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NASA created self-driving 'swarmie' robots that could explore extraterrestrial life one day (via NASA)


A small group of NASA engineers and interns, including Kurt Leucht, Gil Montague, and Karl Stollieis, have been testing a new concept, which is expected to become a new trend in robotic space exploration for years to come. Of course, the team has just been starting a long line of tests for viability before continuing to develop these and other robots, but the viability tests have been promising so far.


Whether or not humans will be able to travel to nearby planets in the near-future remains uncertain due to time and resource constraints. However, these new breed of robot space explorers could do a fantastic job of exploring space on behalf of mankind. In the future, these NASA researchers even expect that these robots can help ascertain extraterrestrial conditions and find food and materials for astronauts during manned expeditions.


The NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been hosting test from the swarmies in the parking lot. The best innovation on these space explorers in relation to others like Curiosity, the Mars rover, is the sleek, cheap, and single-purpose design. While NASA has previously focused on building probes and robot explorers stuffed with the most costly, latest technology, this new project is focused on building a line of cheap, easy to build and replace explorer robots that work together to complete tasks. Their basis function is to look for interesting and valuable material like ice-water and collect samples.


In order to complete these tasks, these robots are basically built like remote controlled cars. Their tech is very basis, only including a webcam, a Wi-Fi antenna, and a GPS system. The swarmies are meant to mimic the amazing bioengineering of ants who work together to accomplish great things. Swarmies are programed to spread out and randomly scour terrain for preprogrammed things of interest. Once they find something, they signal to the other swarmies via radio technology to come and help it collect a sample. While the team has only build a few swarmies for testing, they have a simulator which can simulate the effect of the existing code and hardware with a horde of swarmies on the job.


For now, the swarmies are programmed to find barcodes on slips of paper, scattered throughout a parking lot, but they could be used for much for in the future and the first signs are good. The team is also working on a snake like robot that could explore sub-terrain and underwater life on Jupiter's moons.


Even if these robots aren't helpful on other plants, they could help earthlings lead successful search and rescue missions, and even help engineers check large spans of pipes for leaks.



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Poochi has been available in Japan and the USA for 2 years but now it has Nintendo 3DS capabilities. (via Nintendo)

Oh, Japanese robot toys... they are at it again and back with a vengeance, it seems. Coming to the market is an old idea recycled for the new age of smart-everything. While Poochi, the robot dog, has already been on the market in Japan and the USA for two years now, it has been updated with new tricks and is fully compatible with the Nintendo 3DS.


Sega Toys has given Poochi adorable characteristics, like the ability to translate barking into Japanese through the 3DS... I hope the 3DS then translates it into English though. Poochi can also sing and dance, which seems to be the most important functionality of any Japanese robot toy. Finally, another cool feature is Poochi's ability to play rock-paper-scissors and a variety of other mini-games via Nintendo's 3DS.


Poochi is just one of many robot toys featured at the 2014 Tokyo Toy Show. Another awesome, and very realistic, robot pet is also from Sega Toys but has yet to hit the market. It is called the Dream Cat Celeb, and there are also versions of a chick and a puppy that you can pet. These toys are meant to react like real pets. For instance, the Dream Cat gets angry if you touch its tail and has realistic facial expressions as you pet it and interact. Of course, it cannot be confused with a real cat, but it is a very impressive attempt. The Dream Cat is also made to feel like a real cat and weights about the same. It doesn't seem to sing and dance like Poochi, but I would be scared if a cat did that. Well, I would either be scared, or a rich, YouTube sensation.


This new line of realistic robot toys has yet to hit the market due to further development plans by Sega Toys. For now, you can play video games with your robot dog and dance to Japanese pop tunes to your heart's content for about $58.



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Sproutling Baby Monitor and iOS app interface (via Sprouting Baby)


Sproutling recently launched its pre-order campaign for what it calls the “world’s smartest baby monitor,” which learns the natural habits of a child and lets parents know when they can relax or need to tend to the baby. Maybe Sproutling should also call it the nanny robot. 


Sproutling has been working on raising funds for the campaign since last year and after securing $2.7 million in investments, the design team got to work to create something sensational.


