A group of underwater archaeologists exploring the sunken remains of King Louis XIV's flagship La Lune added a very special member to their dive team recently. OceanOne, a Stanford-developed humanoid diving robot with "human vision, haptic force feedback and an artificial brain," made its maiden voyage alongside human divers to recover 17th-century treasures from bottom of the Mediterranean.
Stanford's five-foot "virtual diver" was originally built for studying coral reefs in the Red Sea where a delicate touch is necessary, but the depths go well beyond the range of meat-based divers. The "tail" section contains the merbot's onboard batteries, computers and array of eight thrusters, but it is the front half that looks distinctly humanoid with two eyes for stereoscopic vision and two nimble, articulated arms.
Those arms are what make OceanOne ideal for fragile reef environments or priceless shipwrecks like La Lune, which sank off the coast of France over 350 years ago and hasn't been touched until now. Force sensors in each wrist transmit haptic feedback to the pilot, allowing them to feel the object's weight while staying high and dry on a dive ship. The robot's "brain" works with the tactile sensors to ensure the hands don't crush fragile objects, while the navigation system can automatically keep the body steady in turbulent seas.
With such a nimble platform, OceanOne will also prove useful in dangerous undersea environments like the Fukushima Daichi site that claimed five other robot divers. Suddenly, the imploded ghost of Nereus is looking downright clunky.
Full text of this article in Engadet.
Boston Dynamics has just posted an incredible video showcasing a massively upgraded version of the ATLAS robot that they initially developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. While BD calls this the “next generation” of ATLAS, it looks like such an enormous technological leap forward that it’s more like a completely different species.
Full text of the article by Evan Ackerman and Erico Guizzo in IEEE SPECTRUM
The Defense Department’s agency devoted to cutting-edge technologies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has big plans for 2017, including the launch of a 130-foot autonomous ship that will begin sailing the seas this year.
The Obama administration requested $2.973 billion for DARPA for fiscal year 2017, the same amount in its 2016 request, and $105 more than what was appropriated, said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. That amounts to only 2 percent of federal R&D expenditures, but the organization has had a large impact, she added.
“We are an organization that has been designed from the beginning to take risk and manage risk in pursuit of off-scale impact,” she said.
The funding will go toward three major strategic areas: rethinking complex military systems; mastering the information explosion; and developing the seeds of new technological surprise, she told reporters Feb. 10 during a briefing at DARPA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
As for the first category, Steve Walker, DARPA deputy director, said, “We need to continue to think how to build highly capable military systems, especially to prepare for fights with highly capable adversaries.”
The military can’t continue to rely on big, monolithic weapons systems that take years to develop. It will never have them in time or in the numbers required to fight advanced adversaries, Walker said.
“We need to mix it up. We need to build war-fighting architectures that are more heterogeneous in nature, hard to target and rely on smaller and cheaper microelectronics technologies," he said.
One example is the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel which will be the largest unmanned surface vehicle ever built at 130-feet long, Walker said. It will be christened in April in Portland, Oregon, and then begin to demonstrate its long-range capabilities over 18 months in cooperation with the Office of Naval Research and the Space and Naval Systems Warfare Command.
“Imagine an unmanned surface vessel following all the laws of the sea on its own and operating with manned surface and unmanned underwater vehicles,” Walker said.
“We think the real cost savings will be in operating this vessel at sea compared to how we operate vessels today,” he added. It could be used for counter-mine missions, reconnaissance and resupply, he added.
Another program is the distributed battle management system, which is intended to exchange information even in a jammed environment, he said.
DARPA also has a goal to launch 100 satellites in a 10-day period with its XS-1 reusable launch system. “You can imagine an adversary doing something offensive in space and having that kind of responsive capability,” Walker said.
In the commercial world, there would be tremendous savings for launching that number of spacecraft in that amount of time, he added. More and more, the technologies the agency develops aren’t exclusively for the military. DARPA was an early backer of SpaceX and its Falcon rocket system. It’s a commercial launch provider, but its lower cost services are now benefitting the military, he noted.
The second category, mastering the information explosion, is separated into two categories: big data for security problems and cybersecurity, Prabhakar said.
In big data, DARPA wants to “empower the end users of data with tools that allow them to create deep value from all these bytes that are just flying at them,” she said. The MUSE program, Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves, is a big data approach to writing software.
As for cybersecurity, “attack entry points are growing,” she said. “We don’t think there is a silver bullet but we believe that major advances can be made.”
One idea is to “take whole classes of vulnerabilities off the table” in the High Assurance Cyber Military System. Defense Department systems are “chock full of embedded processors,” she said. They may not appear to be connected to the network, but there are ways in, Prabhakar said.
One experiment created a new secure microkernel chip, which was placed in the mission computer of a Little Bird helicopter for a “cyber retrofit.” The chip gave the computer a new security foundation. A red team of hackers tried everything they could to get in the system, but couldn’t. “We made it as easy for them as we could and even gave them source code, but they were not able to break into the system,” Prabhakar said. They were then given full access to one of the applications, a camera, but still couldn’t bust into the mission computer, she said.
The third category, “developing the seeds of new technological surprise,” comprises many different disciplines and programs, she said. The AC/DC program, for example, turns chemical weapons into fertilizer, she said.
