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Robotics

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RoboHon may not be practical, but it is the most adorable smartphone on the market (via Robohon - Sharp)


Everyone loves their smartphone: it's reliable, convenient, and great for killing time on the bus. But how much better would it be if it looked like a robot? Introducing Sharp's RoboHon, the smartphone that looks like a robot and yes, it is adorable. Designed by Tomotaka Takahashi, it has standard phone features, such as cameras for facial recognition and built in voice recognition, but there are other advanced features gadget enthusiasts will love. There's a projector, a 2-inch screen on its back, connects to LTE, animated arms and legs, and it even talks and dances. Talk about a phone that does everything!

 

And if you're the type of person who never checks their message, this little guy will let you know when you have a new message. Those who can never get up out of bed may love or hate, that RoboHon will also be your chatty alarm clock. Though it looks pretty petite, it's actually not that small (standing at 19.5 cm) or that light; it weighs roughly 390 grams, which seems to go against the notion of phones getting smaller and lighter. Seeing this guy on your desk is sure to put a smile on your face, but is it really practical? How comfortable is it going to be trying to hold this up to your face? When this was brought about to Takahashi, he responded with the following:

 

“Practicality means a lot of different ways. Our smartphone is practical, most of the use is for fun, but we treat it as practical. I think RoboHon is similar.”

 

RoboHon was put in action this past Tuesday at the Ceatec electronics show outside of Tokyo. During the demonstration, the little bot responding to commands to call someone, take a picture, show the picture via the projector, and even do a little dance. Sharp even showed how RoboHon can fit snuggly in a pocket jacket. It looks like a cute little companion, but may make it too easy for phone thieves.

 

So far, no price has been announced for RoboHon, but Sharp will release more information about the new phone closer to the 2016 launch date.


Many desperately need a robot friend it seems. This one is getting closer to something useful. Connect it to your "smart" house, and that might be worth it.


C

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(image via IEEE Spectrum)


At the DARPA Robotics Challenge in Pomona, California, South Korean Team KAIST emerged victorious, taking home US $2 million with its humanoid DRC-HUBO. The robot annihilated 22 contenders by completing a series of 8 tasks in record time. It was one of three to have completed all tasks successfully.


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DRC-HUBO opening valve (image courtesy of IEEE Spectrum)


Due to recent natural disasters, DARPA has become increasingly eager for robotic emergency responders. Like the U.S. Navy’s SAFFiR, participants at this year’s Robotics Challenge were asked to build a robot that could ideally work alongside emergency responders and execute a number of difficult tasks untethered. The tasks included climbing up stairs, walking over rubble, driving a car, getting inside and outside of a car, opening a door, releasing a valve, drilling a large circle through a wall and unplugging and reconnecting a cable into a socket.


Professor Jun Jo Oh, the director of Team KAIST, said bipedal walking for robots is still challenging. To overcome this hurdle, the team fixed wheels on DRC-Hubo’s knees, allowing him to switch between bipedal walking and rolling with a lower center of gravity, making it less likely that he would fall.  Other custom features include over 30 motors that can peak at 30 amperes, environment scanning only when necessary, a rotating torso, long arms for easier task execution and running on the Linux operating system. The robot was built with the Robotics Challenge in mind and Oh estimates the cost of building a humanoid is between $500,000 and $1 million. 


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Drilling Task (image courtesy of DARPA)


Team KAIST has worked on the HUBO design for years. Professor Oh has overseen the development of four generations of HUBO. A month prior to this year’s competition, the team trained with the robot outdoors in a variety of weather conditions, including extreme sun and high winds. Oh said HUBO’s operators also needed to get comfortable pushing the humanoid to its limit, and this mentality was likely a huge factor to the team’s victory.


DRC-HUBO successfully finished all tasks in an impressive 44:22. Many other teams competed, including competitors from Japan, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea and the U.S. Only two other robots successfully completed all tasks: U.S. IHMC’s Running Man and U.S. Tartan Rescue’s CHIMP. CHIMP did fall down while performing certain tasks, but it was the only robot to get back up and try again. The teams took home US $2 million, $1 million and $500,000, respectively.


