Archives for October 2009

iRobot Opens Healthcare Division

Here are two stories about iRobot’s latest entry in the robotics field.  iRobot has decided to create a robot to assist elderly patients in there homes.  The question is will this robot also vacuum the floors?  iRobot calls this area of robotics assistive technology and it’s purpose is to promote wellness and quality of life for seniors.  I don’t see why this would be limited to older folks, it would seem that anyone in need of assistance in their home could benefit from these machines.  Read the articles below for more on these homecare bots.

press release:

BEDFORD, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–iRobot Corp. (Nasdaq: IRBT – News) today announced that Colin Angle, iRobot’s chairman and chief executive officer, will discuss the role of robots in the future of healthcare during a presentation at the TEDMED conference in San Diego, Calif.
At the event, Angle will also introduce Tod Loofbourrow, president of iRobot’s newly-created healthcare business unit. The new business unit is committed to exploring the potential of robotics as an assistive technology to promote wellness and enhance quality of life for seniors. In this role, Loofbourrow will be responsible for all aspects of the group’s strategy, research and operations. He will report directly to Angle.

iRobot Creates Health Care Business Unit, Names New President
Thu, 29 Oct 2009 13:20:00 GMT

Boston Globe

In 1978, at age 16, Tod Loufbourrow published a book called "How to build a computer-controlled robot." A few years later, he went off to Harvard,
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Bots for Seniors: iRobot Creates New Division to Serve Eldercare Market
Boston Globe
Thu, 29 Oct 2009 14:18:33 GMT

Robot Battalions Will Explore the Solar System

Up to this point in space exploration, robots have been solitary explorers commanded ultimately from Earth.  Sure, they may have used other spacecraft for communication relays as some Mars landers have done, but they have not been controlled by other machines.  Now, that may be changing.  As this story from the Telegraph states, “Robotic airships and satellites will fly above the surface of the distant world, commanding squadrons of wheeled rovers and floating robot boats, according to Wolfgang Fink of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).”  Robots will use networks to control other robots.  This will allow redundancy in the operations.  Cheap rovers and flyers can be deployed to explore the surface, while an orbiting spacecraft oversees the operations.  In order for this to work, the controlling robots must have the ability to make intelligent choices of where to send its minions or when to shut down a malfunctioning bot.  Prof Fink, director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, is leading his team in “developing software that would let a robotic explorer act independently and as part of a network. They would select priorities for exploration and anticipate and handle problems on their own.” 

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.  For more information on this work, visit .  You can find information on JPL missions is at .

Story is adapted from materials at, Science Daily and NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Alien worlds may be explored by armies of flying, driving and sailing robots, say scientists.

By Tom Chivers

Robotic airships and satellites will fly above
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Robot armies 'will explore alien worlds'
Wed, 28 Oct 2009 10:19:37 GMT

A Robot Elk is a Tempting Target

Poachers beware.  A robo-Elk is out there to tempt you into taking a shot.  This robotic elk joins robotic deer and a literal menagerie of robotic wildlife in the battle to stop illegal hunting of game.  There are robotic wolves and even robotic turkeys.  Operated by the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, the Robotic Decoy Program strives to stop poachers.  These robotic game animals are actually remote-controlled taxidermic specimens, so they are very realistic.  This story adds to the many robotic animal stories here on RobotNext, even though this may not be considered to be a true robot or even a very advanced robot.  It is performing a valuable role as a mechanical stand-in for the real thing.  After all, this elk or deer can take a bullet and remain standing.  It is definitely saving many wild animals from an illegal hunter’s weapon.  You can watch a video of the robotic deer taking fire from some road hunters in this clip from You Tube.

Robotic Elk 

Photo Credit:  Oregon State Police

The decoy donated by the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust will help fish and wildlife agents target nighttime or closed-season poachers.

Elk robot to help Ore. officials catch poachers
(author unknown)
Tue, 27 Oct 2009 14:52:15 GMT

Crabs Could Influence the Next Robot Designs

A research team led by Dr Jan Hemmi of the Visual Sciences Group has achieved a first time achievement by working out how fiddler crabs perceive their world and respond to it. Their research, which is carried out in the Research School of Biology at The Vision Centre and Australian National University, is also expected to assist in the design of better machine vision for robots.  