In neuroscience, the advanced prosthetics program recently had a big breakthrough when a paralyzed man — with the assistance of electrodes implanted in his cortex — could receive signals from a prosthetic arm. That allowed him to have the sensation of touch for the first time, she said.
Prabhakar said she was excited about the possibilities of the new Revolutionary Enhancement of Visibility Exploiting Active Light Fields, or REVEAL, program.
Photons that hit cameras or sensors register light intensity and spectral information. But those photons could have come from different light sources. As they go through the environment, they are bouncing off and interacting with all sorts of surfaces, she said.
“By the time they get to that sensor, they have actually had these rich and full lives,” Prabhakar said.
REVEAL will see if sensors can capture much more of the information that those photons are bringing — time of arrival, angle of arrival and other characteristics — which may show what is behind an object, or be able to create 3D models of the scene, she said.
Full text of this article by Stew Magnuson in National Defence.
The 2015 National Robotics Initiative (NRI) PI Meeting which was held in November turned to be another successfull meeting of the robotics community. Please visit the web site of the organizers to review published presentations and posters.
The "Rapid Fire" research summaries of the NRI-funded reserach projects will be published on our web site at the later time.
Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):
March 07, 2016
January 12, 2017
Second Thursday in January, Annually Thereafter
This solicitation NSF 16-517 is a revision of NSF 15-505, the solicitation for the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). The corresponding National Institutes of Health (NIH) notification, NIH Guide Notice NOT-EB-15-008 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-EB-13-005.html), is being updated in parallel with this solicitation.
Below are several important points for FY 2016 NRI submissions:
- The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE/EM) has joined the NRI. For a detailed statement of their interests, see section II.A.2. Sponsoring Agency Mission Specific Research.
- The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) has provided its research interests relevant to the NRI. For details, see section II.A.2. Sponsoring Agency Mission Specific Research.
- In the context of NRI, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is interested in proposals in the area of assistive robotics. NIH will not review proposals submitted on topics in surgical robotics, prosthetics, or exoskeletons, in response to the NRI solicitation. For a detailed statement of NIH’s interests, see section II.A.2. Sponsoring Agency Mission Specific Research. In addition to hypothesis-driven research, NIH also supports non-hypothesis-driven applications, which includes technology-driven and problem-driven applications.
- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has updated its research interests relevant to the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) program. For details, see section II.A.2. Sponsoring Agency Mission Specific Research.
- The research areas supported by NRI include those relating to autonomous operations of robots. This fact has been emphasized by adding a bullet on autonomy to the list of research areas listed in section II.A.1 of this solicitation.
Any proposal submitted in response to this solicitation should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 16-1), which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 25, 2016. Please be advised that proposers who opt to submit prior to January 25, 2016, must also follow the guidelines contained in NSF 16-1.
The Koenigsegg Regera features the world's first fully robotized sports car body. We call it Autoskin. Each component can be operated individually, revealing the Regera's engine bay, luggage compartment and interior. There's also a button on the remote for 'Show Mode', which you can see here. Autoskin is a super-light, practical feature that adds less than 5kg to the Regera's weight.
This is a new feature available only on the new Koenigsegg Regera and another industry first for a serial production car. It's our new robotized control system, called Autoskin, which can open and close all of the doors on the vehicle from the remote control. What you see here is "Show Mode", which opens/closes all openings at the same time. They call also be controlled individually.
In a video posted to their Facebook yesterday, Koenigsegg Automotive AB showed off their “fully robotized sports car body.”
As the world's largest car manufacturer, Toyota knows a thing or two about getting people from point A to point B. But how do you make this process easier? The answer: artificial intelligence. On November 6 Toyota announced that it's establishing a new company, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), to develop AI technologies in two main areas: autonomous cars and robot helpers for around the home. The company plans to pump $1 billion into TRI over the next five years, and will be establishing headquarters for the company near Stanford University in California, with a secondary facility near MIT in Massachusetts.
Toyota originally announced academic partnerships with these universities last month along with $50 million in funding, but this new financing brings the company's ambitions to another level. Leading TRI as its executive technical advisor and CEO will be Dr. Gill Pratt, the man behind DARPA's Robotics Challenge. In a press release, Pratt said the company's initial goals are to decrease the likelihood of car accidents, make driving accessible to everyone "regardless of ability," and bring extra mobility to the home — "particularly for the support of seniors."
As these first comments suggest, Toyota's vision for self-driving cars differs somewhat from Google and Uber's. Rather than chasing fully autonomous vehicles that chauffeur passengers, Toyota has always stressed the importance of keeping human agency in driving while introducing computer systems that make cars safer. "Our long-term goal is to make a car that is never responsible for a crash," Pratt told IEEE Spectrum last month. "A car that is never responsible for a crash, regardless of the skill of the driver, will allow older people to be able to drive, and help prevent the one and a half million deaths that occur as a result of cars every single year around the world."
