Friday, July 31, 2009

Google Alert - home robotics

Google News Alert for: home robotics

WPI to Host exxonmobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp for ...
Media Newswire (press release)
The camp's theme at WPI is "Revolutionary Robotics," which is fitting for the university, since it's the home of the nation's first undergraduate degree ...
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

A New Generation of Service robots: The Care-O-Bot 3

Care-O-Bot 3 is a prototype of the next generation of service robots. Created by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, the 1.45 meter high robot has Stereo-vision color cameras, laser scanners and is aware of its surroundings. It can be controlled both manually and by spoken commands. The bot has a highly flexible arm which can pick up items without breaking them.

It moves on a platform with four separately steered and driven wheels that allow it to travel in any direction. The Care-O-bot can identify objects thanks to color cameras, laser scanners, and a 3D range camera. The camera allow it to be directed with hand gestures as well as spoken commands. It can also learn to recognize unfamiliar items like cups and bottles.

Thanks to the team from the Fraunhofer Institute, robotically-enabled laziness may soon be a reality.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Creating 'service robots'

Since human beings began to imagine robots - and the beginning was a 1920 Czech play called Rossum's Universal Robots, in which, yes, the machines do end up as our steely overlords - we've imagined them as mechanical, though perhaps more powerful, versions of ourselves.

Think of Maria from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still," C-3PO from "Star Wars," or the Terminator.

"It's very far from reality," said Ranjan Mukherjee, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State University. "Human beings are very complex and making robots that are like human beings is not easy."

He knows what he's talking about. Mukherjee has received $247,000 in federal stimulus money to develop technology that could, among other things, allow two-legged robots to move more like humans: to climb stairs, walk on uneven ground, maybe even jump, tasks that even the most advanced robots can't do particularly well.

But, if everyday service robots are to become a reality, and Mukherjee believes they will, they will have to be able to operate in environments designed for humans. Meaning they should probably be able to handle the stairs.

"Most of the people working on bipeds" - that is, robots with two legs - "design them to walk on a flat surface," Mukherjee said. "Very few bipeds can climb stairs. We take that as the first challenge. Eventually, we would like to get to the point where it can handle undulated surfaces, uneven surfaces."

Consider the force
The reason robots aren't good with such surfaces has a lot to do with the way their movement is powered.

Most have motors that drive their movement that are along the lines of those that power electric fans. The power can be stronger or weaker, but it's more or less continuous.

What robots generally can't do is apply what are called impulsive forces: short, strong bursts of power that could allow them to make quick corrections when their balance shifts or when they encounter unexpected changes in terrain.

Humans do this all the time. When we jump from a height, for example, our muscles fire quick bursts of power that keep us from falling on our faces when we land.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Penbo, the "first real robot for girls"

Penbo is supposedly the "first real robot for girls".

And yes, it has a baby. Called Bebe. It responds to touch and voice and...the baby, which is the closest thing it has to a remote control, since it'll summon Penbo and interact and play games with it. Penbo responds differently to different color babies—there are 4 colors, each with around 21 features.

But really, the best feature is the Penbo dance, which you can see in the video above: Put two together and they waddlewaddlewaddle. Which is how I guess they make more babies.

Penbo will hit QVC with Prime-8 on July 25, then Amazon later on, for $80.

'The Matrix' Fulfilled: EATR Military Robots to Use Biomatter as Fuel

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research and development organization for the Department of Defense, aims to "maintain the technological superiority of the U.S military." It seeks to accomplish this goal by developing robots, lasers, spacecraft, and other awesome futuristic weapons of annihilation. It also apparently has no desire to heed the warnings of the 'Matrix' or 'Terminator' movies.

According to The Register, the group's latest design, the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR), is a pilot-less, steam-powered drone. Designed for long-range missions, it refuels itself by devouring any fossil fuels or biological matter in its path. While DARPA mentions using refuse such as apple cores for fuel, it's difficult to imagine these things not being used to harvest people as an energy source.

So, what happens when the EATRs completely decimate the Earth's natural resources (if they don't completely wipe out the human race first)? Well, it should only take a few slight adjustments to make sure the remnants of those scooped-up humans can be turned into tasty and nutritious green cracker treats. It's just too bad Charlton Heston isn't around to tell everyone "I told you so."