Tag Archives: robots

Floating, Smartphone-equipped Robots Track Water Flow

Researchers at UC Berkeley are shown retrieving floating robots on the Sacramento River. (Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.)

On May 9th, a hundred floating robots outfitted with smartphones and GPS systems were field tested in the Sacramento River by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The project’s participants hope that similar networks made up of mobile sensors will be available for rapid deployment to make available real-time, high-resolution data about the way pollutants spread, how salmon migrate, or how salt water and fresh water mix, for example.

After being launched in the water, the smartphones provided location data to servers at Berkeley Lab. The data was integrated and processed into a map.

We are putting water online. Monitoring the state’s water supply is critical for the general public, water researchers and government agencies, which now rely upon costly fixed water sensor stations that don’t always generate sufficient data for modeling and prediction. The mobile probes we are using could potentially expand coverage in the Delta — on demand — to hundreds of miles of natural and manmade channels that are currently under-monitored, and help agencies responsible for managing the state’s limited water supply.”

— Alexandre Bayen, associate professor, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS)

The fleet of robots includes models that are able to dive, measure water quality, and even map the shape of the channels within which they are floating. Possible types of measurements that the floating robots could collect include the speed of water currents, water temperature, salinity, and the presence of specified contaminants.

How is technology changing your life for the better?

Learn more at http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/05/09/floating-sensors-track-delta-water-flow/

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.


Robotics Update: May 2, 2012

Current robotics research news includes particles that could sculpt themselves into any shape, robot squirrels that are helping to explain animal behavior, and desktop technology that may make it possible to design and print working robots. [Click the titles to explore the original sources.]

Self-sculpting Sand

Shown in this photo are dice-sized prototypes that represent self-sculpting sand particles under development at Harvard. The particles “can assume any shape, allowing spontaneous formation of new tools or duplication of broken mechanical parts.” [Photo: M. Scott Brauer]

“[The particles] have the ability to latch onto their neighbors; they have the ability to talk to their neighbors; they have the ability to do some computation. Those are all things that are certainly feasible to think about doing in smaller packages. It would take quite a lot of engineering to do that, of course.”

— Robert Wood, associate professor of electrical engineering, Harvard University

Navy’s new robotics lab will speed technology to the total force

The U.S. Navy’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) opened its doors to researchers in March. The facilities reproduce several of the Earth’s ecosystems, including southeast Asian rainforests, near-shore waters, and a desert-like environment. [Photo: John F. Williams/Released]

It’s the first time that we have, under a single roof, a laboratory that captures all the domains in which our Sailors, Marines and fellow DOD service members operate.”

— Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research

Robosquirrels vs. rattlesnakes

How rattlesnakes and squirrels interact is the subject of a study using robot squirrels built by UC Davis engineers. In lab experiments, the robot squirrels have helped researchers understand how squirrels behave in reaction to rattlesnakes.

The reason I’m so excited is that with robots we can really change how animal behavior studies are done.”

— Sanjay Joshi, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis

MIT project could transform robotic design and production

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing desktop technology that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize, and print a robot in a matter of hours. [Photo: MIT]

This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society. We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratize access to robots.”

— Daniela Rus, a principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

Robots fighting wars could be blamed for mistakes on the battlefield

Research findings suggest that as robots become more like humans, people may “hold them morally accountable for causing harm.” [Photo: University of Washington]

“We’re moving toward a world where robots will be capable of harming humans. With this study we’re asking whether a robotic entity is conceptualized as just a tool, or as some form of a technological being that can be held responsible for its actions.”

— Peter Kahn, associate professor of psychology, University of Washington

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Robot News

Several notable awards and continued research and development on robots have been announced since mid-February. Here are some robot-related news highlights from the last six weeks (click the headlines to see the full stories):

Turing in style: ONR scientist receives highest award

The Association for Computing Machinery announced the 2011 A.M. Turing Award winner on March 15. The honor, which is considered the highest in the field, went to Dr. Judea Pearl, an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored scientist, for “innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) that have helped bridge the gap between man and machine.”

