Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lucky the Incredible Wonder Pup

I continue to be amazed by the toys that are coming out. This one will sell out quick!

Lucky The Incredible Wonder Pet can do 15 tricks from voice commands - the usual doggy stuff: shake, sit, come, bark "Take me out to the ballgame". He walks, he talks, just like a real dog.
This is intended for kids 5-9 years old which means it is probably durable. But it looks like it would be fun for everyone. I admit I have not seen one yet.

Reviews say that the voice recognition works great right out of the box. It retails for US $60.

The manufacturer, Zizzle, says they kept the cost low by using an inexpensive chip for the doggy brains.
Lucky's intelligence comes from Sensory Inc's RSC-4128 microprocessor. The chip includes speech recognition, speech synthesis, an 8-bit microcontroller and 128k ROM all on a single chip. It can be had for under $2 per unit in large quantities.

Throw on a tail, some big round eyes, then wrap it in fur and you got yourself a blockbuster toy.

I have seen the future of robots and it is fuzzy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Korean URC's Released to Homes

The Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) launched the pilot program of the national 'Ubiquitous Robot Companion' effort last week.

The pilot series will consist of 1000 of five different robot models placed in homes. This first round of robots will be used to get the bugs out of the system and to develop applications in preparation for commercial release.
The robots are expected to cost around US $1000 when they are commercialized.

The robots are for helping around the home with reports from the web, amusing the kids, ordering out food and remotely monitoring your home.

Since the robots stay connected, new applications can be added at any time.

The government program envisions a robot in every home in Korea by 2020. The government, universities and many robot, software and telecomunications companies are cooperating on the efforts.

There are still many people skeptical that the robots will offer enough services for their cost. In this pilot test, say MIC officials, they want to iron out the technical problems first.

In addition to the home robots, 20 robots will be released into airports and train stations to help tourists with information and directions.

The Korea Times : ‘I, Robots’ Come to Homes in Thousands


UAV For Forest Fire Monitor

Spanish company Aerovision demonstrated their Fulmar unmanned flyer for use as a forest fire monitor.

The Fulmar aircraft is 3 meters wide and weighs about 20 kg (under 50 pounds)fully loaded. It is launched with a sling-shot and can stay aloft for up to 8 hours.
The Fulmar can carry both video and infrared cameras and transmit back from up to 50 km away to a base station in a laptop pc.

The flight plan, including take-off and landing, can be pre-programmed in the base station or the unit can be flown by joystick control.

The Fulmar system was designed as a low cost system for civilian applications.


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Friday, October 27, 2006

Robot Insect Toy NSECT

I like this new robot toy from Tyco. It is an R/C robot insect that includes a hidden 6-shot dart gun It is called NSECT for New Science of Experimental Combat Technology. There is a whole story line that goes along with that.
At $100 they are not exactly giving it away but it sure looks fun - and hackable.

Limited Time Offer
Get 30% discount on NSECT at ROBOTERIA
These will go fast!

The big selling feature of it is supposed to be the speed that it can scamper across the floor. That's probably well needed so whomever gets shot with the darts doesn't stomp the thing and end all the fun real quick.

Buy it here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Walking with Robots

Promoting the robot agenda.

Robot researchers from 8 universities in the UK have joined together to form a network to promote the public understanding of robots.

The program called "Walking with Robots" was launched October 23 in London. It will include activities for adults as well as university and younger students.

The program will be designed to dispel myths about robots, increase understanding and eventually quash any resistance to robot domination.

Professor Noel Sharkey, EPSRC senior media fellow at the University of Sheffield and one of the founders of the collaboration says, “Robots are coming thick and fast with robotdomesticss, gardeners, cooks, companions, lovers, taxis, factory workers, space explorers, soldiers, maybe police and certainly pets."
"The public need to be prepared for the revolution.”

The first project organized by the program is parliamentnt of 16 to 20 year olds where they will debate the issue of robots' rights.

The "Walking with Robots" program is planned to run for three years but full submission of the public to robot control will probably take a bit longer.

Walking with Robots

Monday, October 23, 2006

Robot in Sheep's Clothing

Who says robots have to look like tin cans and perform acrobatics to be fun?

Here is a project to create a simple motion sensing robot in a fuzzy stuffed sheep.

The sheep's eyes have the motion sensors and the servo-driven head turns to watch the action.
It zeroes in on motion, including a breathing person, and after a time stares right at them.