Dovetailing with this ambition is the goal of indoor mobility for seniors. Japan's rapidly aging population is a crisis in the making (the number of over-65s is expected to go from 25 percent to 40 percent in the next 30 years), and there are similar problems facing America (over-65s will be around 20 percent of the US population by 2030). Toyota has been developing robotic helpers for an aging population for years, including the Human Support Robot or HSR (which features an articulated torso and arm and video calling functionality), and prototype bots for assisted walking and moving people from the bed to the toilet. These may seem in a different world to self-driving cars, but both products rely on similar realms of AI research, including computer vision and machine learning. Conceptually, Toyota also sees a connection.
"If you think about the use of robotics within the home, it is the same as the use of vehicles when we travel on the road, except that instead of moving goods and people outdoors, you move them indoors," Pratt told IEEE Spectrum. "A lot of the same technology can be brought to bear. Toyota is also convinced that there should be a strong relationship between people and the machines that are helping them to move."
Don't expect any commercial products from TRI any time soon though. At the moment, Toyota says the company's primary mission is to "accelerate R&D in a range of fields" and help "bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development." The company has previously stated that its current ambition is to get semi-autonomous cars on the road by 2020, although some have wondered whether the Japanese firm's cautious attitude will let its Silicon Valley rivals pull ahead.
Full text of the article by James Vincent in The Verge.
It doesn't look that far removed from R2D2 in "Star Wars" -- a small, autonomous robot that wheels down a sidewalk at about 4 mph. The Starship robot has been developed by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis to be the cost-efficient grocery delivery service of the future.
Set to be piloted in several countries including the U.S. and the U.K. in 2016, the robots are meant "to fundamentally improve local delivery of goods and groceries, making it almost free," according to a Starship press release.
The company expects to launch fleets of the small robots that can deliver up to 20 pounds of groceries for $1.50 in under a half-hour. Customers select a delivery time that's convenient for them, and they are able to track the robot's progress through a mobile app. Once the Starship robot shows up, the app user is the only person who can unlock the machine's cargo and get the groceries.
The robot uses navigation software with obstacle avoidance, which allows it to drive autonomously without causing havoc on the sidewalk, but a human operator can intervene remotely to guarantee a safe delivery.
"Our vision revolves around three zeroes -- zero cost, zero waiting time, and zero environmental impact," Ahti Heinla, Starship Technologies CEO, said in the release. "We want to do to local deliveries what Skype did to telecommunications."
Heinla added that the robots "are not drones" -- instead of conspicuously flying through the air, they are earthbound, designed to blend in safely with pedestrians. They are also environmentally friendly by being carbon emission-free.
The main goal of the robot is to simplify the delivery process. Retailers ship the grocery items to a central hub where the robot fleet takes over, completing the delivery to the customer, avoiding expensive door-to-door travel costs.
"With ecommerce continuing to grow, consumers expect to have more convenient options for delivery -- but at a cost that suits them," Heinla said. "The last few miles often amounts to the majority of that total delivery cost. Our robots are purposefully designed using the technologies made affordable by mobile phones and tablets -- it's fit for purpose and allows for the cost savings to be passed on to the customer."
Full text of the article by Brian Mastroianni in CBS News.
Yamaha Motors has revealed it is developing a robot designed to ride any racing motorbike at high speeds.
The Japanese company unveiled a prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show.
At present it is reliant on human operators, but in time the firm plans to have the android make its own decisions about the best course and speed to achieve the best race time around a track.
Called the Motobot, this is a fully capable motorcycle-riding humanoid robot that unites both Yamaha's motorcycle and robotics technologies. The Motobot is able to ride entirely on its own with no human participation. So far, Yamaha has not disclosed much about the robotic system, except of a few words in a short press release.
“R&D [Research and Development] is currently underway with the goal of developing the robot to ride an unmodified motorcycle on a racetrack at more than 200 km/h,” the Yamaha statement says.
What is also known so far is that the Motobot interacts with the bike in exactly the same way that a human does, twisting its wrists to control the throttle, squeezing the clutch, changing gear and hunkering down behind the windscreen.
The only limit to its capability is that it so far needs a pair of stabilising wheels on both sides of the motorcycle to prevent the bike from tipping. It is hoped that they won’t be necessary in the future.
The Motobot has been developed to serve as an unmanned test pilot to ensure a human rider’s safety. Instead of using human riders to test unknown and potentially dangerous prototypes, Yamaha can make use of the Motobot to ride hundreds or even thousands of test laps before humans get involved.
An experimental self-driving car has set a record for an autonomous road trip in Mexico. The trip from the U.S.-Mexico border to Mexico City provided the opportunity to collect data and prepare for an even longer upcoming road trip from Reno, Nevada to Mexico City.
The autonomous car in this case was a 2010 Volkswagen Passat Variant named Autonomos. The modified, self-driving vehicle can automatically control speed, direction, and braking without human driver intervention, but it also relies upon GPS to safely follow preset routes. Researchers prepared special maps containing terabytes of data detailing the number of lanes, highway markings, exits, intersections and traffic lights.
“We covered 250 to 300 miles daily, so it took a week to arrive to Mexico City,” said Raul Rojas, a visiting professor of robotics and intelligent systems math at the University of Nevada, Reno, in a press release. “Some parts of the highway were scary, but we had no important safety incidents.”
