Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Paro is more than a therapeutic robot; Paro IS a Baby Seal!

"Meet Paro, the therapeutic robot seal"

"Paro is a harp seal stuffed animal robot, developed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Engineer Takanori Shibata said Paro prototypes are being tested in Japan and Sweden at nursing homes, and with autistic and handicapped children.
"We know that pet therapy helps physically, psychologically and socially, and Paro does the same thing for people who are unable to care for a live pet," said Shibata.
Surface tactile sensors beneath its fur and whiskers trigger Paro to move and respond to petting: eyes open and close, flippers move. Just holding and stroking the critter has a calming effect, as Comdex (Computer Dealer Expo) visitors who checked it out soon discovered.
"We found nursing home residents also opened up and talked with each other about pets they had owned," said Shibata. And, he said, their stress levels went down.
Paro may soon be tested in children's hospitals in the United States. It's expected to cost between $2,500 and $3,000.

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"Elders finding love in a household machine
Seemingly sentient robots can fill void, researchers say"
"Until recently, Dorothy Light of West Lafayette, Ind., described herself as a 74-year-old lonely widow. She had said goodbye to her home and even her cat when she moved into a senior apartment building that doesn't allow pets.
But she's not lonely anymore, Light said, thanks to a new live-in companion that makes her feel loved. Never mind that her companion isn't capable of love, since it's just a robot that looks like a dog. What matters in her opinion is that loving feeling she gets when Big Boy sits in her lap or nuzzles beneath her arm.
''I had lost my identity" with no husband, pets, or children at home to nurture, she said.
The AIBO from Sony ''gives me a sense of identity," Light said. ''The dog loves me all the time. . . . It gives me an entrée into a world I had thought I'd lost forever."
Light got Big Boy from Purdue University, one of several institutions studying how elders interact with robotic pets. With nursing homes experiencing labor shortages and with the over-65 population projected to double by 2050, scientists are asking whether machines designed to seem sentient could provide a low-maintenance means of improving the emotional lives of seniors.
Some researchers are hopeful. A study completed last year at Purdue found that ''life satisfaction" scores improved in six out of 10 categories among 13 elders who had kept an AIBO in their apartments six weeks.
At Teikyo University of Science and Technology in Japan, researchers in ''robot-assisted therapy" have found that robotic pets in nursing homes stir positive memories of pets that residents once owned. Researchers from MIT found that nursing home residents would rather play with robots than dolls, because robots seem valued as grown-up activity.
But the semblance of sentience in these therapeutic robots has raised ethical questions. Is it right for anyone who feels desperately lonely or depressed to gain relief in an illusion? Would it be fair to use robots, which appear to have feelings, among elders with dementia who might think they're dealing with a real animal?.."

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The ART of Robotics: An Important "Next Step" Agenda Item

From: Science Alive - New Zealand Science Center - 2007 Christchurch Robocup Junior Competition Photos

Recently, a listener to The Teachers Podcast ( ), Ms. Linda Baran, a teacher at Selwyn House School – Christchurch, New Zealand, emailed us about her and her students' experiences with the wonderful Robo Cup Jr. program. Wonderful especially because it offers an opportunity for youngsters to become involved with robotics-based learning acitivities that are altenative or additional to the FIRST LEGO League competition. While 'FLL' is wonderful in its own right, it addresses a different set of needs than the very creativity and non-competitive oriented RoboCup Jr. This approach represents an important next step agenda item for robotics enthusiast educators as we craft a complete and balanced program for youngsters. Folow this link to photo and information about the program as it runs currently in New Zealand, which is further along this road than the American program and gives a broader picture at this point of its potential.

Also, keep your eyes on a new program in this rich educational context currently forming in New York City "RoboFest NY" More to come on this as information is released.

