Nao Humanoid robots preparing for a game of football (via RoboCup)


With the 2014 Robot Olympics in Brazil already over, Tokyo has decided to declare it's ambitious plans for the 2020 Olympics. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has made a decision to show off Tokyo's already impressive robotics technology during the 2020 Olympic games by further investments and a simultaneous Robot Olympics. I can see it now - 'on the high-beam, R2-D2.'


Abe plans to triple the robotics industry to 2.4 trillion yen (over $20 billion) by 2020 to rock our socks off with robots that can compete in an Olympic arena. Either that, or he is planning to actually create the race of super-robots that will take over the world in an I, Robot, Will Smith, movie-esque way.


Abe hopes to make robotics a main pillar of the economic growth and stability of Japan. And what a better way to make a splash than to make autonomous robots compete on a global scale.


There are no real details on the Robot Olympics as of now, but I suppose it is hoping to become a bigger success of than the 2014 RoboCup. With continual advances in technology, who knows, maybe the Robot Olympics will actually be a sight to behold.


RoboCup Junior competition (via RoboCup)


Currently, the RoboCup is very cute, but exceptionally less epic than it sounds. The 2014 RoboCup in Brazil had robots of all shapes and sizes compete in games of football. While it certainly marked a lovely day for international collaboration and robotic engineering, it was hardly as exciting as the world cup. It reminded me of when I filmed an international firefighting competition, which involved me watching robots epically fail for 6 hours straight. Of course, most of them could put out a candle, but they were typically defeated by cardboard walls. Ah, gotta love robots.


Still, there are some pretty impressive robots on the scene that have some pretty epic dance moves. This huge influx of investment could allow Tokyo to host an entertaining Robot Olympics. Personally, I would like to see a robot dance battle or a cook-off. That would be impressive and entertaining, for at least 6 seconds.



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Cornell University’s PR2 robot is being trained to understand natural communication (via Cornell University)

Robots perform their functions using specific software written for certain tasks. Some of them are able to understand rudimentary spoken word commands such as ‘rotate arm 30-degrees’ or ‘open and close left hand’. They usually are incapable of following commands given to them using ‘natural language’ or language that arises unpremeditated in the brains of human beings. Instead of voicing commands that the robot turn 1800, move forward 15-feet, extend its right arm 14-centimeters, clasp the refrigerator door handle, retract its arm 14-centimeters, use its other arm and retrieve soda, suppose you could simply say ‘get me a pop’?


The problem is the language barrier that exists between robots and humans. Scientists, however, have been researching the issues related to Natural Language Processing (NLP) since the 1950’s. Cornell University researchers (from the Robotics Learning Lab) are developing their ‘Tell Me Dave’ project that would allow robots to learn natural language commands. The project makes use of a PR2 robot from the now dissolved Willow Garage and builds on Cornell University’s previous research into teaching robots how to identify surrounding people’s activities through motion as well as identifying an object in its location. Those programs were essentially used to refine the robot’s understanding of objects through visual and non-visual data.


The PR2 robot is outfitted with a 3D camera and software suites from the previous projects to help identify objects and determine what their uses are. For example, the robot can identify a bowl sitting on a counter and knows that things can be filled or poured out of it, such as cereal or ice cream. Based on the verbal command, it would then know that a spoon or fork could be used with it as well. Therefore, instead of a lengthy program script or simple verbal commands, users could tell the robot to make them some ramen noodles and after identifying the objects in its surroundings, it could begin cooking the tasty noodles.


The interesting part is that objects can be placed randomly or taken away and the robot would augment its program routines to adapt to what is available to make those noodles. If users say ‘boil some water’ it will look for what is available, like a saucepan and stove or a bowl and a microwave. Of course, natural human language can be vague in the best of circumstances, so the researchers are developing an algorithm that identifies key words and associates them with objects in its surroundings.


The robot then compares that data to previous data learned in a virtual environment to get a better understanding of what the user wants. To that end, the robot still isn’t able to grasp every verbal command it’s given and only performs the requested tasks about 64% of the time; however it’s still a good milestone in the teaching of natural language commands. As part of the ongoing Tell Me Dave learning project, the researchers invite those with programming knowledge to write their own scripts for simulated robots in a virtual kitchen environment. The crowd-sourced programs will then become part of a library of instructions that will be incorporated into the PR2 and other robots in the future.



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MIT’s new wrist-mounted device enhances the ‘grasping’ motion of the human hand worn by Faye Wu (via MIT)

We could all use a helping hand in life, even if it’s something as simple as using a screwdriver or twisting off a bottle cap, which isn’t so easy to accomplish single handedly. Now imagine trying to perform those tasks using less than five fingers and it becomes even more difficult. We as humans rely on (and take for granted) the dexterity and functionality our hands provide to do everything from eating to playing the piano and everything in between.