The 2,414-kilometer (1,500-mile) Mexico road trip took place along Mexico’s Highway 15. About five percent of the route included construction work and potholes. But the bigger challenge for the self-driving car came from the lack of lane markings along lengthy stretches of highway due to repaving work over the summer.
Rojas previously tested the same car in autonomous driving mode on a 306-kilometer round trip from Berlin to Leipzig in Germany. He and his colleagues outfitted Autonomos as a “driving laboratory” with seven laser scanners, nine video cameras, seven radars and a GPS roof antenna.
For the Mexico trip, Rojas brought along three German colleagues. Everyone took turns as safety drivers; one person kept an eye on the road in the driver’s seat and one person watched the computer and navigation systems to see what moves the autonomous car planned to do next. The remaining pair of people followed in a support vehicle.
The Mexico road trip represented just one leg of an planed 6,437-kilometer trip from Reno to Mexico City. Eventually, Rojas hopes to improve the autonomous car’s ability to predict the behavior of other drivers and pedestrians. Such capabilities would go a long way toward making autonomous cars safer beyond just highway driving.
“If a human can drive with two eyes, I am sure that we will be able to drive autonomously with a computer the size of a notebook and just a handful of video cameras in just a few more years,” Rojas said.
Huge tech companies and automakers have increasingly been testing self-driving cars on public roads. But semi-autonomous features have also been creeping into existing commercial cars. For example, Tesla Motors recently uploaded new Autopilot software to its Tesla Model S vehicles. And in 2014, the Mercedes-Benz S Class already brought semi-autonomous features to the commercial car market with adaptive cruise control and automatic collision prevention.
Full text of this article by Jeremy Hsu in the IEEE Spectrum.
In China's factories, the robots are rising.
For decades, manufacturers employed waves of young migrant workers from China's countryside to work at countless factories in coastal provinces, churning out cheap toys, clothing and electronics that helped power the country's economic ascent.
Now, factories are rapidly replacing those workers with automation, a pivot that's encouraged by rising wages and new official directives aimed at helping the country move away from low-cost manufacturing as the supply of young, pliant workers shrinks.
It's part of a broader overhaul of the economy as China seeks to vault into the ranks of wealthy nations. But it comes as the country's growth slows amid tepid global demand that's adding pressure on tens of thousands of manufacturers.
With costs rising and profits shrinking, Chinese manufacturers "will all need to face the fact that only by successfully transitioning from the current labor-oriented mode to more automated manufacturing will they be able to survive in the next few years," said Jan Zhang, an automation expert at IHS Technology in Shanghai.
Shenzhen Rapoo Technology Co. is among the companies at ground zero of this transformation. At its factory in the southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen, orange robot arms work alongside human operators assembling computer mice and keyboards.
"What we are doing here is a revolution" in Chinese manufacturing, said Pboll Deng, Rapoo's deputy general manager.
The company began its push into automation five years ago. Rapoo installed 80 robots made by Sweden's ABB Ltd. to assemble mice, keyboards and their sub-components. The robots allowed the company to save $1.6 million each year and trim its workforce to less than 1,000 from a peak of more than 3,000 in 2010.
Such upgrading underscores the grand plans China's communist leaders have for industrial robotics. President Xi Jinping called in a speech last year for a "robot revolution" in a nod to automation's vital role in raising productivity.
Authorities have announced measures such as subsidies and tax incentives over the past three years to encourage industrial automation as well as development of a homegrown robotics industry.
Some provinces have set up their own "Man for Machine" programs aimed at replacing workers with robots.
Guangdong, a manufacturing heartland in southern China, said in March it would invest 943 billion yuan ($148 billion) to encourage nearly 2,000 large manufacturers to buy robots, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Guangzhou, the provincial capital, aims to have 80 percent of manufacturing automated by 2020.
A relentless surge in wages is adding impetus to the automation revolution. China relied on a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor for decades to power its economic expansion. That equation is changing as the country's working age population stops growing and more Chinese graduate from university, resulting in a dwindling supply of unskilled workers, annual double-digit percentage increases in the minimum wage and rising labor unrest.
Deng said Rapoo's wage bill rising 15-20 percent a year was one big factor driving its use of robots.
"Frontline workers, their turnover rate is really high. More and people are unwilling to do repetitive jobs. So these two issues put the manufacturing industry in China under huge pressure," he said.
China's auto industry was the trailblazer for automation, but other industries are rapidly adopting the technology as robots become smaller, cheaper and easier to use. It now only takes on average 1.3 years for an industrial robot in China to pay back its investment, down from 11.8 years in 2008, according to Goldman Sachs.
Companies such as electronics maker TCL Corp. are using robots to produce higher-value goods. At one factory in Shenzhen, TCL uses 978 machines to produce flat screen TV panels. At another TCL plant in Hefei, near Shanghai, steel refrigerator frames are bent into shape before being plucked by a blue Yasakawa robot arm that stacks them in neat rows for further assembly.
Fridges and big washing machines have heavy internal components, so "if you use automated robots to make them, they also let you cut your labor intensity by a lot," said TCL Chairman Tomson Li.
