Archive 22.03.2017

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Classroom robotics: Training teachers to code

*All images credit: ROBBO

30 teachers arrived, excited to learn. They rolled up their sleeves and placed laptops and Robot kits on the floor. The room filled with excitement (and laughter!) as everyone tried to come up with different solutions on how to create different programs. The results were hilarious; a robot inspired by Darth Vader, a robot that asked everyone to turn the lights off when it was too bright in the room, and a robot that tricked the teacher to leave the classroom during an exam.

Not bad for a day of “work!”

Training, like above, is what we’re all about at ROBBO. ROBBO is a fun and simple way for absolutely anyone to get introduced to the world of robotics and coding. As a part of one of our many projects, we organized a training weekend for the single purpose of introducing teachers to programming and robotics. The teachers started with simple exercises in RobboScratch, a visual programming environment; moving the character, creating series of multiple commands, and learning the advantages of the infinite loop when making programs.

So, what do we mean about classroom robotics? Our educational robotics consist of two different robots; the Robot kit and the Lab. Both robots are ideal for learning programming, robotics as well as skills in problem-solving, mathematics and physics while working in interactive teams. The Lab includes a microphone, LED-lights, light sensor and a slider and is great for experimenting with different elements such as sound or light and numeric values. Our other robot is the Robot kit, equipped with a motor, which is a fun way to explore everyday technology using a touch sensor, proximity sensor, light sensor, line sensors and an LED-light. Our robots are programmed in the visual programming environment RobboScratch, an adapted version of Scratch developed at MIT.

In our earlier example, teachers were divided into separate workshops, working in pairs, or teams of three. We believe it is important to communicate and discuss with others to better understand different programs and come up with alternative solutions if the program doesn’t work in the desired way. The workshops are all based on the exercises from our pedagogical guide, and teachers were given a copy of the guide for their own use. Our guide provides instructions and multiple exercise card (with solutions!) and is free to download here (http://robbo.world/support/).

Our teaching guide is for anyone who wants to learn the basics of programming with the help of ROBBO™ robotics and RobboScratch. Our pedagogical guide is a comprehensive educational tool with instructions, exercise cards and ideas for creating the ultimate learning experience. It has been developed together with Innokas Network at the University of Helsinki and Finnish teachers and students. The majority of the teachers that participated in the training had only limited knowledge of Scratch or Scratch Junior and, therefore, we started from the beginning.

The pedagogical guide includes an introduction to RobboScratch, Lab and Robot kit as well as up to 28 exercise cards to help you along the way. The exercises are designed to develop necessary programming skills step by step, teaching children to think logically as a software developer would do, which may also be useful in many everyday situations. These are, in particular, the ability to understand the whole, to split a problem into smaller parts, and to develop a simple program to perform an operation. In the initial exercises, students will make a program using a predefined model, but as the practice progresses, they will have more and more space for their own ideas.

By developing new skills, users are encouraged to plan and develop innovations in robotics. The training goal is to learn understand and use technology to invent something new. As the final assignment of the teachers’ training, we asked teachers to form teams of four and come up with a small prank using the different capabilities and sensors of either Robot kit or Lab or simultaneous use of both robots.

If you’d like to to learn more about ROBBO or download our free guide, visit our website: http://robbo.world/support/

Comments from teachers:

“The teaching guide is a great support when learning coding. And I can just hand out these ready-made exercise cards to my students as well!”

“The exercise in the guide are good for understanding the different possibilities you have with the robots, because when you start doing an exercise you come up with more ideas on how to develop a more complicated program.”

“The robots emphasized practicality in the learning process. In addition to programming, ROBBO teaches environmental studies and all-around useful skills, in particular when the exercises of the pedagogical guide are being utilized.”

If you’d like to learn more about classroom robotics, check out these articles:

See all the latest robotics news on Robohub, or sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Living and working with robots: Live coverage of #ERF2017

Over 800 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers working in robotics will convene at the European Robotics Forum (#ERF2017) in Edinburgh, 22-24 March. This year’s theme is “Living and Working With Robots” with a focus on applications in manufacturing, disaster relief, agriculture, healthcare, assistive living, education, and mining.

The 3-day programme features keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, and plenty of robots roaming the exhibit floor.

