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Rise of the Robots: Special Report in The Economist

Robotics VO - Fri, 03/28/2014 - 15:05

ROBOTS came into the world as a literary device whereby the writers and film-makers of the early 20th century could explore their hopes and fears about technology, as the era of the automobile, telephone and aeroplane picked up its reckless jazz-age speed. From Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” to “WALL-E” and the “Terminator” films, and in countless iterations in between, they have succeeded admirably in their task.
Since moving from the page and screen to real life, robots have been a mild disappointment. They do some things that humans cannot do themselves, like exploring Mars, and a host of things people do not much want to do, like dealing with unexploded bombs or vacuuming floors (there are around 10m robot vacuum cleaners wandering the carpets of the world). And they are very useful in bits of manufacturing. But reliable robots—especially ones required to work beyond the safety cages of a factory floor—have proved hard to make, and robots are still pretty stupid. So although they fascinate people, they have not yet made much of a mark on the world.
That seems about to change. The exponential growth in the power of silicon chips, digital sensors and high-bandwidth communications improves robots just as it improves all sorts of other products. And, as the special report in The Economist explains, three other factors are at play.

2014 CPS Solicitation

Robotics VO - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 16:25

The Cyber Physical Systems Program at the National Science Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2014 CPS Solicitation has been released.  This year’s solicitation has several notable changes from previous rounds. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate along with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration have joined the program to support basic research in CPS foci applicable to various sectors. In addition, this year’s funding will include support for a Transition to Practice (TTP) option for all proposals. The optional TTP supplement should outline how proposed research could be scaled and matured for broader applications. Consideration of DHS and DOT specific applications can be included in TTP proposals.
The submission window is from May 19, 2014 - June 2, 2014 (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time). Solicitation  NSF 14-542 replaces NSF 13-502.
The Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) program solicitation has been revised for the FY 2014 competition, and prospective Principal Investigators are encouraged to read the solicitation carefully. Among the changes are the following:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and, through FHWA, U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) have joined the program.
  • A new supplemental option on "Transition to Practice" (TTP) is being offered.
  • A new emphasis on the potential utilization of testbeds for CPS research has been added.
  • New requirements for Supplementary Documents for Breakthrough and Frontier proposals have been introduced.
  • A requirement for a list of collaborators for all members of the project team, to be submitted as a Supplementary Document, has been added.

Three types of research and education projects -- differing in scope and goals -- will be considered through this solicitation:

  • Breakthrough projects must offer a significant advance in fundamental CPS science, engineering and/or technology that has the potential to change the field. This category focuses on new approaches to bridge computing, communication, and control. Funding for Breakthrough projects may be requested for a total of up to $500,000 for a period of up to 3 years.
  • Synergy projects must demonstrate innovation at the intersection of multiple disciplines, to accomplish a clear goal that requires an integrated perspective spanning the disciplines. Funding for Synergy projects may be requested for a total of $500,001 to $1,000,000 for a period of 3 to 4 years.
  • Frontier projects must address clearly identified critical CPS challenges that cannot be achieved by a set of smaller projects. Funding may be requested for a total of $1,000,001 to $7,000,000 for a period of 4 to 5 years.

Full Proposal Window:  May 19, 2014 - June 2, 2014 
Full Proposal Window:  December 1, 2014 - December 15, 2014 
December 1 - December 15, Annually Thereafter
Program synopsis at the NSF web site.

Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

Robotics VO - Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:33

A few months ago, we heard rumors that Google was planning something big in robotics. We also heard that Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, was leading this new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, we were told, is personally interested in robots, and now he wants Google to have a major role in making robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual robots. Today, an article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans: according to the article, the company is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups, quite a few of which we're familiar with.

You'll definitely want to read the entire New York Times story, where Rubin talks a little bit too vaguely about what Google is actually planning on doing with these as-yet hypothetical robots that they're apparently working on over there, but here's the bit about the acquisitions:

Mr. Rubin has secretly acquired an array of robotics and artificial intelligence start-up companies in the United States and Japan.

Among the companies are Schaft, a small team of Japanese roboticists who recently left Tokyo University to develop a humanoid robot, and Industrial Perception, a start-up here that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks. Also acquired were Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms in San Francisco, and Bot & Dolly, a maker of robotic camera systems that were recently used to create special effects in the movie “Gravity.” A related firm, Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design, and Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels, were acquired as well.

The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions.

Some brief highlights:

Obviously, we're curious about what other acquisitions Rubin is pursuing, and more generally, just what Google is actually working on. Fortunately for us, the Google robotics group will at least initially be based right here in Palo Alto, meaning that I'll get a chance to put my spy drones and ninja outfit to good use.

This article by Evan Ackerman was published in IEEE Spectrum on December 4, 2013.

Robot Rings the NASDAQ Bell for the First Time

Robotics VO - Tue, 11/12/2013 - 17:03

A robotic arm has rung the NASDAQ closing bell to honor the launch of ROBO-STOX™ Global Robotics and Automation Index (Bloomberg: ROBO/ROBOTR), the first benchmark index dedicated to this burgeoning industry. "The growing affordability of robotic productivity gains, coupled with expanding technological capabilities, have moved this sector beyond the 'tipping point,' and the adoption of related technologies across multiple industries should continue to accelerate," said Rob Wilson, CEO of ROBO-STOX. "By introducing the first comprehensive and focused measure of the value of robotics, automation and related technologies, we are giving investors the world's first benchmark by which to track the growing field of robotics."
NASDAQ:ROBO is a new Exchange Traded Fund ETF, launched on October 23 at a price of $25. First day volume was over 225,000 shares. The new ETF uses a specially formulated index which attempts to reflect the global robotics industry. The index is comprised of 77 companies - 38% domestic; 62% international - in the rapidly developing global robotics and automation industry, with operations in over 15 different countries around the world and listings on multiple foreign and domestic exchanges.
Since pure-play robotics companies are extremely rare, ROBO-STOX evaluates companies across industries, objectives, geographic locations and market capitalizations to find innovative firms that can fuel productivity and economic growth for years to come. The composite includes a mixture of “bellwether” stocks (securities of companies that the ROBO-STOX Index Committee believes reflect the performance of robotics and automation firms as a whole) and “non-bellwether” stocks (securities of robotics- and automation-related companies the Index Committee believes will generate higher revenue as their products and services grow). The Index is rebalanced on a quarterly basis, and is usually weighted 40 percent toward bellwether stocks and 60 percent toward non-bellwether stocks. Companies can be deleted from the Index at any time at ROBO-STOX’s discretion.



 

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