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New Recon Scout Throwable Robot Can Climb Ship Hulls, Spy on Pirates

We're already familiar with ReconRobotic's line of throwable surveillance robots, and they've just announced a new model, pictured above. Or rather, they've announced an entirely new capability for the little robot: it can now drive straight up vertical metal surfaces with the aid of some magical magnetic wheels, check it out:

Specifically, this capability is designed for anti-piracy operations, where pirates have already taken over a ship and you want to take a look around before sending people on board to take it back. Recon Scout can be placed on the hull of a ship, where it'll drive straight up to the deck and send back live video, even in total darkness thanks to IR illuminators.

There's also mention of a "novel marsupial-robot system" that "enables an operator of a large robot to automatically transport and deploy a smaller robot downrange using a customized, ejectable sabot." While I'm picturing a robotic speedboat firing a Recon Scout out of some sort of cannon at the side of a ship several miles away, the reality is probably something a little more like this, where a large robot can carry and deploy a smaller robot using a little garage of sorts. In any case, I'm looking forward to a few more details on that, and who knows, maybe it is a cannon that fires robots out of it... A guy can dream, can't he?

[ ReconRobotics ]

Cutest Quadcopter Ever Sounds Like a Swarm of Angry Bees

Instead of calling CrazyFlie (as it's known) a tiny quadcopter, it might be more accurate to just describe it as a PCB that happens to also be able to launch itself into the air. Measuring a scant 10 centimeters per side, CrazyFlie uses its PCB as a primary structural component, which helps keep the size and weight to a minimum... In total, we're talking about only 20 grams.

Despite its tinyness, the quadcopter includes a charging port, radio, 3-axis accelerometer, two gyroscopes, and a lightweight 110 mAh LiPO battery that gives it about four and a half minutes of flying time: 

All of the data from the accelerometer and gyros is being used to keep the copter dynamically stable, making minuscule adjustments 250 times every second using the onboard CPU. And it seems to work pretty well: for such a little platform, CrazyFlie seems remarkably stable.

While CrazyFlie is handmade (and currently undergoing revisions and upgrades), it seems like it would be pretty cool to have something like this available in kit form. Who knows, it might even be possible to teach these little copters to work together to make giant displays, or even to perform a trick or two.

[ Daedalus ] via [ Hackaday ]

Nevada Bill Would Provide Tentative Roadmap for Autonomous Vehicles

Right now, we have cars that that will automatically keep you in your lane while adjusting your speed so that you don't run into anyone in front of you. You can go out and buy one. It's not just that the technology exists to allow our cars to do our driving for us, at least on highways... The technology is in some consumer cars already.

So why aren't cars driving us around yet? A big (possibly the biggest) issue is legal: there's simply no precedent that's been established for, and let's be blunt, who gets to sue who when something goes wrong. And something will, at some point, inevitably go wrong, and when it does, what happens next could decide the how the next decade of autonomous vehicles plays out.

Needless to say, after the fact is probably the wrong time to get this kind of thing figured out, which is why it's such a wonderful idea that Nevada is being proactive with a new bill. A.B. 511 will lay a framework for "authorizing... the operation of, and a driver’s license endorsement for operators of, autonomous vehicles."

Here are the pieces from the bill that are most relevant:

1.  The Department shall by regulation establish a driver’s license endorsement for the operation of an autonomous vehicle on the highways of this State. The driver’s license endorsement described in this subsection must, in its restrictions or lack thereof, recognize the fact that a person is not required to actively drive an autonomous vehicle.

...

Section 8  of  this  bill  requires  the  Department  of  Motor Vehicles  to  adopt regulations authorizing the operation of  autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada. Section 8  defines an  “autonomous  vehicle”  to  mean  a  motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence,  sensors  and  global  positioning  system coordinates to drive itself without the  active intervention of a human operator.

...

Sec.  8.

1.  The Department shall adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.

2. The  regulations  required  to  be  adopted  by  subsection  1 must:
(a) Set forth requirements that an autonomous vehicle must meet before it may be operated on a highway within this State;
(b)  Set forth requirements for the insurance that is required to test or operate an autonomous vehicle on a highway within this State;
(c) Establish minimum safety standards for autonomous vehicles and their operation;
(d) Provide for the testing of autonomous vehicles;
(e) Restrict the testing of autonomous vehicles to specified geographic areas; and
(f)  Set  forth  such  other  requirements  as  the  Department determines to be necessary

Obviously, at this point it's all very vague. All this bill is really saying is, "hey, someone should really go figure this out." But someone really should go figure this out, which is why this is such an important first step.

