Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Which Is Man's BEST Friend, the Dog or the Robot?

All those novelty bots that vacuum up crumbs and bring you a cold drink are great, but they're not exactly doing the work you really dread.
A group of Penn students is bypassing the neat-o factor and getting right down to business, no pun intended. A team at the university's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception lab has taught a robot to scoop poop.
PR2 robot Graspy can already read, as we learned in the Spring when Health & Science reporter Carolyn Beeler paid a visit to the GRASP lab. Now the work of five determined students has the bot learning something a little more physical. The robot is picking up droppings with a 95 percent success rate. GRASP student Ben Cohen even went to San Francisco to show off the possible future of robotics.

"This project was a week-long project from the summer in which four friends and I got the PR2 robot to autonomously scoop poop," Cohen explained. "Mankind wants robots to do all of our menial tasks that we don't want to do. I think scooping poop is the perfect task for my future robot at home."
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Robots Help Autistic Children

Robots built to help autistic childrenAn effective therapist might just be metallic, mechanical and nonhuman.

"Robots aren't known for their soft side. They build cars and defuse bombs; they don't, as a rule, make friends or deal with feelings. But a few groups of researchers around the world are working to build robots for an unusual purpose: Making emotional connections with autistic children who often struggle to interact with humans.

There's something about machines that really seems to resonate with many kids with autism, says Maja Mataric, co-director of the Robotics Research Lab at
USC. These children often have trouble reading human emotions and social cues — complexities they don't have to worry about when they're around a mechanical being.
"Robots are simpler than people," Mataric says.

Still, robots may seem like unlikely candidates for a job usually filled by therapists. As Mataric points out, the general public usually thinks of robots as either cold and efficient workers (at their best) or outright evil beings bent on enslaving humanity (at their worst).

The researchers at USC have a different vision. "We're trying to create something that's endearing," Mataric says.

The result: Bandit, a metallic-colored, child-sized robot that can win the attention — and even empathy — of hard-to-reach kids.

Bandit has a pleasant, inviting face with a movable mouth, archable eyebrows and camera eyes that let him "watch" his playmates. He also has proximity sensors to gauge whether kids are backing away or moving in. If they get too close, he can wheel away.

With his motor-driven arms, Bandit can automatically mimic the motions of children and lead a game of Simon Says. He can make sad sighs or happy chips, and he blows bubbles with the push of a button. He can also talk in soothing tones, although USC researches are just beginning to use Bandit's speech in their work with children with autism..."

Read the full article at its source:,0,5798122.story

Sunday, October 16, 2011

This Ultra-realistic ROBOT blinks!

This is from the first test of the Geminoid. The first hint of a smile triggers immediate response. The people laughing in the background are the designers, who at this point have worked on the robot for months, and here see it operated for the first time.
'Gemini' meaning Twins + 'Oid' meaning of Similar Form to = GEMINOID

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Paralyzed man uses mind-powered robot arm to touch

PITTSBURGH: Giving a high-five. Rubbing his girlfriend’s hand. Such ordinary acts _ but a milestone for a paralyzed man.
True, a robotic arm parked next to his wheelchair did the touching, painstakingly, palm to palm. But Tim Hemmes made that arm move just by thinking about it.
Emotions surged. For the first time in the seven years since a motorcycle accident left him a quadriplegic, Hemmes was reaching out to someone _ even if it was only temporary, part of a month long science experiment at the University of Pittsburgh.
‘‘It wasn’t my arm but it was my brain, my thoughts. I was moving something,’’ Hemmes says. ‘‘I don’t have one single word to give you what I felt at that moment. That word doesn’t exist.’’
The Pennsylvania man is among the pioneers in an ambitious quest for thought-controlled prosthetics to give the paralyzed more independence _ the ability to feed themselves, turn a doorknob, hug a loved one.
The goal is a Star Trek-like melding of mind and machine, combining what’s considered the most humanlike bionic arm to date _ even the fingers bend like real ones _ with tiny chips implanted in the brain. Those electrodes tap into electrical signals from brain cells that command movement. Bypassing a broken spinal cord, they relay those signals to the robotic third arm.
This research is years away from commercial use, but numerous teams are investigating different methods.
At Pittsburgh, monkeys learned to feed themselves marshmallows by thinking a robot arm into motion. At Duke University, monkeys used their thoughts to move virtual arms on a computer and got feedback that let them distinguish the texture of what they ‘‘touched.’’
Through a project known as BrainGate and other research, a few paralyzed people outfitted with brain electrodes have used their minds to work computers, even make simple movements with prosthetic arms.
But can these neuroprosthetics ever offer the complex, rapid movements that people would need for more practical, everyday use?
‘‘We really are at a tipping point now with this technology,’’ says Michael McLoughlin of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which developed the humanlike arm in a $100 million project for DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency.
Pittsburgh is helping to lead a closely watched series of government-funded studies over the next two years to try to find out. A handful of quadriplegic volunteers will train their brains to operate the DARPA arm in increasingly sophisticated ways, even using sensors implanted in its fingertips to try to feel what they touch, while scientists explore which electrodes work best.
‘‘Imagine all the joints that are in your hand. There’s 20 motions around all those joints,’’ says Pittsburgh neurobiologist Andrew Schwartz. ‘‘It’s not just reaching out and crudely grasping something. We want them to be able to use the fingers we’ve worked so hard on.’’
The 30-year-old Hemmes’ task was a much simpler first step. He was testing whether a new type of chip, which for safety reasons the Food and Drug Administration let stay on this initial volunteer’s brain for just a month, could allow for three-dimensional arm movement.
He surprised researchers the day before the electrodes were removed. The robotic arm whirred as Hemmes’ mind pushed it forward to hesitantly tap palms with a scientist.
Then his girlfriend beckoned. The room abruptly hushed. Hemmes painstakingly raised the black metal hand again and slowly rubbed its palm against hers a few times.
These emotional robotic touches have inspired researchers now recruiting volunteers for soon-to-start yearlong experiments.
‘‘It was awesome,’’ is the decidedly unscientific description from the normally reserved Dr. Michael Boninger, rehabilitation chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. ‘‘To interact with a human that way. … This is the beginning.’’
Hemmes’ journey began in 2004. He owned an auto-detailing shop and rode his motorcycle in his spare time. Then one summer evening he swerved to miss a deer. His bike struck a guardrail. His neck snapped.
His determination didn’t. Paralyzed below the shoulders, he’s tried other experimental procedures in hopes, so far unrealized, of regaining some arm function.
‘‘I always tell people your legs are great … but they just get you from here to there,’’ Hemmes says as his caregiver waits to feed him a bite of a cheeseburger near his home in Butler, north of Pittsburgh. ‘‘Your arms and fingers and hands do everything else. I have to get those back, I absolutely have to.’’
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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ROBOT, get me a sandwich!

