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BioBiped1 Can Hop With The Best Of Them

Researchers at the  SIM Group of TU Darmstadt and the Locomotion Laboratory of Jena University are working on an ambitious new project they hope will display heel-to-toe walking like Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN.

They’re planning to build a series of evolving BioBipeds; musculoskeletal robots that incorporate elasticity to achieve energy efficient standing, walking, and running.

They’ve only built the BioBiped1 so far, but it is already displaying some impressive hopping capabilities (as you’ll see in the following videos).  This kind of hopping produces the same sort of stresses as a light jog, so it is a pretty good indication that the robot will be jogging on a treadmill in the future.

Each leg has four joints (hip x2, knee x1, ankle x1) actuated by a combination of both active motors and passive springs based on the muscles and tendons found in a human leg.  The springiness of the legs means the robot can passively rebound when it lands on its feet.  Eventually a more sophisticated upper-body with arms may be added, and various foot mechanisms will be evaluated.  Currently the robot is restricted to moving up and down, but future versions will gradually introduce more freedom until it is able to stand on its own.

Video (hopping):

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Video (one-legged hopping):

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More details on the project, including research papers, can be located via the source link.

[source: BioBiped] via [BioBiped @ YouTube]

FloBi Robot Head Tracks, Recreates Facial Expressions

CITEC Bielefeld’s anthropomorphic robot head FloBi has been upgraded with a cheap and simple motion-capture setup.  You’ll recall that FloBi is an expressive head with modular parts that allows you to insert different sections of the head to create a male or female robot.

The mo-cap setup is a helmet with a single camera pointed at your face.  It tracks your eyes, eyelids, brows, and mouth using color markers while an X-IMU (intertial measurement unit) detects overall head rotation.  The recorded motion can be viewed using a virtual model or played back on the actual robot.  This means rather than having to animate each segment of the robot’s face by hand (which can also lead to unnatural expressions) all of the motion can be recorded quickly and easily from a real person.

The result is a robot face that, despite being quite simple in appearance, is convincingly lifelike due to its realistic eye movements.  The lips aren’t quite malleable to accurately recreate lip-synching, but given the technical limitations of the robot head, and the simple motion-capture solution they’ve created, I’d say they have been pretty successful.  If you compare FloBi’s expressions to those of KIST’s MERO and you’ll see quite a difference in realism.


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[source: CITECBielefeld @ YouTube]

Metalise Your 3D Prints With 3DCC

A plastic part becomes a work of art with 3DCC’s services

Lately I’ve been thinking about having 3D prints made of some of my digital sculptures, and what kind of surface finish I want them to have. As I began looking at various 3D printing service bureaus, it became clear that if I wanted to have a model printed in metal, my options were pretty limited and expensive.  Luckily there are a few other options if you want a metallic look to your print.

At Shapeways you can get your models printed in stainless steel and sterling silver.  One of the issues with 3D printing are the visible lines left on the model due to the printing process itself, and stainless steel models have noticeable artifacts which I want to avoid.  However, this method may be appropriate for your project depending on the surface quality you’re after.  If you’re interested in making jewelry, Shapeways’ sterling silver prints seem like the way to go.  The main problem for me (besides the price) is that technical limitations prevent larger sculptures from being made.

One solution might be a company called 3DCC (located in England) which provides metal coating for plastic parts in a variety of materials.  The result is a metallic coat that not only looks great, but strengthens the part at a fraction of the cost of other methods.  One thing to consider is that 3DCC’s process doesn’t work so well on parts with a waxy finish, like those seen at Moddler.  While it is still possible to metal plate these, it’s a time consuming process to remove the waxy top layer and sandfinish such complex structures.  The company suggests printing models using a higher end SLA material (Stereolithography) to achieve the best results – since the metal coat doesn’t hide any imperfections (print lines).

Another option would be to print a model and have a foundry create a casting.  One of Shapeways’ customers offers casting services via Union Steam Models – just finish the printed part to your liking and ship it to them to have a bronze casting made.  Finally, if you’re just looking for a metallic look to your part, a company called Offload Studios provides a variety of faux-metal finishes.  I’m still considering my options, but I thought that some of you who print parts for robots might be interested in the sleek metallic finish 3DCC can offer.  It would certainly look pretty awesome on a robot!