[ Bill (*.PDF) ] via [ Stanford CIS ]

DLR's Rollin' Justin Catches Two Thrown Balls At Once

Robots are (sometimes) pretty good at playing catch, sometimes extraordinarily good, but many of the coolest demos involving robots interacting with fast-moving objects rely on extremely precise external vision systems. This reliance means that you aren't likely to see robots performing such tricks outside of a lab. DLR's Rollin' Justin, on the other hand, is using onboard cameras and processing, meaning that it could just as easily play catch with you on your front lawn:

Did I say play catch with you? I meant to say, play catch with you and someone else at the same time.

In case you missed those specs, the robot is able to position itself within two centimeters of where it needs to be in a time window of only five milliseconds, which yields an impressive catch rate of better than 80 percent. That's maybe not major league, but it could probably be little league, and undoubtedly there's still some optimizing to do. You know that robot buddy you wish you had when you were a kid, that would always be up for a game of catch? This could be it; they just need to teach it how to throw the ball back first.

[ IROS 2010 Paper and ICRA 2011 Paper Abstract ] via [ Hizook ]

ZenRobotics Makes Recycling Robots, Epic Trailers About Recycling Robots

We were wondering the other day if robots could help us clean the planet before it becomes a pile of industrial waste, as depicted in the movie WALL-E. Finnish startup ZenRobotics thinks the answer is," yes."

ZenRobotics (which I'm going to hereafter type out as "Zen Robotics" 'cause it bugs me) wants you to know that they're serious about robot recycling. They're so serious, in fact, that they've created this trailer narrated by a guy with a really, really deep voice:

If you're still wondering what Zen Robotics does, then you obviously need to watch the trailer again, because who cares? They've got a trailer! But seriously (or as seriously as this company seems to get), it seems like they want to stick autonomous robots in between our trash cans and the landfill and use them to pick out recyclables. This is not a new idea, but what Zen Robotics looks to be offering is a modular system made completely from off-the-shelf parts that can replace human workers while doing a better job (thanks to advanced sensors) with higher uptime. It'll save money in the long run, and save the Earth (or whatever) in the longer run, so why not do it?

Also, the company's website invents a new robot-related tagline every time to click on something. So far, I've seen:

"ZenRobotics - Making robots feel funky"

"ZenRobotics - Well on its way to world domination"

"ZenRobotics - Bring us the soft cushions!"

Yeah, so having a slick and funny website doesn't necessarily mean that they're saving the future with recycling robots, but it doesn't mean that they're not, and either way, I'm amused.

[ ZenRobotics ] via [ Robot Living ]

Tweenbots Now on Kickstarter

It's been nearly two years since we first met Sam the Tweenbot. If you remember, Tweenbots are little robots that are designed to do two things: look cute, and drive in a straight line. They're released into the wilds of public places, where they rely entirely on the kindness of human strangers to get them to the destination that they have written on a flag. If somebody told me that people would be this kind to a helpless little robot, I wouldn't have believed them, but boy was I wrong... Just watch the video, and if you've seen it before, watch it again, because it'll make you smile:

Yes. I very much want one. And the good news is that thanks to Kickstarter, mass production of Tweenbots is a real possibility... Kacie Kinzer needs $35k to make it happen, mostly because the Tweenbots need custom-made motor assemblies. A mere $65 will get you your own Tweenbots kit when they become available, along with access to a website to help plan, track, and share its wanderings.

[ Tweenbots ]

[ Kickstarter ]

RoboGames 2011: Humanoids

RoboGames had about a dozen humanoid-only events this year, ranging from freestyle dance-offs to weight lifting to Kung-Fu. There was a whole cadre of Aldebaran Robotics' Naos strutting their stuff, as well as a multitude of custom-made robots, many of which were designed from the ground up specifically for competitions like RoboGames.

One of the highlights was Taylor Veltrop demonstrating his hybrid Kinect and Wii control system for humanoids. It's been fascinating to watch robot control systems evolve from Waldo-type master/slave hardware just a few years ago to a full body motion-capture system where someone can just jump in and have a robot (or two) mimic their every move. You'll see that in action in this video, along with footage of several other events and a gigantic just-for-fun humanoid robot rumble:

We're putting together more tasty footage from RoboGames, but if you need your fix in the meantime, Robots Dreams has a bunch of video on their YouTube channel.

[ RoboGames ]

Mystery Robot To Be Officially Unveiled May 11

UPDATE: Mystery robot revealed! Learn everything about it here.

At RoboGames last weekend, we got a sneak peak at that mysterious new robot that's been churning through the rumor mill for the last month or so. We can't tell you everything about it, not yet, but we can tell you SOME things... Enough things to subtly suggest that this robot could have a significant place in your home in the near future.

