Dollar, fortunately, has something more cheerful in mind for the future of human-robot relations.

He sees them as helpers in our daily lives—performing tasks like setting the table or assisting with the assembly of your new bookcase. But getting to the point where robots can work in the unstructured environment of our homes (as opposed to industrial settings) would take a major technological leap and a massive coordination of efforts from roboticists around the globe. The living room has been called the last frontier for robots—but first, the robotics community needs some standards that everyone can agree on.

Enter a suitcase-sized box containing 77 objects. It contains things like hammers, a cordless drill, a can of Spam and a nine-hole peg test. As ordinary as they may seem, these carefully curated household items could be the future of a new kind of standardization for robotics. Known as the Yale-CMU-Berkeley (YCB) Object and Model Set, the intent is to provide universal benchmarks for labs specializing in robotic manipulation and prosthetics around the world.  Cont'd...

New US Robotics Roadmap calls for increased regulations, education and research

From Phys.org:  A new U.S. Robotics Roadmap released Oct. 31 calls for better policy frameworks to safely integrate new technologies, such as self-driving cars and commercial drones, into everyday life. The document also advocates for increased research efforts in the field of human-robot interaction to develop intelligent machines that will empower people to stay in their homes as they age. It calls for increased education efforts in the STEM fields from elementary school to adult learners

The roadmap's authors, more than 150 researchers from around the nation, also call for research to create more flexible robotics systems to accommodate the need for increased customization in manufacturing, for everything from cars to consumer electronics

The goal of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap is to determine how researchers can make a difference and solve societal problems in the United States. The document provides an overview of robotics in a wide range of areas, from manufacturing to consumer services, healthcare, autonomous vehicles and defense. The roadmap's authors make recommendation to ensure that the United States will continue to lead in the field of robotics, both in terms of research innovation, technology and policies.  Cont'd...

Swarm of Origami Robots Can Self Assemble Out of a Single Sheet

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  One of the biggest challenges with swarms of robots is manufacturing and deploying the swarm itself. Even if the robots are relatively small and relatively simple, you’re still dealing with a whole bunch of them, and every step in building the robots or letting them loose is multiplied over the entire number of bots in the swarm. If you’ve got more than a few robots to handle, it starts to get all kinds of tedious.

The dream for swarm robotics is to be able to do away with all of that, and just push a button and have your swarm somehow magically appear. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close: At IROS this month, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard presented a paper demonstrating an autonomous collective robotic swarm that can be manufactured in a single flat composite sheet. On command, they’ll rip themselves apart from each other, fold themselves up into origami structures, and head off on a mission en masse.  Cont'd...

This Robot Can Do More Push-Ups Because It Sweats

Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum:  When we use our muscles, they produce heat as a byproduct. When we use them a lot, we need to actively cool them, which is why we sweat. By sweating, we pump water out of our bodies, and as that water evaporates, it cools us down. Robots, especially dynamic robots like humanoids that place near-constant high torque demands on their motors, generate enough heat that it regularly becomes a major constraint on their performance. One of the reasons that SCHAFT did so well at the DRC Trials, for example, was their fancy liquid-cooled motors that could put out lots of torque over an extended period of time without overheating.

Engineers solve this heat-generating problem in most mechanical systems by using fans, heat sinks, and radiators, which means that you’ve got all of this dedicated cooling infrastructure that takes up space and adds mass. At the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) this week, Japanese researchers presented a novel idea of how to cool humanoid robots in a much more efficient way: Design them to be able to sweat water straight out of their bones.  Cont'd...

What Leading AI, Machine Learning And Robotics Scientists Say About The Future

Jason Lim for Forbes:  Every year there is a new hot topic in tech. Today, it’s all about artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and autonomous vehicles. The difference between now and the past is that everything is becoming interconnected at a faster rate.

We are entering an extremely critical time in history where society will change dramatically – how we work, live and play. Science fiction is morphing into reality. Flying cars exist, cars that drive themselves are on the road, and artificial intelligence that automates our lives is here.