Sproutling claims its Baby Monitor is the smartest in the world because it “learns”  the habits and tendencies of a particular child. The device will track the sleeping patterns, feeding habits and environment of a child and create predictions for when he or she should be hungry based on his or her normal schedule and preferences.


Sproutling’s Baby Monitor, like other “smart” baby monitors, also keeps track of a child’s health vitals. Unlike other monitors, however, Sproutling’s Baby Monitor will “learn” a child’s normal vital range and only notify parents if heart rate, respiration and other vitals are outside of what’s considered “normal” for their child.


Another cool feature of the “smartest” baby monitor is that it gives parents real-time updates on the status of their child. The app will predict how many minutes mom has until her baby wakes up and also predicts the mood in which she will be. If something is wrong, dad will receive a push notification via his iOS app. More than anything, it helps parents rest easy that their child is safe and sound.


The monitor is secured with a strap around baby’s leg. The monitor itself is designed to be choke-resistant and the strap fits children of various ages and sizes. The wearable is also made of medical-grade silicone and is both hypoallergenic and safe to wash in the washing machine. The smart device charges wirelessly and the charger doubles as an environmental sensor. The device also knows if it has fallen off of baby.


Sproutlings Baby Monitor will retail for $250 until pre-orders have been filled, and then will retail for $299 – a small price to pay for peace of mind and a vote of confidence that says you can hit the snooze button at least two more times before baby wakes up. Thank God for technology. 



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The SEFT-1 going en-route through Mexico’s abandoned railway documenting the sights and the people. (via Ivan Puig and Padilla Domene)

Artists Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene are making an epic journey for a very interesting cause in their homemade vehicles.


As part of an artistic project, Puig and Domene decided that they were going to document the effect that the closing of a railway between Mexico City and the Atlantic has on the surrounding communities. Many of these communities are isolated as a result of the closing because they don’t have road, rail or air alternatives.To fulfil this project, the artists needed a vehicle that could run on, between, and off the railroad tracks. So, they set about creating a part car, part rail-car, part space probe that could handle the task. They call it the Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, or SEFT-1 for short.

Not only can this futuristic device runs on the road, on tracks, and between tracks, it can also take pictures, footage, and data from the surrounding area. They also use the vehicle to capture interviews from town locals. Some of this data is uploaded to their website so you can see where their vehicle has been. The footage will also be formally presented as an exhibition piece in London’s Furtherfield exhibit open to the public from the 21st of June to the 27th of July 2014.


I am personally really excited to see the footage and pictures from the project. There is something alluring about towns that time forgot that I find really exciting. I suppose it is because it is the closest, most economical, time machine. It also highlights how important transit was in shaping society. Towns without the privilege of nearby rail, roads, or airports got left behind.

However, considering the lopsided ideologies of modern society, perhaps this isn’t a horrible thing. Check out Puig’s and Domene’s exhibit to find out!

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe from The Arts Catalyst on Vimeo.


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Shots of the Origami bot in action folding from flat, to a walking stance. (via Wyss Institute/Harvard)

The same team of MIT and Wyss Institute Harvard students that demo’ed a self folding inch worm at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) are taking their designs to the next level with an Origami robot. S. Felton, M. Tolley, E. Demaine, D. Rus, and R. Wood have recently published a paper in Science that outlines this interesting progress in low-cost, high-functionality robots.


Creating robots which can alter their phase states is a hot topic at the moment, as MIT researchers recently created a squishy bot that can turn from hard to soft. This Origami robot can also phase change, which allows it to fold itself. However, this robot goes a step further by being simple to create and fully autonomous. While this technology has a long way to go before it can be applied, these researchers think their Origami robots can have tons of practical applications in harsh terrains like space, extraterrestrial planet exploration, and search and rescue. It's ability to shape shift and change autonomously gives it the advantage of being able to get into hard to reach places without needing trained engineers or rocket scientists around.


