Archives for July 2009

Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon’s Extreme Heat

In a post today at IEEE Spectrum, the design for Astrobotic Technology’s entry into the Google Lunar X Prize in revealed.  This unique concept is conceived around the idea of surviving the incredible heat of a lunar noon which is 270 degrees F or 130 degrees C.  Just how will it accomplish this feat?  David Gump, the company's president, gives the details in a feature on the Astrobotic’s website:

The robot beats the heat by keeping a cool side aimed away from the Sun to radiate heat off to the black sky. It travels toward or away from the sun (generally east or west) without turning its radiator into the light. Only the solar cells on the hot side ever face the sun. The robot can travel north and south by tacking like a sailboat.

Astrobotics Robot

Photo Credit:  Astrobotic Technology

New design overcomes intense lunar heat

For the company vying for the Google Lunar X Prize, it's all about keeping the (robot's) head cool.  

Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon's Extreme Heat
Tue, 21 Jul 2009 00:24:12 GMT

Weekly Newswrap

For this week, there are four stories for the Newswrap.  Today brings an article on space robots that have largely supplanted humans in extraterrestrial exploration.  The excerpt below refers to the robotic candidate for repairing the Hubble Telescope.  Next, the robot grappling hook that could allow machines to swing tree to tree or at least jump a tall obstacle in its way.  The other posts refer to a talking robotic car and artificial intelligence.   Memristors are an electronic innovation that could revolutionize robotics.  Read more on these articles at the links below.

Robots With the Right Stuff

The leading candidate was Dextre, a robot currently working on the international space station. In a head-to-head analysis of abilities, a special committee
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Robots With the Right Stuff
Washington Post – United States
Sun, 19 Jul 2009 04:36:58 GMT

Blog – Robot to Get Spiderman Skills (Technology Review)

A new grappling hook could let robots swing from tree to tree.

Blog – Robot to Get Spiderman Skills (Technology Review)
Wed, 15 Jul 2009 14:11:13 GMT

Coming soon: Talking cars that will avoid crashes! – Economic Times

NEW YORK: Talking cars aren't science fiction anymore – thanks to scientists who have developed a set of algorithms that will allow robotic cars of the future to communicate with each other to help avoid collisions. An international team, led by …

Coming soon: Talking cars that will avoid crashes! – Economic Times
Tue, 14 Jul 2009 05:50:00 GMT

From Slime to AI: The Story of Memristance

A NewScientist article summarizes the memristor revolution so far and predicts great things for AI as a result. To summarize their summary. Leon Chua mathematically predicted the existence of a fourth basic circuit component in addition to the resistor, capacitor, and inductor. He named this mythical component a memristor. It was similar to a resistor but "remembered" current. Memristors appeared not to exist, so Chua moved on to other research. 30 years later, HP Researchers stumbled onto a real memristor while trying to make low-power switches (Missing Memristor Found PDF format). The race was on. Memristance could revolutionize electronics. But here the story takes a detour in the world of intelligence. Physicist Max Di Ventra was studying P. polycephalum, a slime mould that puzzled researchers because it acted intelligently and learned without the benefit of neurons. He realized the slime mould acted as a memristor, confirming a suspicion Chua had that memristance could explain how organisms learn. It turns out memristors behave like neural synapses. Researchers are now working on hybrid transistor-memristor chips that will be able to reproduce some of the brain's processes. For more, try the HP Memristor FAQ.

From Slime to AI: The Story of Memristance
Mon, 13 Jul 2009 21:31:05 GMT

Robot Writes Messages of Hope

Here is a great story.  You can send a message to the Chalkbot and have it printed on the roads of the Tour de France.  See the story link below for all the details.  The bot is printing out 400 to 500 messages a day, most of them are messages for cancer survivors, however, there are a few marriage proposals mixed in. 

Chalkbot, a mobile robot sponsored by Nike and cyclist Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation, prints messages on the pavement in front of cyclists competing now in the Tour de France. Winding its way along the route of the Tour de France, through …

Robot's road messages cheer cyclists, spectators in France – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fri, 17 Jul 2009 22:14:00 GMT

Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR): Vegetarian, Not Carnivore

So, after days of reporting on this story all over the blogosphere, the company that is developing EATR has come out with a press release to clarify what their robot will use as fuel.  In the original post here at RobotNext, EATR was described as a grazing robot, implying that it only consumed vegetable matter like grass.  Another robot mentioned in the post, Ecobot, is being developed to fuel itself on insects.  These are two completely separate programs, but in the post – as is often the case here at RobotNext – I speculated on the possibility of combining the features of the two robots.   In other words, what the next thing would be:  a robot that can power itself on both plants and insects. 

To set the record straight, I thought I would explain that this was pure speculation on my part and not intended to suggest that EATR can consume insects.  In response to the stories about consuming dead human bodies, I did post a message on Twitter suggesting that I thought the robot only ate grass.  In my research, I could find only information that EATR would consume biomass.  Biomass can include anything organic, so that could be taken to mean that the robot might eat anything.  Since I saw this story originally in reference to eating a lawn, that is how I reported the robot in the original post.

At any rate, this is still a fascinating idea for a robot and one that should provoke serious thought.  Along those lines, it should be noted that the Cyclone Engine that will power EATR could also revolutionize transportation outside of robotics.  This engine can run on any vegetable-based material, including agricultural waste, coal, municipal trash, kerosene, ethanol, diesel, gasoline, heavy fuel, palm oil, cottonseed oil, algae oil, hydrogen, propane, etc. –individually or in combination.  Thus, the Cyclone Engine is a very “green” power source.  Read the presentation on this engine to see all the details.

Washington, July 17 (ANI): The makers of a biomass-eating military robot have clarified that the machine is a vegetarian, and not a non-vegetarian as was earlier reported. Robotic Technology Inc.’s (RTI’s) Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot …

Biomass-eating military robo is a veggie, not a carnivore –
Fri, 17 Jul 2009 16:56:00 GMT

Candy Sorting Robot Built From LEGO® Mindstorms® Kit

This makes me want to go out and buy a LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT Kit.  And the book, "LEGO® NXT MINDSTORMS® One-Kit Wonders", to go with it!  Right now! The original blog post comes from Matthias Paul Scholz at  The NXT STEP – LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT Blog.  You have to check out the video link to You Tube.  This little bot sorts the chocolate coated peanuts by color and you can see it in action.  The photo below is linked to if you want to see a larger version of the image and also some other examples of what you can build from the kit and the book.

M&M Sorting Robot

Image Credit: and LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT One-Kit Wonders

On request by some readers of the "LEGO NXT MINDSTORMS One-Kit Wonders" book, I have created a video of my contribution to it:
M, the M&M's peanut candies sorter.  The quality of the video is not optimal by far, as the movie snippets I made back then were meant for internal and transient purpose only. :(  Nevertheless, it should provide some idea on the robot.

M, the candies sorter from "One-Kit Wonders"
Matthias Paul Scholz (
Wed, 15 Jul 2009 15:38:00 GMT

Robot Insects: Next Military Spies?

So, these are really not robots, they are cyborgs or more correctly, cybugs.  RobotNext has posted articles on robot insects or robots modeled on insects in the past.  Now, these newest robobugs are something else.  These tiny hybrid insect machines combine mechanical and living materials to achieve their abilities.  Microchips are implanted directly into the developing insects where, as the insect matures the electronics are integrated into the nervous system of the bug.  This has actually been done with moths and the moths have exhibited controlled flight while still tethered.  The next step will be independent flight.  First, the problem of power generation must be solved.  Check out the article below for more details on this intriguing project.

 Cyborg Bug

  Photo Credit:  DARPA

The HI-MEMS program at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has to date invested $12 million into research since it began in 2006. It currently supports these cybug projects:

  • Roaches at Texas A&M.
  • Horned beetles at University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Moths at an MIT-led team, and another moth project at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.

Scientists can already control the flight of real moths using implanted devices.

