An interdisciplinary workshop on self-organization and swarm intelligence in cyber physical systems was held at Lakeside Labs this week. Experts presented their work and discussed open issues in this exciting field.
“Our crazyswarm is the largest indoor drone swarm that I’m aware of,” Nora Ayanian states. The assistant professor from the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles was recently described by MIT Technology Review to be one of “35 innovators under 35.” She came to Klagenfurt to expound her latest results on multirobot coordination. She advocates for taking the perspective of a robot when designing coordination algorithms. Her team thus programmed a multiplayer computer game in which people have to form a certain spatial pattern by moving around, but they are constrained by the limited view of a robot and are not allowed to use any explicit communication. She expects new insights from this game for the development of a human-inspired approach for robot coordination.
The second keynote was given by Gianni Di Caro from Carnegie Mellon University. His talk emphasized latest advances in wearable interfaces for multi-modal interaction between humans and robot swarms. His philosophy is that most computations, such as decoding and fusion of vocal and gestural commands, are not done in the robots but in the wearable devices. Gianni was also a guest in Klagenfurt in 2013. “I enjoyed the Lakeside Research Days so much, that’s why I came back,” he says.
Two additional highlights were the presentations by Johannes Gerstmayr, professor for machine elements and design at the University of Innsbruck, and Thomas Schmickl, a professor for biology at the University of Graz. Gerstmayr introduced his adaptive tetrahedal elements, which can be put together to form reconfigurable robots and programmable matter. It is fascinating to imagine that these elements have the potential to enable reconfigurable furniture and art objects. Schmickl explained that entities in biological swarms might not need any explicit communication in order to collaborate. He also explained that the behavior of honeybees is quite diverse, and that only seven percent of honeybees are “goal finders” having the capability to systematically find a certain target, such as heat spots. According to Schmickl, the most promising application of swarm robotics is the search for extraterrestrial life forms. He currently develops swarms of small underwater robots for this purpose, which will soon be tested in the Adriatic Sea.
About 30 people attended the 2017 Lakeside Research Days, which was held in collaboration with the University of Klagenfurt from July 10 – 12, 2017. Emphasis was on scientific interaction and group work. The participants discussed, for example, the differences between swarms and controlled systems and concluded that swarms are especially useful in unknown and changing environments. The program also included laboratory sessions with training on micro-robots and talks from the Horizon 2020 project CPSwarm.
Keynotes were sponsored by the Lakeside Science & Technology Park GmbH, Infineon Technologies Austria AG, KELAG, and the TeWi-Förderverein. Melanie Schranz, senior researcher at Lakeside Labs and one of the organizers, is very satisfied with the outcome of the workshop: “I gained a lot of inspiration from great people for my own research,” she concludes.
Further impressions about the event can be found at Twitter Moments and #resdays17.
The Robotics Hub, in collaboration with Silicon Valley Robotics, is looking to invest up to $500,000 in robotics, AI and sensor startups! Finalists also receive exposure on Robohub and space in the new Silicon Valley Robotics Cowork Space. Plus you get to pitch your startup to an audience of top VCs, investors and experts. Entries close August 31.
In previous Robot Launch competitions we’ve had hundreds of entries from more than 20 countries around the world. Our finalists have also reached the finals of major startup competitions like Tech Crunch Disrupt, and gone on to raise millions of dollars of funding making strong industry partnerships, such as working with Siemens Frontier Program.
Our semifinalists will also been featured on Robohub, which means they’ll reach an audience of approx 100,000 viewers. Everyone who enters gets incredibly valuable feedback from top robotics VCs, investors and experts.
CRITERIA: Your startup should be under 5 years old, with less than $2 million in funding. You should have a great new robotics technology and business model. Your startup is related to robotics, AI, simulation, sensors or autonomous vehicles. ENTER NOW.
Robot Launch is supported by Silicon Valley Robotics to help more robotics startups present their technology and business models to prominent investors. Silicon Valley Robotics is the not-for-profit industry group supporting innovation and commercialization in robotics technologies. The Robotics Hub is the first investor in advanced robotics and AI startups, helping to get from ‘zero to one’ with their network of robotics and market experts.
