Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Robot Teachers Invade Korean Schools!

_______________From: Korea JoongAng Daily

Robot teachers with a human face
“Engkey” gives a lecture yesterday in Daegu. By Gong Jeong-sik
After years of hype, robot teachers have finally rolled into the classrooms.

The Daegu Office of Education introduced 29 robot teachers for English classes in 21 elementary schools - one of the largest rollouts in the world - and the bots strutted their stuff at a demonstration at Hakjung Elementary School yesterday, with about 150 government officials coming to get a look at the technology employed.

The 1-meter (3.28 feet) egg-shaped robot, named “Engkey” (an abbreviation of English key), spoke, asked questions and conversed in English with students, and even entertained the crowd by dancing to music.

“It is awesome and interesting,” marveled Sim Geun-hae, a third-grade student who participated in the demonstration class. “I felt I could learn English better [if it becomes my teacher].”

In fact, the robo-teachers aren’t mere chips, wheels and gears. Within each of them, in a sense, is a real human teacher controlling the machine by remote from the Philippines. The teachers in the Philippines have cameras to record their faces - which show up on a flat panel screen that forms the robo-teacher’s face - and they can also see the Korean students through a camera installed in the robot. Basically, the robot is a rolling Internet link between students and teacher, although the human teacher can also command the robot to make human gestures with its arms and wheels.

“The robots will teach students in after-school programs, not in regular classes,” Kim Mi-yong, an official at the education office, said. “The robot can handle only a small number of students per class, about eight students.”

The education office said Korean teachers can use the robots as assistant teachers for English classes, too.

The robots were invented by the Center for Intelligent Robotics under the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and the Daegu city government, the Daegu Office of Education and the Ministry of Knowledge and Economy spent roughly 1.6 billion won ($1.39 million) for the units.

The English-speaking robot has already made headlines in the foreign media. Time magazine dubbed it one of the 50 best inventions of 2010.

Read the full article at its source: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2930207

Monday, November 8, 2010

RoboCop Comes Home

Protecting Your Home From Afar With a Robot
Photo from NY Times

When Robert Oschler, a programmer, leaves his home, he knows it is secure. And if he ever has cause for concern, he can open his laptop and survey the house through the eyes of his watchdogs.

“I don’t have any pets. I just have pet robots, and they’re pretty well behaved,” Mr. Oschler said. “Fortunately I’ve never logged in and seen a human face.”

His robot, a modified version of the Rovio from WowWee, has a camera, microphone and speakers atop a three-wheeled platform. From anywhere with a Net connection, he can send his robot zipping around the house, returning a video signal along the way.

“As creepy as it sounds, you could even talk to the guy and say, ‘Get out of there. There’s nothing valuable. I’m calling the police,’ ” he said.

For all its power and ability, the Rovio is usually found in a store’s toy section for about $170. Other robots from toy makers, like Meccano, are there as well. Outfitting a house with a fleet of robot guards is no longer just for those with the wealth of Bond villains.

Home security is blossoming for toy makers who can match the technical power and flexibility of the computer industry with the mass-market prices that come from large production runs. Low prices are a trade-off, however, because many people find that the reliability of the lower-priced robots is adequate for home experimentation but far from ready for a task like guarding Fort Knox.

“You should buy two,” said Mr. Oschler, who lives in South Florida.

The off-the-shelf unit is ready to explore after a simple installation involving the computer, but Mr. Oschler added a few enhancements to the software, which he distributes at robodance.com. His version improves the audio and video quality and offers more sophisticated programming options that create routines and paths for the robots to follow.

Mr. Oschler has even wired his robot to a headset that picks up the subtle electrical activity produced by his brain.

“When I tilt my head, the robot goes left. When you do that, it’s a Matrix-like moment,” he said proudly.

Other robot owners have modified their guard-bots, too. Peter Redmer, of Illinois, a online community manager at robocommunity.com, said his site gathered the collective wisdom of the toy robots. One hobbyist in China, Qiaosong Wang, posted pictures of his Rovio after he added a small fire extinguisher and software that can detect the shape of fire.

“One of the goals is to create something that the consumer can enjoy without pricing it at $5,000 or $10,000 with military-grade technology,” Mr. Redmer said.

Others have experimented with adding software for aiming the camera or enhancements like better lights for patrolling at night.

Mr. Redmer said he was most interested lately in the Parrot AR.Drone, a flying robot priced at $300. “It flies. How much cooler does it get?” he asked.

Not all of the innovation is attached to something that moves. Several companies are matching sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms with video cameras. These systems monitor the video feed and sound alarms when objects of a certain shape appear.

I tried some software called Vitamin D that lets me watch my office. It raises flags — by beeping — whenever anyone walks in. It requires a computer and detects video signals from attached cameras. (A single-camera version is free, and the cost can rise to $199, at vitamindinc.com.)

Archerfish makes surveillance cameras with sophisticated filters for detecting and distinguishing people, vehicles and other random movement. The models, at myarcherfish.com, include either one or four cameras for $400 to $1,400.

I also spent some time with a Spykee, a robot made by the French company Meccano that sells toys in the United States under the brand name Erector. Several models of Spykee robots are at spykeeworld.com, for $110 to $300.

The company, perhaps best known for its Erector sets, designed the Spykee as a kit that required some basic assembly. The essential gears and electronics come in a prebuilt base, and attaching the arms takes an hour or so.

“It’s a toy, but many people use it as surveillance robot,” said Jennifer Briand, the product manager for Spykee. By aiming at children, Ms. Briand said, “We wanted a product that they could drive on their own like a spy, play jokes on their brothers and sisters, and protect their bedroom because at that age they don’t like their sister coming in.”

Still, she said the use as a surveillance robot was a bit of a surprise..."

Read the full article at its source:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

May I please have the hall pass, Mr. Roboto?

"A Robot in Every Korean Kindergarten by 2013?"

If you want humans to fear and respect their robot overlords you have to start early. Elementary school children in Korea in the cities of Masan and Daegu are among the first to be exposed to robotic teachers. Among them is a robotic English instructor named EngKey developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). EngKey can hold scripted conversations with students to help them improve their language skills, or a modified version can act as a telepresence tool to allow distant teachers to interact with children. The arrival of EngKey to Masan and Daegu is just a small step in the mechanization of Korean classrooms: the Education Ministry wants all 8400 kindergartens in the nation to have robotic instructors by the end of 2013. Watch out kids, you don’t want to misbehave when your teacher can crush you in its metallic grip.

EngKey can be a harsh mistress. This child mispronounced his sentence and was told to repeat it. Don't worry kid, just go off script and you'll cause the bot to fry a wire.
As we reported earlier in the year, Korea has been looking to expand the role of robotic assistants in classrooms. Most models, including EngKey, act primarily in support roles for real human teachers. Rightfully so. EngKey can’t handle improvisation, and students must follow a script carefully when practicing their pronunciation with the robot. The value of the bot comes in the student’s fascination and comfort with a toy-like device. Students aren’t intimidated as they may be with an adult, can more freely make mistakes, and hopefully, learn from them. Preschoolers seem to respond well to another robot used in classrooms, Genibo the dog. Teachers can use Genibo to show children dance and gymnastic moves, and their interest in the device helps maintain their attention through the lesson.

Of course, the novelty of robots can wear off with continued exposure, and I’m not sure about the longterm use of robots as attention-getting assistants. In second grade I really loved learning using audio books on a cassette, but I quickly figured out it was the same lectures as I normally got in the classroom, just captured on tape. Korea’s probably right to focus the first wave of their robotics programs at the youngest children. CNN reports that the Education Ministry is hoping to have 830 bots in preschools by year’s end. At that age, a robot may stay interesting for a longer time. Eventually, however, robots that can’t act like humans are going to have a hard time of instructing human children..."

Read the full article at its source:

Another small step for man, but a giant leap for Robots!"

>>>>>>>>>>Accessed from NY Times>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>NASA

"NASA’s Quest to Send a Robot to the Moon"
"For $150 billion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could have sent astronauts back to the Moon. The Obama administration judged that too expensive, and in September, Congress agreed to cancel the program.

For a fraction of that — less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for a rocket — NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston say they can safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon. And they say they could accomplish that in a thousand days.

The idea, known as Project M, is almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up a year ago by Stephen J. Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. He tapped into discretionary money, pulled in engineers to work on it part time, and horse-traded with companies and other NASA units to undertake preliminary planning and tests. “We’re doing impossible things with really very little, if any, money whatsoever,” Mr. Altemus said.

A humanoid dextrous robot — at least the top half — already exists: Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors, is packed on the shuttle Discovery, scheduled for liftoff on Wednesday.

Bound for the International Space Station, it will be the first humanoid robot in space. It is to help with housekeeping chores at the space station as NASA learns how astronauts and robots can work together. Eventually, an upgraded Robonaut is to take part in spacewalks.

Project M also draws on other NASA projects that were already under way, including rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen and methane — a cheap and nontoxic fuel combination — and an automated landing system that could avoid rocks, cliffs and other hazards.

Integrating the technologies into working prototypes sped up development. “That’s the magic,” Mr. Altemus said. “A lot of times technologies end up in the lab cooking, and then there’s this valley of death where they never get to maturation or to flight.”

Project M’s planners say that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago..."
Read the full vesion of this story at its source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/science/space/02robot.html?ref=science

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Can't be there in person? Send Your ROBOT!

"Smarter Than You Think
The Boss Is Robotic, and Rolling Up Behind You..."

"...SACRAMENTO — Dr. Alan Shatzel’s pager beeped at 9 on a Saturday morning. A man had suffered a stroke, and someone had to decide, quickly, whether to give him an anticlotting drug that could mean the difference between life and death.

Dr. Shatzel, a neurologist, hustled not to the emergency room where the patient lay — 260 miles away, in Bakersfield — but to a darkened room at a hospital here. He took a seat in front of the latest tools of his trade: computer monitors, a keyboard and a joystick that control his assistant on the scene — a robot on wheels.

He guided the roughly five-foot-tall machine, which has a large monitor as its “head,” into the patient’s room in Bakersfield. Dr. Shatzel’s face appeared on screen, and his voice issued from a speaker. Dr. Shatzel acknowledged the nurse and introduced himself to the patient’s grandson, explaining that he would question the patient to determine whether he was a candidate for the drug. The robot’s stereophonic hearing conveyed the answers. Using the hypersensitive camera on the monitor, Dr. Shatzel zoomed in and out and swung the display left and right, much as if he were turning his head to look around the room.

For years, the military and law enforcement agencies have used specialized robots to disarm bombs and carry out other dangerous missions. This summer, such systems helped seal a BP well a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Now, with rapidly falling costs, the next frontiers are the office, the hospital and the home..."

Read the full article at its source:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Robots to Clean Oil Spills

from NY Times...
"Will Robots Clean Up Future Oil Spills?

...One result of the recent undersea oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico is the emergence of a hot market for remedial technologies that go beyond the hapless boom-burn-disperse approach traditionally used to handle such spills.

Ocean Therapy Solutions, the maker of the oil-separating centrifuge system backed by the actor Kevin Costner, saw its devices deployed by BP’s cleanup and containment teams in June. Scientists from Tel Aviv University, meanwhile, have been touting the virtues of oil-hungry bacteria they grow in their lab. This sort of “bioremediation,” according to ScienceDaily, could help “clean the hard-to-reach oil pockets that occur when oil mixes with sand and organic matter on beaches and forms a thin layer on the gulf’s precious waterways.”

But technophiles might be most delighted by a coming innovation from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: swarms of oil-absorbing robots. Carlo Ratti and Assaf Biderman — the director and associate director, respectively, of M.I.T.’s Senseable City Lab — plan to unveil a prototype of their SeaSwarm technology at this week’s Venice Biennale festival of architecture, which has nanotechnology as its central theme. An oil-absorbing, nano-fiber belt churns though the unit’s head, where absorbed oil is removed.

The device is essentially a 16-foot-long, 7-foot-wide solar-powered conveyor belt made of a previously developed, oil-slurping “nanowire mesh.” The paperlike material is capable of isolating and absorbing up to 20 times its weight in oil, according to the researchers. Stretched across rollers, the nanofiber belt propels the floating unit through the water while slowly skimming its surface. The belt cycles through the device’s head, where absorbed oil is heated and separated from the mesh, and then rotates back into the water to collect more oil.

Using the principles of swarm robotics, thousands of such devices, interacting and coordinating with one another using global-positioning and wireless technology, could quickly form “teams” and tackle a burgeoning surface spill with crack efficiency. Indeed, the researchers note that one of the problems SeaSwarm aims to overcome is the overwhelming amount of equipment and human coordination needed to combat a spill.

A robotic S.W.A.T. team 5,000 to 10,000 units strong, responding to real-time satellite data about the presence of oil, could lap up a surface spill like BP’s Macondo spill within a month, the researchers said. “If produced in large numbers, we believe that each unit should cost no more than $20,000,” Mr. Ratti said. That means that a leak similar in size to the BP spill could be contained for $100 million to $200 million — assuming the robots worked as advertised. A swarm of 10,000 such units, working together, could tackle a Macondo-sized oil spill in a month, the developers say.

In one design, Mr. Ratti explained by e-mail, the devices burn the oil they collect, so they can continue working uninterrupted. An alternative design, he said, would have individual robots occasionally breaking away to deposit their oil in large, GPS-tagged floating reservoirs. A tanker could come and fetch the oil later..."
Read the full article at it's source:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Student Created Robot Catches INTEL's Attention and ROCKS!

as read on CNET's CRAVE Gadget Blog...
"Intel taps student's robot for processor demo

While I've always been a little scared of spiders, watching student Matt Bunting's hexapod robot dancing has all but cured me. Maybe it's the combination of the folk guitar and little leg sways in the below video, but all of a sudden, spiders (at least the robotic kind) look so damn cute.
Cuteness aside, the hexapod bot has gotten some attention from high places. Two days after Bunting, a University of Arizona electrical-engineering senior, posted a YouTube video of his bot, Intel ordered two of them to promote its Atom processors at trade shows and engineering meetings. The robot uses Intel's 1.60GHz Atom Z530 and US15W chipset. It runs on the Ubuntu open-source operating system.

The hexapod robot uses a Logitech QuickCam Communicate Deluxe Webcam mounted on its front for vision. (Credit: Matt Bunting)
Bunting built the as-yet unnamed robot from spare parts as a final project for a UA class on cognitive robotics. A camera mounted on the front of the six-legged creature (each leg has three degrees of freedom) takes successive images, which are used to help Hex determine if it is moving forward, sideways, or backward or tilting.
By analyzing the visual feedback, the 14x17x8-inch robot adaptively "learns" how to most effectively achieve its forward-moving goal.
"One of the things I wanted to explore was the idea of reinforcement learning. What I wanted to do was not preprogram any of those walking algorithms, I wanted it to figure out how to walk straight forward on its own," Bunting said. "It has the ability to figure it out itself..."

Read the full article at its source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10450394-1.html