Industrial robotics security is really, really terrible

Researchers from Politecnico di Milano and Trend Micro conducted an audit of the information security design of commonly used industrial robots and found that these devices are extremely insecure: robots could be easily reprogrammed to violate their safety parameters, both by distorting the robots' ability to move accurately and by changing the movements the robots attempt to perform; hacked robots can also be made to perform movements with more force than is safe; normal safety measures that limit speed and force can be disabled; robots can be made to falsify their own telemetry, fooling human operators; emergency manual override switches can be disabled or hidden; robots can be silently switched from manual to automatic operation, making them move suddenly and forcefully while dangerously close to oblivious, trusting humans; and of course, robots can be caused to manufacture faulty goods that have to be remanufactured or scrapped. Read the rest

This robot crawls up your butt to examine your colon

A colonoscopy is a very unpleasant selfie. The medical procedure involves having a long, thin, flexible camera inserted up your rectum and into your large intestine to look for ulcers, polyps, and tumors. Nobody looks forward to this. To improve the process, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Advanced Medical Technologies Laboratory designed a worm-like soft robot that employs a wavelike motion, similar to the way the bowel moves, to make its way up your large intestine. From their research abstract:

Traditional colonoscopy requires highly trained personnel to be performed. Additionally, current devices may cause discomfort and carry the risk of perforating the bowel wall. In this paper, a soft three modular section robot is designed, modeled, controlled and tested. Each of the robotic sections has three degrees of freedom, one translation and two rotations. The robot uses a peristaltic motion to translate, inspired by the motion generated by the bowel.

The robot uses nine independently controlled Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) springs as its actuators and a novel silicone rubber skin provides the passive recovery force to expand the springs to their original state. It also incorporates three air tubes, one for each section, to provide forced convection reducing the cooling time of the SMA springs.

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Small space robot launches like a model rocket

This handheld, rocket-powered robot can leap about 30 meters and make a targeted landing. Once it's on the ground, it can then spin up and then abruptly brake its flywheel to jump forward or backward for a bit more mobility. Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the rocketeer robot could someday liftoff from a planetary or lunar lander or rover. The 450-gram prototype uses an Estes C11 rocket engine like those used in model rocketry! From IEEE Spectrum:

The robot is mounted on an angled rail and when it’s time to fly, it spins up its reaction wheel and sets off the primary rocket. The rocket launches the robot on a parabolic trajectory with a maximum range, in Earth gravity, of up to about 30 meters, which would increase to about 200 meters under lunar gravity. The reaction wheel minimizes the effect of the robot body tumbling during flight, keeping the robot going on a straight line: We held this little thing with the gyro wheel turned on during an interactive session at (the International Conference on Robotics and Automation), and it was impressively powerful: There was a significant amount of resistance to any kind of sideways rotation. Since solid-fuel rocket engines can’t be throttled, the opposing thrust motors are fired when necessary to alter the robot’s trajectory for a targeted landing. It’s a fairly effective technique, and in their tests the standard deviation of a series of launches decreased from 1.2 to 0.29 meters, or four times more precise than without the opposing rockets.

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Dr. Octopus getting real with this robotic contraption

MetaLimbs is a robotic system that provides the wearer with an extra pair of arms. The mechanical arms are controlled by the user's legs, feet, and toes. The researchers from Keio University and the University of Tokyo will present their work at next month's SIGGRAPH 2017 conference in Los Angeles.

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Robot riding on turtle's back steers it with "carrot-on-a-stick" technique

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology attached small robots to the back of turtles and enabled the machine to steer the animal by delivering it snacks. Eventually, they hope to use similar systems to control fish and birds. The technology could lead to parasitic robot/animal "teams" for surveillance, exploration, and disaster response. From New Scientist:

The robots comprised a processor, a frame that stuck out in front of the turtle’s head holding five red LEDs spaced apart, and a food-ejecting tube. They then had to ride their turtle through five checkpoints in a tank filled with water...

The turtles were first conditioned to associate a lit-up LED with food. The robot then simply guided it using the LEDs and fed it snacks as a reward for going in the right direction. Using this process, five robot-turtle pairs successfully completed the course, and each sped up with practice.

"Parasitic Robot System for Waypoint Navigation of Turtle" (Journal of Bionic Engineering)

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The baby daddy of Boston Dynamics' BigDog robot

This is CAM (cybernetic anthropomorphous machine), a "walking truck" designed by Ralph Mosher at General Electric in 1965. It may not be as rough-and-tumble as Boston Dynamics' BigDog but it was certainly more fun because the operator rode inside of it! From Wikipedia:

The stepping of the robot was controlled by a human operator through foot and hand movements coupled to hydraulic valves. The complex movements of the legs and body pose were done entirely through hydraulics. The hydraulic fluid and pressure was supplied through an off-board system. The walking truck was one of the first technological hardware design applications to incorporate force feed-back to give the operator a feel of what was happening.