China held the title of world's biggest market for industrial robots for the second straight year in 2014, with sales rising by more than half to 56,000, out of a total of 224,000 sold globally, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
There's plenty more room for explosive sales growth. China has about 30 robots for every 10,000 factory workers compared with 437 in South Korea and 152 in the United States. The global average is 62. Beijing wants China's number to rise to 100 by 2020.
The switch to robots has raised fears that it will contribute to slowing job though there are few signs that's happening yet.
Deng said Rapoo hasn't had to resort to layoffs. Rather, the company is just not replacing workers who quit.
"It's not simply replacing the operation of workers by robot. We do more than that. We are making a robot platform" in which humans and machines work together to make production more flexible, he said.
On a recent tour of Rapoo's factory, Deng pointed out the efficiencies.
As a conveyor belt carried circuit boards out of an industrial soldering machine, a robot arm removed them from metal jigs and placed them on another belt. Human workers typically do this job in other factories, Deng said, but turnover is high because of the heat and repetitiveness.
In a glass-walled room, robots assembled receivers for wireless mice, tasks that were previously done by 26 people, Deng said. Now, one or two humans supervise as a laser automatically fuses shut metal USB plug housings, four at a time, while steps away, robot arms slide the plugs into plastic sleeves.
Automation means "accuracy can still remain very high and there are seldom failures for the robots," said Deng.
Boosting quality also helps China's companies achieve another national goal of shedding their reputation as shoddy, low cost producers to compete with global rivals.
Automation will allow Chinese factories to grab a bigger share of industries where accuracy and precision are crucial, such as aerospace, medical devices and optical components, said Derick Louie, of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.
Makers of toys and other low-profit consumer goods, however, "probably will have to move outside of China due to rising labor costs and environmental taxation," he said.
Fulltext of the article by Kelvin Chan in ABC News.
Scientists trying to build a better robot are encouraged by the steps, however tentative, of a humanoid named Atlas.
In a video shown recently by Atlas’s makers, it is hard to miss the human in the humanoid as the 6-foot-2 machine takes a casual, careful stroll through the woods. It walks like a crouched limbo contestant (who perhaps imbibed one too many piña coladas), shuffles through a wooded area, tethered by a power cord, and then breaks into a more confident, foot-slapping walk when it reaches flat ground — much as a person would. Scientists hope to make an untethered version soon.
Atlas’s ability to be outside in the woods is one step toward developing the balance and dynamics that come naturally to humans, according to Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, the Google-owned research firm behind the project.
“We’re making pretty good progress on making it so that it has mobility that is sort of within shooting range of yours,” Dr. Raibert said, referencing the video at a recent conference. The video of Atlas moving through the woods was made last year with the 2013 version of the machine, a representative, Maria Silvaggi, said in an email on Tuesday.
Atlas, first publicly unveiled in 2013, received funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but that relationship has ended, a representative said Tuesday. Scientists believe that the robot could eventually assist humans after disasters, like earthquakes and fires, going where rescuer workers cannot. But for the scientists, development can be maddeningly slow.
For Atlas, an aluminum machine weighing over 300 pounds, the training process looks grueling: Researchers kick the robot, throw weights at it or make it walk over rock beds to observe how well it adapts to challenges. On the rock bed, Atlas can be seen tottering but rushing to complete the course, a move, Dr. Raibert said, that mimics the behavior of people and animals — when we’re on unsure footing, our instinct is to keep moving forward, and fast.
Leaving the controlled setting of a lab presents its own hurdles.
“Out in the world is just a totally different challenge than in the lab,” Dr. Raibert said. “You can’t predict what it’s going to be like.”
Full story by Katie Rogers in The New York Times.
As petroleum has become harder to find, it's become increasingly costly and dangerous to extract. Could aerial data-collection bots create a new boom in fossil fuels?
Oil and gas exploration has always moved at the speed of the equipment—glacially. Productive job sites quickly get clogged with fleets of massive trucks, cranes, and rotary diggers, forcing site planners to observe the area by helicopter just to direct traffic.
For decades, this has been the only way to do business. And it’s pricey. Drilling machinery burns thousands of dollars per day in operation, and nearly as much when it sits idle. When conditions change—weather, markets, breakdowns—teams suffer a chain reaction of runaway costs only the biggest conglomerates can afford.
With such massive overhead acting as a barrier to entry, oil and gas companies have been slow to innovate around worker safety and environmental impact. But aerial drones threaten to drastically change the pace. Are American oil companies ready?
Self-piloting drones like the Boomerang are leading a small but fundamental change in the industry. In oil and gas, equipment doesn’t move without data—where to drill, how deep to go, and so on. With the traffic bottleneck removed, suddenly equipment can move more nimbly and exploration startups can get in the drilling game for a fraction of the traditional entry cost.
The impact of self-piloted drones comes in the form of speed and savings. By photographing job sites 24 hours a day in high definition, oil and gas principals get an up-to-the-minute view of how their resources are deployed—even when conditions are too dangerous for manned aviation. Instead of planning fleet movements weeks in advance, decisions about fleet movement are possible on the fly, cutting costs and making management more responsive. Though oil and gas are becoming increasingly hard extract in the U.S., dynamic job site monitoring is one of a handful of technologies that could keep domestic exploration competitive with overseas oil.