Please share this in your networks and let us know if you’d like to be a judge, mentor or can offer a prize for Robot Launch 2017. Just email Andra [andra @ robotlaunch.com].
Learn more about previous Robot Launch competitions here.
Here are the slides I gave recently as member of panel Sci-Fi Dreams: How visions of the future are shaping the development of intelligent technology, at the Centre for the Future of Intelligence 2017 conference. I presented three short stories about robot stories.
The FP7 TRUCE Project invited a number of scientists – mostly within the field of Artificial Life – to suggest ideas for short stories. Those stories were then sent to a panel of writers, who chose one of the stories. I submitted an idea called The feeling of what it is like to be a robot and was delighted when Lucy Caldwell contacted me. Following a visit to the lab Lucy drafted a beautiful story called The Familiar which – following some iteration – appeared in the collected volume Beta Life.
More recently the EU Human Brain Project Foresight Lab brought three Sci Fi writers – Allen Ashley, Jule Owen and Stephen Oram – to visit the lab. Inspired by what they saw they then wrote three wonderful short stories, which were read at the 2016 Bristol Literature Festival. The readings were followed by a panel discussion which included myself and BRL colleagues Antonia Tzemanaki and Marta Palau Franco. The three stories are published in the volume Versions of the Future. Stephen Oram went on to publish a collection called Eating Robots.
My first two stories were about people telling stories about robots. Now I turn to the possibility of robots themselves telling stories. Some years ago I speculated on the idea on the idea of robots telling each other stories (directly inspired by a conversation with Richard Gregory). That idea has now turned into a current project, with the aim of building an embodied computational model of storytelling. For a full description see this paper, currently in press.
A quick, hassle-free way to stay on top of robotics news, our robotics digest is released on the first Monday of every month. Sign up to get it in your inbox.
Robots, drones and AI in action
Let’s kick off our June review by looking at some great new robotics research and development in action: Inspired by arthropod insects and spiders, Harvard Professor George Whitesides and Alex Nemiroski—a former postdoctoral fellow in Whitesides’ Harvard lab—have created a type of semi-soft robot capable of standing and walking. The team also created a robotic water strider capable of pushing itself along the liquid surface. The robots are described in a recently published paper in the journal Soft Robotics.
And in news from the garden shed, Franklin Robotics has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Tertill, their solar-powered, garden-weeding robot. Tertill lives in your garden, collecting sunlight to power its weed patrol, and cutting down short plants with a string trimmer/weed whacker with almost no intervention required. Available for about $300USD, the fully autonomous Tertill is the first weeding robot available to home gardeners! Check out the video below.
You may have heard that humankind lost another important battle with artificial intelligence last month when AlphaGo beat the world’s leading Go player Ke Jie by three games to zero. AlphaGo is an AI program developed by DeepMind, part of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Last year it beat another leading player, Lee Se-dol, by four games to one, but since then AlphaGo has substantially improved. Ke Jie described AlphaGo’s skill as “like a God of Go”. But AlphaGo will now retire from playing Go, leaving behind a legacy of games played against itself. These games have been described by one Go expert as like “games from far in the future”, which humans will study for years to improve their own play.
Elsewhere, Chinese education authorities have gone high-tech to catch cheaters as millions of high-school students take their “gaokao”, the annual university entrance exam seen as key to landing a lucrative white-collar job. So high are the stakes and so competitive is the exam that some students resort to cheating. But not if these facial recognition drones can help it.
Meanwhile, back in the pub, students from the University of Leeds have created a robot which they claim is capable of pulling the perfect pint. The team, from the School of Mechanical Engineering, worked with local engineering company Quality Bearings, and Saltaire Brewery to come up with the concept. The robot was put through its paceswith a taste test, a consistency test and a wastage test. Check out the clip below.
At ICRA 2017, researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) introduced a small robotic explorer that uses a single solid-fuel rocket to launch itself into the air. What’s new is that their robot includes some braking rockets that help it make pinpoint landings, as well as a clever gyroscopic system to make sure that it flies straight as well as providing a way for the robot to get around after landing.
