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Video: International Micro Aerial Vehicle Competition Highlights

The International Micro Aerial Vehicle Conference/Competition took place back in September, and unfortunately, we couldn't make it because we weren't sure how to pronounce the name of the place in which it was being held: 't Harde, in the Netherlands.

While IMAV had plenty of papers and talks and stuff, the most exciting bits were the indoor and outdoor MAV competitions. Inside, little autonomous flying robots had to identify and collect objects from within a structure, while outside, teams of MAVs had to cooperate to locate and observe groups of people, drop objects in specific locations, and even pop balloons. For both competitions, points were awarded for completing more difficult and complicated tasks and for increased autonomy.

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ROS Turns Four, Schedules Conference/Party for 2012

We post a lot about ROS (Robot Operating System) around here, and the reason that we do is because a lot of the coolest stuff that's happening in the robotics world right now has been made possible in one form or another by the open sourceitude of ROS. This year, ROS is celebrating its fourth anniversary, so there's gonna be a HUGE PARTY in May of 2012 right after the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Oh, did I say party? I meant conference. Yeah, conference.

Anyway, ROSCon (see? conference!) will be a great place to learn from the best, and if you're one of those best, you've got until December 4th to submit a presentation proposal.

[ ROSCon 2012 ]

Honda Robotics Unveils Next-Generation ASIMO Robot

UPDATED: November 8, 2011, 9:15 a.m. Added video and more photos. November 10, 2011, 9:42 a.m. Updated video.

You're looking at Honda's brand new ASIMO robot, which was just unveiled today in Japan. While the new ASIMO's appearance is similar to the version of ASIMO that we've come to know and love, there are some key differences inside that promise to make this generation more autonomous and capable than ever.

Below we give you all the details, with a bunch of new pics to match. But first, here's a video of ASIMO showing off some of its new skills:

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A New Way for Robots to Balance on Two Feet

It turns out that studying how to make robots grasp objects with their hands is helping researchers figure out how to make robots balance on their feet. 

Christian Ott and his team at the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics have discovered a way to keep bipedal robots from falling over by using principles from robot grasping.

As shown in this video released at the 2011 IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Bled, Slovenia, the new approach allows the DLR Biped, a legged robot based on KUKA's lightweight system, to keep its feet firmly planted on the floor, even when kicked by a mean researcher or slammed with a 5-kilogram medicine ball. You try to do that!

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Creepy Crawly Slug Robot Has Tank Treads for Skin

Rescue robots don't always have to be big and burly and complicated. Usually, if you put something big and burly and complicated in an environment with lots of water and dust, all the big and burly complicated bits get decidedly less complicated by virtue of ceasing to function. You can seal up individual parts (like wheels or tracks) as best you can, but sealing up the entire robot offers even more durability. The SCV (Slug Crawler Vehicle) from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan relies on a flexible, waterproof "skin" to protect it from the elements while still allowing it to get around pretty well:

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Toyota's Healthcare Robots Are Ready to Help You With Absolutely Everything

Healthcare and elder care is a big concern in Japan, whose population is aging more rapidly than their current human-centric infrastructure is prepared to cope with. Companies like Toyota are hoping that robots will be able to pick up a little bit of the slack, and this week they've introduced four new robotic systems designed to help keep people healthy and independent as long as possible.

The first couple systems are designed to provide single-leg walking assistance to people who have balance issues, or even people suffering from complete paralysis in one leg. The robotic structure (it's a lot like Cyberdyne's exoskeleton) is capable of supporting the entirety of your weight on one leg, and it will swing your leg forward for you as you walk. If you can hold yourself up, the second system will provide you with visual feedback to help you get your balance back and start walking on your own.

If that's not exciting enough for you, the third system turns balance training into a game. You can play virtual games of tennis, football, or basketball, and you'll be challenged to maintain your balance while controlling your character on the screen:

The final system is more for caretakers than patients; it's a robot that helps someone transfer someone else from (say) a bed to (say) a toilet. And, well, there's a demo of that, too:

As you can see, all of these prototypes are currently operational, and Toyota is expecting commercialization to occur sometime in 2013. 

[ Toyota ] via [ Mashable ]

Using Smiles (and Frowns) to Teach Robots How to Behave

Naughty robots can now be tamed with this snazzy smile-detecting device from the University of Tsukuba AI Lab. Anna Gruebler and her colleagues have developed a wireless headband that captures electromyographic (EMG) signals from the side of the face, detecting when you're smiling with delight or frowning with disapproval.

