Thursday, December 23, 2004

Robocoptes and other developments


Robocopters dodge obstacles, each other

By Michael Kanellos

Story last modified Thu Dec 23 11:49:00 PST 2004

University of California researchers are tinkering with technology that will, ideally, let helicopters fly themselves.

The Berkeley Aerial Robot (BEAR) project passed a significant milestone earlier this month, when a 130-pound model of a helicopter successfully guided itself through a course that included random obstacles that weren't on its internal map--a first, according to the university.

The project, funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is part of a larger effort to create robots that can get to places too dangerous or difficult for humans to go.

John Deere and iRobot, for instance, are working on an autonomous ground vehicle that will be able to bring supplies to soldiers at the front lines. Next year, the U.S. Army will deploy a robot car with a machine gun that will drive itself--but a human will be in control of the gun.

While the military is sponsoring much of the research, advocates assert that these vehicles will also be used to deliver medical supplies, phones or food to individuals stranded by an environmental disaster or trapped in a mine shaft.

The recently conducted test was performed to test the system's laser obstacle avoidance system and see how well it would perform at low altitudes in an "urban canyon" environment. In one run, the helicopter guided itself through a grid of 10-foot-high tents. The tents were on the helicopter's internal map, but the machine had to figure out how to avoid them.

In a second run, the location of the tents was not included on the flight path. The laser system feeds information on the new structures to the helicopter's navigation system, which then takes actions to avoid the problem.

Last year, BEAR researchers flew two helicopters at each other in a game of chicken. "They flew toward each other, sensed each other and adjusted their course," said a UC Berkeley spokeswoman.

Experiments are being conducted at various institutions with autonomous fixed-wing planes and helicopters. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Helicopters can take off from a stationary position. However, because of the environments in which they would be used, the navigation systems need to be more precise.

"Fixed-wing UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can tolerate less precision in control algorithms because they can glide for a time if something goes wrong," Shankar Sastry, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering, said in a prepared statement. "In contrast, helicopters are inherently unstable, so the control inputs need to be exact, and they need to come quickly to keep the helicopter from falling from the sky."

While the obstacle avoidance system tested this month relies on lasers, researchers will start to dedicate more energy to computer vision systems. In these, sensors feed digital images to onboard computers, which then, through probability and artificial intelligence, try to chart a safe course. Computer vision, while more difficult to achieve, potentially will work better because it can provide information about the structure or character of a landing surface.

The BEAR project was founded in 1996 and began to obtain DARPA funding a few years later.

Copyright ©1995-2004 CNET Networks, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Moravc on robots (SciAm)

December 20, 2004

You, Robot

He says humans will download their minds into computers one day. With a new robotics firm, Hans Moravec begins the journey from warehouse drones to robo sapiens

By Chip Walter

When word got around that Hans Moravec had founded an honest-to-goodness robotics firm, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Wasn't this the same Carnegie Mellon University scientist who had predicted that we would someday routinely download our minds into robots? And that exponential advances in computing power would cause the human race to invent itself out of a job as robots supplanted us as the planet's most adept and adaptive species? Somehow, creating a company seemed ... uncharacteristically pragmatic.

But Moravec doesn't see it that way. He says he didn't start Seegrid Corporation because he was backing off his predictions. He founded the company because he was planning to help fulfill them. "It was time," he says, slowly rubbing his hand across his bristle-short hair. "The computing power is here."

The 56-year-old Moravec should know. Born in Kautzen, Austria, and raised in Montreal, he has been pushing the envelope on robotics theory and experimentation for the past 35 years, first as the graduate student at Stanford University who created the "Stanford Cart," the first mobile robot capable of seeing and autonomously navigating the world around it (albeit very slowly), and later as a central force in Car-negie Mellon's vaunted Robotics Institute. His iconoclastic theories and inventive work in machine vision have both shocked his colleagues and jump-started research; Seegrid is just the next logical step.

Moravec pulls an image up onto one of the two massive monitors that sit side by side on his desk, like great unblinking eyes. It's six o'clock in the evening, but an inveterate night owl, he's just starting his "day." "I have been drawing these graphs for years about what will be possible," he comments. His mouse roams along dots and images that plot and compare the processing power of old top-of-the-line computers with their biological equivalents. There is the ENIAC, for example, that in 1946 possessed the processing capacity of a bacterium and then a 1990 model IBM PS/2 90 that once harnessed the digital horsepower of a worm. Only recently have desktop computers arrived that can deliver the raw processing muscle of a spider or a guppy (about one billion instructions per second). "At guppy-level intelligence," he explains, "I thought we could manage 3-D mapping and create a robot that could get around pretty well without any special preparation of its environment."