Fiddler crabs are relatively simple creatures that must process visual signals and respond rapidly.  (As all organisms must do.)  Their eyes are the secret to their ability to do this.  In a fiddler crab, the eyes do not move.  Instead, they have have 9,000 eye facets and see in all directions including above.  However, the eyes only collect the information that is absolutely needed for the crab to survive in its environment.  So, some eye facets see detail, while others see a general view of the landscape .  Crabs also see in ultraviolet as well as other colors of light.

The researchers built a crab treadmill to test out how a crab sees and responds to what it sees.  The complete research in published in a paper, The topography of vision in the fiddler crab Uca vomeris.  Which was published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2009; 212: pp 3522-3532.   You can click on the links below to see the rest of the articles on this post.  Also, see the media release, Crabs in a Colourful and Threatening World for more on this topic.

Image: The Vision Centre and ScienceAlert

Crabs could influence robot design
ABC Online
"The lesson really is that you need to work out what information your robot needs to do whatever job it is meant to do," he said.
Scientists map crabs' vision ScienceAlert
all 2 news articles »

Crabs could influence robot design – ABC Online
(author unknown)
Mon, 26 Oct 2009 07:17:25 GMT

Robots Could Get a Sense of Touch

According to a story from the BBC News, “Robots of the future could have fingertips as sensitive as those of people, new research suggests.  Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield have been examining the way our brains interpret our senses.  They connected artificial mouse whiskers to a robotic brain to see how the brain processes information relayed by sense of touch.”  

The connection between robots and biology is one that I find fascinating, so this article just had to be a post on RobotNext.  Robots that have a human capability of touch could revolutionize many areas of automation.  Next generation robots will likely have this advanced touch sense.  With this ability, robotic surgery may find new uses as the surgeons might be able to actually feel what the robot feels.  Another use is in the area of prosthetics.  Imagine Dean Kamen’s “Luke Arm” with this sense of touch.   The nature connection here is that this idea came from the study of mouse whiskers.  When objects brush against the whiskers on a mouse, nerve impulses are sent to the brain and interpreted there.  Sensory information can be processed by the brain to determine the direction of movement of the object.  In this case, artificial whiskers were used and the brain just happens to be that of a robot.  The robot was able to learn to interpret the movements.  Read the complete article at the links below.

Credit:  BBC News

'Whiskers' may help robots touch
BBC News
The scientists found that when objects were brushed against the whiskers, the robot brain learned how to interpret the whisker movement according to its
and more »

'Whiskers' may help robots touch – BBC News
(author unknown)
Mon, 26 Oct 2009 01:14:40 GMT

Robotic Bed Converts into Wheelchair by Voice Command

I guess there are days when anyone could use a robotic bed.  Imagine having this special bed for the mornings when you just can’t get up and you need to make it to the kitchen where your robotic coffeemaker has the caffeine waiting.  This bed makes itself into a wheelchair that can carry you to your desired destination. Okay, so that was just to get your attention.  

Seriously, this robot was not developed for the lazy or the sleepy.  It is for the patient who has a medical disability that keeps him or her from moving about on their own.  Activated by voice commands, the robot can convert itself into a motorized wheelchair with no other input from the patient.  There is a security monitor to allow the person see what is happening in other rooms.  It can even turn the patient to prevent bedsores.  Watch the video on You Tube and check out the stories at the links below.

Credit: Rediff

Robotic bed that converts into a wheelchair
Business Standard
The robot also helps the user turn over to prevent bedsores. Panasonic, which formed a robotic unit last year, sees a profitable future in robotics.
Wheelchair Bed Robot Daily Contributor 

all 6 news articles »

Robotic bed that converts into a wheelchair – Business Standard
(author unknown)
Mon, 19 Oct 2009 10:47:17 GMT

New Robot Delivers Snacks

Here is a robot for the junk food junkies everywhere. If you need a snack, then this is the machine for you. Carnegie Mellon University has developed this robot to serve snacks to students, faculty, and office personnel that work on the campus. Of course, it also has a more serious purpose: To serve (pun intended) as a research platform for autonomous operations in a business office environment.

As the researchers explain, "The research will allow the robot to navigate through congested areas in a socially acceptable fashion, detect individual people moving near the robot, recognize when someone that the robot knows approaches it, and autonomously learn to recognize new objects."