Unlike cameras with smile-detection algorithms, this device can work in low light, while you're walking around, and when you're not looking into your computer's camera. Part of the charm, the researchers say, comes from the discreet headband design that beats traditional face electrodes and wires.

Last year, Gruebler proposed the device to control avatars on Second Life in a hands-free way, as in the explanation video below. More users would approach her avatar, she says, because it was smiling and looked friendly.

Their current version supports smile and frown detection at a success rate of over 97 percent and has been used to train a Nao humanoid robot in real-time, as shown in this video released at the 2011 IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots, in Bled, Slovenia, last week:

The trainer tries to teach the robot her preference: Give the ball or throw it. Although the Nao starts out slow and hesitant, it speeds up after acquiring experience and feedback from the trainer. Their study compared it to using a manual interface: While users made mistakes using a dial, they never confused smiling and frowning -- a natural, intuitive way to interact with a robot.

The main idea, the researchers say, is that it's similar to how parents teach and encourage babies.

The next step is to apply the device to other real-life situations. If you could train a robot with a smile or frown, what would you have it do?

Angelica Lim is a graduate student at the Okuno and Ogata Speech Media Processing Group at Kyoto University, Japan.

Giant Robotic Jumping Spider. Giant Robotic Jumping Spider!

Yeah, so this right here is a giant robotic spider. By "giant" I mean that those legs are 20 centimeters long each, and if the body adds another 20 centimeters, we're looking at a robot arachnid that's a terrifying two feet across (0.6 meters). For what it's worth, this is approximately twice the size of the largest real spider, the Goliath bird-eater, and the Goliath bird-eater doesn't even jump.

Oh yes, this robot jumps.

The neat thing about spiders (if you're into spiders, anyway), is that they're hydraulically operated. Instead of moving their limbs with muscles, they do it by increasing the blood pressure in whatever limb they want to extend. Hydraulically operated robots work the same way, except they have a hydraulic pump instead of a heart and hydraulic fluid instead of blood. This can be a very effective way of providing power to limbs, which is why Boston Dynamics uses a hydraulic system in AlphaDog and PETMAN.

Anyway, back to this freaky thing. Designed by a team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Germany, this prototype robospider was 3D printed, meaning that more of them than I would personally be comfortable with can be manufactured quickly and cheaply. A hydraulic pump in the body provides fluid pressure to the limbs allowing the robot to crawl forwards and backwards, and some versions are apparently powerful enough to leap off the ground, grab you by the throat, and rip your head off. Or maybe not that last bit. Maybe.

In any case, having eight legs makes the robot exceptionally nimble, which is the whole reason for utilizing this design. The body of the spiderbot also contains the control system and a variety of sensors to enable it to perform its primary mission, which is as "an exploratory tool in environments that are too hazardous for humans." Like, I dunno, environments that are full of giant spiders?

[ Fraunhofer ] via [ Eureka

Climbing Robot Tank Can Corner Like a Gecko

This is not the first sticky-treaded robotank, but as far as I know, it's the first one that can manage to go around corners and make that tricky transition from horizontal to vertical. The somewhat unfortunately named "Tailless Timing Belt Climbing Platform" (or TBCP-11) comes from Simon Frasier University way up there in Canada. It weighs 240 grams, and has no problems climbing up whiteboards, glass, and other slick surfaces.

The sticking power of those treads comes from the same handy little Van der Waals forces that geckos use to effortlessly stick to, well, everything. Instead of tiny hairs, though, TBCP-11 uses tiny mushrooms, which provide a substantial amount of conformable surface area for the robot to use to adhere to walls.

Maximizing compliant surface area has been an issue for gecko-type (aka dry-adhesion) climbing robots for a long time; the material itself is spectacular, but the tough part is getting enough of the material to make contact with your climbing surface. For example, check out the picture of Stickybot III's toes in this article, and notice how little of the adhesive the robot is relying on to stick. This is one of the advantages of the TBCP-11: the continuous loops of adhesive material provide a lot of adhesion power.

While this robot does have some autonomous capability, it's still tethered for power, since batteries are heavy. It's going to take a little extra work to increase the strength of the adhesive so that the TBCP-11 can bring its power source onboard, and the SFU researchers are also trying to figure out how to get the thing to turn without the treads coming loose and causing the TBCP-11 to plummet to its doom.

[ SFU ] via [ Vancouver Sun ]

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Automaton

IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
 
Contributor
Jason Falconer
Canada
Contributor
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan
 

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