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. Full Article:

Why Robots and Humans Struggled with DARPA's Challenge

Will Knight for MIT Technology Review:  When some of the world’s most advanced rescue robots are foiled by nothing more complex than a doorknob, you get a good sense of the challenge of making our homes and workplaces more automated. At the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a contest held over the weekend in California, two dozen extremely sophisticated robots did their best to perform a series of tasks on an outdoor course, including turning a valve, climbing some steps, and opening a door (see “A Transformer Wins DARPA’s $2 Million Robotics Challenge”). Although a couple of robots managed to complete the course, others grasped thin air, walked into walls, or simply toppled over as if overcome with the sheer impossibility of it all. At the same time, efforts by human controllers to help the robots through their tasks may offer clues as to how human-machine collaboration could be deployed in various other settings. “I think this is an opportunity for everybody to see how hard robotics really is,” says Mark Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics, now owned by Google, which produced an extremely sophisticated humanoid robot called Atlas.   Cont'd...

Japan's Robot Revolution Is Attracting Venture Capitalists

by Shigeru Sato and Monami Yui for Bloomberg Business:    Venture capitalists who have long avoided investing in Japan may think again as startups in the country develop a new generation of robot technology, according to consultant Koichi Hori. While Japan has little chance of catching up to the U.S. in digital media, the next phase of technological innovation will be in robotics with artificial intelligence, said Hori, who headed Boston Consulting Group Inc.’s Japan office before founding Dream Incubator Inc. in 2000. That plays to Japan’s strengths in engineering, he said.  “Digital media will only be in the mainstream for about three years, or five years at most,” Hori, 70, said in an interview in Tokyo on May 27. “From that time on, robots and robotics will be the eye-catchy industries. Japan has a good chance, particularly in the area of hardware for robots.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for a “robot revolution” to help reclaim the dominance of Japanese technology after companies such as Sony Corp. lost ground to Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. With venture investment less than 3 percent that of the U.S., Japan has struggled to replicate Silicon Valley’s success as a hub of innovation.   Cont'd...

Watch DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals Live Online

25 teams compete on a disaster-simulated course, and one winning robot will take home $2 million. CuriosityStream will bring you top of the line coverage of the event. Get up close with the robots, meet the brains behind the technology - and explore the past, present, and future of robots with our new lineup of Science/Technology programming. Join CuriosityStream and DARPA as we discover which robot will save the day!

5 things to know about the DARPA Robotics Competition

From Lyndsey Gilpin  for TechRepublic:  The DARPA Finals will be held in Pomona, California from June 5-6, and the robots that come out of it could make some big impacts (or take over the world). Here's a summary of what you should know.  1. It began with the desire to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster relief The Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 was an inspiration for the competition, according to Dr. Gill Pratt, the DRC program manager. The team realized we never know what the next disaster will be, but we need technology to help us better address these types of disasters with better tools and techniques. And robots have massive potential.   "The particular part that we've chosen to focus on, here, is technology for responding during the emergency part of the disaster during the first day or two," Pratt said in a media briefing several weeks before the competition. "So this is not about, for instance, robotics for doing the restoration of the environment many, many weeks, years after the disaster, but rather the emergency response at the beginning."   Cont'd..  

Amazon Picking Challenge aimed at improving warehouse robotics

By David Szondy for Gizmag:  One of the biggest events at the recent 2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Seattle was the first Amazon Picking Challenge, in which 31 teams from around the world competed for US$26,000 in prizes. The challenge set entrants with the real-world task of building a robot that can do the same job as an Amazon stock picker.According to Amazon Chief Technology Officer Peter Wurman, who initiated the challenge, the task of picking items off the shelf may seem simple, but it involves all domains of robotics. The robot has to capable of object and pose recognition. It must be able to plan its grasps, adjust manipulations, plan how to move, and be able to execute tasks while noticing and correcting any errors. This might suggest that the robots would need to be of a new, specialized design, but for the Picking Challenge, Amazon made no such requirement. According to one participant we talked to, the more important factors were sensors and computer modelling, so ICRA 2015 saw all sorts of robots competing, such as the general purpose Baxter and PR2, industrial arms of various sizes, and even special-built frames that move up, down, left or right to position the arm. Even the manipulators used by the various teams ranged from hooks, to hand-like graspers, and vacuum pickups.   Continue reading for competition results:

Titan Robotics announces new high-quality large-scale 3D printer called The Atlas

Founded by mechanical engineer Clay Guillory, who calls himself “a mechanical engineer by day, and a mechanical engineer by night,” Titan Robotics focuses on doing one thing and one thing very well: designing large 3D printers that are designed to last a lifetime.  Among other applications that Clay has used his 3D printing know-how towards include prosthetic hands - which started as a request from a mother whose 8-year old boy was in need of a low-cost solution. Titan Robotics’ Atlas 3D printer was named after the famous Greek god who was known for fighting alongside the Titans and then later charged to bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders.  According to Clay, “the strength of this Greek god is an accurate depiction of the strength and size of this new 3D printer”.   With over a year in development including real-world testing in various manufacturing facilities, the Atlas has proven to be a highly-accurate 3D printer that is capable of printing large prototypes reliably over time.  According to the company, one beta user documented printing an extremely large accurate and functioning prototype with a total recorded print time of just over 200 hours.    

Paralyzed man can now use his mind to shake hands, drink beer using robotic arm

A man paralyzed by gunshot more than a decade ago can shake hands, drink beer and play "rock, paper, scissors" by controlling a robotic arm with his thoughts, researchers reported.   Two years ago, doctors in California implanted a pair of tiny chips into the brain of Erik Sorto that decoded his thoughts to move the free-standing robotic arm. The 34-year-old has been working with researchers and occupational therapists to practice and fine-tune his movements.   It's the latest attempt at creating mind-controlled prosthetics to help disabled people gain more independence. In the last decade, several people outfitted with brain implants have used their minds to control a computer cursor or steer prosthetic limbs.   Full Article:

ABB's Acquisition of Gomtec Expands Collaborative Robotics Portfolio

ABB, a leading power and automation group, announced it acquired Gomtec GmbH to expand its offering in the field of collaborative robots. The parties agreed not to disclose financial terms of the transaction. Gomtec, based near Munich, Germany, is a privately held company that develops mechatronic systems combining mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, control and computer engineering for customers in diverse industries. It has 25 employees. Gomtec's technology platform will strengthen ABB's development of a new generation of "safe-by-design" collaborative robots that can be operated outside of cages or protective fencing, expanding opportunities to deploy them in new applications.

25 teams prepare for 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals

By David Szondy for Gizmag:  On June 5 and 6, the 2015 DARPA Robotic Challenge (DRC) Finals will take place at Fairplex in Pomona, California. Open to the public, it will see 25 international teams compete for US$3.5 million in prizes as part of an effort to develop robots for disaster relief. Here's what to expect. This year's challenge will see 25 teams competing. Half of the teams are from the United States, five are from Japan, three from Korea, two from Germany, one from Italy, one from Hong Kong, and one from the People’s Republic of China. They will be vying for a US$3.5 million total of prizes; including a $2 million first prize, a $1 million second prize, and a $500,000 third prize. The robots will be of a wide variety with some humanoid, some four-legged, and some tracked, but all will need to operate free of external power, mechanical support, and limited communications with their controllers. The basic idea behind DRC 2015 is to make things much harder for the robots than previously.

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