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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!




• Radiant Historia

developed by Headlock, published by Atlus
1 player / 3 save slots / Nintendo DS / 22.02.2011

On its surface Radiant Historia looks like a typical Japanese RPG: the world is in peril, rival kingdoms battle over remaining territory, and you’re stuck in the middle of the conflict.  Looks can be deceiving though, and this (one of the last RPGs made for the Nintendo DS) has a number of pleasant surprises.  There are no random monsters, strategy and planning play a major role in battle, and the story is less linear than it initially appears.  Most importantly Radiant Historia deals with the effects of time travel, and that’s where things get really interesting.

• John Carter

I consider Avatar to be a masterpiece of action sci-fi film making, and though it has its share of detractors it’s becoming increasingly clear that it has raised the bar very, very high. Take John Carter, for instance, which shares many elements in common with Avatar yet fails every which way to engage its audience. Admittedly, part of the problem is it’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Princess of Mars, which Hollywood directors have been gleefully pilfering from for the past century. It can’t shake the inescapable feeling we’ve been here, done this many times before.

John Carter is a veteran of the American civil war who gets inadvertently telegrammed to Mars when he stumbles into a cavern portal. Due to the weaker gravity on Mars he soon finds he can jump like Superman in a sequence that is laughable for the wrong reasons and mirrors Peter Parker honing his newfound abilities as Spider-man. John then encounters a group of alien Indian-stand-ins with two sets of arms. Though the aliens aren’t totally convincing next to their human prisoner, everything from the set details to the scenery are very well done (a martian dog creature being a particular favorite). The budget seems to have been well spent aside from the human costumes and extras, which look like rejects from Xena Warrior Princess.  Yes, there are humans on Mars and they look pretty much like we do except they have red tattoos.

ASIMO PSA Teaches Kids How To Cross The Street

This video is actually pretty old, but I thought it was worth sharing because it’s kind of fun.  It features the first version of Honda’s humanoid to be called ASIMO, so it probably dates back to 2001 or 2002.  After watching ASIMO interacting with kids on the street (it’s all planned ahead of time, of course) one can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever live in a world when robots wander our neighborhoods looking to do good deeds?  And when will robots like ASIMO have the artificial intelligence to cross the street safely on their own?

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[source: Honda]

Video: First Look at Team DARwIn’s Teen-Sized Bot

The following video from Stephen McGill (Penn Engineering student and member of Team DARwIn) shows the new DARwIn-XOS robot in action.  A rep from Robotis has stated that the company plans on selling a Teen-Sized version of the DARwIn-OP sometime this year, but according to Stephen this is just an early prototype they’ve been working on at UPenn.  I must admit I’m a little underwhelmed by its configuration, since it looks a little top-heavy and could probably benefit from an extra servo in each knee.  Although there’s still a bit more time to work out any kinks, since RoboCup 2012 takes place in Mexico this June.

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Having made their mark in RoboCup 2011′s Kid-Size and Adult-Size leagues, Team DARwIn is no doubt eager to compete in the Teen-Size category.  Beginning this year each team competing in the Teen-Size league will have two autonomous robots on the field, which will allow for more complexity than a simple shoot-out.  Over the years the Teen-Size requirements have changed from 60-80cm (2-2.5′) to the current rule of 90-120cm (3-4′) tall.  Eventually taller robots will have to become the norm if RoboCup is ever going to achieve its goal of competing with human players.

[source: StephenGMcGill @ YouTube]

The USA’s Magnificent 7 Full-Size Humanoids

We first reported it in December 2010 when the deal was first announced, but it bears repeating as it will soon pave the way for major breakthroughs in humanoid robots in the United States.

Thanks to part of a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, American universities have purchased six HUBO 2 Plus robots from South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).  Drexel University’s Autonomous Systems Lab, led by Dr. Paul Oh (related to HUBO’s creator Dr. Jun Ho Oh) was instrumental in sealing the deal.  They’ve had one of the robots, nicknamed Jaemi HUBO, since 2009.  As you can see in this cute clip, Jaemi HUBO and her six siblings are eager to make friends in their new home.