Says the builder, "Basically, it looks like any other stuffed animal, except that if you sit in the same place for a while, you will notice that it seems to be looking at you."

I don't think I would keep it in my bedroom. I just don't like the idea of this thing staring at me all night.

2 Robots � RoboSheep

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rail Riding Robots

A California inventor is proposing that we send cargo robots out onto the unused rails around the world.

The railroad rails, he says, sit idle most of the time which is a waste of expensive capital. His plan is to make lightweight cargo robots to carry products around the country during the time in between when real trains use the tracks.

What if another train comes while the robot is going? We should build a second set of tracks, he says, that's still cheaper than building more highways.

While it seems cool to think of thousands of unmanned trucks zipping around the country, automatically coordinating with each other to avoid collisions - dropping the price of shipping to pennies - it may be more complicated than it appears. Today railroads seem to have a problems keeping manned trains on the tracks.

However, it may be an idea whose time has come. There has been alot of new technology invented since the idea of the 'train' has been in use. The combination of information technology, fast computers, sensors, new engine designs may be enough to start a new era in transport. Also, most of the train wrecks these days seem to be due to 'human error'. Robots may be able to do a better job.

Maybe it is time we re-evaluated the use of railroad tracks.

Home of the Rail Robot

Asian Heavies Betting on Robots

Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries today demonstrated their new disaster assistance robot. The remote controlled robot weighs about 120 pounds, runs on treads and has video and two-way audio.

Mitsubishi decided to get into the disaster robot business in 2000 and this is their first product. Called the "MHI MARS-G," it will sell for approximately US $170,000.

Says Naohisa Sato, a manager at Mitsubishi's Nuclear Energy Systems Department, "The market is growing because people are recently paying more attention to risk management of terrorism attacks."
He said that Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency plans to buy 100 disater relief robots in the next few years.

Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries announced that it is putting extra emphasis on its industrial robot product line. They plan to expand their production of robots from the current 1500 annually to 10,000 units per year by 2010. The HHI Engine and Machinery Division began building robots in 1984 and completed their 10,000th unit in 2005.

Their target volume will place them in the top five producers of industrial robots worldwide.

Reuters AlertNet - Mitsubishi Heavy develops robot for disaster relief

The Korea Herald: Hyundai Heavy expands industrial robot production

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wifi Robot with Webcam

Toy maker giant Bandai will be offering a small remote controlled Wifi robot in December with a built in webcam.

The robot, called NetTansor, can run for 2.5 hours on batteries and has 3 sensors to avoid running into things.

The price will be around 50,000 yen (US$425).

Welcome to Akihabara News : Akihabaranews.com

Robot Diva Injured at Trade Show Debut

The latest Korean robot babe EveR-2 had to be rushed into emergency surgery yesterday after she malfunctioned at the Robot World 2006 in Seoul.

EveR-2 Muse is the successor to EveR-1. Both are creations of Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, KITECH,research labs.
EveR-2 has many more movements than her predecessor and she had planned on a pop music lip-synching debut at the show.

EveR-2 was knocked on the head or something while being carried into the show.
Doctors attending to the beauty say she is in good spirits and will probably be able demonstrate her full skillset before the end of the show.

Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) : Daily News in English About Korea


Saturday, October 14, 2006

RuBot II - Robot Solves Rubiks Cube

This is pretty cool. It proves that people have an inherent need to automate every task. Maybe one day I will invent a robot to play solitaire for me.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Automate Your Own Car!

Here it is! A complete retrofit kit to turn your car into a more useful member of the family.

Utah company Kairos Autonomi offers the Pronto4 Retrofit Kit. It can turn any steering wheel vehicle into an autonomous robot machine in just a few hours. The kit will allow your vehicle to be remote controlled, remote guided or autonomous. You can still drive the car normally even after it is installed. It is all military garde hardware - mainly because that is who their customer is - and it is JAUS (Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems)Compliant so it obeys orders from the Army.

This would be the perfect add-on for those days when you need to pick up the kids from school but you don't want to miss Oprah. Or maybe after too many hours at the pub, you can sleep in the back seat while your car takes you home.

The kit includes all the hardware and software to get you started. It is made of standard off-the-shelf parts and it has plenty of expansion capability.

Kairos Autonomi - The Pronto4™ Retrofit Kit

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Search and Destroy Weedkiller Robot

In the future, farmers will look back on old farming techniques and marvel at the wastefullness of dumping tons of chemicals all over the ground. Why didn't they just put the treatments where they are needed?
We have already seen this idea applied to kill bugs. Now it is also used for killing weeds.