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Team KAIST celebrating victory (image courtesy of DARPA)


As expected, robotics technology is not yet developed enough to successfully build a fully biped, untethered robot that maintains perfect balance at all times. Even humans lose their balance and fall down, but for robots, such a fall could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs. This difficulty in walking, however, made for quite a hilarity at the competition, as robot after robot fell awkwardly and failed to get up. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s RoboSimian even entertained the crowd with (unintentional) dance moves.


DARPA was inspired to develop an emergency responding robot after the disaster in Fukushima, Japan. The organization envisions scenarios where humans and robots can work together to save lives in times of need. DARPA Program Manager and DRC Organizer Gill Pratt said the key factor in robotic responders is flexibility. Each disaster site is different and the needs of victims will change. Having a robot that can adapt quickly can make all of the difference. If you missed the event, check out the highlights here.

 

C

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Kalsi’s 3D LED display (video: Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi)

 

Since technology is so central in our lives, it seems only befitting that traditional artforms would fall by the wayside. With Burning Man preparing for its 2016 installations, two artists decided to show the world what one can create using light instead of fire. Architect Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi and artist Daniel Canogar recently released new LED custom light installations, quite possibly the coolest art we’ve seen in a while.

 

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Interface of art blueprint before 3D printing (image: Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi)

 

Using a 3D printer, LED lights and a lot of patience, Kalsi created a 3D-printed image using only light. By swapping the machine’s filament tubes for LED lights and capturing the Gcode of each anticipated structural angle, the architect was able to replicate his daughter’s face in his 3D printer. The structure does not last long, as a traditional installation would, but when captured on a long exposure camera, it will be a lovely gift for the young girl in years to come.

 

 

Canogar Art Reel (image: Daniel Canogar)

 

Canogar has much experience working with light displays. According to his website, the full time artist uses discarded electronics as art medium and attempts to illuminate the dark world through his lighted installations. Canogar has used computers, telephones, electrical cables, light bulbs and more to create mind-blowing art.

 

Helix (videa: Daniel Canogar)

 

His newest installation uses LED tiles and video walls to display a breath-taking scene similar to lightning or ripples on an ocean’s wave. Titled Helix, the incredible art installation is a public structure on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Quantum of the Seas meant to engage the public – allegedly an aspiration Canogar has for each of his pieces.

 

Regardless of the method, the light-infused artworks hint at a new era of sculpture to come, where someone else’s garbage can become a powerful, illuminated display for the world to see.


C

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These quadcopters can build a bridge all on their own



These mini drones in the middle of making a rope bridge

 

As technology keeps advancing, drones are proving to be useful beyond dropping packages at your doorstep. A new video filmed at RTH Zurich Flying Machine Arena shows a group of drones making a rope bridge. Aside from the scaffolding on the sides of the bridge, the rest of it is built entirely by this group of quadcopters. The structure consists of nine rope segments for a total length of 120 m and has different elements, like knots, links, and braids. While it's nowhere near strong enough to support a car, the video does show several people walking across it albeit very carefully. This demonstration was an experiment to show that diminutive air-borne drones have the ability to build load bearing structures at full scale. Will drones help construct road bridges next?

 

NASA's detect-and-avoidance system for drones proves to be a success

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The Detect-and-avoidance system makes the grade (via NASA)

 

NASA has been testing their Detect-and-Avoidance (DAA) system for drones and things are looking good so far. The latest phase of testing was recently completed using a remote controlled Ikhana aircraft equipped with DAA sensors while it flew over the Mojave desert in California. The aircraft made a total of 11 flights involving more than 200 predetermined encounters with oncoming aircraft. While most of data has yet to be fully analyzed, it was reported that the drone successfully alerted its remote pilots and performed pre-programmed moves when met with obstacles. Researchers will take the information gathered to plan for future flight tests, which are supposed to take place next spring. Though it's considered work, it must be fun flying around that aircraft.

 

 

OpenROV's latest drone travels underwater

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Explore under the sea with this drone (via Openrov)

 

Want a drone that can travel underwater? Then you may want to invest in OpenROV's latest machine. The Trident drone is a remote controlled, camera equipped underwater UAV that's currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. There's still 37 days left to go, but it's gained $543,977 in funding well beyond the $50,000 goal. It's not OpenROV's first underwater drone, but this one seems more efficient with a hydrodynamic design that allows it to slip through narrow gaps and in between rocks. It's also small enough to fit in a backpack and under a plane seat for travel. The Trident's software is open-source allowing users to add whatever capabilities they see fit though it can already do an impressive amount of things, like capture images and video of a patch of sea floor and create a 3D model of the area. If you want one you'll have to pledge $799 to get one for yourself.