We’ll be updating this post regularly with live tweets and videos. You can also follow all the Robohub coverage here.

Engineers design “tree-on-a-chip”

Engineers have designed a microfluidic device they call a “tree-on-a-chip,” which mimics the pumping mechanism of trees and other plants.

Trees and other plants, from towering redwoods to diminutive daisies, are nature’s hydraulic pumps. They are constantly pulling water up from their roots to the topmost leaves, and pumping sugars produced by their leaves back down to the roots. This constant stream of nutrients is shuttled through a system of tissues called xylem and phloem, which are packed together in woody, parallel conduits.

Now engineers at MIT and their collaborators have designed a microfluidic device they call a “tree-on-a-chip,” which mimics the pumping mechanism of trees and plants. Like its natural counterparts, the chip operates passively, requiring no moving parts or external pumps. It is able to pump water and sugars through the chip at a steady flow rate for several days. The results are published this week in Nature Plants.

Anette “Peko” Hosoi, professor and associate department head for operations in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the chip’s passive pumping may be leveraged as a simple hydraulic actuator for small robots. Engineers have found it difficult and expensive to make tiny, movable parts and pumps to power complex movements in small robots. The team’s new pumping mechanism may enable robots whose motions are propelled by inexpensive, sugar-powered pumps.

“The goal of this work is cheap complexity, like one sees in nature,” Hosoi says. “It’s easy to add another leaf or xylem channel in a tree. In small robotics, everything is hard, from manufacturing, to integration, to actuation. If we could make the building blocks that enable cheap complexity, that would be super exciting. I think these [microfluidic pumps] are a step in that direction.”

Hosoi’s co-authors on the paper are lead author Jean Comtet, a former graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering; Kaare Jensen of the Technical University of Denmark; and Robert Turgeon and Abraham Stroock, both of Cornell University.

A hydraulic lift

The group’s tree-inspired work grew out of a project on hydraulic robots powered by pumping fluids. Hosoi was interested in designing hydraulic robots at the small scale, that could perform actions similar to much bigger robots like Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, a four-legged, Saint Bernard-sized robot that runs and jumps over rough terrain, powered by hydraulic actuators.

“For small systems, it’s often expensive to manufacture tiny moving pieces,” Hosoi says. “So we thought, ‘What if we could make a small-scale hydraulic system that could generate large pressures, with no moving parts?’ And then we asked, ‘Does anything do this in nature?’ It turns out that trees do.”

The general understanding among biologists has been that water, propelled by surface tension, travels up a tree’s channels of xylem, then diffuses through a semipermeable membrane and down into channels of phloem that contain sugar and other nutrients.

The more sugar there is in the phloem, the more water flows from xylem to phloem to balance out the sugar-to-water gradient, in a passive process known as osmosis. The resulting water flow flushes nutrients down to the roots. Trees and plants are thought to maintain this pumping process as more water is drawn up from their roots.

“This simple model of xylem and phloem has been well-known for decades,” Hosoi says. “From a qualitative point of view, this makes sense. But when you actually run the numbers, you realize this simple model does not allow for steady flow.”

In fact, engineers have previously attempted to design tree-inspired microfluidic pumps, fabricating parts that mimic xylem and phloem. But they found that these designs quickly stopped pumping within minutes.

It was Hosoi’s student Comtet who identified a third essential part to a tree’s pumping system: its leaves, which produce sugars through photosynthesis. Comtet’s model includes this additional source of sugars that diffuse from the leaves into a plant’s phloem, increasing the sugar-to-water gradient, which in turn maintains a constant osmotic pressure, circulating water and nutrients continuously throughout a tree.

Running on sugar

With Comtet’s hypothesis in mind, Hosoi and her team designed their tree-on-a-chip, a microfluidic pump that mimics a tree’s xylem, phloem, and most importantly, its sugar-producing leaves.

To make the chip, the researchers sandwiched together two plastic slides, through which they drilled small channels to represent xylem and phloem. They filled the xylem channel with water, and the phloem channel with water and sugar, then separated the two slides with a semipermeable material to mimic the membrane between xylem and phloem. They placed another membrane over the slide containing the phloem channel, and set a sugar cube on top to represent the additional source of sugar diffusing from a tree’s leaves into the phloem. They hooked the chip up to a tube, which fed water from a tank into the chip.