The Boomerang self-piloting drone works like consumer drones, but with one key feature: it requires zero maintenance. After surveying several square miles of terrain, the three-foot-wide quadcopter can pilot itself back to a docking station where it self-installs a fresh battery pack. Other industrial drones like the Spektre can even make 3D maps of dangerous sites, forgoing the need for human workers to analyze the data once the drone is done surveying.
When combined with other technologies like additive manufacturing and advanced seismography, drones-as-a-platform can become a fulcrum point for much larger industry disruptions. Should a drone report broken machinery, its stereoscopic vision could dispatch an order for a 3D-printed replacement part right on site.
Fitted with advanced seismic sensors, drones could even replace exploration teams entirely, recording subterranean data at high sensitivity from hundreds of feet in the air. These capabilities entail a big shake-up for one of the world’s most entrenched industries—with less strip mining, fewer accidents, and cheaper fuel for the rest of us.
Full story in HP Matter.
Facebook just built a gigantic solar-powered drone that will stay in the stratosphere for months at a time, beaming broadband Internet to rural and hard-to-reach areas.
The drone, called Aquila, is the baby of Facebook's (FB, Tech30) year-old Connectivity Lab. The lab has been developing new technology as part of the social network's mission to "connect everybody in the world."
Four billion people don't have access to the Internet, and 10% of the world's population lacks the necessary infrastructure to get online. To reach these people, Facebook is working on drones, satellites, lasers and terrestrial Internet technology.
On Thursday, Facebook announced it had finished construction on its first full-sized drone and announced other project milestones. The team's researchers say they've found a way to use lasers to deliver data speeds from the drones ten times faster than the industry standard.
Facebook has been working on the Aquila for a year, building off of technology it acquired when it bought UK drone company Ascenta in 2014. The solar-powered unmanned aircraft is designed to fly far above commercial airspace and weather, and to stay in the air for three months at a time. It could give Internet access to people located in a 50-mile radius on the ground.
"It's sort of like a backbone of Internet using lasers in the sky, that's the dream we have," said Yael Maguire, the engineering director of Facebook's Connectivity Lab.
Aquila hasn't taken flight yet, but the UK-based team has done flight testing on a number of scale models. Over the next six months, the group will run structural and other tests and eventually take it for its first test flight.
The technology is years away from being used in the field -- Facebook doesn't yet have an exact timeline.
The Aquila drone looks like a giant v-shaped boomerang. It's 140-feet in diameter -- about the same wingspan as a Boeing 737 -- and covered in solar cells. It is made of light carbon fiber that is two to three times stronger than steel when cured. It will weigh around 880 pounds when fully outfitted with motors, batteries and communications equipment.
It won't require a runway. The Aquila will be launched by tethering it to a helium balloon and floating it straight past the weather and commercial airspace. During the day, it will cruise in circles at 90,000 feet, soaking up solar power. At night, it will save energy by drifting down to 60,000 feet. Though current regulations require one pilot on the ground for each drone, Facebook hopes to design the Aquila so it can fly without a dedicated pilot.
To get the Internet, a laser system will connect the ground and the drone. A Facebook team has been working on the laser technology in California, and says it has achieved speeds of tens of gigabytes per second -- that's fast enough to allow hundreds of thousands of people to access broadband Internet simultaneously.
The lab works with Facebook's Internet.org, which has been criticized for only giving people access to a limited number of Internet services. But Aquila is designed to provide full broadband Internet. Facebook also won't operate the planes itself. Instead, the company plans to work with local providers or governments to actually deploy the technology, though details are still unknown.
"Building big planes and selling them is not core to our mission of connecting people," said Jay Parikh, a VP of engineering. "We are not going to take this stuff and be 'Facebook ISP.'"
Full story in CNN Money.
Those looking to get in on the robotics game have a number of choices in where they might go to learn about robo-topics like mobility, manipulation, and artificial intelligence.
A number of top-notch universities around the country (as well as some less-than-obvious names) offer robotics education programs befitting plenty of people looking to build the next great robot.
Whether you want to build a better Roomba or a new best friend, here are ten colleges that will give you the tools you need.
The Robotics and Intelligent Machines Lab at UC Berkeley has an entire department devoted to replicating animal movement for the sake of improving robotic mobility. The school's Laboratory for Automation Science and Engineering gets into more general robotics work, designing solutions for things like robot-assisted surgery and automated manufacturing. There's even an entire Computer Vision Group so that students might learn how to help robots make sense of what they "see."
It's an incredibly robust college for robotics that will likely meet your interests no matter what they are.Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The goal of the Johns Hopkins University's Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robots (a not-for-profit division of the school) is straightforward: to "create knowledge and foster innovation to further the field of robotics science and engineering."
This is accomplished by exposing students to a wide variety of robotics topics. Consider its LIMBS Laboratory, which examines the principles of sensory guidance in animals and sees how they might be applied to robots. Consider its Computational Interaction and Robotics Laboratory, which examines the many hard problems encountered in human-robot interaction and robotic spatial awareness.
