Meet the Soft, Cuddly Robots of the Future (nature.com) 12

turkeydance writes with a link to an article at Nature exploring the squishier side of robots research. Rather than conventional (and rigid) materials and architectures for robots, soft robot researchers are building bots that employ materials that fluidly bend, stretch, roll, and squeeze, more along the lines of an octopus than an industrial claw; some of the ones featured in the article (and shown in an accompanying video) are explicitly based on octopus movement. "Think about how hard it is to tie shoelaces," says Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "That's the kind of capability we'd like to have in robotics."
Medicine

Cheap At $40,000: Phoenix Exoskeleton Gives Paraplegics Legs to Walk With 37

Fast Company highlights the cheap-for-the-price Phoenix exoskeleton, created by University of California Berkeley professor (and Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory director) Homayoon Kazerooni and a team of his former grad students at SuitX, a company Kazerooni founded in 2013. Set to sell for $40,000 when it goes on sale next month, the Phoenix sounds expensive -- except compared to the alternatives. For paraplegic patients, there are a handful of other powered exoskeletons, but they cost much more, and are engineered for more than the modest goals of the Phoenix, which allows only one thing: slow walking on level ground. That limited objective means that the rig is light (27 pounds), and relatively unobtrusive. Kazerooni says that he'd like the price to go down much further, too, noting that all the technology in a modern motorcyle can be had for the quarter of the price. A slice: [The] only driving motors in Phoenix are at the hip joints. When the user hits a forward button on their crutches, their left hip swings forward. At this moment, the onboard computer signals the knee to become loose, flex, and clear the ground. As the foot hits, the knee joint stiffens again to support the leg. This computer-choreographed process repeats for the right leg. As it happens, this hinged knee joint has another benefit. If the wearer hits something midstep, like a rock or a curb, a powered knee would blindly drive the leg forward anyway, likely leading to a fall. The hinge naturally absorbs such resistance and allows the wearer a chance to compensate.
Robotics

World's First Robotic Farm To Produce 11 Million Heads of Lettuce Per Year (inhabitat.com) 161

MikeChino writes: Japanese company SPREAD is preparing to open the world's first robot-controlled farm. The facility is designed to produce 11 million heads of lettuce each year, and it's expected to ship its first crop in Fall 2017. The new 47,300 square feet Vegetable Factory in Kansai Science City will also reduce construction costs by 25 percent and energy demand by 30 percent.
Robotics

Let's Tear Down a Kiva Bot! (robohub.org) 22

Ben Einstein, writes new submitter Robofenix2, has torn down a Kiva bot -- a mobile ground-based warehouse delivery drone, aka Amazon's busiest employee. These robotic systems have revolutionised the warehouse distribution industry helping deliver packages. Ben was able to get his hands on an older generation, end-of-life Kiva bot and cracked open its bright orange shell to expose a brilliant piece of engineering; this post shares the fruits of Kiva's hard work. This 2011 video is also worth viewing, not least to see Kiva's shelf-lifting corkscrew action.
Displays

Drone Races To Be Broadcast To VR Headsets (thenewstack.io) 30

An anonymous reader writes: You just plug in the HDMI feed, and you're in the cockpit of the drone," the CEO of the new Drone Racing League tells Wired. "Everyone from Oculus on is expecting to have VR headsets in every home for entertainment consumption, and we're a natural use for it." In anticipation of a new mass entertainment, the Drone Racing League released new footage Thursday highlighting one of their complicated competition courses, "a concrete steampunk torture chamber with cast-iron columns and massive hulking turbines from another era" described as The Gates of Hell. "[T]hese young drone pilots are not just enjoying themselves, but also inventing a new sport," reports one technology site, asking whether we'll ultimately see "drone parks" or even drone demolition derbies and flying robot wars. In an article titled "When Video Games Get Real," they quote one pilot who says it feels like skateboarding in the 1990's, "with a small group of people pushing the envelope and inventing every day" — this time wearing virtual reality googles to experience the addictive thrill of flying.
Toys

