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Submission + - Inside Look at Valve's New Lighthouse Tracking System

HizookRobotics writes: While walking around the Bay Area Maker Faire the other weekend, I stumbled across an amazing piece of technology: Valve's "Lighthouse" tracking system. It was designed for augmented and virtual reality — i.e. head and controller tracking, where it needs to have some insane specifications for positional accuracy, angular accuracy, and especially(!!!) latency. Rumors about the technology had been floating around for a few months (with the unveiling of the HTC Vive VR system), but Lighthouse is even more elegant than rumored! It is exceedingly simple, low-cost, light weight, and performant. It's much (much!) better than the image processing techniques I've seen to date — especially when it comes to latency. Most importantly.... this technology could be a "big deal" for robotics too. I had a chance to speak with Valve's Alan Yates about how the Lighthouse system works; I didn't get all the specifications, but I did get some interesting information — so check it out!

Submission + - SPAM: A Lesser-Known "Secret" Type of Robot Actuator: The Twisted String Actuator 1

HizookRobotics writes: wrote about an actuator that is surprisingly simple, has a high gear ratio, was known since ancient times, and can be produced with nothing more than a cheap hobby motor and some string. Crazy, right?! The basic premise is simple: hook up two wires to a motor on one side and a load on the other; twist the wires, which causes their effective length to shrink and linearly pull the load. The Twisted String Actuator article has more details, including some of the limited academic literature on this unique, simple actuator.

Submission + - How RFID can help robots identify objects, bring us closer to internet of things (

Hallie Siegel writes: How do robots find things in their environment? Some use vision systems, or lasers. But researchers at Georgia Tech have shown how small Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags can be used to help robots detect and identify hidden objects. This could allow a robot to find a bottle of medication in a cupboard, for example, and make sure it’s the correct medication before bringing it to the person who needs it. In the future, these tags will be augmented with better energy, sensing and computation capabilities, and could provide a smart environment for robots to interact with — a practical step toward the Internet of Things.

In this interview, Sabine Hauert speaks with Travis Deyle about his IROS-nominated work on RFID tags, his blog Hizook, and the career path that brought him from academia, to founding his own start-up, and finally working for Google[x], where he was part of the team that made the “smart contact lens” to measure tear glucose levels (recently licensed to Novartis).

Submission + - New long-range RFID technology helps robots find household objects

HizookRobotics writes: Georgia Tech researchers announced a new way robots can “sense” their surroundings through the use of small ultra-high frequency radio-frequency identification (UHF RFID) tags. Inexpensive self-adhesive tags can be stuck on objects, allowing an RFID-equipped robot to search a room for the correct tag’s signal, even when the object is hidden out of sight. Once the tag is detected, the robot knows the object it’s trying to find isn’t far away. The researchers' methods, summarized over at IEEE's website by Evan Ackerman: The robot goes to the spot where it got the hottest signal from the tag it was looking for, zeroing in on it based on the signal strength that its shoulder antennas are picking up: if the right antenna is getting a stronger signal, the robot yaws right, and vice versa.

Comment Tesla Cars are Grid Storage (Score 2) 151

If Tesla makes the cars' power bidirectional, the excess capacity of cars plugged in for recharging (essentially) becomes a grid-connected battery itself. I recall seeing homebrew electric cars used as "generators" during brownouts a few years back. Tesla could do this on a massive scale using individuals' cars -- and pass some of the gains (peak power) back to the car owners.

Comment Re:2 years for a PhD student... (Score 4, Informative) 22

Actually, the fully-loaded cost for a PhD student is $75k-$80k / year (ie the amount charged to a faculty member's grant). You have to remember, PhD students' tuition is usually incurred as part of the cost since they're working in exchange for (1) a minimally-viable living stipend and (2) fully-paid tuition.

We had two PR2's in our lab (Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab). There were ~2 people working on each at any given time.... so the $$ makes sense. And the PR2 was a great platform!

Source: my work on the PR2

Comment Ask 'em to put another load nearby (Score 3, Insightful) 215

There are a lot of hard engineering problems to overcome, even if the system was efficient... For example, a second resonant load nearby severely de-tunes the system, antenna mounting considerations are of supreme importance (good luck putting one on a laptop full of metal), and antenna alignment is absolutely crucial! The whole WiTricity concept might be sound in theory, but the engineering challenges are monumental.

Comment Biggest Robotics Hardware Announcement This Decade (Score 1) 342

That's kind of a funny title to see this on the front page of /. on the same day that we have one of the biggest (robotics) hardware announcements of the decade: Rethink Robotics just announced their $22,000 humanoid robot. The visionary behind Rethink is Rod Brooks -- former MIT CSAIL director, co-founder of iRobot, etc etc. This new arm is a 10x drop in price compared to other comparable platforms (eg. Kuka, PR2, Barrett, Meka, ABB, etc). Hardware is definitely not dead... but perhaps "PC hardware" is...?

Comment Inflatable Robots by Otherlab (Score 1) 88

IMO, the "big deal" in inflatable robots comes from OtherLab... They've built giant (ridable!) inflatable robots and inflatable robot arms with insane power to weight ratios. We did a special on them at Hizook a while back: The OtherLab project is also part of the same DARPA program (M3) that spawned the iRobot inflatable arm.

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