The Transformative Power of Robotics (item of interest to edcuators)

From: N Y Times 'Education' Section
"In the South Bronx, Robotics and Rebirth"
"At the end of a distinctly pugilistic day of sixth grade, Abdoulie Lemon was escorted by a dean to the industrial-arts classroom that doubled as the detention pen. No sooner had he restlessly settled into his chair than he caught sight of a dozen students gathered in rapt attention around a table at the other end of the room.
Not being the obedient sort at this point in his scholastic career, Abdoulie left behind the dean and the chair to check out the hubbub, he recalled recently. He saw on the tabletop a sort of motorized cart made mostly of Lego pieces.
“I want to play,” he said, shifting from tough guy to eager child with no intermediate step.
“It’s not a toy,” one of the students at the table answered. “It’s a robot.”
The dean begrudgingly gave Abdoulie a five-minute parole to watch the robot scoot to and fro across the tabletop. And in those five minutes, Abdoulie’s life changed.
What he was seeing, he soon learned, was a practice session for the robotics team at Herman Ridder Junior High School in the Bronx. There was practice every afternoon, and more practice or a competition on most Saturdays.
By now, two years later, Abdoulie is a veteran of the team. Last year, he traveled with the Ridder Kids, as their matching T-shirts proclaim them, to a national Lego robotics championship in Atlanta. At the end of this April, the squad plans to go to Japan to participate in an exhibition.
In the process, Abdoulie has solved the mystery of himself: How could a boy smart enough to disassemble and reassemble the family television be messing up so badly in school? The answer: Nobody at school had noticed that talent until the Ridder Kids encouraged Abdoulie to fit together every intricate part of a robot. For the first time, he felt success and approval.
“I used to be hard-headed,” Abdoulie explained at Ridder one recent afternoon. “Now I’m not that way anymore.”...
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

War Robots in Deployment... NOW!

"First Armed Robots on Patrol in Iraq"
"Robots have been roaming the streets of Iraq, since shortly after the war began. Now, for the first time -- the first time in any warzone -- the machines are carrying guns.
After years of development, three "special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action system" (SWORDS) robots have deployed to Iraq, armed with M249 machine guns. The 'bots "haven't fired their weapons yet," Michael Zecca, the SWORDS program manager, tells DANGER ROOM. "But that'll be happening soon."
The SWORDS -- modified versions of bomb-disposal robots used throughout Iraq -- were first declared ready for duty back in 2004. But concerns about safety kept the robots from being sent over the the battlefield. The machines had a tendency to spin out of control from time to time. That was an annoyance during ordnance-handling missions; no one wanted to contemplate the consequences during a firefight.
So the radio-controlled robots were retooled, for greater safety. In the past, weak signals would keep the robots from getting orders for as much as eight seconds -- a significant lag during combat. Now, the SWORDS won't act on a command, unless it's received right away. A three-part arming process -- with both physical and electronic safeties -- is required before firing. Most importantly, the machines now come with kill switches, in case there's any odd behavior. "So now we can kill the unit if it goes crazy," Zecca says.
As initially reported in National Defense magazine, only three of the robots are currently in Iraq. Zecca says he's ready to send more, "but we don't have the money. It's not a priority for the Army, yet." He believes that'll change, once the robots begin getting into firefights...."

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pet Dinosaur Robot: Headed for Extinction?

From: Circuits Newsletter
"Pleo, the (Yawn) Dino-Robot. Next!"
"One thing’s for sure: this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a dinosaur.
And yet, as I sat down to test the new Pleo dino-robot with my three kids, I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Because even though this is the first dinosaur robot I’ve reviewed, it’s not the first toy pet robot. That distinction belongs to the Sony Aibo dog, a $1,500 marvel from 2001 that has gone on to the great pet-robot cemetery in the sky..."

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Golfer, Caddy, and Golf Cart all in one?

From: Express India
"In the making, a golfing robot"
"New Delhi - Amid a plethora of glittering motorcars at the just-concluded Auto Expo, there was this unusual sight, at a robotics show in the Andhra Pavilion—a lonely robot arm, patiently wielding a golf wedge, trying to hook a golf ball into a hole a little over a couple of metres away.
So that’s the end of golfing pros? Not really. The arm, developed by Precision Automation & Robotics India Ltd (PARI) is just an experiment, as Milind Adkar, their regional sales chief (north) pointed out to Sportline.

'In perfect conditions back in our lab we were hitting around 90 per cent successful shots, but in these conditions at the fair we make around 70 per cent.' It is more of an academic study by the Narhe, Maharashtra company (with operations in eight facilities worldwide, including the US) that could one day yield practical results.