In other flying news, a team of MIT engineers has come up with a much less expensive UAV design that can hover for longer durations to provide wide-ranging communications support. The researchers designed, built, and tested a UAV resembling a thin glider with a 24-foot wingspan. The vehicle can carry 4.5 to 9 kg of communications equipment while flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet. Weighing in at just under 68 kg, the vehicle is powered by a 5-horsepower gasoline engine and can keep itself aloft for more than five days — longer than any gasoline-powered autonomous aircraft has remained in flight, the researchers say. Check out the Jungle Hawk Owl’s maiden flight below.
Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are aiming to develop flying robots that can both drive through a city-like setting with parking spots, no fly zones and landing pads. In a new paper, the team presented a system of eight quadcopter drones that can do all of that and more.
And last but not least: Authors of the ICRA 2017 Best Automation Paper “UAV-Based Crop and Weed Classification for Smart Farming” wrote about their findings for Robohub. Check it out.
Policy and financing
Europe needs a “human in command approach,” says the European Economic and Social Comitte (EESC). The EU must pursue a policy that ensures the development, deployment and use of artificial intelligence in Europe in favor, and not conducive to the detriment, of society and social welfare, the Committee said in an initiative opinion on the social impact of AI which 11 fields are identified for action.
Across the pond, some of the nation’s leading wireless giants and drone makers offered “effusive praise” of President Donald Trump in June as they lobbied his administration to eliminate the federal regulations that stand in the way of their businesses. As part of the White House’s five-day focus on technology, Trump gathered executives from those industries—including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen and a number of venture capitalists—for a morning of brainstorming sessions devoted to spurring new investments in emerging fields.
And in a long-awaited business transaction, The New York Times Dealbook announced that SoftBank was buying Boston Dynamics from Alphabet (Google). Also included in the deal is the Japanese startup Schaft. Acquisition details were not disclosed. Both Boston Dynamics and Schaft were acquired by Google when Andy Rubin was developing Google’s robot group through a series of acquisitions. Both companies have continued to develop innovative mobile robots. And both have been on Google’s “for sale” list.
The Drone Racing League (DRL) has announced the closing of a $20 million Series B round of financing, bringing the total amount raised to $32 million. The new round of financing was led by Sky, Liberty Media LMCA +% (owner of Formula 1) and Lux Capital, with involvement by a couple of new investors in Allianz and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Investment from Allianz was expected after it was announced that Allianz signed on to become title sponsor of DRL’s elite racing circuit in February.
Health and medicine
Researchers from MIT’s CSAIL have developed a new system that uses a 3-D camera, a belt with separately controllable vibrational motors distributed around it, and an electronically reconfigurable Braille interface to give visually impaired users more information about their environments.
Elsewhere, a researcher at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is developing a bio-inspired ‘smart’ knee joint for prosthetic lower limbs. Dr Appolinaire Etoundi, based at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is leading the research and will analyse the functions, features and mechanisms of the human knee in order to translate this information into a new bio-inspired procedure for designing prosthetics.
And the medical innovations didn’t stop there in June. How about Robot snakes slithering into the delicate field of heart surgery? Or a robotic doctor that can be controlled hundreds of kilometres away by a human counterpart? Getting a check-up from a robot may sound like something from a sci-fi film, but scientists are closing in on this real-life scenario and have already tested a prototype.
An aging population means the age-dependency ratio—the proportion of the elderly compared with the number of workers—will almost double from 28.8 % in 2015 to 51 % in 2080, straining healthcare systems and national budgets. The creators of one humanoid robot (below) under development for the elderly say it can understand people’s actions and learn new behaviors in response, even though it is devoid of arms. Robots can be programmed to understand an elderly person’s preferences and habits to detect changes in behavior: for example if a yoga devotee misses a class, it will ask why, while if an elderly person falls it will automatically alert caregivers or emergency services.