With this simple setup, the chip was able to passively pump water from the tank through the chip and out into a beaker, at a constant flow rate for several days, as opposed to previous designs that only pumped for several minutes.

“As soon as we put this sugar source in, we had it running for days at a steady state,” Hosoi says. “That’s exactly what we need. We want a device we can actually put in a robot.”

Hosoi envisions that the tree-on-a-chip pump may be built into a small robot to produce hydraulically powered motions, without requiring active pumps or parts.

“If you design your robot in a smart way, you could absolutely stick a sugar cube on it and let it go,” Hosoi says.

This research was supported, in part, by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.

Worm-inspired material strengthens, changes shape in response to its environment

The Nereis virens worm inspired new research out of the MIT Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics. Its jaw is made of soft organic material, but is as strong as harder materials such as human dentin. Photo: Alexander Semenov/Wikimedia Commons

A new material that naturally adapts to changing environments was inspired by the strength, stability, and mechanical performance of the jaw of a marine worm. The protein material, which was designed and modeled by researchers from the Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM) in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and synthesized in collaboration with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, expands and contracts based on changing pH levels and ion concentrations. It was developed by studying how the jaw of Nereis virens, a sand worm, forms and adapts in different environments.

The resulting pH- and ion-sensitive material is able to respond and react to its environment. Understanding this naturally-occurring process can be particularly helpful for active control of the motion or deformation of actuators for soft robotics and sensors without using external power supply or complex electronic controlling devices. It could also be used to build autonomous structures.

“The ability of dramatically altering the material properties, by changing its hierarchical structure starting at the chemical level, offers exciting new opportunities to tune the material, and to build upon the natural material design towards new engineering applications,” wrote Markus J. Buehler, the McAfee Professor of Engineering, head of CEE, and senior author of the paper.

The research, recently published in ACS Nano, shows that depending on the ions and pH levels in the environment, the protein material expands and contracts into different geometric patterns. When the conditions change again, the material reverts back to its original shape. This makes it particularly useful for smart composite materials with tunable mechanics and self-powered roboticists that use pH value and ion condition to change the material stiffness or generate functional deformations.

Finding inspiration in the strong, stable jaw of a marine worm

In order to create bio-inspired materials that can be used for soft robotics, sensors, and other uses — such as that inspired by the Nereis — engineers and scientists at LAMM and AFRL needed to first understand how these materials form in the Nereis worm, and how they ultimately behave in various environments. This understanding involved the development of a model that encompasses all different length scales from the atomic level, and is able to predict the material behavior. This model helps to fully understand the Nereis worm and its exceptional strength.

“Working with AFRL gave us the opportunity to pair our atomistic simulations with experiments,” said CEE research scientist Francisco Martin-Martinez. AFRL experimentally synthesized a hydrogel, a gel-like material made mostly of water, which is composed of recombinant Nvjp-1 protein responsible for the structural stability and impressive mechanical performance of the Nereis jaw. The hydrogel was used to test how the protein shrinks and changes behavior based on pH and ions in the environment.

The Nereis jaw is mostly made of organic matter, meaning it is a soft protein material with a consistency similar to gelatin. In spite of this, its strength, which has been reported to have a hardness ranging between 0.4 and 0.8 gigapascals (GPa), is similar to that of harder materials like human dentin. “It’s quite remarkable that this soft protein material, with a consistency akin to Jell-O, can be as strong as calcified minerals that are found in human dentin and harder materials such as bones,” Buehler said.

At MIT, the researchers looked at the makeup of the Nereis jaw on a molecular scale to see what makes the jaw so strong and adaptive. At this scale, the metal-coordinated crosslinks, the presence of metal in its molecular structure, provide a molecular network that makes the material stronger and at the same time make the molecular bond more dynamic, and ultimately able to respond to changing conditions. At the macroscopic scale, these dynamic metal-protein bonds result in an expansion/contraction behavior.

Combining the protein structural studies from AFRL with the molecular understanding from LAMM, Buehler, Martin-Martinez, CEE Research Scientist Zhao Qin, and former PhD student Chia-Ching Chou ’15, created a multiscale model that is able to predict the mechanical behavior of materials that contain this protein in various environments. “These atomistic simulations help us to visualize the atomic arrangements and molecular conformations that underlay the mechanical performance of these materials,” Martin-Martinez said.