In an effort to give our hands an upgrade, MIT researchers have designed what they call ‘supernumerary robotic fingers’ that provide an enhanced grasping motion for user’s hands. The device connects to the wearer’s wrist and essentially gives them two extra fingers to help perform everyday tasks. The fingers are positioned next to the thumb and pinky and use a specialized control algorithm to move in coordination with the ‘digits’ next to them. No, the device will not outfit you with a cybernetic hand capable of crushing huge boulders or small vehicles but rather uses actuators tied together to exert the same force found in the average person’s hand.



To design the SRF, the researchers first needed to understand how the human hand grasps objects. They found that there were two significant motions that work together in a form of ‘finger synergy’ by bringing the fingers together and pulling them inward (you just can’t make this stuff up). Those movements were then translated into an algorithm that allows the robotic digits to work in tandem with flesh-based fingers. The wrist-mounted device uses multiple position-reading sensors that tracks where the actual fingers are and what grasping motion they are performing, which works in tandem with the algorithm that ‘learns’ those motions for grasping different objects, such as a football or a coffee mug. The supernumerary robotic fingers are a work in progress and are still under development.


The research team is looking to are looking for ways to incorporate different force pressures for grasping certain objects and performing different tasks as well as being able to customize the grasp preferences as hand gestures differ from person to person. For example, the device could learn a certain individual’s gestural styles while performing different tasks and save them to a library that can be modified as those styles change. Think of people with degenerative arthritis, whose hand gestures slowly become hindered over time. It would also be beneficial to those with amputated or missing fingers, as the device would allow them the full use of their hands again.


The researchers predict that they will be able to reduce the SRF in size by a third, so instead of using a full wrist brace, it could be the size of a watch and the fingers could ‘fold out’ when needed and packed back up when not. It’s not yet known whether the device will ever hit the market, however if it does it could be a boon for everybody looking for a helping hand (or fingers).



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A prototype of this ‘squishy’ robot made with phase-changing materials (via MIT)

MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamic have collaborated to solve one of the age-old issues in robotic mechanics by inventing a new material. While robots are typically either created to be soft or hard, this robot can actually shift from soft or hard states to accommodate the task it need to complete. The real world applications of this are various, but it is of particular interest to the Medical field. A robot which could shift from a hard to soft state could offer novel ways of performing computer assisted operations in hard to reach places. Some speculate that the robot could also find survivors within the rubble of natural disasters and rescue them by squishing itself to fit within the cracks.


The squishable structure is created by a combination of foam, wax, and metal wiring. The inside of the tubing is made of foam which can squish and condense to a fraction of it’s size. The foam is coated with wax which allows the robot to become hard or soft depending upon whether it is heated or cooled. There are wires running along each of the foam struts which allows the user to control the phase-state of the material by heating or cooling the wax. A heated state will allow the robot to squish and become more pliable. However, the wax can be cooled to harden the structure. The material is supposed to heal itself in the event that the wax coating breaks. If the user breaks the coating, they can simple heat up the structure, and it should repair the coating.


Since the main ingredients of this structure are polyurethane foam and wax, it is surprisingly low cost so robot enthusiasts and scientists alike can create novel squishy robots to their hearts’ content.


This material is still undergoing further research and prototyping, but it looks promising. The team is still looking into other methods of creating phase-changing robots by using electromagnetism and suspended metals. This material can also be used to create realistic casing for humanoid robots.


There are lots of ideas in the pipes to work on next, but this new material opens up new avenues in the robotics world.



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The Marbel Board (via Kickstarter)


The most lightweight electric skateboard in the world is here. The Marbel Board is making its splash in the market, weighing in at a record-breaking 9.9lbs with enough power to reach 20mph and with a range of 10 miles per charge. The Kickstarter campaign is nearly done and having met its goal this puppy is expected to come to market between this fall and next winter.


The Marbel Board is kicking tail and taking names. Not only is it the lightest electric vehicle (Does a skateboard qualify as a vehicle?) in the world, but it is also one of the most powerful. With almost three horsepower, this board can hit speeds of 20mph uphill. All electronics and the batteries are housed into the body of the board, making it entirely waterproof and best of all, it’s customizable right through an app on your phone.


The board was intended to provide people with a lightweight, user-friendly electric vehicle for short distance trips that doesn’t require serious exercise (because who really wants to show up at work drenched in sweat from a long bike ride?). That’s why the board was made to look sleek, but packs a powerful punch and can get you to your destination promptly.


The deck is made with a combination of Carbon Fiber and Kevlar to be durable and strong, yet lightweight. The nose and tail of the board are made from Urethane rubber to protect the board from damage and the sides and bottom of the deck are coated with Kevlar composite to protect it from impact. The entire board is waterproof and runs on a Lithium-Ion battery that charges via wall outlet in 90 minutes. Once charged, the board can sustain for 10 miles on a single charge. 