Dealing with uncertainty is a universal problem, occurring any time we face noisy data and uncertain assumptions about the world. In the early days of AI, dealing with uncertainty was considered a fundamental philosophical hurdle. How can a digital machine, programmed to obey the rules of binary, true-and-false logic, ever cope with the heavy fog of uncertainty that clouds ordinary daily tasks such as crossing a street, parking a car, reading a text or diagnosing diseases?”

— Dr. Judea Pearl, UCLA

Robotic refueling mission begins with space station

NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) began operations on the International Space Station earlier this month, which is considered a significant milestone for technology that services satellites as well as in the use of the space station’s robotic capabilities.

With the established infrastructure that the space station provides, our RRM team had support as we conceived, designed, built, and flew the RRM demo to space station in 18 months — a timeline that many declared impossible. Fresh satellite-servicing technologies will be demonstrated in a real space environment within months instead of years. This is huge. This represents real progress in space technology advancement.”

— Frank Cepollina, Associate Director of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

WPI receives Gates Foundation award to develop software tools to enhance student learning

Tools that will be able to tell if students using educational software are engaged or not will be developed with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation’s mission to significantly improve the quality of learning and the level of student success in high school and beyond aligns well with WPI’s multifaceted efforts to augment teaching and learning in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Like the Gates Foundation, we recognize that keeping students engaged in these subjects and motivating them to continue on to careers in science and technology is vital to our nation’s competitiveness.”

—Dennis Berkey, President and CEO, WPI

 Researchers unveil robot jellyfish built on nanotechnology

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech announced the creation of an underwater robot that could help with rescue and surveillance missions. The robot mimics jellyfish movement and runs on renewable energy.

We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity. The only waste released as it travels is more water. It could stay underwater and refuel itself while it is performing surveillance.”

 — Dr. Yonas Tadesse, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, UT Dallas

The ‘living’ micro-robot that could detect diseases in humans

UK-based researchers are developing a prototype micro-robot that responds to light and chemicals the way biological systems respond. Their findings may one day help to locate diseases within the body.

Nothing matches a living creature’s natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what’s going on around it. We’re currently developing and testing Cyberplasm’s individual components. We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years.”

— Dr. Daniel Frankel, bioengineer, Newcastle University

Teach your robot well (Georgia Tech shows how)

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Center for Robotics & Intelligent Machines (RIM) have classified the kinds of questions robot’s can use while engaged in learning to help ensure “a smooth and productive human-robot relationship.”

People are not so good at teaching robots because they don’t understand the robots’ learning mechanism. It’s like when you try to train a dog, and it’s difficult because dogs do not learn like humans do. We wanted to find out the best kinds of questions a robot could ask to make the human-robot relationship as ‘human’ as it can be.”

— Maya Cakmak, doctoral student, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Tech

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Robot Roundup – March 1, 2012

Biomimetic Robotic Fish
Robot fish may one day help to save living ones.

Shopping around for your next robot chef? Thinking about getting a little exercise with a virtual workout partner? Maybe you’re planning on taking your autonomous auto out for a spin, or searching for ways to lead wildlife to safety in the wake of a natural disaster?

As the following summaries show, scientists are working overtime to help make each of those visions a reality.

Swishy Robot Fools School – http://www.poly.edu/press-release/2012/03/01/what-makes-robot-fish-attractive-hint-its-moves

Researchers at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute (NYU-Poly) are exploring ways robots might help to guide wildlife away from environmental disasters and human-created dangers in the future. Their findings show that biomimetic robotic fish can actually assume leadership roles, which is described in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The paper reports that live fish in the experiments appear to “follow in the wake of the biomimetic robot fish, taking advantage of the energy savings generated by the robot.”

These experiments may open up new channels for us to explore the possibilities for robotic interactions with live animals — an area that is largely untapped. By looking to nature to guide our design, and creating robots that tap into animals’ natural cues, we may be able to influence collective animal behavior to aid environmental conservation and disaster recovery efforts.” 

— Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Robot Innovations for Everyday Life in the Future http://www.kit.edu/visit/pi_2012_8981.php

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and  the FZI Research Center for Information Technology are presenting innovations for everyday life in the future at CeBIT, the trade fair that showcases digital IT and telecommunications solutions, which will run from March 6 to 10, 2012, in Hanover, Germany. The innovations from KIT and FZI include a humanoid kitchen robot that will move around and the interactive HoLLiE service robot.

Kitchen Robot Learns by Watching

In addition to recognizing objects and grasping them with just the right amount of pressure, ARMAR, a humanoid robot, can negotiate its environment, understands and executes commands independently, and even learns by watching humans.

ARMAR - Robot
ARMAR can understand and execute commands independently and even learns by watching humans.

Even if you don’t understand German, the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x1G0nkSd9w is entertaining to watch.

Service Robot Interacts Intuitively

HoLLiE (House of Living Labs intelligent Escort) will show how it intuitively interacts with people at CeBIT. The system is designed to provide those who need care with food, medicine, and interactive entertainment.

Thanks to a modern 3D sensor system, HoLLiE can understand the body movement of its counterpart. In the scenario presented, HoLLiE asks its counterpart to do some sports together in order to remain in good shape. This function may be of therapeutic value to elderly people or people in need of care, but also serve to entertain everybody regardless of age.”

— Press Release, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Smart Intersections for Autonomous Vehicles – http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/uota-csd021312.php

After building an autonomous car with his students, Peter Stone of The University of Texas at Austin has turned his attention to research on autonomous intersection management.

A future where sitting in the backseat of the car reading our newspaper while it drives us effortlessly through city streets and intersections is not that far away. Computers can already fly a passenger jet much like a trained human pilot, but people still face the dangerous task of driving automobiles. Vehicles are being developed that will be able to handle most of the driving tasks themselves. But once autonomous vehicles become popular, we need to coordinate those vehicles on the streets”

— Peter Stone, professor of computer science, The University of Texas, Austin

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

3-D Printed Robotic Dinosaurs

Infographic details dinosaur 3-D printing process (click to download).

Drexel University researchers are using 3-D printing and robotics technologies to study prehistoric life. The combined technologies are allowing the researchers to create scale models for testing hypotheses about the ways ancient animals moved.

Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years. We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.”

— Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, associate professor, College of Arts and Sciences, Drexel

Using current 3-D printer technology, a scaled-down model of a dinosaur bone or other fossil can be rapidly prototyped. In addition to allowing researchers to model and test hypotheses about movement and behavior, the 3-D printing allows paleontologists to create unlimited real-size facsimiles for museums more efficiently than traditional casting methods allow, and it can be used to produce educational models.

Learn more at http://www.drexel.edu/now/news-media/releases/archive/2012/February/3D-Printing-Technology-Robotic-Dinosaurs/

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Robots Redux

February 16, 2012, was an historic day for human–robot relations with the first handshake between a human and robot in space. It was also a good day for rounding up the latest news from the world of robotics.

The following are some robot-related news highlights from the last two weeks:

Human and Humanoid Robot Shake Hands in Space

“The first human-humanoid handshake in space. For the record, it was a firm handshake. Quite an impressive robot.”

—Daniel Burbank, commander, International Space Station

Researchers find social robots require astute tuning to improve acceptability by the human mind

“How we interact with embodied machines is different than how we interact with a computer, cell phone or other intelligent devices. We need to understand those differences so we can leverage what is important.”

—Professor Maja Matarić, director, University of Southern California Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems

A robot sketches portraits

“We attach great importance to the artistic look of the drawings that results, but on the other hand, we have also equipped the robot with an automatic system that enables it to carry out all of the steps itself. With this installation, we have created an interface between art, science and technology.”

