Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

Tom Simonite for MIT Technology Review:  Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board. Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia’s Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port—the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically. Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines—one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.   Cont'd...

Amazon patents system to defend drones against hackers, jammers … and arrows

Alan Boyle for GeekWire:  If there are any Robin Hoods out there who are thinking about shooting down drones while they’re making deliveries, Amazon has a patented plan to stop you. The patent, filed in 2014 but published just last week, lays out countermeasures for potential threats ranging from computer hacking to lightning flashes to bows and arrows. If nothing else, the 33-page application illustrates how many things could possibly go wrong with an autonomous navigation system for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The “compromise system” that Amazon’s engineers propose relies on an array of sensors to orient the drone based on the sun’s position in the sky, if need be. That’s in case the drone gets confused by, say, lightning or a muzzle flash.   Cont'd.. .

Upcoming Tradeshow, Conference & Exhibition Summary - February - April 2017

Here is a summary of what Tradeshows, Conferences & Exhibitions to look forward to in the coming months.

The Aggressively Flying Quadrotor

Steve Arar for All About Circuits:  Recently, Vijay Kumar’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with researchers from Qualcomm has unveiled a quadrotor which can fly aggressively through a window. You may think that you have seen similar robots before; however, there is a big difference between previously designed robots and this new technology. Generally, to exhibit challenging maneuvers, a quadrotor depends on an array of cameras mounted on the walls and some external processors. The image captured by the cameras is processed and the outcome is delivered to the robot. The computer can issue precise commands and the only thing that the robot needs to do is to follow the orders. However, the new robot performs both the image capturing and processing onboard. The quadrotor carries an IMU, a Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Hexagon DSP. With the onboard sensors and processors, the robot is able to perform localization, state estimation, and path planning autonomously.   Cont'd...

Robotics Veteran Raises Venture Capital to Build Exoskeleton

Alistair Blair for Bloomberg Technology:  The word "robot" conjures images of bulky, metal humanoid objects moving awkwardly. Robotics veteran Rich Mahoney is trying to change that perception by creating a robotic exoskeleton people can wear. After more than seven years running a robotics group at Silicon Valley research institution SRI International, Mahoney left about a year ago to form a startup called Superflex. On Tuesday, the company said it raised $9.6 million from investors including Japanese venture capital group Global Brain and Horizons Ventures, the VC fund of Asian billionaire Li Ka-shing. Superflex is developing a lightweight suit with electric "muscles" that help the elderly and other less-mobile people move around. The system, which will look a bit like a unitard, is designed to provide the wearer with extra strength to get up from a chair or stand for longer. The device has thin actuators built in that use battery power to contract at the same time as people's real muscles.   Cont'd...

Robotmaster Reduces Outsourcing, Increases Production and Profitability

Adding a robotic system enabled Groupe Gravel, a metal fabricator, to profitably automate cutting and welding for high-mix short-batch production. Robotmaster's tools enabled automatic path creation from CAD models drastically improved programming time.

Japan's Rust Belt Counting on Robonomics to Run Assembly Lines

Yoshiaki Nohara, Toru Fujioka, and Daniel Moss for Bloomberg:  A withering factory town in Japan’s Rust Belt is looking for revival through a dose of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s "robot revolution." Kadoma’s population has declined 13 percent as the nation ages, prompting mergers among elementary schools and emergency services departments. Factories can’t find enough people to run assembly lines, further threatening an industrial base that includes titan Panasonic Corp. and smaller businesses like Izumo Co., a maker of industrial rubber. Yet Izumo President Tsutomu Otsubo doesn’t believe the solution involves finding more people. He’d rather find more machines to do the work so his company can capitalize on Abe’s plan to quadruple Japan’s robotics sector into a 2.4 trillion yen ($20 billion) industry by 2020.   Cont'd...

LiDAR 101: A Q&A with a Pictometry Expert

Because LiDAR uses light, the target must be visible, so it is not an all-weather solution. It won't work well in fog or other weather conditions that affect visibility, but if conditions are clear, it can operate during both day and night.

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)

A Robotics ETF Tries to Find its Way

Brenton Garen for ETF Trends:  This year has seen another crowded field of new exchange traded funds come to market and within that group are plenty of niche funds, indicating that ETF issuers continue to slice and dice investment ideas into increasingly fine fund packages. The Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: BOTZ) is one of those niche funds. BOTZ provides exposure to companies involved in the adoption and utilization of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), including those involved with industrial manufacturing, medicine, autonomous vehicles, and other applications. BOTZ follows the Indxx Global Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Thematic Index. The ETF, which debuted in September with the Global X FinTech Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: FINX) and the Global X Internet of Things Thematic ETF (NasdaqGM: SNSR), holds 28 stocks with an average market cap of $8.8 billion, putting the ETF in mid-cap territory.   Cont'd...

Was That an Insect or a Drone?

The insect drone takes on the functions of larger UAVs, but reduces the larger drones down into a miniature undetectable device.

Engineers Devise New Method to Heighten Senses of Soft Robot

Written by AZoRobotics:  Most robots achieve grasping and tactile sensing through motorized means, which can be excessively bulky and rigid. A Cornell group has devised a way for a soft robot to feel its surroundings internally, in much the same way humans do. A group led by Robert Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and principal investigator of Organic Robotics Lab, has published a paper describing how stretchable optical waveguides act as curvature, elongation and force sensors in a soft robotic hand. Doctoral student Huichan Zhao is lead author of “Optoelectronically Innervated Soft Prosthetic Hand via Stretchable Optical Waveguides,” which is featured in the debut edition of Science Robotics. The paper published Dec. 6; also contributing were doctoral students Kevin O’Brien and Shuo Li, both of Shepherd’s lab.   Cont'd.. .

The IDC FutureScape Report: Worldwide Robotics 2017 Predictions

IDC predicts a compound annual growth rate of 17% to reach a global total market for robotics around $135 billion by 2019.

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