Here is an example of a way that robots can be used to target weed killing herbicide on the farm. This robot is solar operated for long days in the field. It uses stereo vision to search out weeds among the crops. When it finds a weed, it reaches out with a special cutter arm and chops it off. Next it sprays the remaining stem with a squirt of herbicide. So there! Nasty weed!

A team of engineers led by Dr. Lei Tian at the University of Illinois came up with the idea of the solar driven robot from other research they were doing. While working on remote sensing of crops they have to walk the rows taking measurements to compare actual readings to remote data.
One day, one of the poor overworked grad students fainted from the heat. Maybe there was a better way than grad student slavery?
Their first robot was okay but the batteries ran out every couple of hours. So the solar panels were added to supply continous power. And the panel shades the cameras for better visual identification.

The robot rolls through he fields at about 3 miles per hour (4.8 kmph) and uses GPS, ultrasonic and vision for navigation. The next version will take soil measurements and check the crops. Like the farmer Scout robot.

U of I Robots Go Solar; New System Could Drastically Reduce Herbicide Use


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Open Source EuroBot e-puck

An open source robot design from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL. It is a collaborative effort from Autonomous Systems Lab, Swarm Intelligence Group and Laboratory of Intelligent Systems. Sounds dangerously like someone may be trying to devise a way to conquer the universe.

They claim that the robot was designed to be used in college level classes for microprocessor design. They call the classes "Microinformatique" - most likely translates to "small robots to take over the universe."

Watch this video of 278 e-pucks. If you ask me, it looks like they're up to something.

They have a lot of stuff packed into a small robot:

70 mm or about 2 3/4 inches in diameter
Cost about 550 Euros or US $600-700

The processor onboard is a dsPIC 30F6014 which is a PIC core with a DSP (digitial signal processing) computation unit running at 60 Mhz

8 infrared proximity sensors
3 microphones
1 3-axis accelerometer
1 640x480 color camera

2 wheels
8 LEDs around the body
1 green LED
1 Speaker

Infrared remote

Several other I/O interface ports.
Some upgrades that have already been designed are an omnidirectional camera, IR ground sensors and a multicolor LED display ring.

Schematics, drawings and software all available at:
e-puck education robot - Home

Robot Cooks Chinese Food

"You want eggroll wit dat?"

Chinese company Fanxing Science and Technology Co. Ltd in Shenzhen has invested four years and more than 2 million yuan (about 250,000 U.S. dollars)developing a robot that cooks perfect Chinese food.
Called the AIC or AI Cooking Robot, the automatic kitchen can do Sichuan, Shandong and Canton cuisines.
The robot can fry, bake, boil or steam.

According to the article, Cai Hegao, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the robot will help to 'standardize Chinese fast food.'

The robot will be for sale in 2007 to restaurants and later for use in the home.

It may go a long way to solving the world problem of not enough Chinese food restaurants.

News report video in Chinese.

Chinese scientists invent first cooking robot

Monday, October 09, 2006

Unmanned Live fire Demo

Unmanned live fire demostartions for Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA)took place at Warren Grove Air National Guard Bombing Range in Warren Grove, NJ in late Spetember.

The tests included the use of Metal Storm (NASDAQ: MTSX) 40 mm weapons system firing from Dragonfly Pictures Inc DP-5X vertical take off and landing unmanned aircraft.

The demostrations showed firing from a hovering position and forward moving strafing runs.

The Metal Storm weapons have completely electronic firing control with no moving parts except the projectile. This is ideal for computer control and unattended operation.
Dragonfly Pictures, Inc. (DPI) unmanned vehicles are designed for unmanned aerial platforms for photography and imaging. The DP-5X is 165 lbs with a payload capacity of 150 lbs.

Metal Storm Limited - Electronically initiated 'stacked projectile' weapon technology

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Robot Library

The new US $36 million library at Chicago State University cost millions less than a traditional library because its storage stacks were designed for robots.

More than 850,000 volumes are stored in 3-story high shelves of bins that are only accessible to high speed librarian robots. The students request a book on-line then the robots race to collect it and bring it to them. When a book goes back the robots re-shelve it anywhere that is convenient. It does not matter where the book is placed as long as the robot knows where it is.

About 250,000 of the more common books are still kept on traditional shelves for browsing by humans.