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“Humanoids provide an exciting and practical context to both motivate and train American students,” Oh said. “One can argue that humanoids are the epitome of what one perceives to be a robot. As such, they are an attractive area for engineering students to work on. Students quickly learn that Asia is the world-leader in humanoid design. Thus to become humanoid designers, students recognize that working alongside robot engineers in Asia is important.”

 “The KAIST HUBO served as an effective platform to train students in both complex systems engineering and working in international design teams. The net effect is that humanoids have been an effective medium to make today’s American engineer more effective in a globalized work environment.”

Comparable in size and sophistication to Honda’s ASIMO but built at a fraction of the cost, HUBO 2 Plus is one of the world’s most advanced humanoid robots.  The Plus in its name comes from modifications made since HUBO 2′s creation in 2008, including an extra camera in its head.  For more than a decade universities in the United States have been lagging behind their Asian counterparts in the realm of humanoid robotics, but that’s about to change.  Each of the new robots will find permanent homes at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Ohio State, Penn, Purdue, and Virginia Tech after students have been trained to work with them at Drexel University.  Another two have also been sold to universities in Singapore.

“”To date, all adult-sized humanoids have been individual custom-made units, and advances made using one design do not necessarily translate to others,” said Dr. Youngmoon Kim, an associate professor and assistant dean of media technologies in the College of Engineering and the director of the Music and Entertainment Technology (MET) Lab.  By working with the same robotics platform the teams will be able to share their work to accelerate humanoid development, just as they’ve done with Willow Garage’s PR2 and DARwIn-OP.  In the following clip of a recent experiment, the robot helps Dan Lofaro (whom we interviewed back in 2010) carry an object.

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I can’t wait to see what these robots will be doing in the near future!

[source: Drexel University] via [Physorg]

Hitachi’s EMIEW 2 Continues To Evolve

We’re big fans of Hitachi’s office assistant robot EMIEW 2, and today the company announced that it has been given some upgrades.

The compact robot now uses the internet to help it recognize objects in addition to its database of existing image references.  When shown an object, EMIEW 2 can take a snapshot with its camera and perform a quick online search for similar images to help it determine what the object is.

And thanks to a new network of cameras positioned throughout the office space, EMIEW 2 can locate specific objects and guide people to them.  Using speech recognition, you can ask for an object by name and it will automatically try to find one for you.  In the following demonstration, the EMIEW 2 recognizes a camera sight unseen and locates a pair of scissors squirreled away in a corner.

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Finally, EMIEW 2 now moves more smoothly through turns.  This development builds on an upgrade from 2010, when the robot was given shock-absorbing legs for smoothly moving over bumps in the floor.  Previously, the robot had to lower its speed when it was about to change direction due to the large centrifugal forces involved.  Now, even when it is approaching steep or continuous curves it doesn’t need to slow down due to a predictive model that offsets the centrifugal forces.  Combined with its maximum speed of 6 km/h (equivalent to a brisk walk), the EMIEW 2 can now better guide its human charges.

A company rep said that he believes, with further improvements, the robot will be able to help people, such as in hospitals or the home in the future.  More photos follow after the break.

[source: Hitachi press release (JP)] & [NHK (JP)]

Video: Aldebaran Robotics’ ROMEO Introduces Himself

Aldebaran Robotics (famous for their NAO humanoid robot) is just one of many partners working on Project ROMEO, but they’re undoubtedly the most important.  The secretive project has been in development for at least a year already, but up until now we’ve just had some conceptual renderings and technical drawings.  This year the robot is supposed to begin field trials where it will help out the blind and autistic, but for now we at least have the first video of the completed prototype.  As you’ll see, the robot appears to be made from 3D printed parts to test how they all fit together; the colors seen in earlier renderings have not yet been applied.  I guess they haven’t quite tackled the standing part yet, either.

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It’s only a short self-introduction, but hopefully it will lead to more videos of it up and about soon.  ROMEO is the first “full-scale” humanoid robots built in France, standing 143 cm (4’8″) tall – slightly taller than ASIMO – and will weigh approximately 40 kg (88 lbs).

[source: Project ROMEO website] & [TheAmazel @ YouTube]