Specifically, using this model the research team was able to design, test, and visualize how different molecular networks change and adapt to various pH levels, taking into account the biological and mechanical properties.

By looking at the molecular and biological makeup of a the Nereis virens and using the predictive model of the mechanical behavior of the resulting protein material, the LAMM researchers were able to more fully understand the protein material at different scales and provide a comprehensive understanding of how such protein materials form and behave in differing pH settings. This understanding guides new material designs for soft robots and sensors.

Identifying the link between environmental properties and movement in the material

The predictive model explained how the pH sensitive materials change shape and behavior, which the researchers used for designing new PH-changing geometric structures. Depending on the original geometric shape tested in the protein material and the properties surrounding it, the LAMM researchers found that the material either spirals or takes a Cypraea shell-like shape when the pH levels are changed. These are only some examples of the potential that this new material could have for developing soft robots, sensors, and autonomous structures.

Using the predictive model, the research team found that the material not only changes form, but it also reverts back to its original shape when the pH levels change. At the molecular level, histidine amino acids present in the protein bind strongly to the ions in the environment. This very local chemical reaction between amino acids and metal ions has an effect in the overall conformation of the protein at a larger scale. When environmental conditions change, the histidine-metal interactions change accordingly, which affect the protein conformation and in turn the material response.

“Changing the pH or changing the ions is like flipping a switch. You switch it on or off, depending on what environment you select, and the hydrogel expands or contracts” said Martin-Martinez.

LAMM found that at the molecular level, the structure of the protein material is strengthened when the environment contains zinc ions and certain pH levels. This creates more stable metal-coordinated crosslinks in the material’s molecular structure, which makes the molecules more dynamic and flexible.

This insight into the material’s design and its flexibility is extremely useful for environments with changing pH levels. Its response of changing its figure to changing acidity levels could be used for soft robotics. “Most soft robotics require power supply to drive the motion and to be controlled by complex electronic devices. Our work toward designing of multifunctional material may provide another pathway to directly control the material property and deformation without electronic devices,” said Qin.

By studying and modeling the molecular makeup and the behavior of the primary protein responsible for the mechanical properties ideal for Nereis jaw performance, the LAMM researchers are able to link environmental properties to movement in the material and have a more comprehensive understanding of the strength of the Nereis jaw.

The research was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) for the simulations.

Living and working with robots: European Robotics Forum to focus on robotics markets and future of work

Over 800 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers working in robotics will convene at the European Robotics Forum (#ERF2017) in Edinburgh, 22-24 March. This year’s theme is “Living and Working With Robots” with a focus on applications in manufacturing, disaster relief, agriculture, healthcare, assistive living, education, and mining.

The 3-day programme features keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, and plenty of robots roaming the exhibit floor. Visitors may encounter a humanoid from Pal Robotics, a bartender robot from KUKA, Shadow’s human-like hands, or the latest state-of-the-art robots from European research. Success stories from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s framework programme for research and innovation, and FP7 European projects will be on display.

Dr Cécile Huet Deputy Head of European Commission Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Unit, said, “A set of EU projects will demonstrate the broad impact of the EU funding programme in robotics: from progress in foundational research in robot learning, to in touch sensing for a new dimension in intuitive Human-Robot cooperation, to inspection in the oil-and-gas industry, security, care, manufacturing for SMEs, or the vast applications enabled by the progress in drones autonomous navigation.”

Reinhard Lafrenz, Secretary General of euRobotics said, “A rise in sales in robotics is driving the industry forward, and it’s not just benefiting companies who sell robots, but also SMEs and larger industries that use robots to increase their productivity and adopt new ways of thinking about their business. Around 80 robotics start-ups were created last year in Europe, which is truly remarkable. At euRobotics, we nurture the robotics industry ecosystem in Europe; keep an eye out for the Tech Transfer award and the Entrepreneurship award we’ll be giving out at ERF.”