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How to teach robots teamwork

For robots to make our lives easier, they'll need to work together. But how do we teach them teamwork? University of Southern California engineer Nora Ayanian studies how groups of robots, including flying drones, can be better collaborators and what the machines can teach humans about collaboration. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Nora about robot collaboration in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud Read the rest

"Mindreading" robots and tech-art insanity in San Francisco this Friday-Sunday

This Friday through Sunday in San Francisco, my extreme maker pals Kal Spelletich (Survival Research Labs, Seemen) and Mitch Altman (Noisebridge, TV-B-Gone) invite you to what's sure to be a mind-bending experience of neuro-robotic weirdness and art at The Lab. From the description of the installation:
Split-Brain Robotics: Harvesting Brain Data for Robotic Mayhem and Enlightenment

An interactive audience participatory performance with two custom built 16’ tall robots, each identical, each controlled by the left and right side brainwaves of audience participants.

A hacked and customized brainwave monitor reads audience participants' right side and left side brainwaves to make the two robots move, collaborate, interact, fight, and even "kiss". Their live streaming brain data runs the two robots! Volunteers’ (your!) thoughts are brought to life through robotic actions.

When they do “correctly” interact, symbolic and metaphoric events will happen, activating, lasers, lights, fog, robotic eye views projections, sounds, chaos.

Split-Brain Robotics: Harvesting Brain Data for Robotic Mayhem and Enlightenment Read the rest

Meet Flippy, the burger-flipping robot

Miso Robotics' Flippy is a "kitchen assistant" robot that can grill, flip, prep, fry, and plate food.

“We focus on using AI and automation to solve the high pain points in restaurants and food prep," says Flippy CEO David Zito. "That’s the dull, dirty and dangerous work around the grill, the fryer, and other prep work like chopping onions. The idea is to help restaurants improve food quality and safety without requiring a major kitchen redesign.”

And what of those millions of people who flip burgers to make ends meet?

“Tasting food and creating recipes will always be the purview of a chef," says Flippy CEO David Zito. "And restaurants are gathering places where we go to interact with each other. Humans will always play a very critical role in the hospitality side of the business given the social aspects of food. We just don’t know what the new roles will be yet in the industry.”

(TechCrunch via Laughing Squid)

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How to solve the artificial intelligence "stop button" problem

Implementing an on/off switch on a general artificial intelligence is way more complicated than it sounds. Rob Miles of Computerphile looks at what could go wrong. Hint: lots. Read the rest

A robot that walks like an ostrich designed to “be the standard for legged autonomy”

Cassie is a two-legged robot that walks like an ostrich. It was developed by Agility Robotics.

From Quartz:

The legs are only the beginning. Eventually, Cassie will get arms and sensors to help it better interact with the world, and to help it get up if it topples over. Cassie’s descendants—equipped perhaps with torsos and other body parts that make them a bit less terrifying—could be employed on delivery runs, search-and-rescue missions, or even as prosthetic limbs. Shelton says Agility wants Cassie to “be the standard for legged autonomy.”

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Robotic drone bee pollinates flowers

Japanese researchers demonstrated how a tiny remote-controlled drone could help bees pollinate flowers in areas where bees populations have been reduced due to pesticides, climate change, and other factors. Eijiro Myako and his colleagues at the Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology hope that eventually robotic bees could handle their share of the work autonomously. From New Scientist:

The manually controlled drone is 4 centimetres wide and weighs 15 grams. The bottom is covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel, then rub off on the next flower visited.

In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). Moreover, the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers...

“We hope this will help to counter the problem of bee declines,” says Miyako. “But importantly, bees and drones should be used together.”

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Watch a translucent gel robot catch and release a live fish

Clear hydrogel robots that can quickly move and exert measurable force were inspired by glass eels, "tiny, transparent, hydrogel-like eel larvae that hatch in the ocean and eventually migrate to their natural river habitats." Read the rest

Watch a Marie Antoinette automaton play the dulcimer

In 1784, cabinetmaker David Roentgen (1743-1807) made this astonishing automaton of Marie Antoinette playing a dulcimer as a gift for King Louis XVI to give to his queen. This fantastic contraption is in the collection of the Musée des arts et métiers de Paris. From Atlas Obscura:

When wound up, the music box mechanism moves the figure’s head and arms, making them dance across the strings and chime out a ping-y tune. The player has a repertoire of eight songs...

It’s said that the beautiful lace dress was made from fabric of one of Marie Antoinette’s dresses, and that mannequin even has some of her real hair.

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Beyond the Trolley Problem: Three realistic, near-future ethical dilemmas about self-driving cars

MIT Professor Emeritus of Robotic Rodney Brooks has published a thought-provoking essay on the most concrete, most likely ethical questions that will be raised by self-driving cars; Brooks is uninterested in contrived questions like the "Trolley Problem" (as am I, but for different reasons); he's more attuned to the immediate problems that could be created by selfish self-drivers who use their cars to get an edge over the people who drive themselves, and pedestrians. Read the rest

Obama's robot fist-bump photo has a great back story

One of Obama's last posts while in office showed him fist-bumping a robotic arm. It's actually a prosthetic robotic arm belonging to Nathan Copeland, who can control it with his mind and sense touch with it. Read the rest

This robotic arm's cleanup task is bloody endless

The Guggenheim has Sun Yuan & Peng Yu’s installation "Can’t Help Myself" on display through March. The robot arm monitors and attempts to contain a viscous blood-red liquid as it spreads out from the base of the arm, spattering more liquid around its enclosure. Read the rest

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