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.

Controversy

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 (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/

 

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.

NewsWrap

The end of the week is here and its time to look back and see some of the stories about robotics from the past few days. Here are the links to the items that showed up on the RobotNext feeds over the past few days. Enjoy.

"I am looking for (a) floor cleaning robot(s)." Robot Reviewshttp://bit.ly/1iItmi2

"First animatronic robots speaking any world language appearing in Astana." AKIpress News Agency – http://bit.ly/1iItIFn

"Haslett High School robotics team takes top 'bot' in the world." Lansing State Journal | lansingstatejournal.comhttp://on.lsj.com/1iIuimr

"Sphero Robot Maker Orbotix Raises $15.5 Million." Re/codehttp://on.recode.net/1pYzjLs

"Fear not the 'bot? As robots take jobs, experts ask if humans will keep up." Crain's Detroit Businesshttp://bit.ly/1pYzQ0a

"Interact, Program & Play w/Romo, Your iOS Robot Companion" – Mac Observer Dealshttp://bit.ly/1pYALO4

"Wearable Robots on the Rise to Help Paraplegics Walk." ABC News | WTKA-AM http://bit.ly/1pYBEGf

"Everything You Need to Know About Terrifying, Wonderful Robotic Snakes." Mother Joneshttp://bit.ly/1pYCa7a

"Mysterious robotic plane hits 500 days in space; what's it doing?" http://bit.ly/1pYCjYk

"Robotic Automation: Another Moore's Law?" Innovation Insights | Wired.comhttp://wrd.cm/1pYCzGU

"Robotic harvesters may be the future." The Growerhttp://bit.ly/1pYCMK1

"Robotic rock stars shine at festival." Stripes Central | Stripeshttp://1.usa.gov/1pYDqqU

 

Robotic Lifeguard to Assist Their Human Counterparts

This robot lifeguard assists the human lifeguards by zipping out to the distressed swimmer and providing a flotation device until other help arrives. The robotic lifeguard goes by the acronym “EMILY”. “EMILY” is named for a 13 year old California girl that died tragically. There are issues with this lifeguard assistant. For one thing, the device may not be useful with children swimming in shallow waters. Also, it may not be able to help swimmers that have already gone under the surface. Finally, there is the expense. These devices cost upwards of $23,000 for two of the “EMILY”s plus training for two lifeguards. With these potential drawbacks many wonder if the robots are worth the cost when they are basically untried.

As with robots in other areas of life, time will be the judge of their usefulness and cost effectiveness. What do you think? Is it always worth it to try new applications for robotics?


CBS Local

Robotic lifeguards making their way to the beach
WNCT
Meet a state-of-the art robotic lifeguard called "EMILY." Lisa Konicki, the Executive Director of the Westerly-Pawcatuck area Chamber of Commerce, has worked tirelessly to bring this invention to her town. "EMILY" is an acronym for Emergency Integrated
Robotic buoy to be used as lifeguard in Rhode IslandNew Haven Register
Robotic Lifeguards Making Their Way To East Coast ShoreHartford Courant
Lifeguarding goes high tech in WesterlyWRNI
all 15 news articles »

Robotic lifeguards making their way to the beach – WNCT
Tue, 22 May 2012 18:37:41 GMT

Next-Generation Robot Inspector for Nuclear Power Plants

A fast, reliable robot is needed to minimize downtime when nuclear reactors are inspected. Energid is developing this robot just for that purpose. Also, this robot could be used for disaster work in damaged reactors such as the ones disabled in the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. Energid has experience in developing robots for NASA and so has a great deal of experience in robotics. Read the complete story at the link below.

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Photo Credit: Babbage/Saneef

Energid Technologies Corp. of Cambridge said it has developed a next-generation robot prototype to inspect nuclear power plants as part of an agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Japan. While the robots could be used in disaster situations …

Energid develops robot for inspecting nuclear power plants – Boston Globe
Fri, 15 Jul 2011 20:06:55 GMT

Robots Taking Over Typical Human Roles in the Job Market

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Photo Credit:  The U.S. Army's photostream

Two stories this week caught my attention. Both are among examples of robots moving into jobs that were once the sole province of humans. As the photo above suggests, sometimes we are being dragged into this future where robots replace humans in routine work.  Robotic bellhops are now replacing their human counterparts for at least some functions.  In the case of this new hotel, the robot is there to check luggage for early arrivals when the rooms are not ready.  Meanwhile, in Australia, robot miners are due to start work in some mines.  In this situation, the typical miner may find that their job does not end. Instead the miner may move to an office where they control their robotic counterparts down in the shafts.  The robot miners are being brought in to address a labor shortage and to increase productivity of the mines in the face of increase demand.

Still, humans are facing a situation in which robots will be taking over many work functions where the tasks are routine, monotonous, dangerous, or require precise repetition.  That is certainly the case in these two stories.

So, what does this mean?  Will women and men face unemployment because of robots?  This does not have to be the case.  One key here is that humans will always be needed to do what only humans can do.  The other key is education.  This means learning to operate, maintain, design, and build the robotic workers.  People will have to upgrade their skills though high tech learning.  One must also remember that humans have the creativity and intelligence that robots do not have at the current time.  For me, it is an open question as to whether or not robots will ever equal the creativity and flexibility of a human brain, even if machines become “intelligent”.