Projects presented will include:

  • FUTURA – Focused Ultrasound Therapy Using Robotic Approaches
  • PETROBOT – Use cases for inspection robots opening up the oil-, gas- and petrochemical markets
  • sFly – Swarm of Micro Flying Robots
  • SMErobotics – The European Robotics Initiative for Strengthening the Competitiveness of SMEs in Manufacturing by Integrating aspects of Cognitive Systems
  • STRANDS – Spatio-Temporal Representations and Activities For Cognitive Control in Long-Term Scenarios
  • WEARHAP – WEARable HAPtics for Humans and Robots
  • Xperience – Robots Bootstrapped through Learning from Experience

The increased use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in robotics will be highlighted in two keynote presentations. Raia Hadsell, Senior Research Scientist at DeepMind will focus on deep learning, and strategies to make robots that can continuously learn and improve over time. Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI, will talk about his company’s aim to accelerate the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles.

Professor David Lane, ERF2017 General Chair and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said,  “We’re delighted this year to have two invited keynotes of outstanding quality and relevance from the UK, representing both research and disruptive industrial application of robotics and artificial intelligence. EURobotics and its members are committed to the innovation that translates technology from research to new products and services. New industries are being created, with robotics providing the essential arms, legs and sensors that bring big data and artificial intelligence out of the laboratory and into the real world.”

Throughout ERF2017, emphasis will be given to the impact of robots on society and the economy. Keith Brown MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, will open the event, said, “The European Robotics Forum provides an opportunity for Scotland to showcase our world-leading research and expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence and human-robot interaction. This event will shine a light on some of the outstanding developments being pioneered and demonstrates Scotland’s vital role in this globally significant area.”

In discussing robots and society, Dr Patricia A. Vargas, ERF2017 General Chair and Director of the Robotics Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University, said, “As robots gradually move to our homes and workplace, we must make sure they are fully ethical. A potential morality code for robots should include human responsibilities, and take into account how humans can interact with robots in a safe way. The European Robotics Forum is the ideal place to drive these discussions.”

Ultimately, the forum aims to understand how robots can benefit small and medium-sized businesses, and how links between industry and academia can be improved to better exploit the strength of European robotics and AI research. As robots start leaving the lab to enter our home and work environments, it becomes increasingly important to understand how they will best work alongside human co-workers and users. Issues of policy, the law, and ethics will be debated during dedicated workshops.

Dr Katrin Lohan, General Chair and Deputy Director of the Robotics Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University said, “It is important how to integrate robotics into the workflow so that it support and not disrupt the human workers. The potential of natural interaction interfaces and non-verbal communication cues needs to be further explored. The synergies of robots and human workers could make all the difference for small and medium-sized businesses to discuss this the European Robotics Forum is the ideal place as it joins industry and academia community. ”

______________________

Confirmed keynote speakers include:
Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Member of the Scottish Parliament
Raia Hadsell, Senior Research Scientist at DeepMind
Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI

The full programme can be found here.

Dates: 22 – 24 March
Venue: EICC, The Exchange, 150 Morrison St., EH3 8EE Edinburgh, Scotland
Participants: 800+ participants expected
Website: http://www.erf2017.eu/

Press Passes:
Journalists may request free press badges, or support with interviews, by emailing publicity.chairs@erf2017.eu. Please see the website for additional information.

Organisers
The European Robotics Forum is organised by euRobotics under SPARC, the Public-Private partnership for Robotics in Europe. This year’s conference is hosted by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics.

About euRobotics and SPARC
euRobotics is a non-profit organisation based in Brussels with the objective to make robotics beneficial for Europe’s economy and society.  With more than 250 member organisations, euRobotics also provides the European Robotics Community with a legal entity to engage in a public/private partnership with the European Commission, named SPARC.

SPARC, the public-private partnership (PPP) between the European Commission and euRobotics, is a European initiative to maintain and extend Europe’s leadership in civilian robotics. Its aim is to strategically position European robotics in the world thereby securing major benefits for the European economy and the society at large.

SPARC is the largest research and innovation programme in civilian robotics in the world, with 700 million euro in funding from the European Commission between 2014 to 2020, which is tripled by European industry to yield a total investment of 2.1 billion euro. SPARC will stimulate an ever more vibrant and effective robotics community that collaborates in the successful development of technical transfer and commercial exploitation.

www.eu-robotics.net
www.eu-robotics.net/sparc

Press contact details:

Sabine Hauert, Robohub President
Sabine.Hauert@robohub.org

OR

Kassie Perlongo, Managing Editor
Kassie.Perlongo@robohub.org

RoboThespian stars in UK play Spillikin, a love story

In a poignant play traveling throughout the UK, a robot is co-star and companion to the wife of the (now deceased) robot builder, with the wife developing early Alzheimer’s. The play explores very human themes about love, death, and disease, all handled extremely sensitively with RoboThespian playing a large role.

