Robotics Future on Display at the 2015 Robotronica

Nao Robot and the Robotics Future

Nao, By Pleclown (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This past weekend witnessed an event held in Australia that showcased the robotics future.  Known as the 2015 Robotronica Festival, the celebration presented cutting-edge robotics in a series of workshops, demonstrations, games, and discussions.  The publicity for the event included the following statement in a news article.

Take part in a journey from the beginning of imaginary robotic life right up to them evolving almost as clever as humans.

Robotronica was held at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and basically was a festival of all things robotic.  Not just the current state of robotics, but the robotics future was explored and presented at the Brisbane, Australia event.  Its primary aim is to educate people about robotics and its future.  In 2013, the first occurrence of the festival attracted over 10,000 people.

The 2015 Robotronica festival  is a celebration of innovation and an opportunity to glimpse the possibilities of the future.

Part of the attraction this year was the chance to meet the one of the world’s first cyborg artists.  He has an implanted antenna in his head that extends over his head to dangle in front of his forehead.  Although he is colorblind, his implant allows him to hear colors.

Personally, I see this festival as more than just a robotics future convention.  It was certainly billed as more.  And considering its popularity, it shows how popular robotics is with the public.  People are curious about robots and how to relate to the coming world of robotics.  Do people need to fear robots or embrace them?  What is your opinion about this idea?  Let me know…

Sources:  Sentinel Republic  Come along and meet the future of robots in Brisbane university

http://sentinelrepublic.com/come-along-and-meet-the-future-of-robots-in-brisbane-university/90013/

 

Robot Ships of the U.S. Navy Can Operate Autonomously

110720-N-ZZ999-007 FORT MONROE, Va. (July 20, 2011) A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident Warrior 2011. The experimental boat can operate autonomously or by remote. The Trident Warrior experiment, directed by U.S. Fleet Forces Command, temporarily deploys advanced capabilities on ships to collect real-world data and feedback during an underway experimentation period. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Youngblood/Released)

FORT MONROE, Va. (July 20, 2011) A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident Warrior 2011. The experimental boat can operate autonomously or by remote. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Youngblood/Released)

With all the concern over autonomous robots in the military, one would think that they are more of a future concern than reality.  However, the U.S. Navy has operated robot ships for many years and continues to develop advanced capabilities for those autonomous ships.

I saw this article on the progress of new robot ships in America’s Navy and did some research on some of these craft.  Although photos exist for some of the more recent developments, the ones shown here from several years ago are still relevant for the showing the capabilities of these bot ships.

Robot Ship

Bluefin-12 AUV with a Buried Object Scanning Sonar (BOSS) integrated in two wings. This picture was taken in January 2005 of the coast of Florida during engineering trials.By Mierlo at English Wikipedia [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

In order to counter the threat of diesel-electric submarines, the U.S Navy wants to develop these autonomous sub-hunters.  Diesel-electric subs are very cost effective compared to a nuclear attack boat and they can operate very quietly.  So, these subs are difficult to detect and even though they have limited range, pose a significant threat.

The primary motivation for developing these robot ships is cost.  They can operate in shallow waters and survey large areas to identify threats.  The robot ships will not attack, but will call in other navy assets to deal with the targets.

Work on the U.S. Navy’s new anti-submarine drone is progressing and that’s bad news for diesel-electric subs.

The prototype of the ACTUV is named Sea Hunter and is due to begin sea trials in the fall of this year.  Then the decision will be made on deployment of these vessels.

Robot Ship

The prototype of the U.S. Navy’s robot ship is the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) Image Credit: darpa.mil

What do you think about these robot ships?  The military seems to be set on developing autonomous vehicles of all kinds.  Although these ships will not be armed, but they will have to be able to correctly identify threats from other surface ships and other objects on and under the water.  These robot ships will have to operate for months autonomously and probably at great distances from other support vessels if the details of these designs are correct.

Perhaps the robot ships will have human monitors to oversee their operations and take the helm if needed.  It is hard to believe the robotic craft would be purely autonomous at all times.

Let me know with your comments.

Source: US Navy to Deploy Robot Ships to Track Chinese and Russian Subs

Swarm Robotics: Kilobots and Bionic Ants

Kilobots Used in Swarm Robotics

Kilobot Robot Swarm By asuscreative (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Why is it that swarms of small creatures such as ants can accomplish big tasks?  How are they able to kill a large insect or even a small animal and then bring it into their nest?  It turns out the answer to this question is one that can be applied to the world of robotics.  Scientists and engineers are programming robots with this swarming ability in order to study how a very simple machine in large numbers can accomplish a complex job.  Two examples of bots used in swarm robotics are Kilobots and bionic ants.

Researchers at Harvard University built a Kilobot for swarm robotics research for $14 a robot. Usually to have a robot this size for study is very expensive per robot, but they managed to do it for very low cost per unit. In their paper on the Kilibot, they explain where and how they were able to cut cost and yet, still be able to have an effective robot for research. The robot uses vibration for movement, and is powered by a coin cell battery. Check out the site for some interesting video demonstrations of their 25 Kilobots.

“…we present Kilobot, a low-cost robot designed to make testing collective algorithms on hundreds or thousands of robots accessible to robotics researchers.”

Another group that has experimented with swarm robotics is Festo.  They invented bionic ants and have created a Bionic Learning Network.  By using the models that nature provides, Festo is developing the technology to aid in the automation of factories.

Festo has created a fleet of bionic ants capable of working together, as well as function on their own, in order to complete tasks, just as their real-life counterparts do, according to Business Insider.

One major theme of swarm robotics development continues to be the idea of using nature as the model for new and innovative types of swarm robots.  Most of the ideas come from biomimicry or biomimetics.  Biomimetics is the science or practice of using living creatures as inspiration for mechanical design.  The end result is that there seems to be no end to the types of bots that can be built using nature as a blueprint.

Robots continue to take inspiration from different creatures in the way they look and operate, including insects thanks to an automation company in Germany.

What is your opinion about swarm robotics?  What other applications besides those presented here could they be used in?  Please write your comments to this post and let me know what you think.

Source: Bionic Ants Designed To Function Independently And In Teams 

For more ideas of what these bots are good for, check out this post by Mike Henry.

 

Humanoid Robots Play Soccer With a Goal in Mind

Can a team of soccer playing robots beat the best human soccer players in the world?  And can they accomplish that feat by the year 2050?  Each year a soccer tournament for robots is held to determine the best robot team in the world.  Eventually, the plan is for the best humanoid robot soccer team to play the best human soccer team.

The annual RoboCup competition features humanoid robots trying, and sometimes failing, to play the beautiful game in a series of soccer tournaments.

The official goal of the project:

“By the middle of the 21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.”

Last month, a team of US robots defeated their robotic counterparts from Iran in the finals of the RoboCup.  Currently, the robots play soccer under a heavily modified set of rules to accommodate the state of robotic technology.  Rule changes are incorporated into the competition to push the technology and make the league play more like the real world of human football.  There is a roadmap that outlines how the robot teams finally get to 2050.

Humanoid Robots Playing Soccer

Two humanoid robots search for the ball in the Robocup

The most interesting of these RoboCup competitions occur in the Humanoid League.  The robots in this league are required to have a body that is like a human in that it has a head, two arms, and two legs.  And, the bots can only use sensors that allow them to move and perceive the world around them like a human counterpart would.  That means they have to do things like see the soccer ball, figure out its trajectory, and sense the environment around them without the assistance of some of the advanced sensor technology commonly found in today’s robots.

RoboCup is an international robotics competition originally conceived in the mid-1990’s and officially started in 1997. The overall goal is to promote robotic technology and artificial intelligence research.  This is done through a sports framework in order to appeal to the public.  The name RoboCup is a contraction of the competition’s full name, “Robot Soccer World Cup.”   There are several other divisions in the competition that include contests in rescues and other areas.  In 2014 the world’s competition was held in Brazil. RoboCup 2015 was held in Hefei, China.

Given the ambitious goals of the RoboCup, do you think there is a chance that they succeed in producing a team of humanoid robots that can beat the best human soccer players?  Let me know what you think.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Watch adorable humanoids battle for the robot soccer world cup – CNET

Source: US beats Iran in robot soccer final

Social Robots Are Finding a Home

Social Robots

Photo Credit: steveonjava

Social robots:  What are they? How can they be used? And what are we to make of them?  In this article, social robots are touted as a new trend in robots for the home.

Some robots have often been described as possessing social qualities (see for example the tortoises developed by William Grey Walter in the 1950s), social robotics is a somewhat recent field in robotics. Since the early 1990s artificial intelligence and robotics researchers have designed and built robots to interact with humans on a social level.  Japanese researchers have done much development in social robotics, see especially work by Takayuki Kanda, Hideki Kozima, Hiroshi Ishiguro and Tomio Watanabe.

When most people think of robots, they either think of hulking Terminators or the types of dumb industrial robots taking part in a future robot uprising. But there’s another class of robot that’s also gaining traction — social robots that cost less than $1,000 and are designed for the home. They are more WALL-E than Terminator, and are meant to be personal companions and even “one of the family.”

Source: Social robots could be coming soon to a home near you

Social robots have tended to be more humanoid in many cases, but many current robots in this category do not have humanoid body shapes.  A good example is Paro.  This robot is in the body of a harp seal.  It is intended to interact with patients and to provide comfort and companionship.

There is continuing development in this area of robotics, but much is left to be done before a true social robot is available.  A social robot should be able to act autonomously in its actions towards humans and should know human rules of good service.  The social bot should interact with humans in a way that conforms to accepted social rules.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Let me know what you think.

Terraforming a Lunar Crater with Robots

Living on the Moon will be difficult for humans.  Several problems exist for survival on the lunar surface.  Basically, no atmosphere is present on the Moon.   Temperature extremes are difficult to work in for both humans and machines.  There is a two week daytime and a two week nighttime.  And finally, the water that is on the Moon is in the form of ice and it is only in a few craters at the poles.  Robots could help solve some of these problems.

Terriforming to Build a Moon Base

Illustration of a Moon Base – NASA Illustration

NASA currently has a new project that they have funded to send robots to the moon. The idea is to provide sunlight to the Shackleton Crater.

NASA wants to turn the moon into a lunar science lab: Fleet of robots could terraform Shackleton Crater

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Currently, the plan is to have the robots use reflectors to redirect sunlight into the bottom of the crater, which is located at the lunar South Pole. What would result from this is a warm environment for other robots to work in at the depths of the crater.

What makes Shackleton Crater such an attractive location for this large terraforming project is its massive size (roughly 130 square miles), as well as the fact it’s entirely flanked by peaks measuring some 14,000 feet in height.

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

The first robots to arrive for this project would be “transformer type” machines that would unfold into a giant reflective mirror to redirect sunlight into the crater.  Following those robots would be scientific and exploration bots whose job it would be to sample and process materials from the depths of the crater.

According to Adrian Stoica of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The TransFormer (TF) concept is a paradigm shift to operating in Extreme Environments (EE). TFs are systems that direct energy into energy-depleted (extreme) environments, transforming them, locally, around robots or humans, into mild micro-environments.”

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Shackleton crater is thought to hold a valuable resource of water ice. Tapping into this frozen treasure will provide both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in addition to liquid water. All of these products are essential for further exploration in the solar system. In the future, what happens is, this lunar crater becomes an interplanetary gas station for the exploration of the solar system.

image

Shackelton Crater Photo Credit: NASA LRO

So what are your thoughts regarding this project?  Although this project is only in the very early prototype stages, it is nonetheless an intriguing idea.  Robots have always been the pioneers in space exploration blazing the trail for human explorers to follow. And that will certainly be the case here.  I look forward to a conversation about this proposal.

 

Sources:

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Have Robots Become Self-Aware?

Nao Robot

“NAO waving” by Anonimski – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

In what could be a historic moment, a robot just might have shown the beginnings of self-awareness. An interesting side note to this story is the fact that not more than a week ago I told a group of students that scientists and engineers were at least decades from creating robots that could be considered to be conscious or self-aware.  Obviously, I was mistaken.

In this article from Discovery News, the experiment is described in which three humanoid robots are tested with a logic puzzle. In this procedure, one of the robots showed it was able to respond in a way that can only be explained if the robot has some degree of self awareness.

A robot has demonstrated that it exhibits a degree of self-awareness for the very first time.

One thing I find interesting about this is the fact that the robots involved in this experiment are NAOs.  These are small humanoid robots that are readily available for under $10,000.  They are not some high-end supercomputer powered android.  They are fairly simple machines.  (Do we need to rethink even calling them machines?)

So what can we say about this achievement. Should we be excited?  Should we be concerned?  Or maybe this is not as big a deal as it is being made out to be.  I for one have not really decided what I think about this.  On the one hand, there is the whole philosophical issue of machine self-awareness, and on the other hand, we as humans may really have to rethink this concept of self-awareness.  Do we event understand what it means when  we say humans are self-aware.