But no one was creating that robot, so in the late 1990s Moravec says he began to grow "very antsy" about getting one built. In 1998 he wrote an ambitious grant proposal that outlined software for a robotic vision system. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency quickly funded the proposal, and three and a half years and $970,000 later, with PCs just reaching guppy smarts, a working demonstration was complete.

"It proved the principle," Moravec says. "We really could map with stereo vision, if we did things just right." But doing things just right required more than prototype software. Robotic evolution, he adds, "has to be driven forward by a lot of trial and error, and the only way to get enough is if you have an industry where one company is trying to outdo another." To help things along, he and Pittsburgh physician and entrepreneur Scott Friedman founded Seegrid in 2003. Their focus: the unglamorous but potentially huge "product handling" market.

Industrial robots already flourish in tightly constrained environments such as assembly lines. Where they fail is in locations loaded with unpredictability. So Seegrid concentrated on creating vision systems that enable simple machines to move supplies around warehouses without any human direction.

Not exactly the stuff of science fiction, Moravec agrees, and a long way from superintelligent robots, but he says you have to start somewhere. Nearly everything sold has to be warehoused at some point, and at some point it also has to be rerouted and shipped. Right now human workers move millions of tons of supplies and products using dollies, pallet jacks and forklifts. Seegrid's first prototype devices automate that work, turning wheeled carts into seeing-eye machines that can be loaded and then walked through various routes to teach them how to navigate on their own. The technology is built on Moravec's bedrock belief that if robots are going to succeed, the world cannot be adapted to them; they have to adapt to the world, just like the rest of us.

Other approaches can guide robots, but they typically rely on costly, precision hardware such as laser range finders or on extravagant arrangements that prewire and preprogram the machines to move through controlled spaces. Seegrid's system uses off-the-shelf CCD cameras and simple sonar and infrared sensors. Although these components gather imprecise information, the software compensates. It statistically compares the gathered data to develop a clean, accurate 3-D map. "If the same information keeps coming up, then the program decides that it's probably really there," Moravec explains. The robot then knows to stop or roll around it. This approach is how you might make your way through a dark room with a flashlight, in which you slowly build up a mental picture of what is around.

Creating warehouse drones as a first step toward the startling robotic world Moravec foresees might seem an unlikely concession to reality. But those who know Moravec say it is no surprise: he is an unusual mix of whimsy, wild vision and rigorous pragmatism. He has been known to be so lost in thought during his daily walks to his office that he bumps into mailboxes, yet none of that eccentricity has tarnished his reputation as a first-rate engineer and programmer.

"Some of Hans's ideas are pretty outrageous," admits Raj Reddy, who as director of the Robotics Institute brought Moravec to Carnegie Mellon in 1980, "but his work has always been very practical." Seegrid co-founder Friedman says it is exactly Moravec's vision and dogged persistence that separates him from the pack: "He's a genius, and he works hard."

The same themes run through his view of the future of robotics. Evolution moves in tiny steps, Moravec notes, but accomplishes amazing things. Machine evolution will do the same as it incrementally nudges robots from their clumsy beginnings to the heights of human-level intelligence and mobility. "We don't need a lot of Einsteins to do this; we need a lot of engineers working diligently to make little improvements and then test them out in the marketplace," Moravec insists. And that, he says, will ultimately lead to robots becoming vastly more intelligent and adaptable than we are.

That seems to leave us only one destination: the endangered species list. "Something like 99 percent of all species go extinct," Moravec observes. Why, he asks, should we be any different? Not that he sees us being destroyed by what he calls our "mind children" exactly. "It's not going to be like Terminator," he reassures. But children do often exceed the accomplishments of their parents. And in our evolutionary dotage, he is sure they will take good care of us, as parents' children often do. "They will create the perfect welfare state," he says.

At least, we hope so.

Home brew exoskeleton

In the back of Carlos Owens' southern Alaska yard, an 18-foot-tall steel robot is taking shape in the dim light of the winter afternoons.

The 26-year-old Owens is an Anchorage-area steelworker by day. In his own time, he's hoping to become the creator of a true "mecha"--not a robot, exactly, but a gigantic exoskeleton that can transform its wearer's motions into eight-foot strides and the devastating sweep of a steel fist.