Jon Welch, the writer and director, said of the play:

“It’s a story about a robot maker. All of his life he builds robots, but he develops degenerative illness in mid-life and realizes he’s not going to live to remain a companion to his wife. His wife, by now, is developing early Alzheimer’s, so he builds his final creation, his final robot to be a companion to his wife.”

The robot is from Engineered Arts, a 12-year-old UK company that develops an ever expanding range of humanoid and semi-humanoid robots featuring natural human-like movement and advanced social behaviours. RoboThespian, Socibot and Byrun are their most prominent robot creations.

“We have pre-programmed every single thing the robot says and every single thing the robot does — all the moves. There’s about nearly 400 separate queues but they are made up of other files, all stuck together so there’s probably a couple of thousand cues in reality. So the robot will always say the same thing and move the same way, depending on what queue is been triggered at what particular time.”

This promotional video for the play is well worth watching:

The Drone Center’s Weekly Roundup: 3/20/17

The U.S. Army deployed a company of MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. Credit: Staff Sgt. Christopher Calvert/U.S. Army

March 13, 2017 – March 19, 2017

At the Center for the Study of the Drone

We spoke to Rolling Stone about the implications of recent advances in swarming drone technology for the future of warfare.

News

A U.S. airstrike in Syria involving U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones may have resulted in the deaths of noncombatants. According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strike, which reportedly hit a mosque in Jinah, killed at least 46 people. In a statement to reporters, a Pentagon spokesperson said that U.S. aircraft had not targeted the mosque, but rather al-Qaeda fighters at a community center nearby. (Washington Post)

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Trump administration has given the CIA greater latitude to order drone strikes. If confirmed to be true, the policy shift would appear to reverse restrictions placed by the Obama administration on the intelligence agency’s role in strikes, and may reopen a disagreement with the Department of Defense over the CIA’s authority to carry out strike operations.

The U.S. Army deployed an MQ-1C Gray Eagle surveillance and strike drone unit to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. The Gray Eagle company will be assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Aviation Regiment. (AIN Online)

Canada announced new rules for recreational drone users, including a flight ceiling of 295 feet and a prohibition against flying near airports. Infractions could result in fines of over $2,000. In a statement, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that the measures were aimed at preventing an accident involving a drone and a manned aircraft. (ABC News)

Commentary, Analysis, and Art

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on integrating drones into the national airspace. (UAS Magazine)

At the New York Times, Rachel Nuwer takes a closer look at the benefits and challenges of  using drones to fight poachers.

The New York Times Editorial Board argues that the Trump administration should not loosen the rules of engagement for strikes and counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.

At Lawfare, Robert Chesney considers the possible consequences of the Trump administration’s reported decision to allow the CIA to order drone strikes.

At Recode, Johana Bhuiyan writes that Uber’s self-driving vehicle technology is struggling to meet expectations.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau released a report in which it found that there was a 75 percent rise in the number of reported close encounters between drones and manned aircraft between 2012 and 2016. (PerthNow)  

Drone manufacturer DJI released a paper in which it argues that drones have saved 59 lives over the past several years. (Drone360)

At Breaking Defense, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. looks at how automation and robotics figure into the U.S. Army’s plans for its next generation battle tank.

At DefenseNews, Meghann Myers examines the different ways that the U.S. Army is looking to protect soldiers from drones.

At the Verge, Andrew Liptak looks at how one U.S. ally used a $3 million Patriot missile to shoot down a $200 drone.

At CNBC, Michelle Castillo writes that drone racing is turning into a lucrative profession for some racers.

At Real Clear Defense, Jon Blatt explains “why drones still play second fiddle to fighters.”

At the New York Times’ Lens blog, photographer Josh Haner discusses how drones can contribute to storytelling.

At Wired, photographer Aydın Büyüktaş shares how he uses a drone, 3-D rendering, and Photoshop to create curved landscapes of the American West.