• River Monsters

River Monsters is a show I found on Netflix that – horrible pun alert – had me hooked. Host Jeremy Wade is a biologist and extreme angler who has been traveling the world for the better part of a quarter century. In each episode he investigates reports of people being attacked by fish in fresh water and tries to land the most likely suspect.

While quite a few of the stories seem like nothing more than local legends or tall tales, they’re really only an excuse to go hunting for extraordinary fish. Often Jeremy relies on local fishing experts to help him find his quarry, since many of the biggest specimens have already been fished out. His interactions with the locals can be quite interesting, particularly seeing some of their traditional fishing techniques. Along the way, he usually catches a variety of species and educates the viewer about them.

• Professor Layton & The Last Specter

developed by Level-5/published by Nintendo/2011.12.01
1 player (3 save slots)/Flash ROM/Nintendo DS

Professor Layton & The Last Specter is the fourth chapter in the series, and the final installment on the Nintendo DS. Like the previous installments players can solve around 150 puzzles, all while uncovering a central mystery. This time a monstrous phantom is attacking the town of Misthallery, and Layton is summoned by an old friend to get to the bottom of things.

It’s Official: Robots Are The New Zombies

If you’ve grown tired of zombie fiction thanks to the glut of zombie-themed movies, tv shows, and books that have surfaced in the past few years, don’t worry.  It seems the zombies are on the way out, soon to be replaced by equally creepy humanoid robots.  When you think about it both zombies and realistic androids share a lot in common: they’re soulless killing machines that look like they could be your neighbor, and their very existence will lead to the apocalypse.  An interesting difference is that often the robots, not people, are the victims in their stories.

It was pretty obvious that zombies were running out of steam back when Pride and Prejudice with Zombies became a thing.  Stragglers trying to profit off the zombie bandwagon late in the game have managed some success, like AMC’s The Walking Dead.  There’s even a zombie romance coming out this year called Warm Bodies, which will hopefully put the final nail in the coffin.  The mainstream popularity of these things is cyclical, and thanks to Spielberg picking up the movie rights to Robopocalypse, and a slew of new robot-themed movies and tv shows surfacing lately, robot fiction is already taking over for better or worse.

China Unicom’s Robot Spreads 3G Awareness

This cute robot developed by China Unicom appeared late September through early October during the 2011 China Int’l Information and Communication Exhibition.  Simply called “Waiter”, it could be controlled via iPad and was seen accompanied by the similar Hai Bao (built by researchers at Zhejiang University; it’s unclear if they also worked on this one).  The robots helped to promote a variety of 3G applications, including mobile internet, cloud computing, mobile intelligent terminals, and home networks.

Along with the two screens (one to display an animated face, and the other for promotional material) the robot appears to have at least two cameras and a laser range finder.  According to various Chinese news sources, the robot was able to recognize when people smiled or nodded their heads as it explained the company’s 3G services.  It was also able to respond to simple phrases, questions, and commands such as “hello” and “dance”.

According to China Unicom, the cost of developing the robot was significantly reduced by piping its image and speech recognition through a wireless network rather than processing everything on board it.  These mobile kiosks are hardly technological breakthroughs, but they show the Chinese appetite for robots is on the rise (perhaps due to those demonstrated during the popular Shanghai World Expo).  A few more photos follow after the break.

[source: Zdnet (CN)]

Attending ICRA 2011? Compete to win a DARwIn-OP

IEEE ICRA 2012 will be holding its 5th annual ICRA Robot Challenge in St. Paul Minnesota in May this year, and ROBOTIS in collaboration with the IEEE ICRA will be organizing and hosting the first ever “DARwIn-OP Humanoid Application Challenge.”

Teams (1~4) must register by February 10th with their online video.  Everyone with a DARwIn-OP is encouraged to join, but even without one, projects using only customized hardware or simulation are also welcome to participate.  For those who need a free trial version of Webots, please contact them for the simulator program at the contact below.  Judging will be based on creativity (40%), technical skills (30%), and overall completion (30%). Over $20,000 will be given away in prizes.

Don’t lose your chance to win a free DARwIn-OP!

1st Place Winner

  • DARwIn-OP
  • LabVIEW Robotics Software
  • Webots Pro

Finalist (by draw)

  • Bioloid Premium Kit
  • LabVIEW Robotics Module
  • Webots Edu

For more details, please visit Robot Source, the official DARwIn-OP community at Robot Source, the ICRA 2011 contest webpage, or contact Kayla Kim (info[at]robotsource[dot]org).