If you look at the original source for this article at Carnegie Mellon’s website, then you will find video links and a pdf of the research paper on the Snackbot.


Credit:  Carnegie Mellon University via Live Science

Snackbot is an autonomous mobile robot whose mission is to bring tasty treats.

New Robot Delivers Snacks by Bill Christensen

Sat, 17 Oct 2009 13:10:03 GMT

Snackbot is a mobile autonomous robot, intended for both fully autonomous and semi-autonomous operation, built by an interdisciplinary team at Carnegie Mellon University. Snackbot has two jobs. One job is to serve as a research platform for projects in robotics, design, and behavioral science. We welcome new partners or sponsors for this work. Snackbot’s other job is to serve snacks.

Original Source:

Carnegie Mellon University

Lee, M.K., Forlizzi, J., Rybski, P.E., Crabbe, F., Chung, W., Finkle, J., Glaser, E., and Kiesler, S. (2009) The Snackbot: Documenting the design of a robot for long-term human-robot interaction. In
Proceedings of HRI2009, 7-14. [pdf]

Robot Inspired by Roach

This is quite an amazing little robot.  Nature has provided a very adaptable example to follow in this case.  Inspired by the lowly cockroach, it is as tough to destroy as its real-life model.  It can survive a fall of 90 feet and scurry off like it has seen a can of Raid.  Built so that it uses only one motor, this roachbot turns by flexing and slightly deforming its frame.  You have to see the video on You Tube to see the robo roach in action.  It has always been said that if there is ever a nuclear war, only the roaches would survive.  Now, it may be that the robotic roaches will be there too!  Check out the story at IEEE by clicking on the link below or read the article at ZDNet by following the link in the quote below.

motorcrawler roachbot

Credit:  Biomimetic Millisystems Lab and UC Berkeley

IEEE Spectrum writes of a small resilient robot created by Paul Birkmeyer and Prof. Ronald Fearing at the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab at UC Berkeley.

Aptly called DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod), the six-legged insect-inspired robot can reach speeds of 1.5 meters per second and is flexible/strong enough to be dropped from a height of 28 meters without breaking. A single DC motor powers the legs and a small servomotor to slightly deform the robot’s body, allowing it to make turns.
Emerging Technology Trends –

Resilient cockroach-inspired robot survives large falls, dashes
Chris Jablonski
Wed, 14 Oct 2009 15:01:48 GMT

Rolling Robot – Next, What To Do With It

Spherical robots are not new, its just that they have had a few drawbacks.  Primarily, how does a sphere climb over obstacles like large boulders that are in its path?  Greg Schroll has developed a possible solution to that problem by using gyroscopes to maintain momentum.  His invention has possible applications in space exploration, environmental studies, and underwater research.  Check out some of the previous spherical robots covered here on RobotNext.  The NXT-based rolling robot and the hamster ball for lunar exploration are two good examples.

Spherical Robot

Credit:  Westword

By Rob Fisher in Tech ​Colorado State grad student Greg Schroll has taken the idea of the spherical robot — basically a robot contained in a ball,
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A CSU grad student's rolling robot is turning heads, but what the hell do we
Tue, 13 Oct 2009 17:51:37 GMT

Robot Ready for Shovel-Ready Moon Projects

Here is a project that combines two of my great passions:  space exploration and robots.   These college students have developed a robot for the NASA Regolith Excavator Centennial Challenge at Ames Research Air Force Base in Mountain View, California, on October 17.  Winner of the challenge will win a half a million dollars.  In order to even qualify, the robot must dig 150 kg of simulated lunar regolith in under 30 minutes.  You can watch the video on You Tube of the robot in action as it scoops dirt in both directions and then travels up a ramp to dump the load.  Will it make the goal or not?  Check out the complete story at

Credit: Global BC

UBC engineering students unveil moon dust-shoveling robot
( — A robot designed by UBC students will be shoveling moon dust at an international robotics competition, vying for a $500000 prize
Engineering students build moon dirt digging robot for NASA competition  Vancouver Sun
all 5 news articles »

UBC engineering students unveil moon dust-shoveling robot –
(author unknown)
Mon, 12 Oct 2009 15:40:51 GMT

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