 

UK drone pilot in hot water for flying over packed soccer fields

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Nigel Wilson learned the hard way to be careful where you fly (image via MET)

 

Drone enthusiasts beware, the police are watching. Over in the UK, a Nottingham resident Nigel Wilson was prosecuted for drone offenses under the Civil Aviation Authority's Air Navigation. Wilson was arrested earlier this year for flying a drone over Etihad Stadium in Manchester City. It was soon discovered Wilson broke more rules than that since he used his drone to record various soccer matches at different stadiums in the UK. He also used the machine to take in some sight seeing at London landmarks like Buckingham Palace, but it doesn't end there. Wilson also disobeyed the Air Navigation Order's rules saying drones cannot fly in congested areas, keep their craft in a direct line of sight, and stay at least 50 meters clear of buildings. Wilson plead guilty to seven offenses, has been sentenced, and ordered to pay ₤1800 ($2744) in fines and ₤600 ($915) in costs. But what will probably hurt Wilson the most is being charged with a Criminal Behavior Order, which bans him from buying, owning, and flying drones. Take this as warning to all the drones lovers out there.

 

Drone crashed US Open; teacher gets arrested

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Police patrol the stadium after a drone crash (image via the guardian)

 

And if that story didn't convince you to be careful where you fly, how about the teacher who got arrested for interrupting the US Open? During the intense tennis match a quadcopter crash landed into an empty section of the stands. Though no one was hurt it did spook the players, their family, and the crowd watching. It turns out the drone belonged to a 26-year-old teacher. It's unclear why the pilot was flying so close to the match, especially since a camera was not attached to the drone, though it might have snapped off. Typically drones are used to capture footage of sporting events, so there's a good chance that's what was going on here. With more pilots getting in trouble for flying their drones in restricted areas, authorities are getting serious when it comes to drones.

 

Qualcomm brings their smartphone technology to future drones

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Qualcomm is the next company to specialize in drones (via Qualcomm)

 

Qualcomm, a California company that designs and markets wireless telecommunications products and services, is getting into the drone business. They are gearing up to introduce their new Snapdragon Flight platform, a highly optimized 58x40mm board for consumer drones and robotic applications. Using its Snapdragon 801 processor as a basis, Flight hopes to make drone development easier by giving companies a single board for dealing with drone communications and camera technology, which is similar to their strategy with smartphones. Some of the benefits of Flight includes 4k video, support for a variety of sensors, and its quick charge technology. The platform is powered by a 2.26ghz quad core processor and Adreno 330 GPU and also has video encoding along with dual image sensor support. Flight should be hitting drones early 2016 with Chinese drone maker Yuneec the first to jump on board.

 

Bill banning drones over private property gets struck down in California

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The California bill is on hold for now (via LEG Cal)

 

California residents may want to watch the skies more carefully. A bill that would have restricted drone pilots in California has been vetoed by governor Jerry Brown. Led by state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill would have banned quadcopters from flying below 350 feet around private properties without permission of building owners. Back in August it passed both the state Assembly and the state Senate, but it received backlash from GoPro and advocacy groups related to Amazon and Google. Though it sounds good on paper, the bill has since been dismissed since it could be troublesome some to drone enthusiasts and FAA approved commercial users. Though it had good intentions it seems some more discussion about the bill have to take place before it sees the light of day.

 

Boeing's new laser shoots down drones from the sky in two seconds

This isn't a speed camera, it's a laser cannon

 

Maybe the California bill didn't pass, but this new device will sure stop drones flying where they shouldn't. The Boeing company has developed a laser cannon that can shoot down drones over significant distances. Even though it looks pretty bulky and a bit like a futuristic washing machine, the device is actually easy to use and portable. All you need are two people to set it up, an Xbox 360 controller to operate it, and up to four suitcase sized boxes for portability. Shooting down a target within two seconds after locking on to it, it's proving to be efficient. With more enthusiasts using drones, don't be surprised to see these lasers around. Drone owners remember beware of where you fly.

 

Does this chimp hate drones or just really smart?