Meanwhile, at TechRepublic, Ant Pruitt offers a step-by-step guide to aerial photography for aspiring drone photographers.

Know Your Drone

U.K. firm Windhorse Aerospace revealed new details about its edible humanitarian drones, which will likely be made of compressed vegetable honeycomb and salami. (The Verge)

Online retail giant Amazon has been granted two patents for its proposed delivery drone system: an adjustable landing gear system and a propeller system with adjustable wingtips. (CNBC)

Meanwhile, Amazon displayed two of its Prime Air delivery drones at the South by Southwest  festival in Texas, the first time the systems had been displayed publicly. (Fortune)

Drone maker QuadH2O unveiled the HexH2O Pro, a waterproof commercial drone. (Unmanned Systems Technology)

Russian defense firm Kalashnikov is planning to build a 20-ton armed unmanned ground vehicle. (Popular Mechanics)

Defense firm BAE is once again displaying its Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle, a weaponized unmanned ground vehicle that it developed for the U.S. Army’s cancelled Future Combat Systems program. (Defense News)

Singapore’s Air Force has announced that its Heron 1 surveillance and reconnaissance drone has reached full operational capability. (IHS Jane’s 360)

Researchers at Georgia Tech are developing a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to control robotic arms. (IEEE Spectrum)

China Daily reported that China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, a state-owned company, is developing drones capable of evading radar detection. (IHS Jane’s 360)

The Israeli military is set to begin operational tests of the Elbit Systems’ Skylark 3, a surveillance and reconnaissance drone. (FlightGlobal)

Defense firm Israel Aerospace Industries unveiled two small electro-optical sensors designed for use on surveillance and reconnaissance drones. (Shephard Media)

Police in Wuhan, China are testing a counter-drone jamming gun. (South China Morning Post)

A software upgrade to the U.S. Navy’s Boeing P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft will enable it to work with unmanned systems. (Defense Systems)

Drones at Work

New Zealand firm Drone Technologies conducted the country’s first beyond-line-of-sight flight of a drone to inspect transmission lines and towers in the Rimutaka Ranges. (Stuff)

The Cecil County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland used a drone to discover a trove of stolen heavy machinery. (ABC2 News)

A Skylark 1 drone operated by the Israel Defense Forces crashed during a flight in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)

The FAA has granted the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office in North Dakota a waiver to conduct nighttime drone operations. (Bemidji Pioneer)

Industry Intel

China-based drone manufacturer Yuneec announced that it is laying off an undisclosed number of staff at its North America office. (MarketWatch)

Defunct drone startup Lily Robotics told customers that it does not have a timeline for refunding preorders of its cancelled selfie drone. (Recode)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Dynetics and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems phase two contracts for the Gremlins low-cost, reusable drone program. (Shephard Media)

The U.S. Air Force will reportedly award General Atomics Aeronautical Systems contracts for upgrading the MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 systems to an extended range configuration. (IHS Jane’s 360)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Aerial Imaging Solutions a $61,850 contract for three hexacopter drone systems. (FBO)

The U.S. Geological Survey awarded Rock House Products International a $13,011 contract for a thermal imaging system for an unmanned aircraft. (FBO)

The U.S. Navy awarded Northrop Grumman Systems a $3.6 million contract for the installation and flight testing of the Selex ES Osprey 30 RADAR for the MQ-8C Fire Scout drone. (FBO)

The U.S. Navy announced that it will award Boeing Insitu a $112,842 foreign military sales contract for spare parts for the ScanEagle drone for Kenya. (FBO)

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Japan’s World Robot Summit posts challenges for teams

Japan is holding a huge robot celebration in 2018 in Tokyo and 2020 in Aichi, Fukushima, hosted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and industry (METI) and the New Energy Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). This is a commercial robotics Expo and a series of robotics Challenges with the goal of bringing together experts from around the world to advance human focused robotics.

The World Robot Summit website was just launched on March 2, 2017. The results of tenders for standard robot platforms for the competitions are being announced soon and the first trials for competition teams should happen in summer 2017.

There are a total of 8 challenges that fall into 4 categories: Industrial Robotics, Service Robotics, Disaster Robotics and Junior.

Industrial: Assembly Challenge – quick and accurate assembly of model products containing technical components require in assembling industrial products and other goods.

