Do you know what your garden is missing right now? Of course you do, because whenever this blog asks you what X is missing right now, the correct answer is always always always ROBOTS. And your garden is absolutely missing robots. Specifically, the sort with lots of legs and big lights on their heads.

These Toro-bots are built on top of PhantomX quadrupeds, and each has been programmed with its own unique behavior. Infrared rangefinders allow the robots to react to things like people walking past them, and they're also equipped with infrared beacons that allow them to be tracked individually by an IR camera and (eventually) given some level of centralized autonomous control.

The Toro-bots are about more than just having lamps that can walk around (as cool as that is). They're part of a grand vision of a garden that can aesthetically rework itself:

A Japanese garden is designed to recreate the eyes and foster contemplation and meditation. Inspired by nature, it is, however, a work of art: a production of the human mind. Human beings create that order, and then retreat to contemplate it, intervening from time to time to tweak details and maintain the order. We propose here a garden that takes care of itself, that somehow understands and re-interprets the rules of harmony and equilibrium, and reconfigures itself depending on the season, the presence or absence of a human observersthat develops structure in a generative way, creating a dynamic conversation between the elements in the garden. 

I like the idea that a garden full of robots might also be able to carry out practical tasks, like having walking lamps that follow you around at night. Maybe you can outfit them with cameras or other sensors to monitor plant health, and give them remote control over your sprinkler system. They could live (and charge) indoors, and come and go as they please through the robot equivalent of a doggy door. Adorable!

To get started on a robot like this of your own, all it takes is a Japanese lamp plus a PhantomX quadruped kit, which'll set you back just under $1k.

[ Alvaro Cassinelli ] via [ Trossen ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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