German Inventor, Innovator and Businessman Artur Fischer Dies At Age of 96 38

Qbertino writes: As Spiegel.de reports (German link) inventor Artur Fischer has died at the age of 96. Artur Fischer is a classic example of the innovator and businessman of post-war Germany — he invented the synchronous flash for photography, the famed Fischer Fixing (aka Screwanchor/rawlplug or "Dübel" in German) and the Fischer Technik Construction Sets with which many a nerd grew up with, including the famous C64 Fischer Robotics Kit of the 80s. His heritage includes an impressive portfolio of over 1100 patents and he reportedly remained inventive and interested in solving technical problems til the very end. ... Rest in piece and thanks for the hours of fun tinkering with Fischertechnik. ... Now where did that old C64 robot go?
Education

Ask Slashdot: Learning Robotics Without Hardware? 78

An anonymous reader writes: I live in a Third World country with a more or less open Internet access. I'm thinking of learning robotics. I can access Github and other free software repositories, and I can read or watch online tutorials in English. My only problem is that we don't really have the money to buy robotics hardware. We can afford an Arduino or Raspberry Pi board but not the mechanical attachments. So is there any chance for me to learn robotics even if I don't have the hardware? Is it possible to program a robot using pure software simulation?
The Almighty Buck

High-Speed Firms Now Oversee Almost All Stocks At NYSE Floor (bloomberg.com) 138

An anonymous reader writes: Barclays, one of the biggest banking and financial services firms in the world, has sold its business on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to Global Trading Systems. This is significant because it marks a transition between human-based trading and high-speed trading. Now, humans on the NYSE floor have more of a supervisory role, making sure the automated systems don't go haywire. Barclays has been around for hundreds of years; GTS was founded in 2006. "There used to be dozens of specialist firms, as designated market makers were once known, at the NYSE floor. But profits from trading U.S. stocks dwindled, making it difficult to serve as market makers without automation. Although GTS, Virtu, IMC and KCG employ human traders at the floor, their businesses are driven by some of the industry's most sophisticated computer systems."
Toys

To Solve a Rubik's Cube In 1 Second, It Takes a Robot 100

The Next Web features a quick look at an eyebrow-raisingly fast Rubik's Cube-solving robot, created by developers Jay Flatland and Paul Rose. How fast? The robot can solve a scrambled cube in one second (as long as you're willing to round down consistent solutions in "less than 1.2 seconds") which makes for some fun repeat views on YouTube. One speed-shaving element of the design: Rather than grip the cube with a robot hand, Flatland and Rose essentially made the cube an integral part of the system, by drilling holes in the cube's center faces, and attaching stepper motors directly. (Also at Motherboard).
Businesses

A.I. Startups Building Bots For Businesses (xconomy.com) 25

gthuang88 writes: Virtual digital assistants are gaining popularity with the rise of Siri, Google Now, and Facebook's M service. Now startups are using related artificial intelligence techniques to solve business problems. Talla is building an interactive bot on Slack and HipChat for handling workflows in recruiting and human resources. The software uses natural language processing, word vectors, and some deep learning. Other startups, such as Gamalon, DataRobot, and Sentenai, are focused on probabilistic programming, data science, and machine learning for the Internet of things. Working with private data sets and business apps could help these startups avoid competing with the big players, at least for now.

