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Towards Intelligent Humanoid Robots – iCub 2012

Here’s a fantastic video about the iCub project and its goals relating to artificial intelligence.

via iCub @ Twitter




• The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword

developed by Nintendo & Monolith Soft, published by Nintendo
1 player / 2 save slots / Nintendo Wii / 2011.11.20

Nintendo returns to the Legend of Zelda series once again with Skyward Sword, and like every second game in the series this one does away with the usual antagonist and setting.  Nintendo has managed to create a fairly unique world for the game, with childhood friends Link and Zelda living in the floating island town called Skyloft.  The game begins as Link is about to compete in an annual competition to see who will become the town’s next knight.

Thankfully there are fewer tutorials to work through than in the opening hours of Twilight Princess, so it doesn’t take long for the real adventure to get started.  And unlike previous Zelda games, players have access to frequent save points in each area that should help make the game more manageable.

• Toyota HSR

Toyota demonstrated a new Partner Robot at Japan’s 39th Home Care & Rehabilitation Exhibition, which it has been testing at the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center since 2011.  The Human Support Robot, or HSR for short, is meant to serve as a robotic service dog for people with limited mobility.  It has quite a bit in common with the company’s earlier Delivery Robot (first revealed in 2007), though it sports several improvements and a fresh new look.

To begin with, the HSR has a telescopic body which enables it to raise its default height by about two feet.  It has just one arm, which has been designed to fold into its body to reduce its overall size.  When its arm is retracted, its body has a diameter of 14.5 inches, which helps it get around inside homes.  The arm has a simple gripper to pick up objects, and a suction cup which can be used to lift papers from the floor.  Its head is equipped with stereo cameras and a Kinect sensor for 3D depth detection.

The HSR could also function as a telepresence robot, thanks to a tablet dock on top of its head.  The tablet can connect the owner to friends, family, and health care professionals through Skype.  However, this feature may not get much use as the robot itself is controlled using a tablet.  That means the operator (likely the person with limited mobility) will already have a tablet on hand for Skype calling.  The user interface is made up of simple icons to move the robot around, while a video feed from the robot’s cameras is shown on the screen.  It seems likely the robot has a limited form of autonomy for locating and grasping objects, and uses visual markers to help it grasp boxes from a shelf unit.

Toyota has not revealed when the robot will be available or at what price, but it’s good to see they are committed to developing their Partner Robot line into a viable business.

[source: Toyota (JP)] via [Impress Kaden Watch (JP)] via [Gizmag]

• Away: Shuffle Dungeon

developed by Mistwalker & Artoon, published by Majesco
1 player / 3 save slots / Nintendo DS / 2008.10.30

Mistwalker, led by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, tried to bring something new to the action-RPG genre with Away: Shuffle Dungeon.  A mysterious force known as the Away has been kidnapping the villagers for the past 100 years, and our hero must rescue them from the many portals that appear in town.  The game’s primary gimmick uses both screens on the Nintendo DS to show two rooms, which alternately shuffle like a deck of cards every few seconds.  What starts off as a simple adventure ends up going in a completely unexpected direction.

• Kirby’s Epic Yarn

developed by Hal Laboratory & Good-Feel, published by Nintendo
1~2 players / Nintendo Wii / 2010.10.17

Kirby, Nintendo’s lovable pink puffball, stars in a game unlike any of his usual adventures in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.  His trademarked ability to inhale enemies and steal their powers disappears when an evil magician transforms him into a string of yarn.  It turns out this affliction isn’t without it’s perks, and Kirby is quick to take advantage during his stay in Patch Land.

A second player can join Kirby for some cooperative fun as the newcomer Prince Fluff.  You won’t need to worry about health, lives, or Game Over screens as these concepts have been abandoned.  Instead, the idea is to collect as many beads and jewels as possible to earn a gold medal in every stage, which can be tricky because Kirby drops them instead of taking damage.

Paro celebrates its 10th birthday with new colors

Paro has been certified “the world’s most therapeutic robot” by the Guinness Book of World Records, and is celebrating its 10th birthday this year with limited edition colors.

The robot, which was modeled after a baby harp seal, has totaled about 2,200 sales in its first decade (1,800 in Japan and about 400 in 30 other countries).  Only about 200 units will feature the two new colors, “Charcoal” grey and “Sakura” pink.  They retail for around 350,000 JPY ($4,500 USD), or about a thousand dollars more if you want a three year warranty.

[source: MyNavi News (JP)]

Interview with Director Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)

Frank Langella & Jake Schreier on the set of Robot & Frank

Earlier we reviewed the wonderful new indie film Robot & Frank, which debuted last month and is now in theaters.  We were able to get in touch with director Jake Schreier and asked him a few questions about his views, his film, and (of course) robots.

Plastic Pals: Please introduce yourself to my readers.

Jake Schreier: Hi, my name is Jake Schreier.  I grew up in Berkeley, CA and went to NYU film school, where I met Christopher Ford, who wrote the script.

You mentioned in the Q & A that you did for io9 that prior to this you directed commercials for eight years, similar to directors like Ridley Scott and David Fincher.  Can you elaborate on your experience during this time, and maybe point us to some ads we might recognize?

Ha, well I don’t know if my commercial career quite resembled Fincher’s and Scott’s, but it’s definitely been a great way to hone skills over the years and get up to speed on all kinds of different technologies.  Also, in a more direct way, my commercial production company produced Robot & Frank, so there was a lot of serendipity there.

I’ve read that film shoots are usually about three weeks and the days are very long.  This is your first feature length film – how would you describe the shoot?

The shoot was a total of 20 days, spread over 4 weeks.  It’s definitely a lot to get done in a very short amount of time.  There isn’t room for being wrong very often, or covering yourself for mistakes.  On our set, the biggest issue was that we had a girl in a robot suit in 100 degrees, very humid conditions in upstate New York.

Yikes!  How did she feel about the suit?  I’m sure there’s a great blooper reel somewhere that you can put on the home release.

Rachael was a real trooper, but it’s a hard experience being in that thing, especially in the heat.  We’d have to take 2 minute breaks between almost every take to give her enough air.

Rethink Robotics’ Unveils Game-Changing Industrial Bot

Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics), a U.S. start-up founded by Rodney Brooks (former MIT professor who later co-founded iRobot), is finally launching their low-cost industrial robot. Originally the company was aiming at a price of just $5,000, but that proved a bit ambitious as the final cost is $22,000 USD.  That’s still incredibly cheap for a dual-armed robot when you consider that some robot manipulators (not including the actual robot arms), like those from Barrett, cost upwards of $80,000.  This price point could bust the door wide open on robotics for industries that typically don’t use the technology.

Take Kawada Industries’ NEXTAGE robot (similar in size and functionality) for comparison – it costs between 7~8 million Yen ($89,000~$102,000).  You could buy four Baxters for that!  Unlike other industrial robots, these two can work next to people without safety barriers and are only meant to handle small, lightweight objects: Baxter has a rated payload of just 5 lbs (6.6 lbs for the NEXTAGE).  This makes them ideal for material handling tasks like pick-and-place operations and light assembly jobs like those at Foxconn that tend to be mind-numbingly tedious.