First, an exclusive teaser video:

Now, you should understand that this robot isn't designed to be a fancy, futuristic new platform. Really, it's fairly simple: it's got a beefy computer in the base, a big battery that lets it run for eight hours, an 8" touchscreen, and a bunch of USB expansion ports. And of course, it's open source, so you can write your own apps for it.

What makes this robot different is that it's 1.5 meters [5 feet] tall, which is tall enough for you to interact with naturally, and relative to other robots this size, and it's affordable for regular people without corporate funding or grant money -- think mid-range laptop in price. So just imagine all of those handy things that your computer can do for you right now, and then imagine how many other handy things your computer could do for you if it could move around and interact with its environment like this robot obviously can.

For the moment, you'll have to just have to keep using your imagination as to exactly what this robot will be capable of, but we'll have more details (all the details) for you on May 11th.

Earth Day: 5 Robots That Can Help Make the Planet Greener

planet earth day nasa

Today is Earth Day, and one of my coworkers was telling me about all the little things we can do to help preserve the beautiful place we all live in. That got me thinking, naturally, on things that robots could do to help preserve the planet. Let's not be disingenuous: robots, like all technologies, are not a panacea. More automation could mean less carbon emissions and less waste, but it could also mean the opposite -- it all depends on how we use it. Below I'm listing five robotic technologies that could potentially help to make the planet greener. If you have more robots to add to the list, or if you disagree that robots are Earth-friendly creations, leave a comment below.

1. Recycling robots. Waste is a huge problem all over the world, and many people do their share by separating plastic, paper, glass, and other trash, which is then collected, resorted, and (hopefully) recycled. To me it looks like a hugely inefficient process screaming for more automation. The only project I've heard of in this area is an Italian mobile robot called Dustbot [photo below], which picks up trash at people's homes and brings it to a recycling facility. It's cute, but just a prototype. If we don't want to end up in a landfill of a planet as depicted in WALL-E, we need much better recycling bots.

2. Telepresence robots. Air travel is responsible for a sizable fraction of the world's carbon emissions. It's also costly. That's why many corporations have reduced business trips and embraced videoconference meetings. Now there's another option: telepresence robots. The idea is simple: You embody a robot, controlled over the Net, that acts as your proxy at a remote location. And you can choose from many different types of body. You can be the skinny Anybots QB [video below], or the large-headed Willow Garage Texai, or you if you have US $200,000 to spare you can even get an android copy of yourself.

3. Harvesting robots. Agriculture has become highly industrialized and wasteful, with bad results for the environment and for us, who literally eat the fruits of this process. Could more automation improve this scenario? I don't know. I want to believe that robots could replace some of today's wasteful practices with more efficient ones that would save energy and fuel, cut down on fertilizers and pesticides, and as a result make crops more sustainable. (How harvesting robots would impact labor is another issue that only adds complexity to this problem.) Companies trying to bring robots into the field include Vision Robotics, which is developing an autonomous grape-vine pruner [video below], and Harvest Automation, which has created a small mobile robot that picks up and moves potted plants in nurseries.

3. Personal mobility vehicles. The greenest mode of transportation is -- you guessed it -- walking. But we can't walk everywhere, of course. At the same time, using a car to drive for short distances is very wasteful. That's why we need a way of going places that doesn't involve using our legs or our gas-guzzling automobiles. Enter the personal mobility vehicle -- a small machine designed to take a single person for short rides. The Segway was the first in this category, but unfortunately many cities banned it from the streets. We still think, though, that these vehicles will play an important role in reducing our dependence on cars (laws and pedestrians can't get in the way of the future!). Our favorite prototype? Take a look at Honda's futuristic unicycle called U3-X [video below].

5. Autonomous cars. As cool as machines like the U3-X above might be, commuting on a unicycle might not work for everyone. But if we're going to continue using cars, can we at least make them smarter? We're not just talking about driverless cars, vans, and even buses that researchers have recently demonstrated. Sure, these autonomous vehicles could in principle help us drive a bit more efficiently by finding the best routes and optimizing acceleration and braking of the vehicles. But we also need smarter cars that interact with each other and the road, so everyone moves along smoothly and safely. One example is the European project SARTRE [video below], which is studying whether autonomous convoys of vehicles improve safety and save fuel.

Image: NASA

This Begging Robot Can Have All My Money

Seriously, how could you walk past this adorable little robot and not give it everything you have in your pockets? This is DONA, an "Urban Donation Motivating Robot," which wanders around public spaces and proceeds to look cute until people give it money. 'Cause, you know, robots have to make ends meet too. And from the looks of it, it totally works:

Good thing DONA doesn't take credit cards over the internet, or I'd be flat broke right now.

[ Dona ] via [ Yanko ]

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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