Google Attracts Top U.S. Automakers With Self-Driving Technology

Jack Clark for Bloomberg Business:  Google’s self-driving car technology is attracting top U.S. automakers, as Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors talk with the company while laying the groundwork for a future with autonomous cars. Ford Motor Co. and Google are discussing working together, including in a joint venture to build cars using Google’s technology, said a person familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. That follows comments in October from Mark Reuss, product development chief for General Motors Co., that the automaker was “very interested” in exploring ways its manufacturing skills could complement Google’s system. Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, has said repeatedly the past few months that his company wants to work on autonomous driving with technology companies such as Apple Inc. and Google. “We are entering the era of the technology and software-defined vehicle,” said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president in the automotive practice at Gartner Inc. “You’re just seeing the auto industry recognize the importance of that.”   Cont'd...

Drone Light Painting - The Christmas Edit

From Ascending Technologies' blog: The moves of the LED drone were shot while taking a long exposure photograph of every scene. Up to 10 minutes exposure time were needed. Additionally the flights have been filmed with an A7S Mark ii. In post processing the stills from the original drone flights were visualized via VFX and combined with further video footage. The Drone Light Painting flights have been performed at airspeeds of 2 m/s with the patented V-Form Octocopter AscTec Falcon 8. Santa Claus throwing the presents into the chimneys and the snowflakes in the starting sequence of course are animated GIFs, yet based on flown paintings. Probably it was possible to do any drone light painting you like... ( more )

Building the Steam Controller

From Valve: When we first started designing hardware at Valve, we decided we wanted to try and do the manufacturing as well. To achieve our goal of a flexible controller, we felt it was important to have a similar amount of flexibility in our manufacturing process, and that meant looking into automated assembly lines. It turns out that most consumer hardware of this kind still has humans involved in stages throughout manufacturing, but we kind of went overboard, and built one of the largest fully automated assembly lines in the US. Our film crew recently put together a video of that assembly line, showcasing exactly why robots are awesome.

Road to Robotic Parking Is Littered With Faulty Projects

From New York Times: It seemed like the perfect night life accessory for the South Beach set — an automated robotic parking garage where trendy clubgoers could park their Porsches with a futuristic touch of a button. Forget hiding your GPS and favorite Fendi sunglasses from a valet who might ding your new alloy wheels; this garage would park cars itself. Instead, malfunctions lasted for hours. Cars were smashed, and faulty machinery fell several stories to the ground. Sometimes vehicles were stuck for so long that garage operators had to pay for customers’ taxis... ( full story )  

Drone giant DJI launches crop-spraying drone

From BBC: Billion-dollar drone company DJI is expanding from consumer and camera drones into the agriculture industry. The Chinese firm's latest model is a crop-spraying drone, which it claims is "40 times more efficient" than manual spraying, despite having just 12 minutes of flight time. It will be released in China and Korea where hand-spraying is more common. DJI made $500m (£332m) in drone sales in 2014 and some analysts predict the firm will hit $1bn in sales this year. The Agras MG-1 has eight rotors and can carry up to 10kg of crop-spraying fluids per flight. The foldable device is also dustproof, water-resistant and made of anti-corrosive materials,  the firm says on its website (in Chinese).

Drake: Robotics Planning, Control And Analysis Toolbox

From MIT: Drake ("dragon" in Middle English) is a toolbox maintained by the  Robot Locomotion Group  at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). It is a collection of tools for analyzing the dynamics of our robots and building control systems for them in MATLAB and C++, with a heavy emphasis on optimization-based design/analysis. Here is a quick summary of capabilities: Simulation Rigid-body dynamics including contact/collisions (hybrid+LCP) and kinematic loops Basic aerodynamics/fluid dynamics Sensor models (lidar, depth camera, imu, contact force/torque; cameras coming soon) Hand-derived models for many canonical control dynamical systems Easily add your own models/components Some support for stochastic models For all of the above we aim to expose sparsity and provide analytical gradients / symbolic analysis Primary limitations: code is optimized for analysis / planning / control design (as opposed to speed, generality)... ​... Most of these models/tools are described in  the companion textbook from an MIT course/MOOC . We've also recently started populating the  Drake Gallery  (contributions welcome!)... ( git repo )

There's a five-story vending machine dispensing used cars in Nashville

From Mashable: That's right; online used car retailer Carvana has officially unveiled its first vending machine completely stocked with cars. Standing at five stories tall, the coin-operated (yes, really) glass tower vending machine can house as many as 20 used cars at a time. The facility also includes a welcome center and three customer delivery bays to which the cars are dispensed... ( full story )  