June was a huge month of wheeling and dealing in the self-driving cars industry. NuTonomy, a small Boston startup that makes software for self-driving cars, has launched a research-and-development partnership with San Francisco’s Lyft Inc., the second-largest ride-hailing company in the United States. It’s the latest alliance between Lyft and a maker of autonomous vehicle technology, and could boost nuTonomy’s efforts to become a major force in self-driving vehicles. Lyft chief executive Logan Green said the partnership “could lead to thousands of Lyft cars on the nuTonomy platform.”
Meanwhile, competitors Uber, the global ride-sharing transportation company, named two replacements to recover from the recent firing of Anthony Levandowski who headed their Advanced Technologies Group, their OTTO trucking unit, and their self-driving team. Levandowski was fired May 30th. Eric Meyhofer and Anthony Levandowski will pick up the slack.
In other high-level firing news, Tesla Inc. has parted ways with another senior leader on its self-driving technology team, adding more turmoil to a program that is under pressure to meet the grand ambitions of Chief Executive Elon Musk. The Silicon Valley electric-car maker said Chris Lattner—head of development of Tesla’s Autopilot program—left his post as after he and Musk failed to see eye to eye on some important issues during Lattner’s six months in post.
Meanwhile, Waymo is done driving around the cute, steering-wheel-free autonomous cars that were introduced by Google back in 2014. In a blog post, Waymo leaders write that time has come to “retire our fleet of Fireflies” —their name for the tiny cars—and focus instead of integrating self-driving technology into other vehicles, like the Chrysler Pacifica minivans Waymo put on the road earlier this year.
In the UK, Venturer driverless car project published results of their first trials. Venturer is the first Connected and Autonomous Vehicle project to start in the UK. The results of Venturer’s preliminary trials show that the handover process is a safety critical issue in the development of Autonomous Vehicles. The first Venturer trials set out to investigate ‘takeover’ (time taken to reengage with vehicle controls) and ‘handover’ (time taken to regain a baseline/normal level of driving behavior and performance) when switching frequently between automated and manual driving modes within urban and extra-urban settings. This trial is believed to be the first to directly compare handover to human driver-control from autonomous mode in both simulator and autonomous road vehicle platforms.
Honda was the latest automaker to commit to an ambitious self-driving car goal in June. It wants cars with SAE Level 4 autonomy on the road by 2025, CEO Takahiro Hachigo announced at a media event in Japan. This news will likely stoke a fire underneath other Japanese self-driving car developers, so stay tuned for lots of new developments.
Auto supplier Robert Bosch GmbH will build a 1 billion-euro ($1.1 billion) semiconductor plant, the biggest single investment in its history, as the maker of brakes and engines prepares for a surge in demand for components used in self-driving vehicles.
Robohub showcased some great tutorials last month. Here’s one: The Robot Academy is a new learning resource from Professor Peter Corke and the Queensland University of Technology, the team behind the award-winning Introduction to Robotics and Robotic Vision courses. There are over 200 lessons available, all for free. The courses were designed for university undergraduate students but many lessons are suitable for anybody! So get stuck in.
Florian Enner offered this useful tutorial on programming: “Using MATLAB for hardware-in-the-loop prototyping #1 : Message passing systems”. Check it out here.
The two days of conference will focus on topics that cut across many of the issues and disciplines involved in the future of AI: narratives and trust.
Keynote speakers include Professor Stuart Russell (Berkeley), Baroness Onora O’Neill (Cambridge), Dr Claire Craig (Royal Society), Matt Hancock (MP) and Professor Francesca Rossi (University of Padova, Italy).
You can watch the live stream here, or follow the tweets below at #CFIConf.
SoftBank’s Pepper humanoid robot operation (a joint venture with Foxconn, Alibaba and SoftBank) has incurred a big $274 million loss while Asia more than doubled the amount of funding for tech startups thus far in 2017. No one ever said VC funding was for the faint of heart.
According to PwC and CB Insights, venture capital investments in Asia in the first six months of 2017 totaled $28.8 billion. VC investments in North America for the same period totaled $18.4 billion.
CB Insights reports that 45% of all dollars invested in tech in 2017 went to Asian firms.
Largest deals in Asia so far this year included Didi Chuxing raising $5.5 billion, One97 Communications ($1.4 billion), GO-JEK ($1.2 billion), Bytedance ($1 billion) and Ele.me ($1 billion).