Sure, it sounds like a cartoon or sci-fi fantasy--but so were moon landings 50 years ago. Owens' mecha project is well on its way to completion, its horned red head and pincher hands towering above its creator under a few inches of snow. He's hoping to finish it in time for a test spin at the local drag racetrack next summer, demolishing a few cars to show off its capabilities.

"This is a concept that's been around for a long time," Owens said in a telephone interview. "But I'm not going to wait for the other guy to come out and make it when I've got the capability to do it myself."

The project is a tinkerer's dream, a homegrown technological mania in the same better-judgment-be-damned spirit as the Homebrew Computer Club that ultimately gave birth to Apple Computer and Silicon Valley's microcomputer industry. In Owens' case, the scale simply happens to be more macro than micro.

He's drawing from an imaginative well that has inspired big corporations and the U.S. military, as well as innumerable video game developers and Hollywood directors over the years. A Japanese manga, or comic book, called "Tetsujin 28-go" was published in the late 1950s featuring the adventures of a giant robot, and was ultimately animated and released in the United States as "Gigantor." Hundreds of Japanese anime cartoons such as "Robotech" or "Mobile Suit Gundam" later featured giant robots, often controlled by human pilots.

"I'm not going to wait for the other guy to come out and make it when I've got the capability to do it myself."
--Carlos Owens, steelworker and mecha creator

It's been a common theme in U.S. science fiction, too, although typically on a more human scale. Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel "Starship Troopers," and the 1997 film made from the book, featured soldiers with powerful exoskeletal armor that dramatically augmented their strength. Sigourney Weaver's character in "Aliens" fights wearing something a little like what Owens is trying to build, and powered armor made a prominent appearance in last year's "Matrix Revolutions."

Efforts to replicate these tools in the real world have been less than successful, however. The U.S. Navy and General Electric collaborated on an exoskeleton project in the late 1960s, coming up with the cumbersome Hardiman prototype, a massive steel frame intended to be strapped onto its users' arms and legs to help them lift up to 1,500 pounds.

The GE project operators never got more than one arm working, however, and the project died in the early 1970s.

Backyard builder
Owens is a soft-spoken former Army heavy equipment mechanic who describes his improbable project in a matter-of-fact voice, as though talking about putting a new transmission into a used pickup truck. The son of an Air Force officer, he was born in the Philippines and moved around for years as a child before winding up outside Anchorage.

He's always had an eye for huge projects, and an inventor's itch. He built a 35-foot wooden version of his mecha when he was 19, he said, as a sculpture project because he couldn't afford the materials to make it function. The latest project, drawing on his experience in the Army and as a steelworker, is more ambitious.

"With the mecha I wanted to do something different than what everyone else was doing. It's hard to invent something new."
--Carlos Owens

"I've always been building things," he said. "But with the mecha I wanted to do something different than what everyone else was doing. It's hard to invent something new."

When completed, the idea is for the pilot to be able to strap himself into a central, padded compartment, and then control the mecha with the motions of his own body. When the pilot walks, the mecha walks. Raise an arm and open a hand, and the mecha does the same, with 46 possible movements planned.

Owens said he can't afford top-of-the line equipment, like infrared sensors and electronics that would govern the motion. Instead he's using a hydraulic system to transfer the motion of his limbs to the larger structure, and a gas engine mounted on the back to generate the power needed. In all, the system can exert about 3,500 pounds per square inch, or more than enough to set his ton and a half creation in motion, he said.

One of the trickiest problems is balance. Lying in a giant, potentially lethal robot that can't get up after falling down would be no good to anyone, and so he's made sure the lower half weighs far more than the upper, along with other design modifications, he said.

In all, the materials for the project have cost him $15,000 so far. Not bad for a killing (or at least potentially flame-throwing, car-mashing) machine.

That's a lot less than the $50 million that the U.S. military, through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) division, has devoted to research into a smaller, lighter exoskeleton that can be used on the battlefield.

DARPA has been pursuing the idea of a "Starship Troopers"-inspired soldier at least since 2000, when it started its Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation program.

"This technology will extend the mission payload and/or mission range of the soldier and increase the lethality and survivability of ground troops for short-range missions and special operations," the agency says on its Web site. The project's director did not return a call for comment.

Early this year, a University of California, Berkeley, team unveiled the first fruit of the DARPA research with its BLEEX (Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton) system, which resembles a set of leg braces and a big backpack. The system allows users to carry extremely heavy packs without abnormal exertion, or could help people with atrophied or poor muscles to walk normally.