Simbe Robotics launches new retail robot

By Silicon Valley Robotics via Robohub:  The area of service robotics is getting active, with a new retail robot startup launching today. Tally is one of several robotics startups launching today at Haxlr8r’s 7th Demo Day. Tally is an inventory tracking robot platform fromSimbe Robotics and the “world’s first robotic autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution” according to the press release. Tally is in trials with several North American retailers and will traverse aisles scanning and auditing merchandise to help stores maintain ideal product placement, fill inventory gaps, and find misplaced or mispriced items. Tally is also capable of autonomously returning to base to charge. “When it comes to the retail industry, shopper experience is everything. If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer,” according to Brad Bogolea, CEO and Co-founder of Simbe Robotics. “Tally helps retailers address these challenges by providing more precise and timely analysis of the state of in-store merchandise and freeing up staff to focus on customer service.”   Cont'd...

How Sensorimotor Intelligence May Develop

From Institute of Science and Technology Austria: Robotic systems controlled by a neural network spontaneously develop self-organized behaviors. Researchers propose a novel learning rule in PNAS to explain the development of sensorimotor intelligence. It is fascinating to observe a robot exploring its physical possibilities and surroundings, and subsequently developing different self-taught behaviors without any instructions. In their paper (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1508400112) published on October, 26, 2015 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), Professor Ralf Der from the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, und Georg Martius, Postdoc and Fellow at the Institute for Science and Technology (IST Austria), demonstrate the emergence of sensorimotor intelligence in robots based on their proposed learning rule... ... To test their hypothesis, the authors use bioinspired robots consisting of a humanoid and a hexapod robot in physically realistic computer simulations. The robots receive sensory input from their bodies but are not given any form of instruction or task. What can then be observed is a rich spectrum of rhythmic behaviors of the robots as they explore various movements. Solely because of the tight coupling of environment, body, and brain (in this case an artificial neural network), the robots can obtain feedback from their situation and adapt quickly. This, together with a simple, learned self-model, allows them to develop a form of sensorimotor intelligence... ( full article ) ( paper ) ( videos and other materials )

Interactive Video Annotation Tool for Computer Vision Research

From University of California, Irvine: VATIC is a free, online, interactive video annotation tool for computer vision research that crowdsources work to Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Our tool makes it easy to build massive, affordable video data sets and can be deployed on a cloud. After three years of research, vatic is now used by labs around the world to annotate the next generation of data sets. Features Crowdsource video annotation to Mechanical Turk Automatic quality assurance for good annotations Complex payment schedules and bonuses One-click worker compensation Optimized interface for video annotation Offline mode for expert annotator use (no MTurk) ( site ) ( github )

Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan

By JUN HONGO for The Wall Street Journal:  Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores. According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents. Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture between mobile Internet company DeNA Co. and vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc., is aiming to commercialize its driverless transportation service by 2020. The company says it will seek to offer unmanned cabs to users including travelers from overseas and locals in areas where buses and trains are not available.   Cont'd...

Bigger, Better, Stronger 6DOF Platforms Using AMC1280USB Controller

From  Thanos 6DOF Motion Simulator Electronics blog : Lately we see more and better DIY 6DOF platforms being build. The community is growing strong and the interest in 6DOF systems is bigger than ever. Its the only way to provide full immersion for motion simulation at the moment, that combined with other new technologies like the oculus rift or fully enclosed detailed cockpits can really make the difference. The times that desktop racers or flight enthusiasts were enjoying their simulation games or training for the real thing is past without return. Even older motion systems that provide 2DOF (seat movers) or 3DOF platforms are now the past, offering too little to the immersion of gaming... ( more projects )  

Magic: The Gathering Is Turing Complete

From Alex Churchill: In the discussion on this site I assemble a Universal Turing Machine from Magic: the Gathering cards. But doesn't Magic involve the players making lots of choices? Normally, yes, it does. But occasionally in normal gameplay you get a sequence of three or four events in a row that are forced to happen by the cards and the rules of the game. The machine below just extends this idea to millions of forced choices in a row. The idea of my Magic Turing machine is that the players do nothing at all, except when the game offers them a choice. Once the in-game "machine" has started, processing continues without requiring any choices from the players, with one category of exceptions: Some of the cards in the machine say "You may [do X]. If you do, [Y happens]." In these cases, the machine arranges that the players will be able to do X, in precisely one way. It just requires the players to always choose to take the game up on any options they're offered... ( cont'd )

Building a Rope Bridge With Flying Machines

  From Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering at ETH Zurich: The Aerial Construction project is a collaboration between the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control and the Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication. The objective is to investigate and develop methods and techniques for robotic aerial construction... ( project homepage )  

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)

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