Powerful Ideas: Military Develops 'Cybug' Spies
Wed, 15 Jul 2009 00:42:24 GMT

Monkey Uses Mind Control to Move Robot

Sometime ago I saw this story on several feeds that I monitor.  I have listed some of the links to earlier stories below if anyone wants to see details of this interesting robotic application.  Although I did not write about this remarkable project at the time, I thought this research showed exciting possibilities for medical applications.  Stoke victims or people with spinal injuries could benefit from this work in robotic arm control.  By implanting a chip in the monkey’s brain, the monkey is able to command the robotic arm to move in a very precise manner.  The original paper on this is published in Nature (available with paid subscription, but you can see the abstract on-line).  Originally, the purpose was to allow the monkey to feed using the robotic arm.  That certainly requires exceptional control of the arm to accomplish that feat.  Check out the links to other stories on this below.

 Monkey Controls Arm

Image Credit:  Sky News – UK

Sky News

The chimp can operate the robot with such dexterity that it can reach out to grab, and turn a handle. The mechanical arm has an arm, elbow, wrist and simple
See all stories on this topic

Monkey Moves Robot Using Mind Control
Sky News – UK
Mon, 13 Jul 2009 07:44:19 GMT

Cortical control of a prosthetic arm for self-feeding : Article

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Monkey's brain controls robot arm

Study: Monkeys Control Robotic Arm with Brain : NPR

Monkeys Control a Mechanical Arm With Their Thoughts –

Mind Over Matter: Monkey Feeds Itself Using Its Brain

RobotNext Weekly Newswrap

This week's stories have no single theme, but there are several stories that appear in different versions on multiple days.  The first story from today features a spherical robot based on the LEGO Mindstorms NXT.  Check out the video of this robot moving around under the command of its builder, it is very interesting.  In the next story on this same sphere-shaped robot, the author makes a more humorous approach to the subject.  Again, check out the video.  The other posts from the week cover a deep-diving robot, a real-life recycling robot (it is not quite WALL-E), and a robot cat.  Take a look at these and see what did not make RobotNext this week.  Let me know what you think of the weekly newswrap.

Spherical NXT-Based Robot

… it via Bluetooth. (Spherical robot uses Lego Mindstorms NXT) It uses the same form of locomotion as some other robots you may already know about; see the videos in these articles for more information and diagrams …

Spherical Robot Lego Mindstorms NXT-Based
Sun, 12 Jul 2009 05:07:23 GMT

Spherical robot would make for frustrating soccer games

As I watch this spherical robot roll around at the behest of its master, designer Nils Völker, I'm reminded of the old Dungeons & Dragons joke about the
See all stories on this topic

Spherical robot would make for frustrating soccer games
Fri, 10 Jul 2009 14:24:07 GMT

Hybrid robot vehicle undertakes record-breaking dive – Engineer Live

Hybrid robot vehicle undertakes record-breaking dive
Engineer Live
There is an underwater vehicle flavour to Jeremy Cresswell's look at what's fresh on the hydrographic front, notably a new type of hybrid robot vehicle for
and more »

Hybrid robot vehicle undertakes record-breaking dive – Engineer Live
Thu, 09 Jul 2009 10:56:29 GMT

Real-Life Wall-E Recycling Robot Takes to the Streets of Italy – Inhabitat


Real-Life Wall-E Recycling Robot Takes to the Streets of Italy
It may not be as tiny or nimble as Wall-E, but this real-life dustcart robot traversing the streets of Peccioli, Italy is just as cute.
and more »

Real-Life Wall-E Recycling Robot Takes to the Streets of Italy – Inhabitat
Thu, 09 Jul 2009 05:01:53 GMT

on-demand trash robot DustCart : The Alternative Consumer

The robot is also outfitted with special sensors that monitor air temperature, as well as air pollutants, such as: nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, benzene, CO and CO2. dustcart3.jpg. DustCart avoids fixed obstacles,
The Alternative Consumer –

on-demand trash robot – DustCart : The Alternative Consumer
mr. happy
Wed, 08 Jul 2009 18:32:56 GMT