Largest deals in North America in the quarter included San Francisco-based Lyft – which raised $600 million, Outcome Health ($500 million), Group Nine Media ($485 million), Houzz ($400 million), and Guardant Health ($360 million).
The number of deals around the world, as shown in the chart above, remains heavily in the West. Almost every day the news reports another fund being set up to invest in one area of tech or another. For example, Toyota Motor Corp today announced a $100 million fund (Toyota AI Ventures) for AI and robotics startups and have already made some initial investments. The first three are for a maker of cameras that monitor drivers and roads, a creator of autonomous car-mapping algorithms, and a developer of robotic companions for the elderly.
Nikkei Asian Review reports on SoftBank Robotics’ $274 million loss which they attribute to the Pepper humanoid robot joint venture with Alibaba and Foxconn. The subsidiary was established in 2014 and began consumer sales of Pepper in June 2015 and business sales that October.
“Although the company does not release earnings, it recorded sales of 2.2 billion yen and a net loss of 11.7 billion yen in fiscal 2015, according to Tokyo Shoko Research. That is markedly worse than the 2.3 billion yen net loss from fiscal 2014. 'Pepper is unprofitable because of its relatively low price for a humanoid robot, costing just 198,000 yen ($1,750), which cannot cover development costs.'”
A SoftBank PR statement said that they will increase corporate sales and improve earnings through related businesses such as apps and content and that sales are good.
In recent years, engineers have worked to shrink drone technology, building flying prototypes that are the size of a bumblebee and loaded with even tinier sensors and cameras. Thus far, they have managed to miniaturize almost every part of a drone, except for the brains of the entire operation — the computer chip.
Standard computer chips for quadcoptors and other similarly sized drones process an enormous amount of streaming data from cameras and sensors, and interpret that data on the fly to autonomously direct a drone’s pitch, speed, and trajectory. To do so, these computers use between 10 and 30 watts of power, supplied by batteries that would weigh down a much smaller, bee-sized drone.
Now, engineers at MIT have taken a first step in designing a computer chip that uses a fraction of the power of larger drone computers and is tailored for a drone as small as a bottlecap. They will present a new methodology and design, which they call “Navion,” at the Robotics: Science and Systems conference, held this week at MIT.
The team, led by Sertac Karaman, the Class of 1948 Career Development Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and Vivienne Sze, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, developed a low-power algorithm, in tandem with pared-down hardware, to create a specialized computer chip.
The key contribution of their work is a new approach for designing the chip hardware and the algorithms that run on the chip. “Traditionally, an algorithm is designed, and you throw it over to a hardware person to figure out how to map the algorithm to hardware,” Sze says. “But we found by designing the hardware and algorithms together, we can achieve more substantial power savings.”
“We are finding that this new approach to programming robots, which involves thinking about hardware and algorithms jointly, is key to scaling them down,” Karaman says.
The new chip processes streaming images at 20 frames per second and automatically carries out commands to adjust a drone’s orientation in space. The streamlined chip performs all these computations while using just below 2 watts of power — making it an order of magnitude more efficient than current drone-embedded chips.
Karaman, says the team’s design is the first step toward engineering “the smallest intelligent drone that can fly on its own.” He ultimately envisions disaster-response and search-and-rescue missions in which insect-sized drones flit in and out of tight spaces to examine a collapsed structure or look for trapped individuals. Karaman also foresees novel uses in consumer electronics.
“Imagine buying a bottlecap-sized drone that can integrate with your phone, and you can take it out and fit it in your palm,” he says. “If you lift your hand up a little, it would sense that, and start to fly around and film you. Then you open your hand again and it would land on your palm, and you could upload that video to your phone and share it with others.”
Karaman and Sze’s co-authors are graduate students Zhengdong Zhang and Amr Suleiman, and research scientist Luca Carlone.
From the ground up
Current minidrone prototypes are small enough to fit on a person’s fingertip and are extremely light, requiring only 1 watt of power to lift off from the ground. Their accompanying cameras and sensors use up an additional half a watt to operate.