Probably the coolest feature of all is the smartphone app, which not only allows for customization but can also lock your board to disable usage (and discourage theft). The DashBoard App enables four different riding modes, customizable to the user’s preferences. Starter Mode caps out at 6mph and 25% acceleration to give users time to get used to the board. Eco Mode observes the user’s riding style and configures itself to waste less power based on those preferences. Sport Mode is meant for speed and Custom Mode gives users full control to set their preferred acceleration and top speed.


DashBoard App interface (via Kickstarter)


The App also allows users to set low battery notifications, map a route to determine if there is enough battery life for the trip and also features a Marbel riders community and tech support. The app is available for both iOS and Android, but those who prefer to kick it old school can use the included wireless controller to control the acceleration and top speed of the board in real-time.


DashBoard App interface (via Kickstarter)


Users ride the Marbel Board just like any other skateboard, minus the kicking. The riding style is similar to that of a longboard, as riders are cruising most of the time.


The Marbel Board is showing high demand already and has nearly tripled its Kickstarter goal of $90,000, with 10 days left to go.  The board is expected to retail at a jaw-dropping $1,199, unless you got the early bird special. If you want one you’d better act now, or pay the price, literally.



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The Rotimatic which can create perfect flatbread in minutes. (via Rotimatic)


Yes, there is now a robot for everything and this robot is making me hungry. It is called the Rotimatic and can make perfect roti, flatbread, or wraps in under a minute according to the company. It has three hoppers which you fill with flour, water, and oil. Then, you can specify the type of flour, quantity of oil, desired thickness of the batter, and bake time to make different types of flatbread. The Rotimatic also senses when the batter needs adjustments and adds more flour, water, or oil as necessary. It also seems to make very little mess which allows you to easily clean it by detaching the mixer inside the robot.


I must say, this robot is impressive and the idea is mouthwatering. Well, that was until I saw the price tag! If you pre-order the Rotimatic, it will cost you $600. If that isn’t heart-stopping enough, the full retail value will be $1000 for those who don’t pre-order and wait for Rotimatic to hit the shelves – of the bourgeois cooking shops, of course. Now, I am not obsessed with flatbread, but after seeing the commercial for the product  I thought, ‘I would definitely buy this if it was $500 cheaper!’


It is being marketed toward health-conscious consumers.. The entrepreneur points out the benefits of eating freshly baked bread without preservatives at home. They also show some pretty impressive types of bread you can make by adjusting the settings and adding spices and herbs.


However, the Rotimatic is supposed to churn out flatbreads at a cost of $0.05 per bread. This means you would have to eat 20,000 flatbreads to equal the retail value of this robot. That translates into eating more than 18 flatbreads everyday for 3 years in order to re-coup your ‘investment’ while the robot still works and depreciates in value. I don’t know about you, but I would probably be the size of a whale if I ate 18 roti every day for 3 years!


Perhaps this machine is better equipped to feed the robot uprising than the Bakebot—a robot developed by an MIT grad student that that can bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch. If you have Benjamins lying around that you are willing to waste on convenience, then buy it. The rest of us will have to roll up our sleeves and get messy.




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Since the invention of the drone, many people have been uneasy about the idea of an unmanned flying object hanging around, watching and potentially harming people – and for good reason. Sure, some drones come together to perform in symphonies, but others release tear gas from the sky. The good, the bad and the ugly, you’ll find them here. Introducing: the Top 10 coolest, most terrifying drones in the world.



1. The Skunk


Desert Wolf’s Skunk (via Desert Wolf)


In an effort to ‘better’ handle unruly crowds, Desert Wolf created a drone that drops fire from the sky. The company’s newest terror is titled The Skunk, and it’s coming to a concert near you.


The Skunk is an unmanned flying machine that can shoot gas-filled bullets, plastic balls and other terrifying objects at targets – namely large crowds that become unruly. You’d better rethink hopping that fence to touch Bon Jovi.


The first prototypes have already been claimed by the owners of manufacturing plants in South Africa, to allegedly ‘encourage’ their employees, who have been on a 21-week strike, to get back to work. Although unconfirmed, those on strike in South Africa may want to watch the sky.



2. University of Sheffield’s intelligent drone


University of Sheffield’s smart drone quadrocopter concept


Here’s a concept that may both excite and terrify you. The University of Sheffield is working on developing smart drones that can actually understand their environment. Currently, drones are either remote-controlled or are pre-programmed with a particular route. Researchers at Sheffield are hoping to create a smart drone that can assess its environment and respond accordingly.


For example, if there was an earthquake, a team of smart drones could fly overhead and notify emergency response teams if it ‘sees’ any victims trapped underneath rubble. Likewise, if the technology advances enough, it may also play a role in finding wanted criminals and super villains, of course.


Researchers are just starting to develop the technology, but they report that the drones are already beginning to predict the behavior of other drones around them, to avoid collision. In theory, a team of drones could all work together to give emergency responders eyes in the sky. Who knows, maybe it’ll eventually project the bat signal too. We can only hope.