The design of this robot is amazingly simple and cheap to produce. The team basically printed copper circuits onto a layer of PCB in the middle of the self-folding robot 'paper.' Two layers of paper then sandwich the layer of PCB, and a layer of Polystyrene (Shrink dinks) is placed on either side of the paper layers; thus creating a 5 layer 'shape-memory composite' that utilizes copper circuitry and polymers to allow it to fold. This is then laser cut into an Origami bot shape with dynamic and self-folding hinges and is ready for the final assembly. A microcontroller with batteries attached is then added to control the circuitry. The micro controller is pre-conditioned to know how to apply heat throughout the circuits to fold itself and walk away. This process is currently very power-hungry: depleting a whole AA battery in one go. However, the team is confident that they could utilize different materials to make the process easier and less energy intensive.


Perhaps they should team up with the squishy bot team to create something truly magical. For now, this prototype is promising as it marks one of the first phase-changing robots that can be mass-produced and deployed with little to no robotics experience.




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Promo of the Beacon tech (via indoors)

I love technology that actually helps people. I had almost lost all hope after seeing a selfie toaster, but humanity has won over my heart again. and San Francisco Airport are collaborating together to realize the first beacon system to help the blind navigate around the airport.


The technology was first demonstrated at the San Francisco Airport on July 31, 2014 with help from The Lighthouse for the Blind. There are currently about 300 beacons installed in the San Francisco Airport which communicate via Bluetooth to any nearby smartphones running the app. The app currently only runs on Apple iOS, but is expected to have an Android version released soon.


As a smartphone user walks through the terminal, nearby beacons give information about where the user is and what facilities are available in the area. The app uses Apple Voiceover technology to allow blind users to ask for directions to areas of interest, like the nearest bathroom. Beacons are also supposed to alert users as to when they are approaching a security checkpoint and pull up their boarding pass information automatically. 


What is the best part? The technology is very affordable and seemingly easy to replicate, but it makes a huge impact for the blind community. Each beacon costs about $20 and runs on battery power. However, the batteries are expected to last for 4 years! While this technology is already made available for the blind community, SFO and expect to continue developing the app and make it available to everyone. In May, London's Heathrow Airport is testing its competing technology created by Estimote using Apple's iBeacon technology.


Whichever technology becomes adopted first is less important than airports adopting it soon - making life easier for the blind. I already find it hard to navigate in busy and expansive airports, I can't possibly imagine what it's like to navigate around an airport blind! Kudos to and SFO for seizing an opportunity to create some high tech innovations that bring wonderful opportunities into people's lives.



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Hitchbot waiting for a ride! (via Hitchbot's Instagram)


This is a zany and fun pet project that is sweeping Canada and catching a lot of attention. University researchers David Harris Smith and Frauke Zeller created Hitchbot, a hitchhiking robot that is making an epic journey across Canada. This project is supposedly supposed to determine whether or not robots can trust humans. That may be what they said on their grant applications, but I suspect that they just wanted cute pictures of strangers helping a robot cross the country. However, this project does make me wonder about whether or not humans would actually help humans in this way. I suspect this is a project with more research into sociology, as opposed to commuting.


Hitchbot looks pretty adorable in his yellow gloves and spotted rain boots. Other people seem to think so as well, since Hitchbot's twitter feed is full of friendly strangers hosting Hitchbot for a night at a diner, and more. Hitchbot's journey takes it from Halifax to Victoria, British Colombia: a 4000 mile journey! Hitchbot is already over half-way there. In his final voyage, Hitchbot will take a ferry ride.

The Hitchbot website tells strangers how to care for Hitchbot and where his next drop-off point is located. The website and social media also track Hitchbot's progress and uploads pictures and tweets from Hitchbot. Hitchbot takes a photo every 30 minutes and uploads it to social media along with a personalized tweet.

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A snapshot of Hitchbot getting a ride across the country from a tweet on Hitchbot's live feed (via Hitchbot's twitter stream)


Hitchbot also utilizes voice recognition to have a conversation with anyone lucky enough to give him a ride. He is also fully capable of babbling nonsense to himself when he cannot process what is being said to him. In either case, I'm sure it makes for an entertaining trip.


Inside Hitchbot's garbage can-like body, a tablet and Arduino power Hitchbot's capabilities. Hence, he isn't able to move, but he can sure talk up a storm and post to Twitter. The project is sponsored by an impressive number of funders who wanted to ensure Hitchbot a safe journey with his loveable LED grin. Take a look at Hitchbot's Twitter feed. It's sure to make you smile:



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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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