This chimp was not happy about being filmed (via Burgers' Zoo)

 

Are these chimps suspicious of drones like so many other people? Recent footage seems to suggest so. The video shows a curious chimp at the Royal Burgers Zoo in Arnhem grab a tree branch and swing it to swat a camera equipped drone a TV crew set up to record the chimps for a documentary out of the air. But scientists are viewing as more than just the next viral video hit. In a study recently published in the journal Primates, Jan Van Hoff and Bas Lukkenaar suggests the video shows the attack was intentional and planned. The authors note “the precise coincidence of the facial grimace with the strike suggests that it is a concomitant of an assertive and determined exertion of force, homologous to what humans do in comparable situations.” By the look on the chimp's face it didn't seem too pleased about being recorded. On a related note.. I wouldn't be surprised seeing more people "droning" into zoos and such in the near future.

 

Autopilot feature finally comes to DJI's Phantom 3 drones

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Phantom 3 drones finally get a much needed upgrade (via DJI)

 

DJI is a pretty big name when it comes to consumer friendly quadcopters, but customers weren't too happy with it's Phantom line and the lack of autopilot features. Now owners can breath easy as the company announced the much needed feature is finally coming to their popular series of quadcopters and the Inspire 1. There are also new features added via a firmware update, which includes waypoints, point of interest, and follow me. The standard version of the Phantom 3 has a feature that makes it easier for the drone to fly back to you, which the advanced model gets an addition of a 2.7K camera recording option, a nice upgrade from 1080p. If you've been interested in getting one of these drones for yourself, now seems like a good time.

 

Drone surveys construction site to keep track progress and catch slackers

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Construction workers may not be able to slack off any longer (image via Golden Center and blurb via MIT)

 

This recent development isn't going to help paranoia surrounding drones. The company in charge of building the new Sacramento Kings stadium in California are using camera equipped drones operated by a company called ImageInFlight to patrol the site and collect footage of construction. The footage is then converted into 3D images and run through software developed by a team from University of Illinois. They then compare them to architectural plans and previous images to see how far along the construction is. This technology also makes it easy to see anything that's behind schedule and who needs to work harder. The fact that being watched by drones is a caused for concern hasn't gone over the software developer's head. Mani Golparver-Fard attempts to wave away fears by saying “"Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers. But you have to keep in mind that it's not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it's questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.” Either way construction workers should make sure not to take too many coffee breaks with these drones around. This one is distressing. It's just like someone watching you via day via a camera. It's creepy and intrusive.

 

C

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The military has been employing more robots and drones to help with combat for some time. Now, their latest team member is Spot, a robotic dog designed by Google owned Boston Dynamics (Google in charge of anything military? Seems wrong). The robot served as a military scout in different simulated combat drills at the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. Over the past week the bot has been put to the test and has proved itself worthy of being part of the crew. Missions Spot participated in included situations in forests, open fields, and urban environments. One scenario found the robot sent into a potentially dangerous building to examine the surrounding before Marines entered.  The bot can also peak around corner to search for enemies and offer feedback as to where potential threats are. Spot is also adept at traveling across uneven terrain.

 

Sounds impressive but how does it work? The 160 pound robot is electric powered and hydraulically actuated. Though it all sounds promising the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) believe Spot won't actually see any real combat, rather is part of an ongoing effort to recognize new roles for robots on the battlefield.

 

"We see it as a great potential for the future dismounted infantry," said Captain James Pineiro, head of Marine Corps Warfighting Lab at Quantico. "We want to continue to experiment with quadruped technology and find ways that this can be employed to enhance the Marine Corps war-fighting capabilities."

 

This isn't the first four-legged robot created by Boston Dynamics, yet is smaller version of some of their other designs, such as Big Dog. Previously, the company introduced their humanoid sized robot named Atlas, which can run through actual forests, keep its balance, and can walk on two legs. The company hopes to use the bot to help emergency service work in search and rescue missions by operating equipment where humans couldn't survive in.

 

While these robots are impressive and will be potentially useful to military services, you gotta admit they still look a little creepy. They may not be the most pretty looking bots, but they are amazing.



C

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Hadrian, a bricklaying robot by Fast Brick Robotics. With the cost of housing rising, many countries are trying to meet a demand for affordable housing. In Australia, Mark Pivac has created an automated, bricklaying robot that can answer this demand by building a brick house in only 2 days. (via Fast Brick Robotics.)