3. Drones that make sparks fly


The view of the fireworks from the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+


If you’re a filmmaker, you may want to consider the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. It’s a drone that comes equipped with a 1080p built-in camera and three-way brushless gimbal to capture crisp, stable footage anywhere, any time – even during a live fireworks show.


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see fireworks from the sky? Jos Stinglingh wondered too, and programmed his DJI Phantom 2 to check out the local fireworks, by hovering directly above them.


Stinglingh strapped a GoPro Hero 3 to his drone and programmed it to fly directly above the fireworks show, while the camera caught all of the action (in 4K, of course). The view is spectacular and the video, titled “Fireworks filmed with a drone,” can be found on YouTube.


The flying machine was able to maneuver through the fire-filled sky without being burnt to a crisp. The newest version of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision can fly pre-programmed routes, programmable right from your smartphone. If you’ve ever wondered what fireworks look like from the sky, now you know. Thanks Stinglingh.  



4. Project Tango


UPenn straps Google’s Project Tango to drone to make smart drone


We can’t talk about up-and-coming technology without mentioning Google. Thankfully, this project wasn’t conducted by Google’s team of world-conquering henchmen. Instead, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab took Google’s Project Tango and experimented to see if it could be incorporated into a drone to create a smart drone that could respond to its environment.


Google’s Project Tango is a mobile device that includes a motion-tracking camera, depth sensors and vision processors to create a 3-dimentional map of its surroundings. Researchers figured that if the technology could be incorporated into a drone, the drone would have a 3D map of its surroundings and easily maneuver around obstacles in a room. While they are still in the developing stages of the project, it is showing short successes thus far.



5. Hexo+


If you’re an extreme sport enthusiast, you may want to check out the Hexo+ drone – your friendly, robot filmmaking team. Now you can will be recorded live every time you pop a wheelie; oh technology.

Hero+ is a drone that is programmed to follow the signal from your cell phone and capture your every move on the GoPro camera. It comes equipped with a stabilizing gimbal and travels up to 43mph. Yeah, it’s pretty sweet.

If you’ve already got a GoPro camera, a basic Hexo+ will set you back $500. Well worth it for the endless possibilities. Who needs a production team to record their home music videos when you can hire a drone? Let the YouTube floodgates open with videos that didn’t need to happen.

The Hexo+ is expected to ship to backers as early as May 2015.

6. Airdog


Speaking of drones that capture your every move, let’s talk about Airdog. This drone takes it’s inspiration from canines, as they faithfully follow their owners everywhere. Airdog follows its controller everywhere, capturing their wicked kickflips and rail slides. For a sizable $1500.


AirDog is also based on the GoPro camera and has some nifty bells and whistles. The drone has a specific feature that detects where you are and always keeps the camera on you, whether you’re jamming on at karaoke or base jumping.


The drone also features a stabilizing gimbal and in flight, it’s fast enough to keep up with your rounds on your dirt bike. It was specifically designed for extreme sports and it is completely waterproof and built to take a beating. If that wasn’t enough, it is foldable. Simply put it in your pocket and take it out right before your hang ten. Oh yeah. The babes will totally dig it.



7. Chocolate drone

chocolate drone.png

If you’re a pretty big fan of recycling and sweet treats, you’re going to love the next drone. What happens when a drone meets chocolate? You get the chocodrone.


The chocodrone is actually made by recycling old chocolate bars and attaching the yummy goodness to the body of a drone. Obviously, it adds to the weight of the unmanned flying machine (just like chocolate adds to the volume of your midsection), so this drone flies a little slower than the rest. Nonetheless, keep up with your fitness by chasing it around your backyard and seeing if you can catch the bar. Delish! 



8. Drone for the accident-prone


If you’re accident-prone, you’ll want to consider the Gimball – a drone encased in a rollcage that keeps it safe from the cruel, cruel world.


The GimBall is a tough cookie. Its rollcage prevents the drone from breaking when it knocks into hard surfaces. The secret is the flexible cage, which features a rubber bumper and its structure is composed of ball bearings that absorb impact.


The rollcage itself hovers above the drone’s propellers and rotates around the drone in a way that ensures the camera footage remains stable and high quality. There’s talk about sending this drone to dangerous areas to catch footage. What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas.



9. Unmanned Helicopter Delivers Unmanned Car


We can’t talk about unmanned aircraft without mentioning the military. This year, the military is taking its technology to the next level with the help of Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center.


For the new project, NREC is teaming up with Sikorsky, a military aircraft supplier, to create an unmanned helicopter than can carry an unmanned vehicle to disaster sites. The idea is that the helicopter will take the unmanned car to areas that may be contaminated with toxic substances. Once on the ground, the car can detect poisonous toxins and notify emergency responders.


The project is being conducted over the next 18 months and rumor has it that it’s only the beginning of military drone technology. Eventually, the unmanned chopper will be expected to transport soldiers and supplies to and from the battlefield during various operations, potentially sparing the lives of the pilots in extreme circumstances.  Now that’s worthwhile.