Follow the links in the story links below to find out more about these robots.  And be sure to let me know what you think about this issue of robots replacing human jobs.

 

Trendy, New NYC Hotel with a Robotic Bellhop

Meet the luggage robot. It's the first of several high-tech, sleek amenities guests encounter at the Yotel, a new hotel that aims to provide a trendy stay at an affordable price. Purple lighting, throbbing music in the elevators and
Examiner AP

At new NYC hotel, a robot handles the luggage | The Associated
The Associated Press
Wed, 22 Jun 2011 20:15:24 GMT

Robots for Australia Mines Could Replace Humans

PERTH (Reuters) – Some Australian mine workers may soon find themselves trading in their steel-toed boots for a headset and computer mouse, as mining companies automate to help plug labour shortages and ramp up output to feed Asia's voracious demand for …

More robots for Australia mines may plug labour crunch – Reuters UK
Wed, 22 Jun 2011 19:19:37 GMT

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Robot Uses Bernoulli’s Principle to Crawl Up Walls

The drive to develop robots that can traverse any type of surface, including vertical ones, has taken many approaches.  As far as climbing walls, robots have relied on adhesives, magnets, and other types of gripper mechanisms.  Now comes air.  That’s right, air, but rapidly moving air that creates a suction force.  The robot can climb walls, even over surfaces with a gap, using this non-contact gripping method. You can see the robot in action at the video link that follows the summary.  Read the rest of the story at the link below to PhysOrg.com.


Image credit: University of Canterbury. (PhysOrg.com)

Robot uses supersonic air jets to climb on walls and ceilings (w/ video)
PhysOrg.com
In this clip from the video below, the robot crawls up a wall using a non-contact vacuum grip, due to Bernoulli's principle.  Instead of using sticky footpads to climb on walls and ceilings,
Video: Robot's Supersonic Air Jets Allow it to Climb Just About Any Surface 

Robot uses supersonic air jets to climb on walls and ceilings (w/ video) – PhysOrg.com
Tue, 24 May 2011 21:45:43 GMT

Pitsco Designing Robots for Education

LEGO Mindstorms has long been the robotics kit of choice for education.  Now, TETRIX, which uses metal parts in its kits, has joined with LEGO Education to produce kits at Pitsco that join metal and plastic together to make robots.  One of the first applications of this system has been the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC).  FTC is run by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was co-founded by Dean Kamen.  The kit was used in the 2008 – 2009 season.  With a unique construction system, these robots are the basis for a coming revolution in educational robotics.  Check out the article link below.


Pitsco robots 

Credit:  Gatehouse Media, Inc

Forget about the clunky metal monsters from those science fiction movies. The latest robots are learning tools that can inspire students around the world to create and achieve. And they’re coming out of Pittsburg — from Pitsco, to be exact.

Pitsco robots designed to take over education (The Morning Sun)
Wed, 19 Aug 2009 05:53:03 GMT

* As a postscript to this article, I wished to explain why there is no Weekly Newswrap this week.  For three days this week, I have been on the road and spending my days (and some nights) in meetings.  Simply stated, I did not have the time to make as many posts as usual.  Furthermore, I did not have the opportunity to research enough stories to build up a backlog of potential stories for the newswrap.  Next week will bring a more normal schedule.  Thanks for reading RobotNext.

National Instruments Demonstrates Robots at NI Week

Yesterday, I visited the expo for NI Week.  National Instruments showed several applications of its products in various robots.  The one I found most interesting was the Delta Robot powered by NI Softmotion.  This robot plays the knife game or five finger fillet as it is sometimes called.  Only it plays without a knife on a glove inside a clear lexan box.  (Don’t try this at home!)  And you can watch a You Tube video of someone doing this for real.  But again, if you value your fingers, do not try this at home or anywhere else for that matter!  The robot version I saw is much safer since the “hand” is a glove only.  In the video link below, you can see the Delta Robot in action.  I did have the chance to watch this in person, but I did not have a video camera with me.  Luckily, someone has posted the video on You Tube.  You can watch it here.  Now, what is creepy, in a real-life follows fiction kind of way, is how this reminded me of the scene from James Cameron's Aliens.  In the movie, the android plays the knife game with only a tiny little cut as a result.  So, here we are with the real version of this-sans android. The purpose of the robot, of course, is deeper than playing a game.  It is a demonstration of the state of motion control in robotic systems and has many real-world applications in industry.

There many other great robots at this expo.  I hope to write about some of the other robots in a future posting.  Meanwhile, make sure and look at the video on You Tube.  And check out the link to the article below, it is a general overview of NI's purpose for this year's conference.

Credit:  AEGMexico

AUSTIN, Texas, Aug. 6, 2009, 2009 /PRNewswire-FirstCall via COMTEX/ — NIWeek — Executives from National Instruments (Nasdaq: NATI) discussed how NI products are helping address global challenges during the 15th annual NIWeek graphical system design …

National Instruments Focuses on Addressing Global Challenges With … – TMCnet
Thu, 06 Aug 2009 23:02:00 GMT