Advances in farming robotics could address shortage in agricultural workers

By Steve Brachmann for IPWatchDog:  More and more, the agricultural world is looking towards the mechanization of labor processes through robotics as a way of potentially increasing their productivity. Robotics was identified as a sector of investment growth in agricultural tech by an April 2014 white paper on agriculture technologies published by the entrepreneurship and education non-profit Kauffman Foundation. Robotics is a regular focus of ours here on IPWatchdog, most recently visited in our coverage of the incredible advancements in walking and jumping robotics pioneered by Boston Dynamics, a Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) subsidiary. With American farmers already heavily involved in the regulatory conversation involving the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, we thought that it would be interesting to delve into the world of farming robotics and see the recent advances in that particular field. It’s important to understand first that the robotics being developed for commercial use on farms won’t be stand-alone humanoid units ranging through fields to pick crops. Any piece of hardware implementing an algorithm which automates some of the manual work of farming falls under this heading. One good example of this is the LettuceBot, a precision thinning technology which works to visually characterize plants in a lettuce row, identify which plants to keep and eliminating unwanted plants to optimize yield. The unit doesn’t move by itself but is guided along by a tractor instead. The technology has been developed by Blue River Technology of Sunnyvale, CA, a company which has attracted $13 million in investment between 2011 and 2014 to commercialize this product. The LettuceBot’s creators hope toprovide the technology as a third-party service to farm owners before manufacturing the unit for commercial sale.   Cont'd...

euRathlon 2015 Challenge

Sixth day of euRathlon 2015 - euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge - Part 2 25 September 2015, Piombino, Italy. View euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge - Part 1. Day Five View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Two-domain Scenarios. Day Four. View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Two Domain Trials - Day Th ree View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Single Domain Trials - Day Two View euRathlon 2015 Challenge: Single-domain trials - Day One

WowWee brings expensive university bots to store shelves

By Corinne Iozzio for Scientific American:  Hong Kong–based WowWee's success stems from bringing university research projects to life that might otherwise languish in the prototype stage. A licensing agreement with the Flow Control and Coordinated Robotics Labs at the University of California, San Diego, for example, provides WowWee with access to patents and the labs with a healthy cash infusion. The collaboration has already netted a series of toy robots that balance like Segways. More recently, the avionics lab at Concordia University in Montreal began working with the company to perfect flight algorithms for a four-rotor drone. Next, chief technology officer Davin Sufer says he has his eye on the Georgia Institute of Technology and its work with swarming behaviors, which would allow a group of robots to function in tandem. In the case of Switchbot, WowWee adapted a locomotion system developed in part by former U.C. San Diego student Nick Morozovsky. The robot moves on tank-tread legs either horizontally to navigate uneven terrain or on end to stand and scoot fully upright. Morozovsky built his prototype with off-the-shelf parts, including a set of $50 motors. The motors were a compromise; each one had the size and torque he wanted but not the speed. Over the past few years he has worked with WowWee to customize a motor with the exact parameters needed and to cut the final cost of the part down to single digits. That back and forth yields low-cost, mass-producible parts, which means university-level robotics could become available to everyday people. “One of the reasons I went into mechanical engineering was so I could create real things that have a direct impact,” Morozovsky says. “I didn't expect that to necessarily happen in the process of grad school.”   Cont'd...

7Bot: $300 6-axis Aluminum Desktop Robot Arm

From 7Bot's Kickstarter campaign: In 2014, two of us co-founded project uArm with other two makers. There we received a lot of feedback from our Angel backers: More axis for more powerful applications, and more controlling dimensions (force control, speed control and flexible-joint). More rugged material rather than Acrylic, muscular servos hardly to be burned out.  More intelligent API. Better inverse kinematics and path planning algorithms to make the movement more precise and smooth.  More accessories and various of end-effectors. Our custom servos with precise position feedback allow you to quickly set it up and operate in teaching mode without any codes. In this mode, you can simply drag each joint of the robot to a serious of desired way points. The movements will be recorded, and could be replayed in an optimized path.  A multi-platform supported 3D visualization application will be provided for you to manipulate the 7Bot Arm intuitively. With our 3D visualization application, you can easily set and read the position of each joint separately with real-time graphic interface.   If you have two 7Bot Arms, you can build this amazing Humanoid robot -7Bot Arm Dual: Estimated shipping date is January 2015...  (7Bot's Kickstarter campaign)