“The missing piece is the computers — we can’t fit them in terms of size and power,” Karaman says. “We need to miniaturize the computers and make them low power.”
The group quickly realized that conventional chip design techniques would likely not produce a chip that was small enough and provided the required processing power to intelligently fly a small autonomous drone.
“As transistors have gotten smaller, there have been improvements in efficiency and speed, but that’s slowing down, and now we have to come up with specialized hardware to get improvements in efficiency,” Sze says.
The researchers decided to build a specialized chip from the ground up, developing algorithms to process data, and hardware to carry out that data-processing, in tandem.
Tweaking a formula
Specifically, the researchers made slight changes to an existing algorithm commonly used to determine a drone’s “ego-motion,” or awareness of its position in space. They then implemented various versions of the algorithm on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), a very simple programmable chip. To formalize this process, they developed a method called iterative splitting co-design that could strike the right balance of achieving accuracy while reducing the power consumption and the number of gates.
A typical FPGA consists of hundreds of thousands of disconnected gates, which researchers can connect in desired patterns to create specialized computing elements. Reducing the number gates with co-design allowed the team to chose an FPGA chip with fewer gates, leading to substantial power savings.
“If we don’t need a certain logic or memory process, we don’t use them, and that saves a lot of power,” Karaman explains.
Each time the researchers tweaked the ego-motion algorithm, they mapped the version onto the FPGA’s gates and connected the chip to a circuit board. They then fed the chip data from a standard drone dataset — an accumulation of streaming images and accelerometer measurements from previous drone-flying experiments that had been carried out by others and made available to the robotics community.
“These experiments are also done in a motion-capture room, so you know exactly where the drone is, and we use all this information after the fact,” Karaman says.
For each version of the algorithm that was implemented on the FPGA chip, the researchers observed the amount of power that the chip consumed as it processed the incoming data and estimated its resulting position in space.
The team’s most efficient design processed images at 20 frames per second and accurately estimated the drone’s orientation in space, while consuming less than 2 watts of power.
The power savings came partly from modifications to the amount of memory stored in the chip. Sze and her colleagues found that they were able to shrink the amount of data that the algorithm needed to process, while still achieving the same outcome. As a result, the chip itself was able to store less data and consume less power.
“Memory is really expensive in terms of power,” Sze says. “Since we do on-the-fly computing, as soon as we receive any data on the chip, we try to do as much processing as possible so we can throw it out right away, which enables us to keep a very small amount of memory on the chip without accessing off-chip memory, which is much more expensive.”
In this way, the team was able to reduce the chip’s memory storage to 2 megabytes without using off-chip memory, compared to a typical embedded computer chip for drones, which uses off-chip memory on the order of a few gigabytes.
“Any which way you can reduce the power so you can reduce battery size or extend battery life, the better,” Sze says.
This summer, the team will mount the FPGA chip onto a drone to test its performance in flight. Ultimately, the team plans to implement the optimized algorithm on an application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, a more specialized hardware platform that allows engineers to design specific types of gates, directly onto the chip.
“We think we can get this down to just a few hundred milliwatts,” Karaman says. “With this platform, we can do all kinds of optimizations, which allows tremendous power savings.”
This research was supported, in part, by Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.
Join us at the 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2017) for a full day workshop that will bring together international stakeholders in robotics to examine best practices for accelerating robotics innovation through strategic policy frameworks.
IROS Workshop | 8:30-17:00 September 28, 2017 | Vancouver Convention Centre | Vancouver BC
This is a unique opportunity to learn from people who have played a significant role in designing and implementing major strategic robotics initiatives around the globe.
In the past decade, a number of governing bodies and industry consortia have developed strategic roadmaps to guide investment and development of robotic technology. With the roadmaps from the US, South Korea, Japan and EU etc. well underway, the time is right to take stock of these strategic robotics initiatives to see what is working, what is not, and what best practices in roadmap development might be broadly applied to other regions.
The objective of this two-part workshop is to examine the process of how these policy frameworks came to be created in the first place, how they have been tailored to local capabilities and strengths, and what performance indicators are being used to measure their success — so that participants may draw from international collective experience as they design and evaluate strategic robotics initiatives for their own regions.