10. Hate drones? No problem.


While this isn’t a drone, it’s worth a mention. If you aren’t a big fan of the unmanned flying machines, you’ll love The Personal Drone Detection System, which notifies you when a peeping drone if within 50 feet of your home.


The PDDS is currently on Kickstarter and lets you know when a consumer drone if flying nearby. It scans the atmosphere of your home via Wi-Fi and notifies you of any moving transmitters (although not all moving transmitters are drones). It notifies users of suspected drones by sounding an alarm or sending a message to their mobile devices, even if they’re on the go.


The unit goes for $499 and is still largely in the development stage. The company claims that with funding it’ll perfect the technology and backers will be the first to know when unwanted drones are a little too close for comfort. It does not, however, block the signal to the drone or deter its flight; it simply lets you know that it’s there so you can ready your rifle. Well, don't do that!

Although they did not reach their kickstarter goal, the system is still on its way!




Drones aren’t good or bad; they just are. Sure, some rain tear gas from the sky, but others serve as caring dog walkers. Technology isn’t good or bad, but devices do reflect their designers, and we can all agree with the developers behind Desert Wolf’s Skunk have some serious issues. Watch the skies! 



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Wheelchairs for feet? Nope, but Wile E. Coyote would be proud. (via ACTION)


Wile E. Coyote has to be one of the most hard working cartoon characters in history. He is renowned for coming up with the most preposterous ideas and contraptions in order to catch the ever-elusive Road Runner. When conventional tactics failed (like planting stop signs), he turns to the Acme corporation to help him catch the bird using crazy devices or contraptions such as the Acme Super Outfit (thought he could actually fly like Superman), Acme Bumblebees (supposed to incapacitate the bird) and rocket-powered roller-skates, which usually leaves him sailing over a cliff edge or slammed into a boulder.

Now, thanks to inventor Peter Treadway and his company ACTON, we can relive those crazy antics in real-life with their R-series RocketSkates. Unlike the Coyote’s skates, these are not propelled by solid-fuel rockets strapped to your feet but rather two hub-motors for each skate. Those hub-motors are controlled by an onboard microprocessor that is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs.

To prevent the skates from traveling faster or slower than the other (truly causing a Wile E. Coyote incident), they communicate with one another wirelessly via Bluetooth to maintain behavior. That wireless connections is also used by an included app that features a dashboard with pertinent information such as how many miles have been traveled (odometer), a convenient battery meter as well as skate diagnostic information for handling any issues that may arise. The app also features route-tracking information to see the route that has been traveled and load that information to social sites for friends and family to follow.

Users can even control their skates wirelessly while wearing them or not, including using them for RC fun using mounted cameras or cruising when your feet get tired. Controlling the skates is actually done using your feet alone, just like regular skates but the extra benefit of controlling them through a smartphone gives them more versatility. Using them is similar to using regular skates and starts be determining which foot is your lead-foot (normally the one you push off with). The lead skate then tells the follower what to do in terms of speed, direction and orientation.

Next, users press a function button on the back of each skate, which starts the brushless hub-motors. LED indicators let users know when the skates are ready to go and are synced with one another. At this point users simply roll to engage the motors. Speed is increased or decreased by shifting weight to the forward or heel of the lead skate, which will instruct the other skate to do the same. The R-series RocketSkates consist of three models that are identical but feature increased distances and time ranges that it takes to travel that distance.

The all travel at the same speed of 12Mph, however the R6 has a max distance of 6-miles, while the R8 has an 8-mile range and the R10 a 10-mile range respectively. The ACTON R RocketSkates are being crowd-funded through Kickstarter and has already surpassed their goal of $50,000 with over $200,000 and over 30 days left to go. Those interested in getting their hands on the skates can pledge $399 and up but they probably won’t let you catch the illusive Road Runner anytime soon.


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Illustration of Bashir’s new walking bio-bot (via University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed one of the first classes of “bio-bots” that can walk. They are also some of the first biological robots to give bioengineers full control over their motion.

If you aren’t freaked out about the prospect of 3D-printed organs, surely this will send a tingle down your spine. A new class of biological robots, developed by Abel Bliss Professor Rashid Bashir, Head of Bioengineering at U of I, and his team of researchers developed a biological robot to stimulate the muscle-tendon-bone phenomena naturally expressed in the body. In effect, it moves on demand.


The bio-bot is made from skeletal muscle cells and 3D-printed hydrogel. Skeletal muscle is unique, in that it only responds to electric pulses. Others muscle cells, such as heart cells, contract on their own, giving researchers limited control of their function. Skeletal muscle cells, on the contrary, only respond on command.


The new bot is constructed by stretching skeletal muscle cells across a 3D-printed board made from hydrogel. The board is flexible and is held upright by two posts, which act as legs. Since the hydrogel is flexible, it allows the robot to walk. The faster the electric pulse, the faster it walks.