Video Hubo the Robot Meets the Rich and Influential

At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, the DARPA-winning Hubo robot impressed attendees with its moves. Its presence highlights a future question for the global economy.
Robotics

The BBC Announces Robot Wars' Return To TV (bbc.co.uk) 77

Blacklaw writes: The BBC has announced that Robot Wars, the classic metal-mashing amateur robotics competition, is returning for a new series. They are building an all-new battle arena — following the sale of the original for scrap in 2005. "The new series includes a raft of technological advances since the show first aired over a decade ago, and viewers can expect to see more innovative fighting machines as teams of amateur roboteers battle it out to win the coveted Robot Wars title."
Networking

The Network Revolution Needed For Remote Surgery (thestack.com) 103

An anonymous reader writes: IEEE researchers are proposing new standards for haptic codecs over software-defined 5G networks in order to achieve the ambitious 1ms latency and reliability required for the 'tactile internet'. It's a trivial consideration when hugging chickens over a network, more serious for applications of telesurgery, and a proposed leap in network quality that seems likely to yield benefits for general data streams as well.
Robotics

Sensors Designed For Prosthetic Hands Could Lead To New Textile Standards (smithsonianmag.com) 21

schwit1 writes: "When you touch something, you are doing more than sensing the surface of that object. You're also changing it, however subtly. Your finger emits heat, and no matter how gentle you are, you exert an almost imperceptible amount of pressure. In other words, you aren't just feeling the material, you're feeling its reaction to your touch."

With this in mind, SynTouch has built its BioTac sensor to emulate this reaction by producing heat and pressure on its own, just like a real finger would. But in order to teach the sensor how to process this information, its engineers have developed the "SynTouch Standard" — a comprehensive collection of 500 different materials classified based on 15 different factors, which includes friction and smoothness, Sarah Fecht writes for Popular Science.

By categorizing these materials to teach the robots differences in texture, SynTouch has almost accidentally created a texture standard for manufacturers. Companies could use these standards to more easily judge fabrics that are used for everything from the newest runway styles to car seat covers.

Robotics

Nadine the Robot Receptionist (qz.com) 46

An anonymous reader writes: Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has unveiled an intelligent robot receptionist called Nadine. Modeled after and built by Nadia Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation, Nadine can hold a conversation, remember a face, and even remember what she has spoken to a person about. A press release reads in part: "Unlike conventional robots, Nadine has her own personality, mood and emotions. She can be happy or sad, depending on the conversation. She also has a good memory, and can recognize the people she has met, and remembers what the person had said before. Nadine is the latest social robot developed by scientists at NTU. The doppelganger of its creator, Prof Nadia Thalmann, Nadine is powered by intelligent software similar to Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. Nadine can be a personal assistant in offices and homes in future. And she can be used as social companions for the young and the elderly."
The Military

Robot Mule Put Out To Pasture By Marine Corps (nbcnews.com) 153

An anonymous reader sends word that the Marines have decided that Boston Dynamics' robotic pack mules are too noisy to use. NBC reports: The massive robotic mule developed by Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics won't see combat with U.S. Marines. LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems) was meant to carry cargo for weary soldiers in the field. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the robot was capable of walking with 400 pounds of equipment on its back. LS3 could run for 24 hours straight on a 20-mile mission across rough terrain. No controller was needed; it took visual and verbal cues from soldiers to find its way. So why doesn't the Marine Corps want to use it? The robot's gas-powered engine isn't exactly the stealthiest piece of technology.
Technology

A Silicon Valley For Drones, In North Dakota (nytimes.com) 31

An anonymous reader writes: Commercial drone development has come a long way in the past five years or so, but (as evidenced by the near miss in Italy) they still aren't something you'd want to see crowding our skies. They're not terribly reliable, they have a pretty short range, and they're loud. Clearly, there's an even longer road ahead to turn them into everyday tools. Silicon Valley may seem like a natural hotbed for development, but it turns out North Dakota might end up being where bleeding-edge drone development happens. "North Dakota has spent about $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection."

Testing drones in North Dakota, with its wide-open spaces, farms, and oil fields, neatly sidesteps many of the safety and privacy issues facing drones in more populated areas. The state is also fostering drone pilots: "[T]he University of North Dakota, which already trains many of the nation's commercial pilots and the air traffic controllers of some 18 countries, has 200 students learning to fly drones in a four-year program that started in 2009; 61 students have graduated from it. North Dakota State University, in Fargo, has also started teaching drone courses."

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