Service: Partner Robot Challenge – setting tasks equivalent to housework and making robots that complete such tasks – utilizing a standard robot platform.

Service: Automation of Retail Work Challenge – making robots to complete tasks eg. shelf stocking and replenishment multiple types of products such as foods, interaction between customers and staffs and cleaning restrooms.

Disaster: Plant Disaster Prevention Challenge – inspecting or maintaining infrastructures based on set standards eg. opening/closing valves and exchanging consumable supplies and searching for disaster victims.

Disaster: Tunnel Disaster Response and Recovery Challenge – collecting information and providing emergency response in case of a tunnel disaster eg. saving lives and removing vehicles from tunnels.

Disaster: Standard Disaster Robotics Challenge – assessing standard performance levels eg. mobility, sensing, information collection, wireless communication, remote control on-site deployment and durability, etc. require in disaster prevention and response.

Junior (aged 19 or younger): School Robot Challenge – making robots to complete tasks that might be useful in a school environment – utilizing a standard robot platform.

Junior (aged 19 or younger): Home Robot Challenge – setting tasks equivalent to housework and making robots that complete such tasks.

The World Robot Summit, Challenge, Expo and Symposiums are looking for potential teams and major sponsors. 

For more information, you can email: Wrs@keieiken.co.jp

Robots Podcast #230: bots_alive, with Bradley Knox



In this episode, Audrow Nash interviews Bradley Knox, founder of bots_alive. Knox speaks about an add-on to a Hexbug, a six-legged robotic toy, that makes the bot behave more like a character. They discuss the novel way Knox uses machine learning to create a sense character. They also discuss the limitation of technology to emulate living creatures, and how the bots_alive robot was built within these limitations.

 

 

Brad Knox

Dr. Bradley Knox is the founder of bots_alive. He researched human-robot interaction, interactive machine learning, and artificial intelligence at the MIT Media Lab and at UT Austin. At MIT, he designed and taught Interactive Machine Learning. He has won two best paper awards at major robotics and AI conferences, was awarded best dissertation from UT Austin’s Computer Science Department, and was named to IEEE’s AI’s 10 to Watch in 2013.

 

 

Links

Bosch and Nvidia partner to develop AI for self-driving cars

Amongst all the activity in autonomously driven vehicle joint ventures, new R&D facilities, strategic acquisitions (such as Mobileye being acquired by Intel) and booming startup fundings, two big players in the industry, NVIDIA and Bosch, are partnering to develop an AI self-driving car supercomputer.

Bosch CEO Dr Volkmar Denner announced the partnership during his keynote address at Bosch Connected World, in Berlin.

“Automated driving makes roads safer, and artificial intelligence is the key to making that happen,” said Denner. “We are making the car smart. We are teaching the car how to maneuver through road traffic by itself.”

The Bosch AI car computer will use NVIDIA AI PX technology, the upcoming AI car superchip, advertised as the world’s first single-chip processor designed to achieve Level-4 autonomous driving (see ADAS chart). The unprecedented level of performance is necessary to handle the massive amount of computation required for the various tasks self-driving vehicles must perform which include running deep neural nets to sense surroundings, understanding the 3D environment, localizing themselves on an HD map, predicting the behavior and position of other objects, as well as computing car dynamics and a safe path forward.

Source: Frost & Sullivan;VDS Automotive SYS Konferenz 2014/

 

Essentially, the NVIDIA platform enables vehicles to be trained on the complexities of driving, operated autonomously and updated over the air with new features and capabilities. And Bosch, which is the one of the world’s largest auto parts makers, has the Tier 1 credentials to mass-produce this AI-enabled supercomputer for a good portion of the auto industry.

“Self-driving cars is a challenge that can finally be solved with recent breakthroughs in deep learning and artificial intelligence,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, founder and CEO, NVIDIA. “Using DRIVE PX AI car computer, Bosch will build automotive-grade systems for the mass production of autonomous cars. Together we will realize a future where autonomous vehicles make mobility safe and accessible to all.”

Nvidia is also partnering with automakers Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Bottom line:

“This is the kind of strategic tie-up that lets both partners do what they do best – Nvidia can focus on developing the core AI supercomputing tech, and Bosch can provide relationships and sales operations that offer true scale and reach,” says Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch.

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