Star Wars The Force Awakens BB-8 Toy Teardown

  From uBreakiFix's Youtube channel:

Soft Robotics Project Exo-Biote 3D Prints Living Movement

BY HANNAH ROSE MENDOZA for  Soft robotics is a relatively new field of research that aims to create flexible robots that are more easily adaptable to human interaction. Often, the forms of these creations and the mechanics of their movement are inspired by a close study of nature in an effort to ‘go organic’ with machines. 3D printing with flexible filament is one way in which this integration of robot and movement is taking on a flexible aspect. For this particular installation, titled Exo-biote, the National Institute for Research in Computer and Control and the Department of Science and Visual Culture at the Imaginarium worked together, with support from Neuflize Bank, to create a robot organism that embodied the formal typologies and demonstrated the possibilities for movements in soft robots. After all, some of nature’s most amazing machines have nearly entirely soft bodies – think of the octopus, for example, able to lift, carry, walk, swim, shape change, camouflage itself, and fit through a tube no bigger than a quarter!   Cont'd...

Toyota hires robotics expert for AI push

Richard Waters for  Toyota has hired the top robotics expert from the US defence department’s research arm and promised $50m in extra funding for artificial intelligence research, as it steps up the race between the world’s biggest carmakers to pioneer new forms of computer-assisted driving. However, the Japanese carmaker maintained on Friday that completely driverless cars were still years away, and that AI and robotics would have a more complex effect on the relationship between humans and their vehicles than Google’s experiments with “robot cars” suggest. Gill Pratt, who stepped down recently from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), will move to Silicon Valley to head Toyota’s robotics efforts, the company said. Darpa played a key role in stimulating interest in driverless cars with a competition in 2005 — the leader of the winning entry, Sebastian Thrun, who was then a professor at Stanford University, went on to found Google’s driverless car programme.   Cont'd...

Robotics Enter Hybrid Instruction

By Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology:  A doctoral program at Michigan State University has begun experimenting with the use of robots to pull on-campus and off-campus students closer together in class. The Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) doctoral program focuses on the study of human learning and development and diverse technologies supporting learning and teaching. During a spring course in 2015 all but one student participated by being present in the form of an Apple iPad affixed to a swivel robot that was stationary; one student was on a robot that could move around the classroom. As Christine Greenhow, the faculty member who led the seminar course, explained, the experiment was intended to expand beyond traditional Web presence of online students. "When you are using videoconferencing, it's very common to see all these different faces on the screen if you're here in the classroom and not really know where to look. It creates this distance between the speaker who's online and the speakers in the class," she said in a video about the project. "What if we could put online students in the classroom in a robot? How would their presence change?"   Cont'd...

Intel camera gives robots 3D vision

Bot-maker Savioke announces an open-source wrapper for Intel's RealSense Camera, adding another low-cost 3D sensing solution to the roboticist's toolkit. The wrapper will allow developers to make use of the RealSense Camera, which enables robots to sense rich three-dimensional environments. "Intel RealSense Cameras bring great low-cost depth sensing to robotics, in a platform that is widely available and easy to integrate using ROS," says Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke. Until recently, bot makers looking to incorporate 3D sensing on the cheap have relied on a sensor made by Israeli company PrimeSense. But in late 2013 PrimeSense was acquired by Apple for $350M, an indication of just how much potential the Cupertino-based giant sees in 3D sensing technology. Since the acquisition, robot developers have been eager for a flexible and cheap depth sensor. Intel, meanwhile, is making an aggressive move into the world of robotics, and the company was thrilled to offer ROS support for RealSense. 

Humanoid robot negotiates outdoor, rough terrain with ease

Boston Dynamics have developed the "Atlas" robot a highly mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain.  Here is a video showing "Atlas" courtesy euronews.

Gecko-inspired technology for 'climbing' space robots

MIT researchers have designed a human-machine interface that allows an exoskeleton-wearing human operator to control the movements and balance of a bipedal robot. The technology could allow robots to be deployed to a disaster site, where the robot would explore the area, guided by a human operator from a remote location. "We'd eventually have someone wearing a full-body suit and goggles, so he can feel and see everything the robot does, and vice versa," said PhD student Joao Ramos of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Mechanical Engineering. "We plan to have the robot walk as a quadruped, then stand up on two feet to do difficult manipulation tasks such as open a door or clear an obstacle," Ramos said.   Cont'd...

