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Entries in Robotics (69)

Monday
Jun102013

The Robot That Could Save Agriculture

Robots that make life easier are pretty awesome in their own right. But what about a robot that would transform agriculture as we know it, while saving our health and helping the environment? That beats the heck out of a robotic barista.

Blue River Technology, based in Mountain View, Calif., is working on development of a robot that could solve the No. 1 problem in agriculture: eliminating weeds. Sure, that sounds simple, but how do you safely eliminate weeds without adding herbicideas to food crops, genetically modifying the seeds or resorting to costly, time-consuming manual removal?

Using computer vision, of course! Blue River's robot combines computer vision with advanced spray technology; when it is pulled behind a tractor, it uses a camera to look down at the field below. The bot processes what it sees in mere milliseconds, enabling it to distinguish weeds from plants. Then, it sprays only the weeds with herbicide. What a welcomed change from the traditional method of spraying an entire field with herbicide and genetically modifying crops to resist herbicide.

Blue River's method could prove better for consumers' health, the environment and farmers' wallets -- which, in turn, could lead to more affordable produce. Blue River, which was founded in 2011, plans to deploys its first robotic weed-busters this year, on California lettuce crops.

Monday
Jun032013

Want: Gourmet Coffee Made by a Friendly Robot

There are amazing things happening in robotics these days. Some seamingly simple projects are actually helping immensely to advance the field as a whole, and it's exciting to see where things are going.

Case in point: Austin-based Briggo, a company that has automated the process of making a barista-brewed cup of coffee. So far there's a prototype in operation at the University of Texas, Austin, and it will soon be upgraded with the official commercial model. The company raised $3.2 million last year and plans to push test kiosks at hospitals, airports and corporate campuses -- the perfect places for quick, no-nonsense gourmet coffee.

According to Entrepreneur.com, Briggo founder Charles Studor hired a champion barista to serve as the model for his "robotic barista":

Behind the walls of a kiosk, a robotic mechanism grinds coffee to order, using a real tamper and stable water temperature to make precise shots of espresso, as well as a steam wand that mimics the precise angle used by Pierce. The machine can handle a high level of customization and can make multiple drinks at once.

"This is the most complex coffee machine on the planet," Studor says. "It replicates what champion baristas do every time they try to make their best shot."

So, where do food service robots go from here? I'm guessing ... everywhere.

Tuesday
May212013

Beyond Computer Vision: Robot Uses Arms, Location and More to Discover Objects

We're one step closer to full-functioning (and learning!) robots that help with everyday human tasks.

A robot can struggle to discover objects in its surroundings when it relies on computer vision alone. But by taking advantage of all of the information available to it—an object's location, size, shape and even whether it can be lifted—a robot can continually discover and refine its understanding of objects, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

The Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery (LROD) process developed by the research team enabled a two-armed, mobile robot to use color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to discover more than 100 objects in a home-like laboratory, including items such as computer monitors, plants and food items.

Normally, the CMU researchers build digital models and images of objects and load them into the memory of the adorably-named HERB—the Home-Exploring Robot Butler—so the robot can recognize objects that it needs to manipulate. Virtually all roboticists do something similar to help their robots recognize objects. With the team's implementation of LROD, the robot now can discover these objects on its own.

With more time and experience, the robot gradually refines its models of the objects and begins to focus its attention on those that are most relevant to its goal—helping people accomplish tasks of daily living.

The robot's ability to discover objects on its own sometimes takes even the researchers by surprise,” said Siddhartha Srinivasa, associate professor of robotics and head of the Personal Robotics Lab, where HERB is being developed. In one case, some students left the remains of lunch—a pineapple and a bag of bagels—in the lab when they went home for the evening. The next morning, they returned to find that HERB had built digital models of both the pineapple and the bag and had figured out how it could pick up each one.

"We didn't even know that these objects existed, but HERB did," said Srinivasa, who jointly supervised the research with Martial Hebert, professor of robotics. "That was pretty fascinating."

Discovering and understanding objects in places filled with hundreds or thousands of things will be a crucial capability once robots begin working in the home and expanding their role in the workplace. Manually loading digital models of every object of possible relevance simply isn't feasible, Srinivasa said. "You can't expect Grandma to do all this," he added.

Check out Science Daily's full press release for more information.

Monday
Apr012013

Researchers Create Life-like, Autonomous Robot Jellyfish 

This is too cool: Researchers from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering just unveiled an autonomous robotic "jellyfish" that is amazingly life-like. It's the size and weight of a grown man, 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighing 170 pounds, and it's part of a U.S. Navy-funded project.

"Cyro," the robotic jellyfish prototype, directly copies the motions of real-life jellyfish to move fluidly and efficiently. It's designed to be left in the ocean for weeks or even months to do anything from cleaning up oil spills to conducting military surveillance.

Robots that are created to move like jellyfish and lizards? We can't wait to see what emerges next.

Monday
Mar252013

A Robot as Mobile as a Lizard? 

Move over, Mars Rover.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a robot that is as mobile as a lizard, with individual "legs" that are more effective at traveling over rugged surfaces than, say, a wheel or treadmill.

They 3-D printed curved legs for the robot, discovering that it could then move fairly well over granular or otherwise instable surfaces. This could, in time, lead to the creation of Mars-roving robots that are faster and more effective than those of the past.

Watch the video to see what the space rovers of the future might look lile.