Alphabet Shakes Up Its Robotics Division

From The New York Times: Google’s robotics division has been plagued by low morale and a lack of leadership since the unit’s founder left abruptly in 2014. Now Alphabet is cleaning it up. Over the last two months, Alphabet, the new holding company that separated Google from its collection of speculative projects, has reframed the robots effort, moving it from a stand-alone division inside Google to a piece of the X research division. The company has also hired Hans Peter Brondmo, a technology industry veteran who last worked at Nokia, to help with management... ... After starting the robotics division, Mr. Rubin quickly went on a buying spree, purchasing a number of promising companies, including Boston Dynamics, the of experimental military robots, and Schaft, an elite group of Japanese roboticists from the University of Tokyo... ... Google’s robotics effort stalled after his departure, going through a variety of leaders, including James Kuffner, a Carnegie Mellon roboticist who has since joined Toyota’s research and development laboratory in Palo Alto, and Jonathan Rosenberg, who is a troubleshooter for Larry Page, the Google co-founder who is Alphabet’s chief executive... ( full article )

The Segway Robot

Segway announcement from CES: A Segway that sees the world and a robot that gives you a ride. Segway Robot can navigate and follow, and he is extendable with many exciting possibilities. The future is interesting... ... We target to start shipping Segway Robot Developer Edition in early Q3 2016. It will come with a full SDK. Whether you are creating for yourself or are interested in developing new skills and content, the SDK is for you. With the purchase of the Segway Robot Developer Edition, you will be enrolled in the Segway Robot Developer Program and have direct access to support and advice from our team... (more details)

Lego's classroom robotics kit goes wireless

Ross Miller for The Verge:   Lego's entry-level robotics set is getting an overhaul. The brickmaker today is announcing WeDo 2.0 for elementary classrooms, which will both teach science-related concepts and, more importantly, let children build and program Lego robots. Designed to teach engineering and science, Lego Education's WeDo 2.0 kits contain about 280 Lego pieces, which also includes motion / tilt sensors and a motor. The new version eschews USB tethering for Bluetooth LE-powered "smarthub" brick that connects the sensors to a tablet or PC / Mac app. (The new version also has a more cohesive, more appealing color palette for all the bricks.) Each app includes a set of lessons, which tie in science concepts with a classic Lego construction manual. WeDo has a very simple drag-and-drop coding interface that lets students (or, to be honest, very enthusiastic adults) program basic functions. You can also, of course, just ignore the instructions entirely and build / program your own pastel robot.   Cont'd...

The artist who turned his dead cat into a drone is now building a helicopter out of a cow

From Business Insider: It all started in 2012, when his cat Orville got hit by a car. Jansen decided it would be a shame to simply bury his late feline friend, so he drew inspiration from his pet's namesake — Orville Wright, one of the Wright Brothers, the inventors of heavier-than-air flight. Jansen gutted Orville, preserved him, and turned him into a custom quadcopter... ... When a friend offered him a dead badger, he immediately accepted and soon settled on a use for it: a submarine. The project is called "Das Boot," a play on the famous German U-boat film "Das Boot," as well as the Dutch word for "badger" — "das." ( full story )

CES 2016 - Autonomous Cars Set To Dominate

BY DAVID GILBERT For International Business Times:  As cars become less about horsepower and torque and more about the technology inside, CES has become one of the most important showcases of the year for auto manufacturers. It's a sea change in how cars are built and marketed, with technology now the core, rather than an added feature. Connected, autonomous and electric vehicles will all be on display at CES 2016, with some of the world’s most talk-about companies in the field looking to make a major impact. First up will be Faraday Future, the secretive startup based in Los Angeles and backed by a Chinese billionaire. It is set to unveil its first ever concept design on Jan. 4, and while all the company has said so far is that it will be an electric vehicle, it is widely believed to feature autonomous capabilities. While Faraday Future is a relative unknown, one of the world’s biggest automotive companies, Ford, will also be at CES announcing news about the autonomous car it has been testing internally for several years. Among the announcements expected is apartnership with Google to build some of Google’s fleet of self-driving cars.   Cont'd...

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 )

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ST Robotics Develops the Workspace Sentry for Collaborative Robotics

ST Robotics Develops the Workspace Sentry for Collaborative Robotics

The ST Robotics Workspace Sentry robot and area safety system are based on a small module that sends an infrared beam across the workspace. If the user puts his hand (or any other object) in the workspace, the robot stops using programmable emergency deceleration. Each module has three beams at different angles and the distance a beam reaches is adjustable. Two or more modules can be daisy chained to watch a wider area. "A robot that is tuned to stop on impact may not be safe. Robots where the trip torque can be set at low thresholds are too slow for any practical industrial application. The best system is where the work area has proximity detectors so the robot stops before impact and that is the approach ST Robotics has taken," states President and CEO of ST Robotics David Sands.