Ask For a Sandwich and This Robot Will Go to Subway For You
"Longtime readers know that I’m a fan of Willow Garage’s PR2 robot, which is being used all over the world for robotics research. It’s also been used in student projects to perform tasks that seem relatively simple for humans, but are actually rather hard for robots, including baking cookies, solving Rubik’s cubes, and doing the laundry.

Now here’s an even more interesting piece of programming. A team of researchers from both University of Tokyo and Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen have joined forces to develop what they’re calling “semantic search” for use with the PR2. Evan Ackerman explains:

“Semantic search” is simply the ability to make inferences about an object based on what is known about similar objects and the environment. It sounds complicated, but it’s really just a computerized version of what we humans think of as “common sense.” For example, if someone asks you to bring them a cup without telling you exactly where the cup is, you’re probably clever enough to infer that cups can be found in drawers or cabinets or dishwashers, and that drawers and cabinets and dishwashers are all usually located in a kitchen, so you can go to the kitchen, poke around for a little bit, and find a cup. Semantic search allows robots to do the same sort of thing.

Now that’s a pretty innovative piece of programming. What’s more interesting is that it will also learn. So if you store something in a room not normally associated with the object – say, your phone chargers in the hall closet – it will learn to associate phone chargers and the hall closet.

You can see a demo of the PR2 with semantic search below. Here, the robot is given a simple command – to get a sandwich. It first checks the kitchen, fails to find a sandwich, and then goes somewhere else where sandwiches are found – the local Subway. It even knows what floor to take the elevator to. Check it out..."
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Monday, October 3, 2011

COOL STUFF (Educational Resources for Students & Teachers)

Cool stuff, indeed!.. Some very worthwhile resources from iRobot's S.P.A.R.K. (Starter Programs for the Advancement of Robotics Knowledge).

RoboCop, a robot whose time has come...

RoboCop Revisited: How Automation Is Transforming Public Safety
Law enforcement technology may not have reached the point where officers are replaced by cyborgs (think RoboCop), but new automated devices and robots are making public safety efforts more efficient and significantly less dangerous.

According to experts, unmanned ground robots, 3-D technology and various scientific developments are slowly but steadily changing how police, tactical and rescue personnel spend their time and do their jobs.

Four-wheeled drones (that have more in common with Mars rovers than screenwriter Ed Neumeier’s RoboCop character) are increasingly being used to extend the eyes and ears of police and military personnel. A variety of companies are producing these robots, which are designed to keep people out of harm’s way.

For instance, a line of ground and maritime robots from iRobot, a robot designer and manufacturer, is focused on achieving mission objectives such as observation and investigation. The company’s small unmanned ground vehicles have been used by bomb squads and SWAT teams to gather information prior to raids. Knob Moses, head of iRobot’s Government and Industrial Robots Division and a retired Navy supply officer, said giving people the ability to diffuse bombs and investigate scenes with a remote presence that features audio and video feeds is a huge safety benefit. Whether it’s a hostage situation or a drug lab, the ability to see and hear what’s going on from a distance improves situational awareness and saves lives...."

Read the full story at its source (GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY):