Robot Mapping System Uses Human Navigation Methods

Robot Mapping System

By Jiuguang Wang (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]or GFDL


Robot Mapping and Navigation

One of the major issues in robotics development has been the ability of a robot to find its way around in a room or a building.  Robots have to be able to locate themselves within a space and then find their way around that space.  Now, it seems that one group of researchers has found a solution to that problem.  They have copied the functionality of the human navigation system into a robot.

Software mimics the specialized brain cells in humans and animals that carry out this function.  The robot mapping system is able to build a map of an office space and allow the robot to find its way in an unfamiliar environment.

Robot Mapping Applications

This development has many potential applications in robotics whether in robots that vacuum floors or in robots delivering mail in an office.

Finding the way around an unknown area is known as  simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).  It is one thing to map out a room full of furniture that never moves, but what about the reality of the situation.  Humans tend to move around and also move around the chairs in a room.  This means a robot must adapt to this changing landscape of humans and objects.

To be useful in everyday applications, robots must be able to solve these navigation problems.  To humans it is second nature and automatic.  For robots it is sensors and programming.

What do you think about this issue?  Leave a comment with your ideas or follow up with a question of your own.

A robot with a navigation system that mirrors the neural scheme used by humans and animals to find their way around has been developed by A*STAR researchers.

Source: A robot computer algorithm that copies the navigation functionality of humans and animals

Will We Accept Robots Living and Working with Us?

Robots at Work
By Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA (Caught Coding Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0

Humans and Robots

Perhaps this is the most important question about humans and robots.  Can humans and robots coexist on this world?  There are already robots in our homes and there are certainly robots in our workplaces.  So, there is some relationship already.  Some people are already very attached to their bots.People dress up Roombas as pets and give them names.  Other folks become so attached to their robotic companions they have funerals when they cease to function.  And, according to the article that inspired this post, people are very reluctant to even cause harm to a robot.

Personal Experience with Robots

There is something in human nature that makes us attach human attributes to those machines around us.  Seems very weird, but I have seen this occur in my life.  I have several robots in my office that I use for educational workshops and presentations.  Maybe its hard to admit, but I would be very sad to see one of them break.  I don’t think I would hold a funeral for my Tetrix robot, but I would miss having it with me for presentations.

My little humanoid robot will be the hardest to see go to the great robot beyond.  Possibly that is because it talks and seems to relate to humans around it.  Yes, I know its a machine that is programmed to act that way, but still it has become one of my favorite bots.

Robots in the Home and at Work

It seems likely as robots are put into homes, they will become companions to their owners.  Relationships will develop.  It is not as clear to me that robots in the workplace will be perceived in the same way.  On the other hand, military robots have become very popular with the soldiers they work with in the field.  Robots are given names and sometimes the robot have the names painted on them.  The robots that seek out explosives and mines are seen by the personnel as members of their units.  They are missed or even mourned if they become damaged or destroyed.  This has been documented in situations in the recent Middle East wars.

Humanoid Robots

By Tokumeigakarinoaoshima (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 So, what can we make of this.  Will robots become companions or even friends as they become more commonplace in homes and work?  Does it make a difference if the robot is humanoid?  These are difficult questions to answer and research will need to be done to see how this could effect robot use.

What do you think about this?  Let me know by leaving a comment.

The robots have arrived but will we ever live in harmony with them or will we remain suspicious of their intentions?

Source: Intelligent machines: Will we accept robot revolution? – BBC News

CubeSat Robot Designed for Disaster Relief

CubeSat Robot Designed for Multiple Uses

Have you ever wanted to build a multipurpose robot?  A robot that would do many things well here’s someone who’s done this this robot is based on the design of a CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites built in the shape of a cube. This project is called the Rapidly Deployable Automation System or RDAS.

Are you interested in a project where human tele-operational control of a robot rover is possible with a hands-free wearable headband that tracks the human’s head movements, thus moving the robot?

These small spacecraft were originally designed as an inexpensive alternative for opening up space exploration too many opportunities that would not necessarily take place with the more expensive satellite technology. Another reason for developing these CubeSats was to push the technology to see what could be accomplished in a very small inexpensive platform.

CubeSat Design History

One of the first examples of a CubeSat was the Vermont Lunar CubeSat. The ambitious goal of this project is to develop a cube sat that will eventually orbit the moon. The initial satellite, which cost about $50,000 and funded in part by a grant from NASA, served as a test bed model for spacecraft navigation and guidance.

A CubeSat (U-class spacecraft)[1] is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that usually has a volume of exactly one liter (10 cm cube), has a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms,[2] and typically uses commercial off-the-shelf components for its electronics.

Vermont Lunar CubeSat

“Vermont Lunar CubeSat” by Cbrandonvt – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

The eventual goal of the project is to build a CubeSat capable of orbiting the moon.  It was launched on November 19, 2013 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a payload containing two NASA, 11 university, one high school and 14 Air Force CubeSats.

Rapidly Deployable Automation System

The CubeSat robot developed by “Erin RobotGrrl” is a 3-D printed bot made of both rigid and flexible materials and is equipped with hinges which allows it to fold into a cube. This robot is designed for a number of task. Some of those task include monitoring of natural disasters, exploration, and remote measurements of the environment.

One very interesting component of the project is the unique 3-D printed headset. The headset is used to control and operate the cube shaped robot. One future possibility for this little robot could be the exploration of the surface of Mars.

Let me know what you think about this.  Leave a comment.

Source: 3D Printed CubeSat Robot is Controlled with a Headband And Could Tackle Natural Disaster Relief

Humanoid Space Robot May Soon Join the ISS Crew

A humanoid space robot

Nao robots are finding uses in many areas.  These little guys have been the first to show signs of self-awareness and are one of the most popular robots for education and research.  Now a Nao robot could be the first humanoid robot to take up permanent residence on the International Space Station (ISS).

Now, I know some of you might be saying wait a minute here.  Isn’t there already a humanoid robot on the ISS?  After all, Robonaut 2 has already made a home on the ISS and has proved to be a valuable member of the crew.  I asked this question myself.  I wonder if Robonaut is not considered humanoid since it does not have the lower part of its body attached.  Or maybe Robonaut is not a permanent part of the crew.  At any rate, in the article I read about this, Nao is being touted as the first permanent humanoid resident.

Potential space robot Nao

Futur en Seine digital technology festival, Paris, June 2015. Le robot Nao. Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France

A research team at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research just put mankind a bit closer to complete robot rule this past month, outfitting the humanoid robot Nao with an “autobiographical memory.” To make this accomplishment even more astounding, the team intends to push for its new robotic system to become a permanent member of the International Space Station.

Not the first robots on the ISS

Nao may be considered the first humanoid robot on the ISS, but it will not be the first robot.  There have been many robots on the station over the years.   The station has several robot arms to assist with tasks such as capturing resupply vehicles and moving station modules into place.  Perhaps the most famous is the Canadarm2 or the Mobile Servicing System (MSS).  This robotic arm was launched to the ISS in 2001.  It has been very important in assembly of the ISS.  Also, its aids astronauts when they are conducting spacewalks.

Another robot on the station is the Robonaut 2.  This humanoid robot, also known as R2, went to the ISS on the shuttle Discovery in the STS-133 mission.  R2 is a test platform to generate data on how a robot may work with astronauts in the future.  This bot has the ability to work autonomously as well as to be tele-operated by the astronauts or from the ground.

Space Robot SPHERES

Three satellites fly in formation as part of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation. This image was taken during Expedition 14 in the Destiny laboratory module. NASA/International Space Station Expedition 14 Public domain.

If you count the robotic arms on the ISS, there are quite a few robots onboard the station already.  Besides the previously mentioned Robonaut, there are the SPHERES.

NASA has been testing SPHERES on the space station since 2011.

Pictured in the photo to the center left, they are flying in formation. These free-flyers will receive an upgrade with a smartphone to become a bot known as Smart SPHERES.

…this prototype free-flying space robot equipped with a smartphone, known as Smart SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites).

The station astronauts have upgraded these existing space robots to use Google’s “Project Tango” smartphone, which features a custom 3-D sensor and multiple cameras. Smart SPHERES are being used to test free-flying 3-D mapping and navigation inside the space station. NASA developed the Smart SPHERES to perform work on the space station that requires the mobile sensing the bots have onboard.  It is hoped they will carry out environmental monitoring of levels of radiation, lighting, and air quality.  Smart SPHERES is funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Space robot SPHERE
Image Credit: NASA/Ames

What is the future for robots on the ISS and beyond?

Robots will continue to play a role on the ISS as new and more capable machines are developed.  When missions beyond low Earth orbit are conducted in the future robots will almost certainly be along side of the astronauts.  Its hard to imagine that they would not.  Space robotics will be able to enhance the ability of humans to conduct safe and successful missions.

What is your opinion on the place of robots in human spaceflight?  Let me know with your comments.

Source: NASA Ames Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat Aboard Orbital Rocket

Source: A humanoid robot may soon be the first permanent resident on the ISS

Robotic Lawn Mowers: Are We at the Breakthrough Moment?

Have you ever wanted to mow the lawn while sitting on your front porch sipping iced tea?  If this is something that sounds too good to be true, this may be one of those times that it is true!  Robotic lawn mowers may have finally come into their own.

What exactly is a lawn-mowing robot?

A robotic lawn mower is an autonomous robot used to cut lawn grass. A typical robotic lawn mower requires the user to set up a border wire around the lawn that defines the area to be mowed.

Robot mowers tend to either be able to mow very fast and cover large areas of lawn or to be slower and more precise.  Most of the mower bots have been used in commercial applications such as golf courses.

Robotic lawn mowers

Mowing the lawn is one of those tasks that is destined to be a big robotics market when the technology finally advances to the point to make the robot mowers cost-effective and easy to set-up and use.  As far as dreaded jobs around the house, it ranks right up there with dishwashing and laundry.

A brief history of robotic lawn mowers

It might be hard to imagine, but the first or at least one of the first robotic mowers was introduced in 1969.

Possibly the first commercial robotic lawn mower was the MowBot, introduced and patented in 1969 and already showing many features of today’s most popular products.

Robotic Lawn MowersMost of the barriers to the wide use of robotic lawnmowers by the average homeowner has been the expense of the units and the fact that a boundary wire had to be set up to keep the mower from straying into the neighbors bed of prized roses.  By the end of 2005, robotic lawn mowers were the second largest category of domestic robots.  By 2012, the sales of robotic lawn mowers far outpaced that of the traditional mowers.

Several features have changed over the years in the mowing robots.  For one, many of the robots are self-docking.  They can park themselves when finished with the job.  Another feature of some robotic mowers is the addition of rain sensors.  What these added technologies mean is that the robots do nearly all the lawn mowing work.

Smartphone use has increased to the point that some robotic mowers now incorporate their use.  Many have integrated features within custom apps.  The apps can be used to adjust settings or schedule mowing times and frequency.  It is possible to manually control the mower with a digital joystick from the device.

The new iRobot mowers use a system of stakes that broadcast a radio signal to mark the boundaries for the bot.


The recent approval of iRobot’s application for its new robot mower is not without controversy.  Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated that the devices will not interfere with a critical area of radio frequencies used by radio telescopes, many radio astronomers are not convinced of the arguments.  They remain opposed to the use of these radio transmitters in the boundary of the mowers.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently given its approval to the company for the release of a robotic lawn mower (RLM), according to a report from Reuters. FCC ensured that the signal beacon from iRobot’s device does not interfere with radio signals.

Are robotic lawn mowers finally at the breakthrough moment?  Would you buy one?  Tell me what you think.

Source: Robotic lawn mower from iRobot receives approval from FCC

Robotics Future on Display at the 2015 Robotronica

Nao Robot and the Robotics Future

Nao, By Pleclown (Own work) [CC 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


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:

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 (], 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.