This weird crawling robot baby is used to study dirt and bacteria inhalation

Purdue University researchers built this bizarre crawling robot baby to study how real infants kick up dirt and bacteria from carpet that they then inhale. Engineer Brandon Boor and his colleagues ran the robot over carpet samples removed from people's homes and then analyzed the particulates that were stirred up. Turns out that the particle concentration is as much as 20 times greater than higher up in the room where we adults breathe. That isn't necessarily bad though, Boor says.

"Many studies have shown that inhalation exposure to microbes and allergen-carrying particles in that portion of life plays a significant role in both the development of, and protection from, asthma and allergic diseases," says Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. "There are studies that have shown that being exposed to a high diversity and concentration of biological materials may reduce the prevalence of asthma and allergies later in life."

(Purdue University)

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Collecting all the ethical principles for robots, from Asimov to the trade union movement

Robohub is creating a series of "robotics and AI ethics" posts, starting with a roundup of all the rules for AIs and robots of note, starting with Asimov's Three Laws and moving through rules published by scholarly and technical groups like ACM and IEEE, trade union groups like UNI, and multistakeholder groups like the Montréal Declaration for Responsible AI draft principles. Read the rest

Amputee monkeys learn mind control methods to manipulate robotic arm

Neuroscientist Nicho Hatsopoulous and his team taught monkeys that lost limbs through accidents how to control a robotic arm. The work has profound implications on what they call the brain-machine interface. Via University of Chicago

“That's the novel aspect to this study, seeing that chronic, long-term amputees can learn to control a robotic limb,” said Nicho Hatsopoulos, PhD, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at UChicago and senior author of the study. “But what was also interesting was the brain’s plasticity over long-term exposure, and seeing what happened to the connectivity of the network as they learned to control the device.”

Here's the basic setup in a similar lab with non-amputee monkeys. The monkey gets juice or some other treat for successfully completing the tasks.

Here's a detailed lecture on the current work in the field:

Changes in cortical network connectivity with long-term brain-machine interface exposure after chronic amputation (via University of Chicago) Read the rest

San Francisco put the kibosh on delivery robots for now

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to restrict delivery robots to areas with very minimal foot traffic and only for research purposes. From Wired:

Unlike self-driving cars, or at least self-driving cars working properly, these bots roll on sidewalks, not streets. That gives them the advantage of not dealing with the high-speed chaos of roads, other than crossing intersections, but also means they have to deal with the cluttered chaos of sidewalks. Just think about how difficult it can be for you as a human to walk the city. Now imagine a very early technology trying to do it. (Requests for comment sent to three delivery robot companies—Dispatch, Marble, and Starship—were not immediately returned.)...

The legislation will require delivery robots to emit a warning noise for pedestrians and observe rights of way. They’ll also need headlights, and each permittee will need to furnish proof of insurance in the forms of general liability, automotive liability, and workers’ comp.

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Robot takes an elevator

From YouTube description: "This video shows ongoing research towards using the feet of a legged robot for simple manipulation tasks. In this example, ANYmal makes use of its large range of motion to reach up to press an elevator button. The button is localized with help of a QR tag."

[via Bruce Sterling] Read the rest

Tiny RoboBee flies, swims, and launches itself out of water back into the air

The millimeter-scale RoboBee can fly, dive into water, swim around, and then take off into the air again. At just 175 milligrams, it's 1,000 times lighter than any other aerial-to-aquatic robot. Designed at Harvard's microrobotics laboratory, the RoboBee is outfitted with four tiny "floaties" and a chamber that converts water into oxyhydrogen, fuel that combusts to propel the robot out of the water.

“The RoboBee represents a platform where forces are different than what we – at human scale – are used to experiencing,” says researcher Robert Wood. “While flying the robot feels as if it is treading water; while swimming it feels like it is surrounded by molasses. The force from surface tension feels like an impenetrable wall. These small robots give us the opportunity to explore these non-intuitive phenomena in a very rich way.”

From Harvard:

The gas increases the robot’s buoyancy, pushing the wings out of the water and the floaties stabilize the RoboBee on the water’s surface. From there, a tiny, novel sparker inside the chamber ignites the gas, propelling the RoboBee out of the water. The robot is designed to passively stabilize in air, so that it always lands on its feet.

“By modifying the vehicle design, we are now able to lift more than three times the payload of the previous RoboBee,” said (researcher Yufeng) Chen. “This additional payload capacity allowed us to carry the additional devices including the gas chamber, the electrolytic plates, sparker, and buoyant outriggers, bringing the total weight of the hybrid robot to 175 miligrams, about 90mg heavier than previous designs.

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This little one-legged jumping robot is a real charmer

Salto is a jumping robot from UC Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. It has aerodynamic thrusters to ensure it lands on its foot.

[via Bruce Sterling] Read the rest

Industrial robots playing traditional instruments

Nigel Stanford enlisted the talents of a number of Kuka industrial robots to perform "Automatica."

Here's a video of the robot testing: Read the rest

Tiny robots in a mouse's stomach help heal an ulcer

Tiny micromotors about the width of a human hair traveled through a mouse's stomach delivering antibiotics to treat a stomach ulcer. The motors are powered by bubbles. According to the researchers from the University of California San Diego, the microrobot-based treatment proved more effective than regular doses of the medicine. From New Scientist:

The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released...

The next steps are to look at a larger animal study, followed by eventual trials in humans. “There is still a long way to go, but we are on a fantastic voyage,” says (researcher Joseph) Wang.

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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:

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"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.

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