—Martina Richter, Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation

In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life

“Our new techniques allow us to use any material including polymers, metals, ceramics, and composites. The ability to incorporate any type and number of material layers, along with integrated electronics, means that we can generate full systems in any three-dimensional shape. We’ve also demonstrated that we can create self-assembling devices by including pre-stressed materials.”

—Rob Wood, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, Harvard

Local high school robotics teams take da Vinci for a spin

“I thought it would be more difficult, but the depth perception … after a couple seconds of doing it, it’s easy to grasp.”

—Isaiah Rodriguez, a junior at Smithtown East who took the da Vinci Surgical System for a “test drive”

New system allows robots to continuously map their environment

“There are also a lot of military applications, like mapping a bunker or cave network to enable a quick exit or re-entry when needed. Or a HazMat team could enter a biological or chemical weapons site and quickly map it on foot, while marking any hazardous spots or objects for handling by a remediation team coming later. These teams wear so much equipment that time is of the essence, making efficient mapping and navigation critical.”

—Seth Teller, head of the Robotics, Vision and Sensor Networks group, MIT

Drones, in-home robots, and military machines pose several questions

“Of course robots can deceive, play, kill, and work for us—they’re designed in our image. And the reflection they cast back triggers some soul-searching, forcing us to take a hard look at what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

—Patrick Lin, Ph.D in Slate

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Robot Roundup

What if robots could run the way cheetahs do? Or take to the sky like a butterfly? Or clean out your fridge? For insights into those questions and more, here’s a quick summary of some of the most interesting robot-related research announced this week:

Floats like a butterfly…

By learning how butterflies get around with so much nimbleness and grace, Johns Hopkins engineers hope to help small airborne robots, commonly called micro aerial vehicles or MAVs, to imitate these types of movement and thereby prepare the way for a new generation of tiny flying machines.

The research is using three high-speed video cameras capable of recording 3,000 one-megapixel images per second to scrutinize painted lady butterfly flight dynamics. It may lead to the development of technology that will aid in supporting safer reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, and environmental monitoring missions.

…MAVs must be able to fly successfully through complex urban environments, where there can be tight spaces and turbulent gusts of wind. Flying insects are capable of performing a dazzling variety of flight maneuvers. In designing MAVs, we can learn a lot from flying insects.”

— Tiras Lin, undergraduate, Whiting School of Engineering

Run, robot! Run!

Working with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Delaware assistant professor Ioannis Poulakakis is working to develop “a family of systematic control strategies that work together with the robot’s natural dynamics to generate fast, reliable and efficient running motions.”

Poulakakis hopes his efforts might help to enable quadruped robots to move about quickly and effectively, avoid falls through self-correcting movements, and imitate the running motion of living animals. In addition, under the grant, Poulakakis is developing experiences for K-12 teachers that are intended to stimulate interest for budding engineers.

Biomechanics research demonstrates that springs and running are intimately related. When you run, the knee of the leg that is on the ground initially bends and then extends to prepare the body for take-off. During knee bending, energy is stored in elastic elements such as tendons or muscle fibers. Then, this energy is released during knee extension, pushing the body upward and forward.”

— Ioannis Poulakakis, assistant professor, University of Delaware

Cleans up after supper and puts the kids to bed…

A market research survey conducted in January indicates that the majority of people (68%) are in favor of domestic robots. In addition, nearly half of the respondents (41%) reported that they’d consider paying for such a robot with a loan.

Thinking about building the perfect robot? It should have a more humanlike voice that should sound not too young or too old. Interestingly, 51% also preferred that the voice wouldn’t sound too feminine or too masculine either. In terms of appearance, it would be more humanlike than machinelike, a little on the funny side, more colorful than metallic, more round than square shaped, and allow for personal design, perhaps like buying a car.”

— Press Release, Persuadable Research Corporation

The researchers uncovered a long list of desired abilities for domestic robots to help out with. It includes moving heavy things, providing home security, cleaning windows, doing laundry, and — my personal wish-list topper — washing floors and dishes.

So, what does your robot do?


© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.