The more time passes, the more convinced I become that the movie iRobot will become like Déjà vu for future generations. Hopefully Will Smith will still be alive to save us all from robot domination… However, I must say that this robot is still pretty cool, if it can diminish the cost of housing. An inventor and engineer from Perth, Australia has created a brick-laying robot that can build the brick shell of a house in just 2 days!

 

The inventor, Mark Pivac, came up with the idea after a bricklaying crisis in Perth in 2005. Since then, he’s been trying to find a way to automate bricklaying and prevent future crises. While there continues to be a steady demand for brick building in Australia, the age of bricklayers increasing and youth are not taking up the trade. Pivac’s answer is a robot named ‘Hadrian,’ after the Roman Hadrian’s Wall which lies to the north of England. This robot can lay about 1000 bricks per hour.

 

The robot is fastened to a 28m, articulated, telescopic boom which allows it the necessary mobility to build, like a 3D printer. There is also pressurized mortar or adhesive that can be fed to the head of the robot and applied to the bricks as it lays them. More than simply laying bricks, the robot is also able to measure the bricks, cut them to the correct size, lay them in the correct sequence, and rout bricks for future electrical and piping. The robot also checks for quality along the way.

 

Hadrian works off of a 3D CAD program that creates a schematic for every brick. The program also creates code that allows the robot to cut and lay bricks in sequence, starting from a single starting brick. Hence, the process is much like the first 3D printers. Who knows what happens if it loses its place, but Pivac claims that Hadrian can build with 0.5 mm accuracy and estimates that it could build 150 houses per year. Hadrian can also work 24/7 to finish the project, so the days of arguing with construction workers may be over. Although Pivac still says that operators will be necessary, along with other workers to put in necessary comforts like electricity and water.

 

Creating Hadrian has cost a pretty penny. Pivac and his team have invested over 7 million so far on creating Hadrian under their company, Fast Brick Robotics. However, their efforts have not gone un-noticed. An investment company called Cygnet Capital Group announced their financial backing for Fast Brick Robotics in June 2015, under a conditional agreement to acquire 100 percent of the company (yikes!). Thus far Pivac and his team have received most of their financial support from federal grants and from industry leaders like Brickworks Ltd. The new backing of Cygnet should get Hadrian up and running in Western Australia and then bring their invention to the rest of the world.

 

Political leaders in Australia are hoping that inventions like Hadrian can meet the demand for affordable housing. While Pivac and the team may no longer own their company in the coming years as Cygnet Capital Group acquires it, I’m sure that we may see these bricklaying robots at constructions sites in the coming years.



C

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Is this supercomputer too good to be true? A computer in Boston can apparently diagnose patients and even predict how long they have left to live. (via bt)


Is this really useful or really creepy? Apparently a “supercomputer” that can predict when a patient will pass away has been developed in Boston. The machine housed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, uses artificial intelligence to not only map out your fate, but also diagnose conditions before doctors have the chance to. The machine monitors the patient every three minutes to measure and collect data on different variables, like oxygen levels to blood pressure. It will also gather information from their medical history and all the medication they've taken, which are then compared with more than 250,000 people's medical data from the last 30 years.

 

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but doctors stand by their claims that the machine gets accurate results: “We can predict with almost a 96% confidence that these patients will have this probability of dying – so, the computer says you’re gonna die, you’re probably going to die in the next 30 days,” said project leader Dr Steven Horng. Not only does it sound eerie, but it also seems like this computer is out to take over jobs. Horng argues this isn't the case. He reassures that the computer is there to help doctors, not to replace them.

 

This isn't the first time the Boston hospital has used advanced technology to assist them. Back in 2013 Dr. Horny launched a Google Glass pilot program at the medical center in order to access patient information much quicker. He even claims that Google Glass helped saved a patient's life. Someone came into the ER with severe brain bleeding and with the help of Google Glass Dr. Horng was able to scan through the patient's file, see their history, and understand that he needed to change the patient's treatment.

 

While the computer could be a benefit to doctors, there's still no question that it sounds creepy and a little iffy that it can predict a patient's death. After all, doctors have been doling out death dates for ill stricken patients and have been wrong on several occasions. With something as precious as human life, should we really trust this supercomputer?