There are interesting consequences to the robot library. Just like the robot garage, if there is problem with power or software then the library becomes almost useless.
I wonder if the robots are smart enough to 'defrag' the shelves by moving the most popular books up front and keeping bins organized during slow times.

[Picture shows library robot, Automated Retrieval Collection, at Eastern Michigan University]

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State :: Robotic library makes it easy

Whiskers for Robots

A paper published in Nature this week by and Mitra Hartmann and Joe Solomon at Northwestern University in Illinois, describes experiments using rat-like whickers to sense the features of nearby objects.

The whickers sweep back and forth while the torque on the base of each whicker is measured. The force on each whisker is interpreted to map out the the shape of the object they are touching. This method requires much less processing than other methods of whisker sensors which used the change in postion of each hair to find the shape of the object.

Whiskers can be used by robots to help find their way around on other planets, under water or just working around people.
The example they use shows the sensor array sweeping across a face and showing the details. I hope they don't plan to use a face-sweeping robot on people. It looks like it would tickle.

Robot whiskers sense shapes and textures - tech - 04 October 2006 - New Scientist Tech

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fire Fighting Robot

A new fire fighting robot from InRob Tech (OTC BB:IRBL.OB). You may remember InRob from the remote controlled bulldozer, remote control Hummer upgrade kit and various bomb robots.

Their new firefighter, FFR-1, is a little monster. It weighs in at 940 kg (almost 2100 lbs). It runs on treads and can climb up to 30 degree incline dragging a 3 inch firehose. It is not meant for crawling into small spaces - it is about 5 feet long and 4 feet wide and tall. But it probably can go through walls anyway. The all electric power will run for 3 hours.

The FFR-1 is operated from a portable remote control and can go deep into the hot fire zone. The specs say that the cooling system allows it to stay at only 600 C when the outside temperature is up to 6000 C (that's really, really, hot in degrees F).

see the video.

It comes with vision and thermal imaging cameras. Of course can be upgraded with radiation, chemical and biological sensors - the works.

InRob Adds New Features to Its Wireless Fire Fighting and Rescue Robot: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Farm Robot Scout

The founders of Vision Robotics Corporation have applied for a US patent on an agricultural robot that uses a vision and mapping to guide harvester robots through the farm.

The patent proposes that a scout robot is first sent through the farm or orchard to map out the fruit, weeds, plants that need trimming or other farm work that needs to be done. Once the farm is mapped - for example all of the ripe fruit located - then a plan is formulated. Once the plan is done then the robot goes about its harvesting or maybe a team of harvester robots are sent out to pluck the ripe fruit.

Their innovation is the use of a scout robot to visually record and map the details of the orchard before work begins.
Having an accessible view of the plants will save time walking the farm and will also help optimize the use of the harvesting machines.
Other organizations are investigating using autonomous flying robots to get a good look over their farm.

US Patent application 20060213167


Brewster Rockit

Monday, October 02, 2006

Robots For Christmas

Toymaker Hasbro released their list of toys they are promoting this year for holiday season.

As far as robots go, I was not all that impressed. They have their Furreal creatures like Butterscotch the pony and your various Furreal chimps and doggies. They have your next generation pooping doll, Baby Alive. Yawn.

The toy I liked the best is the Nerf Cosmic Catch ball. I guess it is stretching the definition a bit to say that this is a robot ball, but it is pretty smart.

The players each where a colored RFID wrist strap. The smart ball knows what colored hand it is in. It calls out "purple!" "red!" "green!", etc and you have to throw the ball to right person. Cosmic!

It plays other color coordinated catch games as well. If I were a kid I would want one. Only $25 .

Hasbro media - release

Home Helper Robot

The US National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST) are doing their part to solve the problems caused by the aging population and shortage of healthcare workers.
Healthcare Mobility Project

They are developing a robot to help disabled people move around their home. The robot acts a wheelchair but also gives a helping hand to get out of bed and get on and off other seats, like maybe the toilet. It can also help to give support during rehabilitation.

The prototype robot is called HLPR for Home Lift, Postiion and Rehabilitation. They started with a standard small forklift and added a seat, arm supports and joystic control.
See the video here.

It is small enough to fit through most doorways. Future work will give it the ability to dock with toilets or connect to an elevator.

They have barely begun to work on the brains yet. They would like the robot to learn navigation and voice recognition so that it comes when called and knows on its own how to take you to the bathroom.

It is interesting to see the difference between this US version of the 'helper to the elderly' robot compared to how the robot is developing in Japan.

NIST Tech Beat - Sept. 28, 2006