The structure is something Bashir has been working on for years. In 2012, he and his team of researchers created a bio-bot that could walk, but it was based on the heart cells of rats. Since heart cells contract automatically, there was no way of controlling their speed. Hence, Bashir went back to the drawing board and voile, the new bot was born.


Although they’re arguably creepy, biological robots may soon play an incredibly important role in environmental maintenance. Bio-bots are designed to respond to a particular stimulus. Bashir plans to design bots that detect, follow and neutralize particular toxins. The result? An environmental crew made of up 1cm-long biological robots. Sorry convicts, no community service hours here.


Bashir is working on making the bio-bots responsive to different stimuli. He is also working on controlling the direction in which the bots walk, making it possible to coordinate thousands towards a single purpose. If biochemists get their hands on the robots, these compact contraptions may also respond to national emergencies. The possibilities are endless.


The technology is still in the developing stages, but this won’t be the last you hear of it. Before long, bio-bots could be the first on the scene of oil spills, biochemical attacks and more. Who knows, maybe Bashir will even design bots that kill those ruthless Giant African Snails that destroy our gardens. We can only hope.  



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We’ve never been much for slow technology. Imagine reading the headline “slowest robot in the world unveiled,” and surely yawns will follow. That’s why two new running robot designs were just released. The Outrunner and Raptor robots can run at 20mph or more, perfect for carrying weapons or stealing old ladies’ purses.


The first whizzing robot is Robotics Unlimited’s OutRunner. This robot has a unique running style, as its body stays in place while spokes with legs rotate on either side of it, giving it the ability to run quickly without compromising balance.


The OutRunner is one of the fastest remote-controlled robots in the world. The speed demon clocks in at 20mph on average, standalone, but it was once recorded at 45mph. In trials, the little robot showed its skills in running over grass, dirt, bumpy terrain and uphill without breaking a sweat. The secret is in the science.


OutRunner’s design was based on biology. The designers figured that the lower the center of mass, the better the balance – and it worked. OutRunner’s center of mass is below the axis of the spokes of its legs, enabling it to exhibit buoyancy and stability as it runs.


The supersonic electronic relies on a rechargeable battery for its boost and it can run for two hours on every charge. The robot’s legs store kinetic energy, so a lot of the energy required to make the bot speed down the runway comes from the laws of physics.


OutRunner comes in two models: a 1.5 foot tall, 3lb robot with six legs and a 2 foot tall, 12-legged monster that weighs 5 lbs and comes with an HD camera. The robot is remote-controlled and users can also track the bot’s performance using an app.


Robotics Unlimited missed the mark on its Kickstarter campaign, but we’re sure to see these guys again. While OutRunner is a speed demon, it isn’t the fastest bot in town. The Raptor is even giving Cheetah quite a scare.



Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology were also inspired by nature to create one of the fastest robots in the industry. The Raptor robot was designed to mimic the speed, agility and balance of the velociraptor dinosaur. This vicious predator relied on its tail for balance and hind legs for speed and strength – as does the robot.


The Raptor is almost as fast as DARPA’s Cheetah at 28.58mph, but features a simpler design. The robot is biped and its legs connect directly to a carbon-fiber blade. The legs are also fitted with springs that act as tendons. The Raptor’s pole-like tail plays an important part in balancing the bot and swings from side to side as it runs.


The Raptor is one of the most lightweight running robots, but it’s still under construction. The robot must still be connected to a machine to remain upright at top speed, but developers are working on making the bot standalone without sacrificing speed.


Outside of just being cool, running robots are of high interest to the military. Having a speedy, remote-controlled robot means more precise attacks without putting soldiers in harm’s way. There has even been talk about swapping out human soldiers for humanoid robots with artificial intelligence.


This is far from the last that we’ll see of running robots. For a terrifying experience, look up DARPA & Boston Dynamics' WildCat. Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to meet this life-sized feline as an enemy of the state.


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…….or traveling to various inter-office meetings. (via TOPJOY on right and engadget on left)


People riding Segway’s can be found in almost every city on the planet. Some cops even use them to conduct patrols with, usually during outdoor activities where horses and MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Proof) vehicles are tough to navigate through. Sure, the Segway is a great ride but it’s still too expensive for most users and why use two wheels for transportation when you can have one?

‘Less is more’ as the saying goes, which probably why there is a new contender for the absurd powered transportation crown in the form of Chinese company TOPJOY’s Pinwheel powered unicycle. The Pinwheel has a few advantages over the Segway, including being ultra-portable as the unit weighs in at 20lbs. and can be broken down into a compact carrying case, complete with convenient handle. It also has a more affordable price point, with an estimated MSRP of only $295. A rechargeable Li-ion battery that has a roughly four-hour ‘ride’ time before needing to be re-juiced powers the unicycle, which also has a top speed of about 14-Mph.