Program Part ONE — Morning Session: “Developing innovation policy for robotics, and establishing key performance indicators that are relevant to your region”
The morning session will feature international speakers who have played a significant role in launching and shaping major strategic robotics initiatives across the globe. The focus of this session will be on the history and process of designing the roadmap (rather than on merely presenting the roadmap itself) and key performance indicators of roadmap success. Via presentations and panel discussion, the outcome of this session will be an exploratory overview of best practices and key performance metrics, so that participants can apply knowledge gained from the workshop as they design strategic robotics policy frameworks for their own regional or national contexts.
Program Part TWO — Afternoon Session: “Towards a national robotics strategy for Canada”
The afternoon session will bring together leading Canadian robotics experts from academia, industry, federal/provincial policy, and the national research council to discuss and strategize the future of robotics in Canada, with an emphasis on addressing the social, economic, legal/ethical and regulatory issues, and the robotics strengths and capabilities specific to this country. The main goals of this session will be to 1) establish a clear picture of the internal Canadian robotics landscape and how it compares to other nations worldwide, 2) discuss lessons learned in the International session within the Canadian context, and 3) discuss and identify gaps and opportunities for a Canadian initiative. Ultimately the Canadian session will serve as a venue for collecting data and viewpoints to support the development of a Canadian Robotics Roadmap.
Who should attend
This workshop is open to all members of academia, government, and industry with an interest in funding, policy and research strategy.
Part One of the workshop (morning session) will be broadly applicable to anyone with an interest in robotics policy, partnerships and funding.
Part Two (afternoon session) will be of particular interest to Canadian conference-goers as well as those who are interested in Canadian research and industry partnerships.
Call for participation We are actively seeking participants for this workshop. If you are
involved in developing or evaluating a major strategic robotics initiative in your region and would like to participate in our international discussion, OR
are a member of the Canadian robotics ecosystem or are a Canadian roboticist living abroad who would like to be involved in a national robotics strategy for Canada
The U.S. Army is developing a drone that moves like a flying squirrel. Credit: David McNally/U.S. Army
A U.S. drone strike in Somalia targeted members of al-Shabab. It is the second drone strike in Somalia since President Trump relaxed rules for targeting members of the al-Qaeda-allied group. (New York Times)
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is offering refunds to drone hobbyists who paid the $5 fee to register with the agency. The move follows a federal court ruling in May that found that the FAA could not compel recreational drone users to register. The FAA has collected over $4 million in fees since it implemented the registration policy in December 2015. (Recode)
In a report published by the Mitchell Institute, Gen. David Deptula argues that the U.S. Department of Defense should create an office for unmanned aircraft to coordinate efforts across the different services. (Breaking Defense)
The Israeli military awarded Duke Robotics, a Florida-based startup, a contract for the TIKAD, a quadrotor drone that can be armed with a machine gun or grenade launcher. (Defense One)
For updates, news, and commentary, follow us on Twitter. The Weekly Drone Roundup is a newsletter from the Center for the Study of the Drone. It covers news, commentary, analysis and technology from the drone world. You can subscribe to the Roundup here.
by Joe Dodgshun
Drone innovators are transforming the way we watch events, from football matches and boat races to music festivals.
Anyone who has watched coverage of a festival or sports event in the last few years will probably have witnessed commercial drone use — in the form of breathtaking aerial footage.
But a collaboration of universities, research institutes and broadcasters is looking to take this to the next level by using a small swarm of intelligent drones.
The EU-funded MULTIDRONE project seeks to create teams of three to five semi-automated drones that can react to and capture unfolding action at large-scale sports events.
Project coordinator Professor Ioannis Pitas, of the University of Bristol, UK, says the collaboration aims to have prototypes ready for testing by its media partners Deutsche Welle and Rai – Radiotelevisione Italiana within 18 months.
‘Deutsche Welle has two potential uses lined up – filming the Rund um Wannsee boat race in Berlin, Germany, and also filming football matches with drones instead of normal cameras – while Rai is interested in covering cycling races,’ said Prof. Pitas.
