See this odd "ouroboros" robot roll right along

Researchers from Germany's University of Bielefeld presented their OUROBOT, a "Self-Propelled Continuous-Track-Robot for Rugged Terrain," at the recent IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From their technical paper:

Adapting the concept of continuous tracks that are propelled and guided by wheels, a self-propelled continuous-track-robot has been designed and built. The robot consists of actuated chain segments, thus enabling it to change its form, independent of guiding mechanisms. Using integrated sensors, the robot is able to adapt to the terrain and to overcome obstacles. This allows the robot to “roll” and climb in two dimensions. Possible extensions of the concept to three-dimensional navigation are presented as an outlook.

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Person walking dog encounters Boston Dynamics walking their robot

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Lucky there are leash laws!

(via Reddit)

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Meet your robot gardener

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The FarmBot Genesis is an open-source robot gardener for home food production. You design your mini-farm with their app and then the Raspberry Pi-powered robot handles the rest, from planting to watering, weeding to harvesting. The FarmBot Genesis sounds like the evolutionary descendant of Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana's groundbreaking 1994 telerobotic artwork, the TeleGarden:

FarmBot Genesis:

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Hamburger joint run by robots will open in San Francisco

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A robotics start-up, Momentum Machines, announced that it is going to open a restaurant in San Francisco that uses robots to make hamburgers.

From PopMech:

Every aspect of the burger is customizable, from thickness and cook time to condiments. The machine will take up about 24 square feet and the tech blog Xconomy predicted it could save a restaurant $90,000 a year in training and salaries.

Many people worry that the use of work-saving robotic technology like this machine will put vast numbers of people out of work. They might be right--one study from last year predicted that there's a 96.3% chance of restaurant cooks being put out of work by automation.

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Cataloging the problems facing AI researchers is a cross between a parenting manual and a management book

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Concrete Problems in AI Safety, an excellent, eminently readable paper from a group of Google AI researchers and some colleagues, sets out five hard problems facing the field: robots might damage their environments to attain their goals; robots might figure out how to cheat to attain their goals; supervising robots all the time is inefficient; robots that are allowed to try novel strategies might cause disasters; and robots that are good at one task might inappropriately try to apply that expertise to another unrelated task. Read the rest

Gaze controller for humanoid robots

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Developed at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Genoa, the iCub robot resembles a baby or a drunk trying to track a moving ball.

Our humanoid robot, the iCub (I as in “I robot”, Cub as in the man-cub from Kipling’s Jungle Book), has been specifically designed to support research in embodied artificial intelligence (AI). At 104 cm tall, the iCub has the size of a five-year-old child. It can crawl on all fours, walk and sit up to manipulate objects. Its hands have been designed to support sophisticate manipulation skills. The iCub is distributed as Open Source following the GPL/LGPL licenses and can now count on a worldwide community of enthusiastic developers. More than 30 robots have been built so far which are available in laboratories in Europe, US, Korea and Japan (see http://www.iCub.org). It is one of the few platforms in the world with a sensitive full-body skin to deal with safe physical interaction with the environment.

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Riot Control Robot Unveiled in China Looks Ominously Like a 'Doctor Who' Dalek, May In Fact Be One

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“China's first intelligent security robot debuts in Chongqing,” reads the headline in the Chinese Communist Party official newspaper People's Daily. The riot control robot has a name, “AnBot,” and it's freaking everyone out even more than your regular garden variety riot control robots because the damn thing looks like a Dalek from Doctor Who. And nothing good comes from a Dalek.

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Japanese robot die always rolls a six

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@kirin_nico has created a large robotic die that, when rolled—if any side other than six comes up—it unfolds and then refolds itself so the six side is upward.

It does this slowly and spastically, reveling in its homemade awkwardness and making clunky sounds like a kid’s toy having a stroke. In other words, it’s not pretending to be anything other than what it is, which is why it’s cool.

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The most expressive robot in the world

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Hanson Robotics makes expressive robot heads so obviously uncanny that uncanniness itself seems to be the objective. Read the rest

Watch this team of tiny micro-robots pull a car

Stanford engineers demonstrated how six tiny microTug robots -- with gripping, adhesive feet inspired by geckos -- can work together to pull a 4,000 pound car on polished concrete, albeit very very slowly.

The researchers from Stanford's Biomimetics & Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory published their work on the microTug bots in the current issue of the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

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Health insurance must pay for exoskeletons

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An independent review board has ordered an unspecified health insurer in the northeastern USA to reimburse a patient for a $69,500 exoskelton from Rewalk, whose products enable people with spinal cord injuries to walk. Read the rest

Marvin Minsky, artificial intelligence pioneer, RIP

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MIT professor Marvin Minsky, a "founding father" of the field of artificial intelligence whose work opened up new vistas in computer science, cognitive psychology, philosophy, robotics, and optics, has died of a brain hemorrhage. He was 88.