Giving robots a more nimble grasp

Engineers use the environment to give simple robotic grippers more dexterity. Engineers at MIT have now hit upon a way to impart more dexterity to simple robotic grippers: using the environment as a helping hand. The team, led by Alberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and graduate student Nikhil Chavan-Dafle, has developed a model that predicts the force with which a robotic gripper needs to push against various fixtures in the environment in order to adjust its grasp on an object.

Robo-Sabotage Is Surprisingly Common

By Matt Beane for MIT Technology Review:  I think perhaps there’s something else at work here. Beyond building robots to increase productivity and do dangerous, dehumanizing tasks, we have made the technology into a potent symbol of sweeping change in the labor market, increased inequality, and recently the displacement of workers. If we replace the word “robot” with “machine,” this has happened in cycles extending well back through the Industrial Revolution. Holders of capital invest in machinery to increase production because they get a better return, and then many people, including some journalists, academics, and workers cry foul, pointing to the machinery as destroying jobs. Amidst the uproar, eventually there are a few reports of people angrily breaking the machines. Two years ago, I did an observational study of semiautonomous mobile delivery robots at three different hospitals. I went in looking for how using the robots changed the way work got done, but I found out that beyond increasing productivity through delivery work, the robots were kept around as a symbol of how progressive the hospitals were, and that when people who’d been doing similar delivery jobs at the hospitals quit, their positions weren’t filled.   Cont'd...

3D printing is not the miracle we were promised

Mike Murphy for Quartz:  3D printing has been hailed as the future of manufacturing for years now. Consumers and investors were sold on the idea of being able to print anything at any time from a little box in their houses. But that Jetsons-like vision hasn’t come to pass. The 3D printers available to consumers are great for making small prototypes or tchotchkes. But they’re still slow, inaccurate and generally only print one material at a time. And that’s not going to change any time soon. That reality is setting in for 3D printer makers. Stratasys, which owns MakerBot and is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial and industrial 3D printers, announced its fifth straight quarter of losses today. 3D Systems, which was founded by the man who invented 3D printing—Chuck Hull—isn’t faring much better. Wall Street’s interest in 3D printing seems to have peaked in the first week of 2014: The stock prices for both Stratasys and 3D Systems were at their highest on January 3 last year. Stratasys had completed the purchase of MakerBot—which has been called the “Apple” of 3D printing—about three months earlier, and it looked as if things were on the up. But a little over a year later, MakerBot laid off a fifth of its staff, closed its stores, and started focusing on selling to schools. As it stands, it seems that the market is retracting to industrial printers, for companies that benefit from rapidly prototyping objects. 3D printing makes a lot of sense when companies can quickly model and print their ideas—anything from new bike helmets to car doors or sprockets. These are where (relatively) cheap, disposable plastic models thrive, as companies can churn out all the models they need, and then turn to more traditional automated processes, like CNC milling or vacuum forming, to build their final product at scale, using materials that will actually last.   Cont'd...

3D Printing and Technology Fund Adds Robotics to the Mix

BY BRIAN KRASSENSTEIN for  There are several ways one can diversify their holdings within any market. An investor could simply research which firms are out there within a particular industry, like the 3D printing industry, and invest small amounts into each by purchasing shares. The easiest way, however, would be to find a fund that’s going to do all the work for you, managed by someone who likely has more experience in the market than you do.  There is currently only one main fund which concentrates their efforts primarily on the 3D printing space, the 3D Printing and Technology Fund (TDPNX), managed by CEO Alan M. Meckler, and his son John M. Meckler.  While the fund is currently down approximately 13% YTD, it has outperformed the two largest pure play 3D printing stocks, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), significantly. 3D Systems is down over 44% on the year, and Stratasys down a staggering 58.5%. Today the fund is making a major change, one that the Mecklers feel should increase opportunity for investors. Up until this point, the fund allocated at least 80% of their capital to what they defined as ‘3D printing companies’ and ‘technology companies’. Today this changed, along with the fund’s official name. The fund’s new name will now be ‘3D Printing, Robotics and Technology Fund,’ while going forward 80% of their capital will now be allocated to what they define as ‘3D printing companies,’ ‘robotics companies’ and ‘technology companies.’   Cont'd...

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