Sega's Robot Cats Have Nine Lives

Sega Toys is rolling out yet another robot cat companion, though we're not exactly sure why they keep trying. Sega's latest robot feline From what we can tell by checking the stores here, polling shop clerks, and scanning our network of contacts in the business, the robot cats, and most of the other low cost companion robot products have been non-starters. Some similar product offerings, like the super cute infant…

Sega's Robot Cats Have Nine Lives
Mon, 06 Jul 2009 13:57:11 GMT

Robot Cricket Has Keen Sense of Smell

The next biological model for robots is the cricket.  You may associate crickets with the sounds that they make when it is very quiet.  It turns out that these creatures have a very sensitive sense of smell.  However, they are only able to detect a very narrow range of odors.  This ability is being tapped to develop a robot that can be used to detect chemicals on the battlefield or the smell of survivors in a disaster situation.  Read more in the two stories cited below.

Most crickets are active only at night, and they use their long antennae both to feel their way around in the dark and to smell things – so, their sense of smell is quite sensitive, but mostly to odors that come from food. You see, one of the tradeoffs in the sensory systems of organisms like insects is that they can be very sensitive to certain chemicals, but that there will be an even bigger number of things they *CAN'T* smell at all.

Entomology (Study of Bugs)-crickets

IF YOU'RE trapped under rubble after an earthquake, wondering if you'll see daylight again, the last thing you need is an insect buzzing around your face. But that insect could save your life, if a scheme funded by the Pentagon comes off.

The project aims to co-opt the way some insects communicate to give early warning of chemical attacks on the battlefield – the equivalent of the "canary in a coal mine". The researchers behind it say the technology could be put to good use in civilian life, from locating disaster victims to monitoring for pollution and gas leaks, or acting as smoke detectors.

Cyborg crickets could chirp at the smell of survivors
Sat, 11 Jul 2009 08:00:00 GMT

Robot Can Make Faces at You

Robots that can make facial expressions are not new, but this one is by far the most realistic one yet.  Over 30 artificial muscles, each controlled by a servo allow this robot to control facial movements to a degree not seen before.  Einstein, as the robot is called, is capable of learning how to smile and make other faces by a process of self-guided learning.  In humans, this would be called inquiry learning.  During the experiments, the robot experienced a failure in one of the servos controlling a muscle, still it was able to learn to compensate for this by moving other servos to accomplish the desired facial response.  You can read more about this at the links below.  Also, check out the UCSD blog page.  There is even a video that shows the robot in action.  Admittedly, the video is somewhat creepy in that it is very realistic.  Robots that look too human can be disconcerting, to say the least.

Robot Einstein 2

Photo Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2009) — A hyper-realistic Einstein robot at the University of California, San Diego has learned to smile and make facial expressions through a process of self-guided learning. The UC San Diego researchers used machine learning to “empower” their robot to learn to make realistic facial expressions. “As far as we know, no other research group has used machine learning to teach a robot to make realistic facial expressions,” said Tingfan Wu, the computer science Ph.D. student from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering who presented this advance on June 6 at the IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning.

While the primary goal of this work was to solve the engineering problem of how to approximate the appearance of human facial muscle movements with motors, the researchers say this kind of work could also lead to insights into how humans learn and develop facial expressions.

Learning to Make Facial Expressions,” by Tingfan Wu, Nicholas J. Butko, Paul Ruvulo, Marian S. Bartlett, Javier R. Movellan from Machine Perception Laboratory, University of California San Diego. Presented on June 6 at the 2009 IEEE 8th International Conference On Development And Learning.
Adapted from materials provided by University of California – San Diego.

Electronics & Robotics,News & Press – A Blog by F.Intilla (WWW.OLOSCIENCE.COM)

A hyper-realistic Einstein robot at the University of California, San Diego has learned to smile and make facial expressions through a process of self-guided learning.

Robot Learns to Smile and Frown
Thu, 09 Jul 2009 08:25:28 GMT