Perceptual Robotics, Autonomous wind turbine inspection

SUAS News:  Perceptual Robotics is applying leading edge autonomy concepts to industrial applications.  Currently based in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, our passion is to bridge the divide between academia and industry. Perceptual Robotics is applying leading edge autonomy concepts to industrial applications. Currently based in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, our passion is to bridge the divide between academia and industry.  Through our Innovate UK project, we will be developing a fully autonomous system for the intelligent, efficient and reliable inspection of wind turbines.   Cont'd...

How drones are helping design the solar power plants of the future

Katie Fehrenbacher for T he Guardian:   At the edge of a plot of muddy farmland, a few miles down the road from the University of California at Davis, an engineer takes a few quick steps across crop rows and lets go of a three-foot drone. Within seconds, the device – which weighs less than 2lbs and carries a powerful camera – ascends hundreds of feet into the cold, clear, blue sky and begins to snap detailed photos of the ground far below, including a long row of large solar panels mounted on steel poles. This flight is just a test, demonstrated by Kingsley Chen, the drone fleet coordinator for SunPower at the solar company’s research and development center, which is under construction and about a two-hour drive northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. The drone will enable SunPower to survey a wide region and help design a solar power farm that can fit more solar panels on a piece of land, more quickly and for lower costs than it previously could.   Con'td...

How a College Kid Made His Honda Civic Self-Driving for $700

Tom Simonite for MIT Technology Review:  Brevan Jorgenson’s grandma kept her cool when he took her for a nighttime spin in the Honda Civic he’s modified to drive itself on the highway. A homemade device in place of the rear-view mirror can control the brakes, accelerator, and steering, and it uses a camera to identify road markings and other cars. “She wasn’t really flabbergasted—I think because she’s seen so much from technology by now,” says Jorgenson, a senior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Others are more wary of the system, which he built using plans and software downloaded from the Internet, plus about $700 in parts. Jorgenson says the fact that he closely supervises his homebrew autopilot hasn’t convinced his girlfriend to trust the gadget’s driving. “She’s worried it’s going to crash the car,” he says.   Cont'd...

What went seriously wrong with Lily Robotics

Kayla Matthews for VentureBeat:  Lying in general is a bad idea, but lying to your would-be customers is an especially awful thing to do. That’s the lesson allegedly being learned by Lily Robotics, which, at the end of January, was raided by San Francisco police as part of a potential criminal investigation. Let’s back up. Why is the SFPD raiding the headquarters of a robotics company? It’s been a long, strange road, but let’s go back to the beginning. In 2016, Lily Robotics took more than 60,000 preorders for an upcoming product — preorders valued at more than $34 million. Naturally, these customers expected the product to be delivered within the specified time frame and to work as depicted in the company’s promotional videos.   Cont'd...

Trump's freeze on new regulation means that we won't get drone delivery anytime soon

April Glaser for RECODE:  When President Trump signed an executive order last week requiring two federal regulations to be rescinded for every new one passed, he simultaneously put the brakes on the future of drone delivery in the United States. While many industries see the prospect of less regulation as positive, the nascent drone industry actually needs regulations in order to grow. The reason drones need regulations is that in 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board classified drones as aircraft, which means drones need to abide by FAA regulations in order to fly. The problem is that many drone regulations don’t yet exist, and the FAA will have a hard time killing existing rules to make room for new ones. “If regulations for unmanned aircraft are held up or are stripped away, there’s actually no way for drones to access the airspace,” said Gregory McNeal, co-founder of Airmap, a drone mapping company.   Cont'd...

US Military Unleashes Swarm of Micro Drones Over California

From Seeker:  The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones. The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction. Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers. The test of the world's largest micro-drone swarm in California in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement. "The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing," it said.   Cont'd...

4 of the Coolest New Robots at CES

Sarah Solomon for The Street:  CES has kicked into high gear in Vegas this week, and companies are betting on the future of home robot companions as well as robots to entertain and teach your kids. While many of these robots perform the same smart home control functions, they have varying personalities and abilities that you can pick and choose from based on your existing home capabilities and preferences. Here are four show-stoppers impressing those at CES. The LG Hub Robot May Soon Be Your New Housekeeper... Cont'd.

An Open Source Driving Agent from comma.ai

From comma.ai:   Last week, we open sourced an advanced driver assistance system in order to help accelerate the future of self driving cars and provide a platform anyone can build on top of. We released both openpilot, driving agent research software, and NEO, a robotics platform capable of running openpilot, under the MIT license.   openpilot is an open source adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist system, both safety features available on modern cars. We would like to build the best ones on the market, and help you retrofit them to existing cars.   NEO is an open source robotics research platform. It is centered around an Android phone, similar to Android Based Robots. The modern smartphone is an incredible platform packed with sensors and processing power. NEO also includes a cooling solution and a CAN interface board. CAN is a networking protocol used in cars, trucks, power wheelchairs, golf carts, and many other robotics applications.   With a forthcoming openpilot release, it will become easier for researchers to add support for their own vehicle. On older cars, some actuators may be harder to control than others, but it should be very possible to control the gas electronically to have a gas only adaptive cruise control. It's also possible for researchers to add mechanical actuators for the controls that cannot be electronically actuated. Have fun, be safe, and let's usher in the future of self driving cars together... (Github repo) (Interview)