What do you think about this?  I would really appreciate your feedback on this issue, since I myself am trying to think my way through it.  Leave a comment and let me know.

Source: Self-Aware Robot Solves Riddle.

Robotic Swans

Robotic Swan

Photo © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

There seems to be no end to the types of robots inspired by nature.  This story about robotic swans had its start in an article that appeared in Tech Times several days ago.  As I thought about how to write about these “swanbots”, I did some research about robotic swans and found that this application is not the first use of swans as a model for robot development.

In fact, the first “robotic” swan was probably this Silver Swan  pictured here to the left.  The machine was conceived and constructed by John Joseph Merlin in partnership with the London inventor James Cox in 1773.  It is more accurately an automaton, in that it worked by means of a clockwork mechanism.  An automaton is a self-operating machine… designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations…

And then we have our second robotic Swan, the dancing Swan, also known as the Dying Swan.  This Swan robot was built to dance to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”  As those who have seen it dance describe it,

‘The Dying Swan’ is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky’s majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing; yet this is no ordinary ballet dancer, but a robot in the form of a swan.”

Finally, there is are there is the third type of robot Swan that was in the original article that inspired this post.  This is the robot Swan that gathers information about the environment of the water where it swims.  Scientists will start testing robot swans in the Singapore River that will test and monitor the waters for things like pH level and oxygen to control pollution.

Nature has once again provided a model for robotics.  In this case three wildly different types of robots based on the model of a Swan.  If this is a topic that you find interesting please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sources:

Wikipedia, Silver Swan (automaton)

Wikipedia, Automaton

ScienceDaily, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

EurekAlert, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

Popular Science, Robotic Swan Majestically Dances to ‘Swan Lake,’ Moving Viewers to Tears

TechTimes, Robot Swans Swim Singapore River To Test And Monitor The Waters In Real-Time

Hopping Robot Has Soft Outer Layer with Metal Insides

Image

Origami Frog

An origami frog is not able to jump or even move at all unassisted.  It is folded from a single piece of paper as in the image at the left.  However, engineers at two universities have come up with a jumping robot that is something amazing.  About all it has in common with a real frog is that it has a soft body and the ability to hop.  That is because the robotic hopper has a soft outside and a metal interior and is made of 3-D printed parts.

Scientists at Harvard University and UC San Diego have created the first robot with a 3D-printed body that transitions from an outer layer that is soft to the touch into a rigid metal core.  (The Christian Science Monitor – Science Notebook)

So far in tests, the robots have proven to be durable and powerful.  The engineers have demonstrated that the bots can hop about 2.5 feet high and last for more than 30 jumps.

Engineers have designed and built a frog-like jumping robot that incorporates hard and soft parts — and they’ve done it with a 3D printer.  (Los Angeles Times – Science Now)

What applications may this robotic hopper have in the future?  The engineers reported in the journal Science that the primary applications in the search and rescue field.  But, because it is designed to have a soft exterior, it may also be able to operate around humans more safely that a robot with a hard metal exterior.

Biologically inspired robots continue to be a mainstay for robotic designs.  This is only one of the latest in the field of biomimetics.  Many robots fall into this category.  There have been snakebots, robofish, and now a frog-inspired robot.

Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Sources:

Los Angeles Times,  Watch it jump! 3D-printed hopper could lead to better rescue robots

The Christian Science Monitor, Hopping 3-D printed robot has soft exterior, heart of metal

Seahorse tails provide inspiration for future robots

imageAdding to the list from nature that has inspired robotics development is the seahorse.  And what is it about the seahorse that is so applicable to robots?  It’s the tail. Actually, it’s the shape of the tail that is important for future bots.

I did not realize until I read this post on Gizmag, that seahorses have square-shaped tails.  This unique structure allows for great strength and flexibility.

The researchers used 3-D printers to build prototypes of the seahorse tail structures and found that the square shape was more durable and stronger than a cylindrical shape.

The key to better, tougher and more coordinated robots as well as improved surgical procedures, among other advances, could derive their inspiration from an unlikely source – the odd, square tail of the all-around strange seahorse.

So, once again nature is proving to be a model for the development of new and useful robots.  You can read the complete article on this at the link below.  Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Source: Gizmag – The key to awesome future robots could be seahorse tails