Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Robots to Go Into Japan's Broken Nuclear Plants - Human's Breathe Sigh of Relief!

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>From - NPR
"First Eyes Inside Nuclear Plant May Be A Robot's
Workers in Japan want to look inside three troubled reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. But intense radiation inside the buildings means that it is too dangerous for them to enter. One solution? Robots. They're good at going places where people just don't want to go.

"The purpose of robots is to do those dull, dirty and dangerous missions — so dangerous is certainly what we're talking about here," says Tim Trainer, a vice president at iRobot, an American firm that has sent four of its robots to the company that owns the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

After a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the plant on March 11, operators lost power to the buildings that hold the reactors. In the ensuing days, three of them heated up and partially melted down. Explosions and fires that accompanied the accident have knocked out valuable equipment and left the area dangerously radioactive.

"A lot of the sensors and cameras are no longer operative in the facility, so the robot can provide your eyes and ears," Trainer says.

The robots Trainer has sent are designed to investigate bombs for the military, and some have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. They look like little tanks and are about 3 feet long. On their front is an extra set of extendable treads, which they can use to get over things.

I would anticipate that we are going to see a phenomenal enterprise of remote work systems that are brought to bear over the weeks, months and years of recovering Fukushima.

That maneuverability could come in handy at Fukushima Dai-ichi — the area around the plant is cluttered with debris. The robots also come equipped with cameras and chemical and radiation sensors. One type has a robotic arm that can open doors — unless they're locked.

Once the robots get inside, they might use their cameras to inspect the condition of the containment vessels around the reactors or take samples to check the radiation levels.

But this is only the start of the role that the robots may play at Fukushima. Carnegie Mellon University robotics researcher Red Whittaker has assisted with robotic operations at nuclear accidents like Chernobyl. He says after that 1986 accident, at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine, radiation levels were too high for workers to conduct cleanup operations, so remote-controlled robots had to take over..."
Read the full article at its source - listen to the NPR episode - view video, etc.:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

South Korean Students Learn English from Robot Teacher


"Many South Korean families spend thousands of dollars a year on English language education for their children. Students attend private academies often until late at night everyday. Most such schools hire teachers from abroad, but a team of engineers has created a robot that they hope will eventually replace foreign instructors.

Engkey wheels around the front of a classroom at the Hagjeong Primary School in Daegu.

The egg-shaped robot asks the class - six fourth-grade students - to repeat English phrases and teaches them children’s songs in English.

But Engkey’s voice is not its own. It is connected via teleconference to the Philippines, where a teacher conducts the class through a monitor. An image of a Caucasian woman appears on Engkey’s LCD panel head, although she is not the teacher in the Philippines.

But Engkey’s creators say this robot is much more than a video screen on wheels.

Kim Mun-sang is director of the Intelligent Robotics Program at the government-funded Korea Institute for Science and Technology in Seoul. He explains how the robot works.

"We have some perception technology,” Kim said. “We can detect the motion of the English teacher. As soon as the teacher moves his hand, the robot raises its hand, if the teacher for example laughs, we can detect his laughing expression. So the robot can do just like the English teacher does."

Kim say Engkey also has an autonomous mode in which it can recognize a student’s English speech and correct pronunciation.

Kim says because of South Korea’s strong emphasis on learning English, robots can make up for the shortfall in foreign teachers.

"In Korea there is a lot of demand for English learning, so, they need a very good English lessons from native speakers, but as you know it is not easy to have good quality of English native teachers in Korea at once, there are not so many," Kim added.

Kim adds that Engkey will save schools money. He says the cost to build a robot and hire a Filipino teacher to work with it is around $20,000 a year. That is roughly half the cost of supporting a foreign teacher in Korea.

He says if the Engkey pilot program here in Daegu proves a success, then more robots could be used in after-school tutoring.

So far, students at the Hagjeong School give Engkey high marks.

One 10-year-old boy, who says his English name is Tony, admits he was a little nervous about the robot at first, but likes its singing and dancing

And 10-year-old Charlotte says she likes the robot teacher better than human teachers.

But some teachers think a robot cannot replace the real thing.

Yu Do-hyun lectures in English and education at Seoul’s Kookmin University.

She says Engkey’s novelty will wear off quickly.

"At first children will like to see the Engkey and play with Engkey, learning from Engkey, but after several classes, they are not interested anymore," Yu said.

And Yu adds that learning from a robot deprives students of the main reason for studying a foreign language, human interaction.

"Communication is between humans, so they need practicing with native speakers, human teachers,” Yu added. “Even though they practice English a lot with the robots, when they meet human native speakers, they will be very nervous, because they haven’t conversed with real speakers."

Engkey’s creators say that students will determine how successful the robot is as a teacher. But they hope that someday all schools in South Korea will have a robot in the classroom..."