Quite in keeping with the way Indian minds work, problems of handling multiple wind vectors, and resistances, it is probably an attempt at finding the right solution to those missed shots of Tiger Woods.

Maybe Woods would do better with a robotics firm instead of a software application conglomerate.

At least, somebody might want to look into Arjun Atwal’s putting sequences a little closely. "

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And on his farm he had a robot E-I-E-I-O

From: American Agriculturalist
"Robotic Milking Takes Off in Northeast"

"Rising labor costs combined with the shortage of skilled dairy employees has many milk producers weighing expansion versus selling their herds. But today, technology and a growing service network is delivering a third option – robotic milking. Let the cows milk themselves up to three times a day often boosts milk output and cow longevity plus reduces milking labor. And, the technology also may help improve milk quality. That's why sales of robotic milking units are exploding in the Northeast this year. Officials for the DeLaval and Lely milking equipment manufacturing companies project that 50 to 60 robotic milking units will be installed on New York and Pennsylvania dairy farms this year..."

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Outstanding Photos of a High School Robotics Team!

From: News from New York City / New Jersey FIRST January 7, 2008 (digital newsletter)

"A collection of wonderful images by Team 555 FIRST parent Dan Epstein"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meet Mr. Personality and friends...

From: engadget

"WowWee introduces Mr. Personality, Rovio, and Flytech Bladestar"
"WowWee's CES robot lineup is here, so let's get to it. First up, you've got the Flytech Bladestar, a slightly crazier take on the indoor RC flying gig actually intended for duels with friends. The Bladestart has two spinning wings and stabilizing rotors to keep it steady while aloft, as well as wall and ceiling IR sensors.Rovio is a "home exploration and telepresence" robot (meaning it doesn't do very much), featuring WiFi, a remotely-controlled directional webcam capable of streaming audio and video, self-docking and recharging, and "NorthStar" AI navigation (which WowWee describes as a micro-GPS like system that makes Rovio aware of its surroundings with "pinpoint accuracy").If neither of those caught your fancy, we think the ironically anthropomorphized Mr. Personality might meet you in the middle. Featuring an LCD facial readout, downloadable personalities (via USB and SD), Ruxpin-esque story and joke telling and "conversation", as well as the usual IR and audio sensors."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Meet I-Sobot, 6.5 Inches of Advanced Technology Ready for You to Take Home!

From: New York Times
"Not Exactly the Jetsons, but Getting Closer"
"Robots are still far from being the chatty companions seen in science-fiction movies. But some toy robots are becoming more than just conversation pieces.
According to the NPD Group, a market research firm, sales of robotic and interactive playmates in the United States were $284 million in the 12 months ended in October, up from $213 million in the previous 12 months.

One recent entry is the i-Sobot from Tomy of Japan. Only 6.5 inches tall, the i-Sobot has a list price of $299, making it less expensive than other advanced robots on the market, which often cost more than $1,000.

The i-Sobot has 17 motors to move its limbs, making it surprisingly fluid. According to James Kuffner, an assistant professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, robots that have 20 or more motors can replicate most human movement.
Like many other toy robots, the i-Sobot has a humanoid shape, which is not accidental, Professor Kuffner said. “A human shape has an appeal,” he said. “A dishwasher will only wash dishes, but a humanoid robot can do more.”
Among the things they do is fight. Professor Kuffner said that in Japan and South Korea, the centers of innovation in toy robots, people often have toy robot battles.
By 2026, he estimates, consumer robots should be able to perform many chores people find hazardous or distasteful. Honda the carmaker and a leader in robot design and research, has estimated that a robot the size of a typical 12-year-old can do most household tasks, he said.
The obstacles to building a robot of that size have to do with weight and cost. As robots get larger, they need more gears to move, making them heavier and more expensive.
Robots may also start to look more human, adding facial features and delicate hands, but that poses a psychological problem known as the uncanny valley syndrome. That idea, which was introduced in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, refers to the disquieting effect that objects, particularly robots, have on people if they look too human.
“As you get closer to something human, but it is not a human, it is frightening..."
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