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Video: Mini Doc About Mini Bots

Although the Kid Size League represents only a fraction of RoboCup’s annual itinerary, it could easily fill a full-length documentary if you were to visit with each of the teams.  This short (under ten minutes) documentary about RoboCup’s humanoid soccer league filmed at the 2011 competition in Istanbul, Turkey is an excellent primer if you’re new to the subject.  Includes appearances by one of RoboCup’s founders Manuela Veloso (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), Professor Oskar Von Stryk (Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany), referee Jacky Baltes (University of Manitoba, Canada), and student Taylor Pesek (Virginia Tech, USA).

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[source: Kinetrack @ YouTube]




Innorobo 2012: Recap

The unfortunate timing of our technical issues left us unable to cover Innorobo 2012, already one of the biggest robotics conventions in Europe with only two years under its belt.  It’s all over now, having run March 14th~16th, but it’s worth taking a look back at some of the robots that made appearances.

Unfortunately the majority of the robots from France were the same from last year’s conference.  The Robot Studio brought out their musculoskeletal cyclops ECCERobot, and ROBOPEC showed off its unusual “PCBot” REETI.  Gostai once again presented JAZZ, their telepresence solution.  EOS Innovation of France was showing off the e-viligante, a small surveillance robot (last year we covered their home telepresence robot E-One).  Sadly Aldebaran Robotics, which is today arguably the most influential robotics company from France, wasn’t ready to introduce their full-size biped Romeo to the public.

From Barcelona, PAL Robotics brought out REEM – which they spuriously claim is “the first commercially available humanoid service robot”.  Also from Spain, AISoy Robotics demonstrated their robotic pet AISoy1.

Engineered Arts, the makers of the RoboThespian have created a new entertainment robot called SociBot.  Rather than having small individual screens for each eye and a clap-trap mouth, SociBot’s translucent plastic face has animated features projected onto its interior.  This creates a seamless, more aesthetically pleasing face with no moving parts.

The Italian Institute of Technology and CoTeSys presented the iCub, which is one of the most advanced humanoids built in Europe to date.

Some of the mainstays of Japanese robotics showed up, including NEC’s PaPeRo, AIST’s therapeutic robot PARO, and Cyberdyne’s HAL exoskeleton.

Toyota brought some Winglets – what could be considered the miniature version of the Segway – for attendees to test drive.  Out of all the small personal mobility vehicles I’ve seen over the past few years, the Winglet looks to be the most fun and practical of the lot.  I do think they should probably remove the upright shaft that fits uncomfortably between the legs in favor of a pop-out handle, though, which would make it look and feel more like a skateboard than a Segway.  Here’s hoping they actually commercialize the thing.

Luckily a veritable invasion of robots from South Korea made the trip, picking up the relative slack from Japan.  Robotis pimped its Bioloid hobby kits, as well as the DARwIn-OP.  Future Robot presented their service robot FURO.  MiniRobot presented their hobby humanoid Metal Fighter.  KIST’s lovable little biped Kibo 2 proved one of the most popular robots at the convention, mugging for the cameras and headlining many of the articles coming out of mainstream media.  KIST also brought along EngKey, their egg-shaped teaching assistant robot.  Yujin Robot had their own teaching assistant, ROBOSEM, and their early childhood edutainment robot iRobiQ.

Also from Korea, Robotech was showing off a strange bear-like edutainment robot.

Last but not least, Willow Garage made the trip across the pond and were showing off the PR2.

Notably absent from this Euro-centric conference were German universities and agencies, which could have included the impressive full-size humanoids LOLA (Technical University Munich) and Justin (DLR).  Earlier this year DLR announced that they had improved Rollin’ Justin’s overall speed and control, and given it the name Agile Justin.

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[source: Innorobo 2012] & [CNN, CBC News]

Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea: Robotics Pavilion (preview)

This 6.5 meter (21 ft) tall robot statue (dubbed “Navi”) is being built for the Marine Robot Pavilion of Expo 2012 (the largest pavilion of the entire expo).  The expo’s theme is “The Living Ocean and Coast”, which explains the unique focus on marine robotics.  Weighing around a ton, the statue was planned by the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology Evaluation and Planning with an animatronics company.  Workers constructing it reach only knee-high.

A total of 73 robots will be shown at Expo 2012, half of which are from Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa).  In fact, the lab’s director Dr. Dennis Hong has been flying once or twice a month to complete the set-up!  Visitors will be able to take photos with a pair of the lab’s full-size CHARLI-2s that will be walking around and interacting with the audience.  And an entire wing of the pavilion is dedicated to soccer-playing robots, specifically RoMeLa’s DARwIn series of humanoids.  Other robots from Britain and France will also be showcased.

As visitors exit the pavilion they’ll get a glimpse of what robots may be like in the year 2040.  Echoing the misguided futurism exhibits from yesteryear, conceptual underwater robots will demonstrate how technology will be used in the deep sea, including a mechanical squid that uses its tentacles to search for minerals and a starfish robot that collects energy on its tips.