 

C

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The power of flight can be yours for a heavy price tag. Martin Jetpack has been in development since the 80s and will be ready for emergency services starting in 2016. (via Martin Jetpack)


I know this is, somewhat, old news. Jetpacks… Do you think these are simply toys for the ultra-rich, or a step towards the future? (I suppose automobiles were toys for the wealthy at one point.)

 

According to various sic-fi movies and TV shows, by this time humans should have the power of flight on their side thanks to hovercrafts and jet packs. It sounds impossible, but one company is apparently a step closer to making this a reality. The Martin Jetpack, which has been in development for the past 35 years, is set to be shipped out for 2016. If this actually happens it will be the world's first commercially available jetpack. First conceived by Glen Martin in 1981,  the jetpack is made from carbon fibre and aluminum. It uses gas powered fans instead of rocket-based propulsion and can lift weights up to 120kgs into the air. It will also have over 30 minutes of flight time at speeds up to 74 km/h with an altitude up to 1,000m.

 

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There are other advantages not found in other small aircrafts, such as the ability to takeoff and land vertically, and operate in confined spaces such as between buildings or near trees. Since this will propel people in the air without the comfort of an enclosed space, safety is a big feature of the jetpack. It has a low-altitude parachute and is made to be easy to operate making it the most safe light aircraft on the market, according to their website.

 

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This all sounds promising, but there is one catch: the $150,000 price tag. Though The Martin Jetpack wants to appeal emergency services first and foremost, there's no doubt we'll start seeing millionaire playboys hovering around the beach trying to see how high they can go. The Martin Jetpack will ship out to emergency services first starting next year, with one for personal use coming out in 2017.


 

C

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Buddy is not only adorable, but can also be handy helper. Blue Frog Robotics' Buddy is an advanced robot companion to help around the house and even act as a watch dog. (via Blue Frog Robotics)

 

If the Jetsons have taught us anything it's that robot companions are handy and cool. Who doesn't want their own version of Rosie to help out around the house? Of course companion robots have been around for a number of years, but they're usually novelties or toys instead of tools. Thanks to Blue Frog Robotics, we may be closer to a true robot companion. Meet Buddy, an adorable bot that stands a little over two feet tall and weighs roughly 11 pounds. This cute guy is equipped with a 32GB Android tablet that serves as its face and primary input device, which users can program for different behaviors. Programming Buddy is pretty easy: just tap and drag action icons onto a digital timeline that tells it what to do and when.

 

But what can Buddy actually do? It can act as your personal assistant by syncing with your calendar and contacts to remind you of upcoming events and important tasks. It can also launch playlists, answer your calls, and even recommend recipes. Buddy can also be helpful when you're not home. Though he won't attack any intruders, he will let you know when things aren't right thanks to an equipped Nest camera that keeps an eye on your home. Not only that, but Buddy can also interact with kids and tutor them to a degree with interactive math lessons. It can also keep children entertained by screening movies and e-books either on its face or on a wall for more convenience. 

 

Another great feature is the “Elder Care Pack” that comes with the production model. With this pack, Buddy can transport food, beverages, meds, etc between rooms thanks to an equipped serving tray. And similar to the personal assistant feature, it can remind elders when it's time to take their medicine. With service like this, it'll actually be possible for elders to remain independent for a longer amount of time.


Since this is currently a prototype, there's still a lot of work to be done before Buddy hits the market. There are some issues with voice commands and facial recognition that Blue Frog is going to work on ahead of its 2016 release. The final version of Buddy will also have a bunch of optional accessories to choose from, such as projector arm, side tray, mechanical arms, and  a docking station. The Buddy Classic goes on sale July 2016 for $749, but those who contributed to Blue Frog's Indiegogo campaign will get theirs for $200 less. If this little guy can actually function the way company promises, we may see him in more homes in the future.



PS. Why does every crowdfunding video have to have music reminiscent of an Apple commercial?


C

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Nao learning a task (via cnrs)


We've seen these cute little Nao robots before. We know they can dance and be self-aware, but did you know they can record and relay repair instructions? Now they can thanks to researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) that have given “autobiographical memory” to their Nao robot. This is a system made to assist those on the International Space Station (ISS) during expeditions. Usually, astronauts spend six months on the ISS before being replaced by new crew members. With this technology one of them could use Nao to record himself doing some work, so that the new crew members can learn from him.