In the short term, Owens is more interested in the entertainment value of an 18-foot monster crushing cars, or fighting others like it. Assuming he can make it work--still a big assumption--he wants funding to build more and to develop the project using top-of-the-line materials instead of backyard shortcuts.

"The racetrack is never quite enough. The die-hards will always come, but everyone else is looking for something new and different. I think this qualifies."
--Karen Lackey, racetrack owner

Karen Lackey, who co-owns the local racetrack with her husband (and was once Owens' English teacher), said she's eager to let Owens show off his project when it's ready. An 18-foot-tall steel figure stalking around the circle, shooting flames from its fists and crushing cars would certainly sell tickets, she said.

"I think it would have a lot of public appeal," Lackey said. "The racetrack is never quite enough. The die-hards will always come, but everyone else is looking for something new and different. I think this qualifies."

Owens foresees a day when tools like his might be used on the battlefield instead of tanks, or dropped into the middle of a raging forest fire to help firefighters. But for now, the trick is to simply make the mecha take its first few steps with him inside, a crucial test he's hoping to pull off in a few months.

"It's like trying to invent the wheel from scratch," he said. "I want everything to go smoothly. When I take it out on the track, there are going to be about 3,000 or more people out there, and I'm just trying to avoid any embarrassing moments."

What's new in robotics (VG!)

Robotics news are dominated these days by the $100 Robosapien toy or by the latest version of Honda's ASIMO, that you will never been able to buy, even if you put a cool US$1 million on the table. But other recent news are worth mentioning. In Florida, according to the Miami Herald (free subscription), a small company is developing a robotic arm for surgeons which could save the healthcare industry $15 billion a year. And did you know that solar-powered autonomous underwater robots are now monitoring the waters of Lake George, N.Y.? On the other coast, PARC's pliable 'polybots' will reconfigure themselves to act independently on earthquake scenes or in space. And in New Zealand, robot experts are creating servants of the future able to serve us the drink we want. Elsewhere, in Korea, the government wants to deploy two-legged networked robots in post offices later this year. In a long interview to the Korea Times, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor Raj Reddy says the network-based robot is a great idea. Read more...

Please read all the articles linked above for more informatio. Below are only essential excerpts and pictures.

Let's start with the robotic arm from Z-KAT.

The new firm is using technology licensed from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab. ''This is what they call haptic robotics,'' says Ferre. ''It is a human interactive tool,'' so that the surgeon holding the arm has the touch and feel just as if her own fingers were holding the instrument.
The key is that the small arm can do a knee replacement with an inch-long incision, compared with cuts of 7 to 12 inches for traditional surgery.
The arm, trademarked as Tactical Guidance System, must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which Ferre expects to happen fairly quickly because the FDA has already given approval to a more basic version of the arm.
The robotic arm for surgeonsfrom Z-KAT The robotic arm, which is held by Z-KAT CEO, Maurice R. Ferre, should hit the market in early 2006 and be used first for knee and hip work. (Credit: J. Albert Diaz, Miami Herald)

Now, let's look at what Rensselaer researchers are doing with solar underwater robots.

A collaborative group of researchers are conducting experiments with underwater robots at Rensselaer's Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI) on Lake George, N.Y., as part of the RiverNet project, an NSF-funded initiative. The group is working to develop a network of distributed sensing devices and water-monitoring robots, including solar-powered autonomous underwater vehicles (SAUVs), for detection of chemical and biological trends that may guide the management and improvement of water quality.
The Rensselaer's Institute solar underwater robot Here is a picture of this solar-powered robot (Credits: Art Sanderson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and D. Richard Blidberg, Autonomous Undersea Systems Institute)

[Additional note: you'll find all the details about the experiments done between October 17 and 22, 2004 here.]

The Rensselaer's Institute solar underwater robot docking In particular, watch how an intrepid researcher was catching the robot at the end of its mission on October 20, 2004 (Credit: Autonomous Undersea Systems Institute)

PARC's modular reconfigurable robots, or polybots are an entirely different story. Sometimes, they're called morphing or mutating robots, but why would you use these reconfigurable robots?

"The problem with a conventional robot is you spend a lot of money building this one robot that does one task very well," says Craig Eldershaw, [a research engineer at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center).] "A modular robot can change its shape to adapt to a particular job. To wash dishes, it needs small delicate arms and fingers. For gardening, it could have a couple big strong arms to hold a shovel and big treads to move through mud."
That kind of robotic domestic help is as much as three decades away, he acknowledges. But experimental search-and-rescue bots could be deployed in earthquake- or bomb-racked buildings within the next few years, he says.