Mobile device users will appreciate the fact that the battery pack also has a USB port to charge their devices while on-the-go. As you can imagine, learning to ride the Pinwheel unicycle is a difficult thing to do, even if it wasn’t powered but it works on the same principle. To go forward, lean forward and to travel backward, well that needs no explanation. Turning is done by leaning to the sides, although you probably wouldn’t want to attempt that at full speed during your first ride. It does however, come with a set of training wheels to help users get a better handle on their unicycling skills and in a myriad of colors to suit users tastes. TOPJOY unveiled the Pinwheel at this year’s Computex electronics show, however the company was shopping it out to potential buyers, so it is uncertain as to if and when it might hit the market. See the full video here...


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Marco Tempest and EDI at TED2014 (via TED & Marco Tempest)


Any fans of Artificial Intelligence films can validate the human fear that robots will one day overtake our world, when and if robots ever gain the capacity to think. One man expanded upon this theory and built a robot that mimics the human body gestures that he believes would make robots seem human. Meet Marco Tempest’s EDI.


EDI (pronounced Eddie) stands for Electronic Deceptive Intelligence. It is a robot created by Tempest, a techno-illusionist, that is meant to emulate humans in a way that develops trust. Tempest argues that humans build trust with one another based on a number of factors that include facial expressions and body language. If robots can exhibit faces and body movements similar to humans, they can gain our trust, although “deceptively.”


Tempest presented EDI at TED2014 as a concept. The robot is pretty box-like, but it does exhibit some realistic features, such as seven-axis arms, a 360-degree sonar detection system and a screen for a face, which can show different cartoon-like facial expressions. Tempest intended for the robot to be able to scan its surroundings, like a person, and execute an appropriate response – AKA, think.


Tempest has received a lot of criticism from people claiming that EDI is not technologically advanced enough to pull the wool over our eyes. Well, duh. Sure it’s no Robogirl aesthetically speaking, but if people catch the concept behind what Tempest is saying, we may need to reexamine our dependency on body language for character analysis as a society – or rather, consider how robot interactions would change.


While it is highly improbable that robots will ever exhibit creative or imaginative thought (or so we hope), what makes EDI’s “thought patterns” any different than our own? We see a stimulus and respond in one of a handful of ways, almost every time. If robots can mimic this pattern, they appear to us as predictable and trustworthy, according to Tempest. It is what he calls electronic deceptive intelligence.


Tempest also argues that technology in our world today is synonymous with magic, as it makes the impossible possible. A far stretch (depending on which philosopher you ask, of course), but what would happen if robots and humans became indistinguishable? Tempest, at the very least, is attempting to answer that question.



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Render - The Scribble Pen inside its customized case (via Scribblepen)

There is an innovative product about to hit the market, exclusively on Kickstarter, that may revolutionize the way we see and think about color. The Scribble Pen allows users to capture any color in the world around them or online, and use that color on paper, real-time. If you’re an artist, you may be salivating at the moment, as this is the first and only product of its kind.


The Scribble Pen is essentially a high-tech, compact, inkjet printer with an ARM 9 processor that allows you to duplicate the colors around you real-time. However, this little gadget goes well beyond the scope of what any printer can do.


The Scribble Pen’s ARM 9 processor allows it to gather and interpret data from the 16-bit RGB sensor. It then uses five refillable ink cartridges to duplicate the captured color and make it ready to use on paper, in moments. If that isn't cool enough, the Scribble Pen has 1GB of storage, a micro USB port, and features Bluetooth 4.0. Users can store up to 100,000 colors on the internal drive. They can also export their custom color palettes to any device with a micro USB port. Using Bluetooth, the Scribble Pen can sync directly to mobile devices via the Scribble+ mobile app.


Scribble is also offering a cheaper Scribble Stylus that allows you to capture colors using a 16-bit RGB sensor. Then, the stylus can draw digitally via a tablet or mobile device, ditching the paper and printing capabilities. For artistic purposes, scribble also offers a variety of pen tips to suit your artistic fancy.


All in all, the Scribble Pen and Scribble Stylus are the most vast, compact coloring-boxes in the world. The 16-bit RGB sensor and five refillable ink cartridges allows users to reproduce up to 16 million colors accurately. Can you imagine the size of that crayon box?


Whether you are a gadget connoisseur, on the hunt for a perfect birthday present for your niece or nephew, or a professional artist, the Scribble Pen is sure to impress.


A video of the Scribble Pen in action has yet to be released, so stay tuned for the launching of the Kickstarter campaign to see if this product lives up to the hype.



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MIT’s Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRLs): Because everybody needs extra limbs. (via MIT)

Scientists have already designed some interesting robotic prosthetics for people with disabilities, including some that can be controlled by the user’s brain. However, what about those of us who just want to have some extra limbs to help us through every-day, monotonous, tough, difficult tasks?

Researchers from MIT have us covered with their new Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRLs), which were designed to do just that, actually there are two versions designed for certain tasks. For example, there are shoulder-mounted SLRs for doing work over the wearer’s head or for performing work where an extra pair of hands would come in handy, such as hanging sheets of drywall or hanging heavy ceiling tiles. The SLRs feature two arms whose reaction-forces are aligned with the wearer’s spine, making them able to bear weight.