Check out this fact sheet on the school's robotics facilities. You can tell they're taking this stuff seriously.Colorado School Of Mines
Colorado School Of Mines
Mining is an incredibly complex pursuit, and robots can step in to do dangerous work to save lives. Someone needs to build them, and the Colorado School of Mines has its Center for Automation, Robotics, and Distributed Intelligence (CARDI) to equip people with the tools to do so.
Because it's a mining-centric school, curriculum runs the gamut from communication protocols to environmental considerations. CARDI students meet once a month over lunch to keep each other apprised of their research — one person will give a presentation on what they're up to, and the meetings frequently feature a guest to speak on topics relevant to the industry.
If you want to check out a cool project to come out of the school, we recommend "Intelligent Geosystems."Stanford University
Since its founding in 1962, Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has been facilitating robotics education for 52 years. Students gather for weekly reading groups to dissect robotics papers and discuss the latest developments in their fields.
Its faculty's list of interests is loaded with fun robo-buzzwords: informatics, logic, machine learning, natural language processing, and so on.University of Southern California
USC's Robotics Research Lab encourages undergrads to get their hands dirty by taking directed research credits from faculty. Graduate students are invited to do research and build things in the university's robotics labs.
A dedicated page exists just to showcase videos of USC robotic creations in action. One of them is a robot for children that blows bubbles!Columbia University
Mario Tama / Getty Images
The projects described on the website for Columbia University's Robotics Group are impressive to say the least. Students have built autonomous vehicles for navigating urban environments, 3-D simulation tools to teach robots how to interact with the real world, and even a system for facilitate aspects of surgery-by-robot.
The program is headed up by Professor Peter Allen, who was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation.Washington University in St. Louis
Often referred to as the "Harvard of the Midwest," WashU offers a masters of engineering in robotics. The program is built around giving students the necessary experience to find professional robotics work upon graduation, and the curriculum is built upon making sense of robotic components like sensors and actuators, then finding new ways to use them to solve problems.
Students enrolled in the program will go hands-on with mobile robotics, robot-human interaction, and brain-computer interfaces.Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines is led by Henrik Christensen, a noted roboticist and thinker who recently speculated that children born today will never have to drive a conventional car. He's constantly cited as a source for where robotics is heading in the future, even speculating here as to what Google will do with all its recent robotics acquisitions.
The program aims to give students an understanding of a diversity of robotics topics, such as mechanics, interactions, perceptions, and artificial intelligence and cognition.Carnegie Mellon University
The Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute consists of 76 faculty members, 94 Ph.D. students and 132 master’s students. The university only offers a minor in robotics or a second major in robotics — students have to have already been accepted into another undergraduate major — but despite this, CMU has turned out a number of impressive robotics thinkers and entrepreneurs.
Alumni include Chris Urmson, who heads up Google’s self-driving car program. Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner are the founders of Anki, the company that builds artificially intelligent car racing sets. Mark Maimone pilots NASA's Curiosity on Mars!
A Carnegie Mellon team led by Professor William “Red” Whittaker won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge robot vehicle race, which functions as something of a robot Olympics.Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT is nearly synonymous with developing cool, cutting-edge technology.
Its Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has spawned a number of robotic creations, and its long list of notable alumni includes folks like Colin Angle and Helen Greiner, co-founders of iRobot; Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics; and Matt Mason, who is now director of The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
There's something to be said for a school whose alumni make up the majority of the country's computer science professors.
Full text of this article in the Business Insider.
A "hitchhiking, tweeting, and trivia-loving robot" named hitchBOT will soon embark on a coast-to-coast, 3871-mile trek across Canada. It was initially conceived by Dr. David Harris Smith and Dr. Frauke Zeller as a collaborative art project. Armed with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, hitchBOT will be capable of accessing Wikipedia, interacting with social media, and both recognizing and processing speech. One thing it can't do is move: hitchBOT is largely incapable of independent motion, and must rely on charm to secure rides from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia.
The intrepid machine is currently under construction, but Smith expects the finished product to look like it was cobbled from "odds and ends" such as pool noodles and Wellington boots. The hitchBOT team is hoping its creation can answer a question about human kindness. "Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots, " says Zeller in a statement. "But this project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?" HitchBOT's journey begins on July 27th.
Full text of the article in The Verge.
As the Pentagon expands its use of robots on the battlefield and its investments in developing robot technology, a movement to ban the use of autonomous robots on the battlefield is growing. Those who decry the use of robots argue that removing the human element from warfare would remove all moral judgment; robot soldiers would be unfeeling killing machines.
One researcher, however, believes just the opposite. He argues that robot soldiers would make warfare more ethical, not less.
Ronald Arkin, an artificial intelligence expert from Georgia Tech and author of the book, Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, argues in a series of papers that robots can be taught to act morally. He’s presenting his ideas at a United Nations meeting in Geneva this week and sent a 2013 paper, “Lethal Autonomous Systems and the Plight of the Non-combatant,” to outline his views.
Arkin says, “It may be possible to ultimately create intelligent autonomous robotic military systems that are capable of reducing civilian casualties and property damage when compared to the performance of human warfighters.”
In the paper, Arkin argues that it’s the very inhumanity of robots that allow them to make more humane decisions than their human counterparts. For instance, robots could reduce friendly fire incidents and lower civilian casualties. They could also be programmed to act in what humans would consider a moral way in situations where a human soldier might be tempted to violate the laws of war or ethical and moral codes. He argues that history proves that it’s impossible to prevent soldiers from violating these laws and codes.
