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...

R&D Spending Expected to Spike in Robotics Industry Until 2020

Kagan Pittman for Engineering.com:  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...

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

Phys.org:  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...

Robotics Gone Wild: 8 Animal-Inspired Machines

Thomas Claburn for InformationWeek:  Among programmers, there's a principle called DRY, which stands for "Don't repeat yourself." It's an attempt to avoid writing code that duplicates the function of other code. DRY embodies the same resistance to needless repetition as the more common idiom, "Don't reinvent the wheel." Among those making robots, a group that includes software and hardware engineers attempts to adhere to these principles, as can be seen in designs that borrow from nature, from the evolved forms of life on Earth. Biomimicry and bioinspired design provide a way to avoid reinventing the wheel. The biological systems of living things have been honed through eons of Darwinian user testing. Borrowing aspects of animal physiology isn't the only option or necessarily the best option for robot designers. For some purposes, something new may be necessary. For others, biomechanically systems can't be easily duplicated.   Cont'd...

Cozmo Is an Artificially Intelligent Toy Truck That's Also the Future of Robotics

CADE METZ for WIRED:  HANNS TAPPEINER TYPES a few lines of code into his laptop and hits “return.” A tiny robot sits beside the laptop, looking like one of those anthropomorphic automobiles that show up in Pixar’s Cars movies. Almost instantly, it wakes up, rolls down the table, and counts to four. This is Cozmo—an artificially intelligent toy robot unveiled late last month by San Francisco startup Anki—and Tappeiner, one of the company’s founders, is programming the little automaton to do new things. The programs are simple—he also teaches Cozmo to stack blocks—but they’re supposed to be simple. Tappeiner is using Anki’s newly unveiled software development kit—an SDK, in coder parlance—that he says even the greenest of coders can use to tweak the behavior of the toy robot. And that’s a big deal, at least according to Anki. The company claims the SDK is the first of its kind: a kit that lets anyone program such an intelligent robot, a robot that recognizes faces and navigates new environments and even mimics emotions. With the kit, Tappeiner says, “we’re trying to advance the field of robotics.” He compares the move to Apple letting people build apps for the iPhone.   Cont'd...

I, Snowbot

From New York Magazine:   Snowden’s body might be confined to Moscow, but the former NSA computer specialist has hacked a work-around: a robot. If he wants to make his physical presence felt in the United States, he can connect to a wheeled contraption called a BeamPro, a flat-screen monitor that stands atop a pair of legs, five-foot-two in all, with a camera that acts as a swiveling Cyclops eye. Inevitably, people call it the “Snowbot.” The avatar resides at the Manhattan offices of the ACLU, where it takes meetings and occasionally travels to speaking engagements. (You can Google pictures of the Snowbot posing with Sergey Brin at TED.) Undeniably, it’s a gimmick: a tool in the campaign to advance Snowden’s cause — and his case for clemency — by building his cultural and intellectual celebrity. But the technology is of real symbolic and practical use to Snowden, who hopes to prove that the internet can overcome the power of governments, the strictures of exile, and isolation... (full article)

Rise in Robotics Requires New Tax Approach, EU Report Warns

Linda A. Thompson for Bloomberg:  European lawmakers warn that the growing use of robots and artificial intelligence may cause job losses across the continent, threatening to result in plummeting tax revenues if current tax frameworks aren't revised to account for the rise of the robotic workforce. Practitioners told Bloomberg BNA that taxing robots as “electronic persons,” as the EU contemplates in a recent report, would hinder innovation and that other ways of taxing the value that robotics create should be explored. The recent European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs draft reportrecommends the European Commission adopt a resolution to require companies to report on “the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions.” Its first paragraph references Frankenstein, and comes amid mounting concerns that the rise in automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace will fundamentally alter economies, destroy jobs and jeopardize social welfare programs such as social security.   Cont'd...

Toyota's U.S. Robotics Boss Promises Results Within 5 Years

Yuri Kageyama for News Factor:  The U.S. robotics expert tapped to head Toyota's Silicon Valley research company says the $1 billion investment by the giant Japanese automaker will start showing results within five years. Gill Pratt [pictured above] told reporters that the Toyota Research Institute is also looking ahead into the distant future when there will be cars that anyone, including children and the elderly, can ride in on their own, as well as robots that help out in homes. Pratt, a former program manager at the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, joined Toyota Motor Corp. first as a technical adviser when it set up its artificial intelligence research effort at Stanford University and MIT. He said safety features will be the first types of AI applications to appear in Toyota vehicles. Such features are already offered on some models now being sold, such as sensors that help cars brake or warn drivers before a possible crash, and cars that drive themselves automatically into parking spaces or on certain roads. "I expect something to come out during those five years," Pratt told reporters recently at Toyota's Tokyo office of the timeframe seen for the investment.   Cont'd...

Boston Dynamics posts video of one of the quietest robots ever being built

John DiPietro for NHVoice:  Lately, Boston Dynamics has released a new video of its robot called Mini Spot. In the video, the robot is seen running around outside, planning around objects in a home and climbing up stairs. The best part of the video is how delicately the robot picks up a wine glass and puts into the dishwasher. The wine-glass act has been highlight as it could be judged as to how much skilled is the robot in handling delicate things. For robots to safely operate around humans they need to be able to sense their environment and capable of knowing how mighty they are. Mini Spot weighs 55 lbs and is all electric and runs for around 90 minutes on a charge depending on what is it doing. The robot is having many sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro and proprioception sensors in its limbs.   Cont'd...

Robotic Motion Planning

George Konidaris and Daniel Sorin of Duke University have developed a new technology that cuts robotic motion planning times by 10,000 while consuming a small fraction of the power compared to current options. Watch one of their robotic arms in action as they explain how their innovative solution works.

Artificial Intelligence Produces Realistic Sounds That Fool Humans

From MIT News:   Video-trained system from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab could help robots understand how objects interact with the world.  Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have demonstrated an algorithm that has effectively learned how to predict sound: When shown a silent video clip of an object being hit, the algorithm can produce a sound for the hit that is realistic enough to fool human viewers. This “Turing Test for sound” represents much more than just a clever computer trick: Researchers envision future versions of similar algorithms being used to automatically produce sound effects for movies and TV shows, as well as to help robots better understand objects’ properties... (full article) (full paper)  

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