Each features 5-DOF and are interchangeable with customized arm attachments for different jobs. While the arms are indeed useful, getting them to function without using your own was a different ball game altogether. Instead of connecting directly with the wearer’s nervous system through the spine (like in the movie), it uses sensors to ‘predict’ the movements of the user. Situated on the wearer’s wrists are a pair of IMUs that monitors movement and a third, which is housed beneath the shoulder mount, tracks the orientation and overall motion of the SRLs.


The arms garner movement data from learning the wearer’s motions while performing certain tasks. The learning model is then combined with the data gathered from the gyro and accelerometer IMUs to make the predicted movements. The end result is surprisingly effective and is executed in almost real-time. The researchers are also working on a waist-mounted version for holding objects as well as acting as a brace to provide stability in awkward positions, much like a second set of legs. Strangely enough, Boeing (and other companies) is a leading sponsor of the SRL project and hopes that the robotic limbs will help its aging workforce of aircraft builders from being injured while on the job. No matter what their intended use is, we can all benefit from them even if it’s a life of crime.


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The DEKA Arm System (via DEKA)

In an effort to alleviate much of the difficulty experienced by upper-limb amputees, DEKA Research and Development recently created one of the most realistic prosthetic arms ever devised. Dubbed the “Luke Arm” (after Luke Skywalker’s highly-advanced prosthetic), the arm has already been approved by the FDA and DEKA is currently researching the probability of successfully bringing it to market.


The Luke Arm, or the DEKA Arm System, is part of an initiative through DARPA to improve prosthetic technology for amputees. Under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, DEKA and Johns Hopkins University received a grand total of $100 million for the development of prosthetic technology, $40 million of which went to DEKA.


The DEKA Arm System is battery-powered and DEKA claims it is roughly the same weight as a natural human arm. It can successfully handle small, delicate, large and heavy objects and gives users some of the most authentic freedom of movement of all prosthetics. It features 10 arm movements and six various grip options.


The arm relies on electromyogram electrodes for commands. EMGs pick up information based on the electrical activity that takes place on the skin’s surface, typically through the contraction of muscles. The DEKA Arm System uses these signals to issue commands to the arm, along with switches located on the user’s feet that wirelessly transmit commands to the arm as well.


The arm was primarily designed by Dean Kamen, the same inventor who brought us the Segway, and his hard work shows. The arm is capable of executing all types of functions, including opening letters, handling uncooked eggs and utilizing power tools. Kamen and his team designed the arm with functionality inmind, and the final product mimics real hand movement.


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The DEKA Arm System (via DEKA)


The device looks exactly like a human arm, complete with plastic fingernails. The machinery powering the arm is covered by a translucent, grayish plastic. While this design doesn’t exactly make it easy for users to hide the fact that they are wearing a prosthetic, it sure does beat a metal hook.


To test the waters, DEKA launched a clinical trial with a study group of 36 upper arm amputees from the military. In the study, participants were asked to perform a number of tasks, including brushing their hair, using keys, holding small objects, eating and more; 90 percent of whom did so successfully. After eight years of development, the FDA finally approved the prosthetic prototype.

The Luke Arm has come a long way since the first, robot-like prosthetic prototype. Kamen designed the prototype to function as closely to normal human movement as possible to give those with upper arm amputations a portion of their freedom back.


DEKA is currently looking into options for mass production in an effort to bring the technology to market affordably. There is no word on when the prosthetic is expected to hit the market. While we wait, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has designed a prosthetic of its own, but this guy isn’t for consumer usage (see following blog)..


This Space Arm Catches Debris


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EPFL’s robotic arm


The Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL just announced its newest robotic invention – a robotic arm that can catch objects mid-air in the blink of an eye. This product isn’t for your average consumer, but it does have important implications for space, where it may be tasked with keeping idle debris away from our planet.


The robotic hand stands 1.5 meters tall. It features three joints and four fingers. When resting, it sits with its palm open and remains completely still, until it spots a falling object. Inspired by human catching abilities, the robot will calculate the trajectory of a nearby falling object and it can catch it in five hundredths of a second, the same time it takes us to blink.

The Swiss Space Center added the robot to its Clean-mE project, an initiative to clean space debris caught in earth’s gravitational pull. Plans include securing the arm to a satellite and seeing if it can successfully catch objects moving at a gingerly pace in space. There are plans for using the arm here on Earth, too.


While far off, there is talk about using the technology to catch falling people (perhaps those who fall off scaffolding) and to prevent automobile accidents from flying road debris in autonomous cars. Perhaps one day it will even be used to catch approaching missiles. Only time will tell.


Whether it’s catching people or asteroids, this space arm is really expanding the concept of what robotic arms can do. If we’re lucky, maybe a home version of EPFL’s arm will hit the market with the sole purpose of swatting flies. We can only hope.



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