Morphing robots also could become space explorers.

PARC recently took on a long-term NASA contract to develop a robotic arm that could move around the outside of a next-generation space shuttle freely and convert itself into several arms or a claw if the need arises. "Think in-space construction or assembly," Mr. Eldershaw says. "Any time you can prevent someone having to go out into space in a suit you've won a lot of friends at NASA."
Mark Yim, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who set up the modular robotics research group at PARC after completing his doctorate at Stanford, is leading a team that has taken on a NASA contract to build a morphing Mars explorer. To demonstrate the robot's ability to assist with human life support, the experimental robot will be given the task of growing and nurturing a small plant inside a sealed environmental chamber.

It's time to move to another continent, and to robots willing to serve us our favorite cocktails -- maybe not this year -- but in a foreseenable future.

"(In) 15 years' time, I'd estimate something like this would serve drinks," says Australian Tribotix robotics and electronics company engineering manager Steve Mitchell, putting a humanoid-shaped robot through its paces, literally. They'll be that common."
He remote-controls the 30cm-tallrobot and fascinated conference-goers cluster, watching it walk, bend forward and backward and move its arms, legs, torso and head independently. It can also slide skiing-style and perform acrobatics such as headstands.
This Tribotix robot might serve you a drink one day Here, Tribotix engineering manager Steve Mitchell shows robots like this will be serving drinks in 30-years time. (Credit: Murrary Wilson, Manawatu Standard, New Zealand)

Meanwhile, Korea is introducing a competitor with Honda's Asimo. The 1.2-meter-tall KHR-3, which weighs roughly 55 kilograms, can walk by using 41 built-in motors and numerous joints and can also shake hands or lift objects with its five-fingered hands.

The 1.2-meter-tall KHR-3 The 1.2-meter-tall KHR-3 will soon welcome you at Korea post offices (Credit: The Korea Times)

Korea's officials also think they're fast catching Japanese in robotics.

"In order to understand the humanoid development, we must split two facets of the mechanics and intelligence. Mechanically, we lag behind Japan 2-3 years, but we are almost on par with the country in intelligence," a project manager said.

These robots will be introduced next year in five different projects, three for home usage and two for post offices.

To conclude this long post, I just want to say I was disappointed by the Korea Times's interview of Raj Reddy, a person I really respect. His interview looks like a press release, very different from what you can read in a recent effort he made for promoting $250 computing devices for developing countries.

Sources: John Dorschner, The Miami Herald, December 6, 2004; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, December 6, 2004; Janet Rae-Dupree, Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, December 10, 2004; Lee Matthews, Manawatu Standard, New Zealand, December 10, 2004; Kim Tae-gyu, The Korea Times, November 23 and December 19, 2004; Byron Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 20, 2004

Related stories can be found in the following categories.

10:29:09 PM Permalink Comments [0] Trackback [1]

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Robots with genes

Professor Kim Jong-Hwan believes people will one day keep robots as pets. Picture / Mark Mitchell
Korean scientists have created the world's first "artificial species" - a robot with genes that it can pass on to other robots.

Professor Kim Jong-Hwan, already known as the creator of "robot football", has developed 14 artificial chromosomes that he says will determine robots' "personality".

He believes that within 20 years lonely people will use their personal robots to keep them company, replacing cats and dogs.

"If you come back to your home after work, the robot will greet you and you can talk to him like a friend," he said.

"For example, a senior person who is living alone might feel loneliness. If they use their pet robot, they will feel more comfortable."

Dr Kim is in New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the second international conference on "autonomous robots and agents".

He believes that robots are on the brink of the kind of takeoff that transformed computing with the invention of the personal computer 22 years ago.

Robots costing less than US$200 ($283) are already available to vacuum your house, the Americans are using robots to search buildings for terrorists in Iraq, and Dr Kim believes New Zealand will soon use robots to pick kiwifruit.

"In the very near future, personal robots will be in our houses like personal computers," he said.

He has used sports to help robots capture the public imagination, and believes the next step is to give them the ability to pass on their "genes".

"The artificial chromosome is a software system. It means that the information - their 'genes' - can be easily sent to other robots," he said.

"So if I send the chromosomes to another robot, that robot can then reproduce by itself. In that sense the robots will be created by the 'genes'. The personality of robots will be created by artificial genes."