‘We think we have the potential to offer a much better film experience at a reduced cost compared to helicopters or single drones, producing a new genre in drone cinematography.’
‘We have the potential to offer a much better film experience at a reduced cost compared to helicopters or single drones, producing a new genre in drone cinematography.’
Professor Ioannis Pitas, University of Bristol, UK
But before they can chase the leader of the Tour de France, MULTIDRONE faces the hefty challenge of creating AI that allows its drones to safely carry out a mission as a team.
Prof. Pitas says safety is the utmost priority, so the drones will include advanced crowd avoidance mechanisms and the ability to make emergency landings.
And it’s not just safety in the case of bad weather, a flat battery or a rogue football.
‘Security of communications is important as a drone could otherwise be hijacked, not just undermining privacy but also raising the possibility that it could be used as a weapon,’ said Prof. Pitas.
The early project phase will have a strong focus on ethics to prevent any issues around privacy.
‘People are sensitive about drones and about being filmed and we’re approaching this in three ways — trying to avoid shooting over private spaces, getting consent from the athletes being followed, and creating mechanisms that decide which persons to follow and blur other faces.’
If they can pull it off, he predicts a huge boost for the European entertainment industry and believes it could lead to much larger drone swarms capable of covering city-wide events.
According to Gartner research, sales of commercial-use drones are set to jump from 110 000 units in 2016 to 174 000 this year. Although 2 million toy drones were snapped up last year for USD 1.7 billion, the commercial market dwarfed this at USD 2.8 billion.
Aside from pure footage, drones have also proven their worth in research, disaster response, construction and even in monitoring industrial assets.
One company trying to open up the market to those needing a sky-high helping hand is Integra Aerial Services, a young drones-as-a-service company.
An offshoot of Danish aeronautics firm Integra Holding Group, INAS, was launched in 2014 thanks to an EU-backed feasibility study.
INAS has more than 25 years of experience in aviation and used its knowledge of the sector’s legislation to shape a business model targeting heavier, more versatile drones weighing up to 25 kilogrammes. And they have already been granted a commercial drone operating license by the Danish Civil Aviation Authority.
These bigger drones have far more endurance than typical toy drones, which can weigh anywhere from 250 grams to several kilos. INAS CEO Gilles Fartek says their bigger size means they can carry multiple sensors, thus collecting all the needed data in one fell swoop, instead of across multiple flights.
For example, one of their drones flies LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) radar over Greenland to measure ice thickness as a measure of climate change, but could also carry a 100 megapixel, high-definition camera.
While INAS spends most of the Arctic summer running experiments from the remote host Station Nord in Greenland, Fartek says they’re free to use the drones for different projects in other seasons, mostly in areas of environmental research, mapping and agricultural monitoring.
‘You can’t match the quality of data for the price, but drone-use regulations in Europe are still quite complicated and make between-country operations almost impossible,’ said Fartek.
‘The paradox is that you have an increasing demand for such civil applications across Europe and even in institutional areas like civil protection and maritime safety where they cannot use military drones.’
A single European sky
These issues, and more, should soon be addressed by SESAR, the project which coordinates all EU research and development activities in air traffic management. SESAR plans to deploy a harmonised approach to European airspace management by 2030 in order to meet a predicted leap in air traffic.
Recently SESAR unveiled its blueprint outlining how it plans to make drone use in low-level airspace safe, secure and environmentally friendly. They hope this plan will be ready by 2019, paving the way for an EU drone services market by safely integrating highly automated or autonomous drones into low-level airspace of up to 150 metres.
Modelled after manned aviation traffic management, the plan will include registration of drones and operators, provide information for autonomous drone flights and introduce geo-fencing to limit areas where drones can fly.
Emerging drone sectors range from delivery services, collecting industry data, infrastructure inspections, precision agriculture, transportation and logistics.
The market for drone services is expected to grow substantially in the coming years with an estimated worth of EUR 10 billion by 2035.
To support high-potential small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the European Commission has allocated EUR 3 billion over the period 2014-2020. A further EUR 17 billion was set aside under the Industrial Leadership pillar of the EU’s current research funding programme Horizon 2020.