In 1959, Minsky co-founded MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (now the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) and dedicated his career to exploring how we might replicate the functions of the human brain in a machine, a research journey he hoped would help us better understand our own minds.

"No computer has ever been designed that is ever aware of what it's doing," Minsky once said. "But most of the time, we aren't either."

(New York Times)

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Friday eve in SF: "100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area"

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Tomorrow evening (11/20), San Francisco's de Young Museum will celebrate "100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area" with an event organized by UC Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg and Alexander Rose, executive director of the Long Now Foundation. The program includes a "Long Conversation," sort of a relay race discussion that I'll be participating in along with ten interesting people whose work is at the intersection of art and technology! Bonus: My friend Kal Spelletich will also bring two of his "praying robots" seen above! Best of all, it's free and starts early (6:30pm)!

Participants include:

Josette Melchor (Grey Area Foundation for the Arts)

Dorothy R. Santos (writer, curator)

Tim Roseborough (artist, musician, former Kimball Artist-in-Residence)

John Markoff (author of Machines of Loving Grace)

Karen Marcelo (dorkbotSF)

David Pescovitz (Boing Boing and Institute for the Future)

Catharine Clark (Catharine Clark Gallery)

Alexander Rose (director, Long Now Foundation)

Pieter Abbeel (professor, Computer Sciences, UC Berkeley)

Terry Winograd (Computer Science department, Stanford Univeristy)

Kal Spelletich (Seemen)

With special VJ Jenny Odell

Ticket Information

Complimentary tickets for the long conversation are distributed beginning at 5:30 pm at the Koret Auditorium entrance. Seating is limited. Tickets are first come, first served.

Programming and general admission to the permanent collection galleries are free of charge during Friday Nights at the de Young. A discounted $15 ticket is required to visit the special exhibition galleries.

Long Conversation (de Young)

“100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area” Long Conversation November 20th 02015 (The Long Now Foundation) Read the rest

Adorable robotic cube jumps to the top of a pile

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Robots have a hard time making their way across uneven, unstable terrain. Read the rest

A flying drone and a walking robot share a brain

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This walking robot has its own eye in the sky - a flying drone that surveys the landscape to give it the best path to get from point A to point B.

Flying and walking robots can use their complementary features in terms of viewpoint and payload capability to the best in a heterogeneous team. To this end, we present our online collaborative navigation framework for unknown and challenging terrain. The method leverages the flying robot’s onboard monocular camera to create both a map of visual features for simultaneous localization and mapping and a dense representation of the environment as an elevation map. This prior knowledge from the initial exploration enables the walking robot to localize itself against the global map, and plan a global path to the goal by interpreting the elevation map in terms of traversability. While following the planned path, the absolute pose corrections are fused with the legged state estimation and the elevation map is continuously updated with distance measurements from an onboard laser range sensor. This allows the legged robot to safely navigate towards the goal while taking into account any changes in the environment. - P. Fankhauser, M. Bloesch, P. Krüsi, R. Diethelm, M. Wermelinger, T. Schneider, M. Dymczyk, M. Hutter and R. Siegwart, “Collaborative Navigation for Flying and Walking Robots”

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A book about Theo Jansen's amazing wind-powered creatures

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

You may have seen my earlier Wink Fun review of Elenco’s terrific Mini-beest Kit, a working miniature model kit of one of Theo Jansen’s amazing animated creatures. I wanted to know more about him and his work so I found a copy of his 2009 book, The Great Pretender. The 240-page volume contains notes, timelines, photos, sketches and family trees for Jansen’s “Animarus,” as he calls his species of moving, breathing, and thinking constructions. He creates magnificent beasts out of the cheapest and lowliest of raw materials: thin wall PVC pipes, packing tape, empty soda bottles, and zip ties. When assembled, the giant, articulated creatures walk along the beach in the Netherlands, powered only by the wind.

In the book’s format, each of the verso pages (on the left) have color photographs of the many details about his designs and their construction: hinges and movable joints, leg linkages, molds and fixtures, pneumatic tubing muscles, etc. Each artifact is artfully depicted with low-key lighting and muted backgrounds, like specimens in an archeological volume. There are also beautiful photos of the fully-assembled creatures in their native habitat, strolling along the shore.

The recto pages (on the right) carry the text, with chapter-length explanations of his thoughts and processes on how and why he came to create the various versions of his animated “life forms.” There’s Animarus Sabulosa Adolescense (young sand-coated beach animal) and Animarus Vermiculus (worm animal) and about 30 more, each as amazing as the last. Read the rest

Watch these drones build a rope bridge you could actually walk across

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This video is amazing, and feels like something that will become even more graceful, precise, and normal as drone technology and design improve.

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