Dr Kim believes there is no danger that such self-reproducing robots will take over the world as portrayed in movies such as this year's blockbuster I, Robot.

"If we design the chromosomes quite safely, then we can avoid such a bad situation," he said.

* Prof Kim gives a public lecture at 7pm on Thursday, Room QA1, Quadrangle Building A, Gate 1, Massey University, Albany.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

New version of Asimo

Wednesday December 15, 3:06 PM

Walking, talking Honda robot learns new trick: Jogging

The walking, talking child-size robot from Honda Motor Co. now manages an easy, although comical, jog _ the latest in the Japanese automaker's quest to imitate human movement.

The 130-centimeter-tall (51-inch-tall), bubble-headed robot added a couple of infrared cameras and a sensor to better absorb shock and keep its balance for a steady, mechanical-looking run at a slow pace of 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) an hour in a demonstration Wednesday at a Honda facility.

The robot called Asimo, a take on the Japanese word for "leg" or "ashi," debuted four years ago and has undergone several upgrades.

The latest has a rotating hip that counters the impact of landing on the ground when running _ an activity that's different from walking in that both feet must be off the ground in a hop at a given point in time.

The new Asimo is a bit smarter, loaded with a CPU equivalent of about five personal computers, and can dodge people and other obstacles in its path when moving to an instructed destination, forming its own route according to a map program inside its brain.

Although Asimo has already climbed up and down stairs and carried on simple conversations with voice-recognition capability, it still can't step over things in its way or run up and down slopes, Honda officials said.

The new machine moves about twice as fast as the previous model, which walked at a speed of 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) per hour.

The upgrade also has a sensor in its wrist so it can be led by the hand with a pull and walks backward if it's slightly nudged with a push.

Honda engineer Masato Hirose said the key feature is its ability to kick while keeping its balance, a trick it accomplishes by tilting and swerving its hips to prevent slipping and sliding _ a critical skill in running.

Hirose said Asimo's run was more human than what was achieved by a smaller robot from Japanese electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp.

Reporters watched Sony's robot Qrio run for the first time last year. But its jog resembled a series of jiggling jumps.

Japan is one of the leading nations in the world in robotics. Besides Sony, other companies and universities have created companions or security robots for the home. Robots that look less human are used extensively in manufacturing plants.

The new Asimo also gained a moving thumb and is smart enough to reach toward an extended hand, delivering a more realistic handshake _ an asset for its job as ambassador for Honda. In the past, a person had to find Asimo's mechanical hand.

Asimo has rung the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, accompanied the prime minister on an overseas trip and shaken hands with dignitaries. It's not for sale.

What Honda really wants is a robot that can help with tasks.

Honda is hoping Asimo will be running errands, delivering relatively light things such as in-office mail, working side by side with Honda employees perhaps by 2010, said Takanobu Ito, a managing director.

But Asimo is not about to replace auto workers at Honda plants any time soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Robotic Limbs

Monday, December 13, 2004

Bionic limbs
 Images Pro 3 Active Ankle Large Researchers from
MIT, Brown University, and the Providence Veterans Affair Medical Center are launching a $7.2 million, five-year effort to develop bionic limbs:
"At the end of the project, the scientists hope to have created "biohybrid" limbs that will use regenerated tissue, lengthened bone, titanium prosthetics and implantable sensors that allow an amputee to use nerves and brain signals to move the arm or leg."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Personal Mobility Robots

From the Beeb:

Robotic pods take on car design
By Lakshmi Sandhana

Toyota personal mobility vehicles
The i-unit can move upright at low speeds
A new breed of wearable robotic vehicles that envelop drivers are being developed by Japanese car giant Toyota.

The company's vision for the single passenger in the 21st Century involves the driver cruising by in a four-wheeled leaf-like device or strolling along encased in an egg-shaped cocoon that walks upright on two feet.

Both these prototypes will be demonstrated, along with other concept vehicles and helper robots, at the Toyota stand at the Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, in March 2005.

The models are being positioned as so-called personal mobility devices, which have few limits.

The open leaf-like "i-unit" vehicle is the latest version of the concept which the company introduced last year.

Built using environmentally friendly plant-based materials, the single passenger unit is equipped with intelligent transport system technologies that allow for safe autopilot driving in specially equipped lanes.

The model allows the user to make tight on-the-spot turns, move upright amongst other people at low speeds and can be easily switched into a reclining position at higher speeds.

Body colours can be customized to suit individual preferences and a personal recognition system offers both information and music.

'Innovative ideas'