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• 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).

• Filio

Filio is a robot mascot character representing CREFUS (Create Future Science), an extra curricular science program with several locations across Japan.  Students work primarily with Lego Mindstorms NXT and simplified versions of hobby robot kits depending on their level, and participate in competitions like the International First Lego League.

In 2006 Vstone was contracted to build a working version of Filio, which was then used to demonstrate more advanced robot technology to the students.  Around this time Vstone began developing robot characters including a mascot for Daikin, and would later create Tichno, which was envisioned as an all-purpose promotional robot.  Since then other companies such as RT Corporation have found some degree of success building robot mascots.

Unfortunately due to the relative obscurity of the robot, actual photos and video of the robot are quite rare, however the underlying design is likely based on the Team Osaka VisiON robots.  It appears to stand around 42cm (16.5″) tall (around the same height as the Black Ox robot, see photo) and has approximately 18 degrees of freedom.  The school counts esteemed robotics experts Prof. Minoru Asada (Osaka University) and Prof. Atsuo Takanishi (Waseda University) among its advisors.  More photos and some CG renders of the robot follow after the break.

[sources: CREFUS & Vstone (JP)]

Robots at CES 2012

MINIROBOT, the South Korean company behind the ROBONOVA hobby robot kits, is showing the second generation at CES 2012 this week.  While the original ROBONOVA was licensed by Hitec, it appears MINIROBOT is looking for new distributors.  The kit has been available in South Korea for quite some time (known as Metal Fighter), though besides a new head it’s difficult to tell what has changed.  Like the original ROBONOVA, the ROBONOVA-2 has 16 degrees of freedom powered by (9kg/cm torque) servos.  The low number of relatively weak servos translates to roughly half the asking price of its competition.

Drawings made by Tosy Robotics’ SketRobo

We’re also keeping an eye on Tosy Robotics, a Vietnamese company that says Justin Bieber will be on hand to promote a new entertainment robot.  The company has already been showing off SketRobo, a humanoid-shaped robot arm that can show you how to draw hundreds of images, and a small dancing robot called DiscoRobo that automatically busts a groove to music.

The company’s website suggests the mystery robot will be called mRobo, however we’re hoping it will be a working version of TOPIO Tiny.  While these are what we would classify as toys, the prototype of TOPIO Tiny shown at a previous trade event would be the real deal – and even looked a bit like the SONY QRIO.

If it turns out the big reveal is simply a ridiculous robot-shaped sound system, color us unimpressed.

[source: Aving]

• True Grit

The Coen brothers are a wonderful writing and directing duo, so despite my general lack of enthusiasm for Westerns I gave True Grit the benefit of the doubt, and I’m glad I did.  I’ve never seen the 1969 original, but I doubt it would stand up to this modern retelling.  Everything from the acting down to the costume design is about as good as it gets.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, a U.S. Marshal hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) to find and capture the man who killed her father.  Seemingly wise beyond her years, Steinfeld does a fine job of playing the calculating young woman and Bridges embodies the drunken old man.  It turns out Ross’ father’s murderer is wanted for crimes in Texas too, and Matt Damon is in town as LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who is also after him.