“While I have the utmost respect for our young men and women warfighters, they are placed into conditions in modern warfare under which no human being was ever designed to function,” he writes. “In such a context, expecting a strict adherence to the Laws of War … seems unreasonable and unattainable by a significant number of soldiers.”
Advantages Over Humans
Arkin claims that robots provide an advantage over humans for a host of reasons, including:
- They do not have to worry about self-preservation, and therefore would not have to fire upon targets they simply suspect pose a threat. “There is no need for a ‘shoot first, ask-questions later’ approach, but rather a ‘first-do-no-harm’ strategy can be utilized instead. They can truly assume risk on behalf of the noncombatant,” he writes.
- They have sensors that are better equipped than a human being to survey the battlefield that allow them to see through the so-called fog of war.
- They could be designed in a way that prevents them from acting out of anger or frustration.
- Physical and mental damage from actions of the battlefield would have no impact on a robot.
- They can process more information than a human before having to use deadly force.
- They could independently monitor the ethical behavior of humans that fight along side it. “This presence alone might possibly lead to a reduction in human ethical infractions,” Arkin argues.
Arkin’s thesis comes at a time when the military is expanding its use of robots on all fronts. They are already used on the battlefield to detect roadside bombs. Private companies and laboratories are also developing robots that can fight fires, haul gear and drag soldiers to safety. It’s only a matter of time before one is weaponized.
And it appears as if the military is buying into Arkin’s argument. The Office of Naval Research will give a $7.5 million grant to Tufts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Yale, Georgetown and Brown researchers to develop a robotic system that can determine right and wrong.
In his research, Arkin deals only with the moral questions surrounding the use of robots. He does not address the financial issues connected to the job losses that would follow the use of robot soldiers. In theory, they could make human infantry redundant, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs for traditional soldiers.
Obligation to Use Them?
Arkin argues that if science can create weaponized robots that are programmed to always do the right thing under rules of war and recognized moral code, there is an obligation for war planners to use them.
“If achievable, this would result in a reduction in collateral damage, i.e., noncombatant casualties and damage to civilian property, which translates into saving innocent lives. If achievable this could result in a moral requirement necessitating the use of these systems,” he writes.
Obligation to Use Them?
Arkin argues that if science can create weaponized robots that are programmed to always do the right thing under rules of war and recognized moral code, there is an obligation for war planners to use them.
“If achievable, this would result in a reduction in collateral damage, i.e., noncombatant casualties and damage to civilian property, which translates into saving innocent lives. If achievable this could result in a moral requirement necessitating the use of these systems,” he writes.
Full text of the article in The Fiscal Times.
Please mark your calendars for the second National Robotics Initiative Principal Investigators (NRI PI) meeting on November 19-20, 2014. The event, which will be held in Arlington, Virginia at the the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel, will bring together the community of researchers, companies, and program managers who are actively engaged in the National Robotics Initiative, launched in 2011. This meeting will include presentations on cutting-edge research and will provide a forum for community sharing of best practices in research, as well as the dissemination and translation of research.
We will provide more information on this page at the later time about the agenda, meeting registration, and hotel room reservations.
"The amount of money that Google and other commercial companies will pour into robotics and artificial intelligence could at last take it truly into the commercial world where we actually do have smart robots roaming our streets," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield.
Turning the classic industrial investment model on its head, consumer technology groups are using their cash mountains to superfund areas of research that were until now the preserve of governments, defence companies and academics. Over the past year, Google has bought seven robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, whose previous work building humanoid machines was largely paid for by the US military. It has bought firms that specialise in natural language processing, gesture recognition, and more recently in machine learning, highlighted by the acquisition of British startup Deepmind – bought in January for $400m (£238m).
"Silicon Valley's involvement is creating right now an enormous acceleration," says Per Roman, a founding partner at technology investment bank GPBullhound. "It is turning into a real talent magnet. It is often small teams that come up with breakthrough inventions and you are much more willing to take the risk if there is a chance you could get bought rather than ending up in a dark room in some military agency."
And it is not just AI that is persuading Google to open its chequebook. Like Facebook, it is also investing in beaming the internet from the sky. Google has acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace, while Facebook now owns Somerset based Ascenta. Facebook has also splashed out $2bn on Oculus, a maker of virtual reality headsets. Amazon, meanwhile, has held up the prospect that one day its goods could be delivered by air to our doorstep before we have even realised we need to order them.
Last year's $3.2bn purchase of Nest, a designer of internet connected smoke alarms and thermostats, suggest Google's ambitions are domestic. "It looks to me like they want to take the internet out of the desktop and put it into our everyday lives," says Sharkey. "Their acquisition of Nest was very telling. Add to that robotics and AI companies and you have the internet walking around in the world alongside us."
For those struggling to understand why Google or Amazon should want to invest in self driving cars, internet drones and robotics, the answer is data. Masses of it. The parking meter in your street, the collar on your cat, the thermostat in your home will emit signals that can be picked up from anywhere, and Google will be listening.
Full story in The Guardian.