The pavilion will officially open May 12th, with a special media day scheduled for May 5th.  More photos of the pavilion, including some behind-the-scenes construction shots from Virginia Tech’s Dr. Dennis Hong, follow after the break.

[source: ET News (KR)]

Dan Mathias of FutureBots Introduces KATE 1.0

Dan Mathias is an American entrepreneur and roboticist who has single-handedly built a number of robots over the past few decades, including a pretty impressive full-size bipedal humanoid called ATOM-7XP.  In just three months he has managed to build his own version of an edutainment robot called KATE (Kids Avatar Teacher and Entertainer).  According to Dan, the idea was to build a bot that military servicemen and women could use to interact with loved ones when away from home, but could also find work as a teaching tool or entertainment robot.

Standing 114 cm (45 inches) tall and weighing 31.5 kg (70 lbs), KATE has a total of 22 degrees of freedom (head x7, 2 arms x2, 2 hands x4, torso x1, 2 wheels).  The robot comes equipped with stereoscopic cameras and an Android tablet for teleconferencing, a Microsoft Kinect sensor for motion detection, ultrasonic sensors for range detection, and a nose that can detect carbon monoxide and other hazardous gases.

Technical wizardry aside, perhaps the best way to become acquainted with KATE is to watch the following video!

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[source: FutureBots @ YouTube] & [FutureBots website]

U.S. Navy Showcases LASR’s Ridiculous Fire-Fighting Robot

Lucas & Octavia are a pair of cognitive robots being developed to fight fires by the U.S. Navy’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR).  I’m sure they’re working on more practical robots, but these have gotten the most press attention.  The robots feature a hand-me-down head design from MIT’s Mobile Dexterous Social robot Nexi, which is unfortunate as Nexi’s repulsive features and dead eyes are rather unpleasant.  As you’ll see in the laughable video presentation, a fire that can be put out in less than 5 seconds takes much longer because Octavia has to be guided through the entire process with verbal commands and gestures.

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We love humanoid robots here at Plastic Pals, but we’ll admit when a different type of robot is more suited to the job.  In this case, I don’t think there’s any doubt that verbal and gestural commands are too complicated and time-consuming in a dangerous situation.  Judging by the video, the location of the fire must be known (and communicated to the robot) in advance.  It’s questionable whether or not the robot would even be able to parse speech during a fire, what with alarms ringing and people shouting through oxygen masks.

Unlike the bipedal SAFFiR being developed at Virginia Tech RoMeLa, Octavia moves on wheels – so it can’t move up and down stairs or ladders.  In that case, why not just send in a small tank-like robot equipped with a water hose that can be remotely operated from a distance?  This robot (right photo) developed in South Korea has a powerful water cannon, a camera to work reconnaissance, and sensors that detect toxic gas.  An arm attachment would allow it to open doors.  It’s already being rolled out to fire departments, it’s probably safe to say it’s less expensive, and it seems hundreds of times more practical.

[sources: Gizmodo & Joins MSN (KR)]

Robo-Guard Deployed With New Look

Last November we got our first look at ETRI’s new robot security guard, and we were quick to pan its bright colors and cutesy design.  Apparently we weren’t alone as the robot was given a tougher look when it was actually deployed in a South Korean prison earlier this month.  The so-called “behavior detection” software supposedly detects abnormal prisoner behavior including suicide, assault, and arson.  I don’t question that its sensors can detect a fire, but I do wonder if the software can differentiate between a warm hug and a shanking.

A human operator can remotely access the robot’s video feed and intervene if necessary, but I think I’d feel safer with them being in closer proximity.  Of course, I doubt anyone is going to be too upset if prisoners aren’t getting the highest quality protection, which is probably what they’re banking on.  And I’m sure plenty of private prisons in the U.S. will be interested in it if it saves them some money.

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I don’t have a problem with security robots like this that are meant to protect property, but when human lives are at stake it seems to me that we should admit when the technology isn’t up to the task.

[source: Reuters] via [PC World] via [Engadget]

Boston Dynamics Takes Center Stage In New DARPA Challenge

Boston Dynamics represents a good chunk of the news items that we missed during our hiatus.  Arguably the most important item was the announcement of a new DARPA Robotics Challenge and Boston Dynamics’ commitment to build 8 PETMAN / ATLAS robots for the competing software teams.  DARPA is quick to point out that the challenge isn’t limited to bipedal humanoid robots, but given the following breakdown it seems inevitable that most of the competing robots will take humanoid form.  Head passed the break for the full breakdown and our thoughts on each leg of the challenge!

Status Report: We’re Back!

Your old robot friends are back!  In early March we ran into some computer-related issues that prevented us from being able to update. However, most of the issues have been resolved and we plan to get back to our regular updates beginning today. We missed a few important stories during our forced hiatus which you may have already seen, but there are also some tasty extras we only recently discovered.  Hopefully you missed us and thanks for hanging in there!