 

But Nao doesn't only record a video and then play it back. It also has the ability to let the user teach the robot how it can help out during the process via vocal commands, manually positioning its limbs, or having it mimic his movements using Kinect. These actions are then stored in the robot's memory ensuring it can relay to others who may need them.

 

The CNRS tested the system out and posted their results in a video. It shows a technician teaching Nao basic interactions, such as how to hold a smart card, and makes a plan for repair by syncing commands and instructions for the robot, including tipping its head forward to record the interaction. The technician then goes through a sample repair with the help of Nao.

 

“These results demonstrate the feasibility of this system, and show that such humanoid robots represent a potential solution for the accumulation and transfer of knowledge,” the CNRS said Monday in a statement.

 

Eventually scientists want to test the Nao robot on a space craft in zero gravity, but the team believes it can be useful on land as well. It sees the robot as an aid to the elderly for a personal memory assistant. AS of 2011, the ISS is using the Robonaut 2, which is a humanoid machine with a 40 pound payload capacity that can be controlled onboard or by the ground crew. Rather than using Nao, space agencies can always decide to port the “autobiographical memory” into the Robonaut 2.



C

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Mark Pollock with his trainer. A robotic exoskeleton has allowed Mark Pollock to gain some control of his legs once again. (via eksobionics & UCLA)


Could this exoskeleton suit be the next medical breakthrough in helping those paralyzed from the waist down walk again? Recent results involving patient Mark Pollock may suggest so. Pollock, who was paralyzed from the waist down in 2010, has tested Ekso Bionics' exoskeleton previously, but in a new video posted by UCLA he's shown to have even more progress than before. The 39-year-old was able to control his leg muscles, raise and flex his knees, and take thousands of steps with the assistance of the robotic suit. Along with this, Pollock was even able to get some feeling back in his legs due to a non invasive process known as transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation. This process includes sending electrical currents to the spinal cord via strategically placed electrodes on the lower back. With the exoskeleton suit and the stimulation process, Pollock was able to have a more natural gait as a result.

Because of this tremendous breakthrough Pollock has become the first person with complete paralysis who has able to regain enough control to actively work with a robotic device.

 

“It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they don’t accomplish that, the fact they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life,” said V. Reggie Edgerton, senior author of the research and a UCLA  professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery.

 

In order to tell how much Pollock was doing and how much the robot was doing, a device was used to capture this data. It showed that Pollock was voluntarily raising and flexing his knee and during and after electrical stimulation, he was able to assist the robot while walking meaning the robot wasn't doing all the work.

 

Pollock himself is a superman of sorts. Before his 2010 accident he lost his eyesight in 1998, yet never let it stop him. He has competed in endurance races across deserts, mountains, and polar ice caps. To top it all off he also won silver and bronze medals in rowing at the Commonwealth Games. With his latest progress, he's sure to be unstoppable.

 

The exoskeleton was designed by California based Ekso Bionics, who have been developing the suit for over 10 years. It is available commercially with the large price tag of roughly $110,000. But if it can help those who can no longer walk gain some control over their body, it's worth every penny.



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Anyone else get the Star Wars BB-8 toys this past Force Friday?

 

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The Pi Ball next to the Hasbro BB-8 and the Sphero BB-8, respectively.

 

I was able to get both the Hasbro and Sphero version. The Hasbro one does give the impression it can be modded fairly easily. My first thought, could I put the drive mechanism in the “Pi Ball” project, or perhaps a new version. A mobile and wireless Raspberry Pi?

(See the Pi Ball here: Pi Ball – A Spherical and Interactive Raspberry Pi 2 Case)

 

The Sphero one cannot be opened without cutting it in half. Which is a bad idea. It is a regular Sphero with an additional piece for the “head” of BB-8.

 

If you have a BB-8, share it in the comments below!

 

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I think the Anki Drive toys are great, I even talked about them a bit last year. A step up over those old slot/track cars from the 80s. Same basic concept, but modern.

 

Anki Drive, an advanced racing game that allows players to use an actual battle equipped toy car with a companion mobile app, was introduced almost two years ago and gained quite a following for its ideal concept. Now, the company is back with a follow up to the successful racing game. Anki Overdrive is a  beefed up version of the original with an array of new features. One of the biggest drawing points of this updated version is a new track system, which uses FlexTrack pieces to create up to eight different designs. Instead of using mats, these new tracks use magnetic pieces that clip together making it easy to create racetracks of different shapes. This modular track system also allows performance stunts. Ramps and jumps can be pulled off with the possibility of loop-the-loops as well. There are also add-ons for users to buy if they want an even bigger playing field.