Future Drones Will Fly as Silent as Owls, as Steady as Bees

Glenn McDonald for Seeker:  Want to know what drones of the future will look like? So does David Lentink, editor of Interface Focus, a journal that, as its title suggests, looks at the interface of different scientific disciplines. Each issue zeroes in on a particular intersection of physical sciences and life sciences and invites the world's top scholars to publish their latest work. The latest issue of Interface Focus brings together biologists and engineers to discuss a topic that's relatively straightforward and, well, pretty empirically cool: "It's completely focused on how animals fly and how that can help us build flying robots," said Lentink, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford.  Can't argue with that. The new issue features 18 newly published papers on various ways that engineers are borrowing ideas from nature to make the next generation of drones and aerial robots. Several of the papers detail prototype drones that have already been built and tested.   Cont'd...

DIY Position Tracking Using HTC Vive's Lighthouse

  From Alexander Shtuchkin: Code & schematics for position tracking sensor using HTC Vive's Lighthouse system and a Teensy board. General purpose indoor positioning sensor, good for robots, drones, etc. 3d position accuracy: currently ~10mm; less than 2mm possible with additional work. Update frequency: 30 Hz Output formats: Text; Mavlink ATT_POS_MOCAP via serial; Ublox GPS emulation (in works) HTC Vive Station visibility requirements: full top hemisphere from sensor. Both stations need to be visible. Positioning volume: same as HTC Vive, approx up to 4x4x3 meters. Cost: ~$10 + Teensy 3.2 ($20) (+ Lighthouse stations (2x $135)) Skills to build: Low complexity soldering; Embedded C++ recommended for integration to your project. (Github page)

Deepmind and Blizzard to Release Starcraft II as an AI Research Environment

From DeepMind:   For almost 20 years, the StarCraft game series has been widely recognised as the pinnacle of 1v1 competitive video games, and among the best PC games of all time. The original StarCraft was an early pioneer in eSports, played at the highest level by elite professional players since the late 90s, and remains incredibly competitive to this day. The StarCraft series’ longevity in competitive gaming is a testament to Blizzard’s design, and their continual effort to balance and refine their games over the years. StarCraft II continues the series’ renowned eSports tradition, and has been the focus of our work with Blizzard. DeepMind is on a scientific mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be told how. Games are the perfect environment in which to do this, allowing us to develop and test smarter, more flexible AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, and also providing instant feedback on how we’re doing through scores... (more)

Self-drive delivery van can be 'built in four hours'

Jane Wakefield for BBC News:   A self-drive electric delivery van, that could be on UK streets next year, has been unveiled at the Wired 2016 conference in London. The vehicle's stripped-back design and lightweight materials mean it can be assembled by one person in four hours, the firm behind it claims. The vehicles will be "autonomous-ready", for when self-drive legislation is in place, the firm said. The government wants to see self-drive cars on the roads by 2020. "We find trucks today totally unacceptable. Loud, polluting and unfriendly," said Denis Sverdlov, chief executive of Charge, the automotive technology firm behind the truck. "We are making trucks the way they should be - affordable, elegant, quiet, clean and safe."   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...

As seen on TV! Neural Enhance

From Alex J. Champandard:   As seen on TV! What if you could increase the resolution of your photos using technology from CSI laboratories? Thanks to deep learning and #NeuralEnhance, it's now possible to train a neural network to zoom in to your images at 2x or even 4x. You'll get even better results by increasing the number of neurons or training with a dataset similar to your low resolution image. The catch? The neural network is hallucinating details based on its training from example images. It's not reconstructing your photo exactly as it would have been if it was HD. That's only possible in Hollywood — but using deep learning as "Creative AI" works and it is just as cool!  (github)

Sweden places ban on flying camera drones without surveillance permits

Zoya Teirstein for The Verge:  The Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden just ruled that camera drones qualify as surveillance cameras and require a permit under Sweden's camera surveillance laws. The ruling requires owners to cough up a sizable fee in order to get their equipment off the ground, and paying to start the process is no guarantee a citizen will be granted the right to fly. County administrators will have to consider whether use of a "surveillance camera" overrides the public's right to privacy on a case-by-case basis. Aerial photographers and recreational drone users may have to rely on alternative methods to get their footage. The justices said dash cams and cameras affixed to bicycle handlebars are not in violation of the public's right to privacy because the devices are within reaching distance of the people who operate them. The ruling targets recreational and commercial users alike, and makes zero exceptions for journalists. Sweden's leading drone company Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) said up to 3,000 people may lose their jobs as a result of the court's decision.   Cont'd...

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