To make all of this amazing science and technology happen, it takes some extremely intelligent and curious people. In many ways, scientists are still at the helm of discovering breakthroughs through research.   Cont'd...

Ford, U-M Accelerate Autonomous Vehicle Research with Ford Researchers In-House at New Robotics Lab on U-M Campus

Ford and the University of Michigan today announce they are teaming up to accelerate autonomous vehicle research and development with a first-ever arrangement that embeds Ford researchers and engineers into a new state-of-the-art robotics laboratory on U-M's Ann Arbor campus. 
While the new robotics laboratory opens in 2020, by the end of this year Ford will move a dozen researchers into the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). 
The announcement is the latest in a series of actions by Ford as it moves toward having fully autonomous SAE-defined level 4-capable vehicles available for high-volume commercial use in 2021. Autonomous vehicles are part of Ford's expansion to be an auto and a mobility company.   Full Press Release:
 

Robophysics: Robots in Motion

Researchers are investigating the core fundamentals of locomotion as it exists in nature and as it applies to the movement of robotic systems. Great strides have been made in giving motion to robots, but we have a long way to go to have robots duplicate biological life.

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...

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...

New Muscle-Inspired Actuators Hold Potential to Build Safer, Soft-Bodied Robots

Robots should be safer and softer in order to make them more cooperative and execute tasks in close contact with humans. George Whitesides, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), along with his team, has created a new actuator that moves like human skeletal muscles by using vacuum power for automating soft, rubber beams.

These actuators are soft and shock absorbing similar to real muscles, and do not pose any danger to their surroundings or the human beings working along with them or the future robots containing them. This study was published in the June 1 issue of the Advanced Materials Technologies journal.  Cont'd...

Chrysalix partners with Dutch RoboValley on €100 million robotics fund

Terry Dawes for Cantech Letter:  Vancouver-based Chrysalix Venture Capital has announced a €100 million fund aimed at driving the global robotics revolution, in partnership withRoboValley, a centre for robotics commercialization based at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The RoboValley Fund is Chrysalix’s first robotics fund, and will concentrate on disbursing seed and Series A rounds of funding to early-stage companies developing component technology, intelligent software, and other breakthrough robotics technologies.

“Robotics is predicted to be the next big step in the digital revolution having an unprecedented impact on the way that we live, and provides an answer to some of the grand challenges of the 21st Century,” said RoboValley managing director Arie van den Ende. “Together with Chrysalix long-standing expertise in commercializing early stage industrial innovations, the RoboValley Fund will bring much needed capital and accelerated paths to market for our most promising next generation robotics technologies.”  Cont'd...

Space Bots & Android Waste Collectors: What's Ahead for Robotics

By Elizabeth Palermo for LiveScience:  It was a good year to be a robot.

In 2015, researchers in Korea unveiled a robotic exoskeleton that users can control with their minds, a four-legged bot in China set a new world record by walking 83.28 miles (134.03 km) without stopping and 3D-printing robots in Amsterdam started work on a new steel footbridge.

But these smart machines are capable of so much more. Researchers around the world are now designing and building bots that will complete more noteworthy tasks in 2016 and beyond. From exploring other planets to fighting fires at sea, here are a few skills that bots could pick up in the new year.  Full Article:  

What Robots and AI Learned in 2015

By Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  The  robots didn’t really take over in 2015, but at times it felt as if that might be where we’re headed.

There were signs that machines will soon take over manual work that currently requires human skill. Early in the year details emerged of a contest organized by Amazon to help robots do more work inside its vast product fulfillment centers.

The Amazon Picking challenge, as the event was called, was held at a prominent robotics conference later in the year. Teams competed for a $25,000 prize by designing a robot to identify and grasp items from one of Amazon’s storage shelves as quickly as possible (the winner picked and packed 10 items in 20 minutes). This might seem a trivial task for human workers, but figuring out how to grasp different objects arranged haphazardly on shelves in a real warehouse is still a formidable challenge for robot-kind.  Cont'd...

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