Anki Overdrive also features new game modes for users to enjoy: King of the Hill pits players against each other to see who can hold the lead position the longest and Time Trials see who can get the best and fastest finish time. The standard Battle and Race modes will be included as well. Players now have new Supercars to choose from. These racers are customizable with new virtual weapons, upgrades, and special items for players to use to get the winning title. Not only are the cars and tracks getting an overhaul, the app is as well. Previously, players could only compete with one another if they were on the same platform; Android users could only battle against Android users. Now, the system will be cross-platform meaning iOS and Android users can truly duke it out.


 

Right now a starter kit for Anki Overdrive is available, which features two supercars, 12 track pieces, one four-car charging platform, and one tire cleaner all for $149.99.


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Meet the happy couple: Frois and Yukirin. The first ever robot wedding is held in Japan.

 

A bizarre story out of Japan shows that maybe robots can love after all. In what has to be one of the weirdest events in technology, the first ever robot wedding was held in Japan on June 27. And yes, people actually attended. About 100 people showed up in Tokyo to witness the event for the price of $81. They even received special invitations featuring the robotic couple in a heart. The newlyweds are Frois, created by the company Maywa Denki, and Yukirin, an android based off the likeness of Japanese pop star Yuki Kashiwagi, and developed by Takayuki Todo. Possibly for copyright reasons, Yukirn's name was changed to “Roborin” for the ceremony. Another robot named Pepper, developed by Aldebaran for Softbank, performed the nuptials for the robotic couple. The two officially tied the knot with an awkward “kiss,” performance from a wedding band, which also featured robots, and a cake.

 

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Maywa Denki organized the entire event. The company was started by two brothers, Masamichi and Novmbichi Tosa, as an art unit back in 1993. Once the pair began gaining notoriety, they were incorporated into Sony Music Entertainment. The duo was officially nominated as a cultural envoy for the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan in 2013. Guess we'll have to wait to see if this happy couple can last. Will this be one of many robot weddings to come? Who knows when it comes to Japan.


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Through the National Institutes of $41.5 million Health Human Placenta Project, researchers recently developed a placenta on a chip that successfully mimics the process of bodily fluid exchange between mother and child. (via NIH)


As cases of cancer and fetal abnormalities surface each year, the National Institutes of Health believes the placenta holds the key to understanding how the human body functions. The organization recently declared it will invest $41.5 million in furthering placenta research through its Human Placenta Project (HPP), beginning with the development of a placenta on a chip.

 

Conducting studies with pregnant women is hard, Hackensack University Medical Center placenta researcher Nicholas Illsley said during an HPP outlook meeting. That’s why researchers decided to use current technology to replicate the placenta and study its natural function in an artificial setting.

 

The placenta chip is composed of two micro chambers. One is filled with maternal cells collected from a delivered placenta, and the other is filled with cells collected from a delivered umbilical cord. Between the chambers lies a semi-permeable membrane that ideally tracks how nutrients and bodily fluids flow between mother and child. In a trial, researchers successfully watched how glucose passed from the maternal cells to the fetal cells, and stated it took place in a way that replicated the real process.

 

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Director Alan Guttmacher said the placenta is the least understood human organ. It is a temporary organ that develops after conception that both keeps a mother’s body from rejecting the new, foreign fetus and also allows the passage of bodily fluids and nutrients. This organ, however, does not always develop healthily. When it falters, the results can be dangerous for both a mother and her child.

 

The placenta is responsible for delivering necessary nutritents to a fetus as it develops within the womb. When this goes wrong, the growth of that fetus may be stunted. Furthermore, it is believed that the faulty growth of the placenta may be responsible for gestational high blood pressure. The effects of a malfunctioning placenta are felt by the fetus into his adult life as well, as it has been linked to adult health complications, such as insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.

 

The placenta on a chip is just one initiative to come from the HPP. Researchers hope to develop a drug that can correct placenta abnormalities and enhance methods for monitoring the healthy development of the placenta, including magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound. Overall, the NIH hopes the HPP will further placenta research to better understand one of the most important organs to sustaining new human life.

 

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