Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Time for a comeback.

"Mole's face-beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him,
and he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took
one glance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on
everything, saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected
house, and its narrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby
contents--and collapsed again on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws.
'O Ratty!' he cried dismally, 'why ever did I do it? Why did I bring
you to this poor, cold little place, on a night like this, when you
might have been at River Bank by this time, toasting your toes before
a blazing fire, with all your own nice things about you!'"

From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

After a long respite, it's time to dust things off and return to work. I feel guilty at how little I accomplished here before retiring, and I feel guiltier still for leaving things so long untidied and untended. But there is work to be done and no amount of guilt about it will get it done any faster, so here we are.

I'll try and update a little bit each day, expect some major changes, included new hosting space, a new layout and design, and even a new title.

For the moment, I'll just pique your curiosity with a question: do you think a modern news sight--especially one about a topic as interactive as robotics--is really adequate unless it has an appropriately valid discussion mechanism?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Bot And The Princess

Princess Anne had a chance to interact with RoboX this week at Sensation Dundee.

RoboX is an interactive tour-guiding robot who speaks English, German, French, and Italian. RoboX can see and follow someone with his eyes using a laser scanner, and even when in very populated environments, RoboX will move safely and smoothly around people and objects.

Protruding from his chest is a panel with four color buttons that allows for human interaction. And a LED matrix in RoboX's right eye will display icons and short animations.

RoboX can even express what he's 'feeling' or his reaction to the environment with his eyes and eyebrows.

Supposedly RoboX 'pushed' his way to the princess's side with an urgent cry of "Let me through." Apparently even robots are impressed with royalty.

I wonder what the princess thought of her tour.

Pictures curtesy of BlueBotics.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A New Spin on Foosball.

It looks like Foosball may have a high tech challenger. Firebox is now selling a product called "Mr. Soccer Robot Football" which includes a full set of remote-controlled soccer players that you (and your friends) can drive about the course. It looks like an intriguing use of the devices, and certainly points towards a more and more widespread acceptance of technology in our sports and games.

Of course, this isn't real robot-soccer since it's remote-controlled by the user and doesn't do any decision making on its own. I've been following Robot Soccer off and on for the last half-decade or so, and it has really developed as a sport in its own right. I'm not sure if the RoboCup goal of a fully autonomous andriod team capable of beating humans at soccer by 2050 fill be hit, but each new addition to the sport is another small piece of that puzzle.

Mr Soccer Robot Football product page []

Mr. Soccer Robot Football Japanese Telivision Commercial (.wmv) []

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Today's Toys, Tomorrow's Heros.

More than just a platitude, this could be considered as a mantra for the robotic systems of the 1980s. While Topo and Teddy Ruxpin were making an impression on our childhoods, researchers were developing bomb-retrieval and detonation systems that would come to fruition in the late 90s.

Right now I am seeing about one article every week announcing that a robot has been added to a bomb squad somewhere in the United States.

And over the last three weeks, there has been even more exciting news: these robots are actually being put to use, for everything from vaporizing a makeup case that someone forgot on the bus to detonating a car full of enough explosives to make citizens feel a jolt three blocks away.

Robots are saving lives and performing tasks that we should never need to send a human to attempt. Here are three of the latest Bomb Squad stories.

Robot removes suspicious package in Bellevue bomb scare []
Commuter nightmare []
Robot used to blow up explosives []

[Picture courtesy of the University of Melbourne]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Robots getting sixth sense, seeing dead people?

I know that most of us have at some point waded with small fish and endeavoured to catch one. In so doing we've all discovered that fish seem to have an uncanny awareness and ridiculously low reaction time when approached by an object. It seems that fish aren't preternaturally fast, they're just equipped with a sense we aren't.

That sense is called a lateral line. It uses the feedback from a line of incredibly thin hairs along their back to generate a mental map of water pressure and fluid changes, letting them 'feel' through the water around them.

Now, the institute of physics reports that some researchers have found a way to manufacture an artificial lateral line using silicon and modern micromachining methods. These scientists have floated the idea that it could be used to allow robots to navigate underwater environments with more proficiency and ease. Interesting stuff.

Could we soon see robots that can not only see and hear better than us, but develop entirely new senses beyond our ability to comprehend?

Fishy sixth sense could help robots navigate the oceans []

Monday, October 17, 2005

Our Lovely Assistant Takes a Hand.

As the primary author of this blog is taking a couple of days to move to a new state and career, we have a talented and lovely assistant (author of the Through-the-Camera-Lens photoblog and co-author of The Road travel blog) who will be updating the site for a few days. Hopefully you'll hear from yours truly again on Wednesday or Thursday.

I've left her a stack of templated articles and highlights that I assembled before I began the move, but maybe if you're all very nice to her, she'll even post a few interesting tidbits of her own. She's quite qualified to comment on the subject, as she's a very skilled software and electrical engineer (cue oohs and aahs from the crowd).

In the meantime, please make Our Lovely Assistant feel welcome. Olá!

Today has been a slow robot news day, so you can tide yourself over with this small gallery of Wakamaru Pictures. My personal favorite is the "what your Wakamaru sees" image with the crosshairs directly over the user's face. That certainly won't make Americans already terrified of robots taking over the world nervous at all.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Old News is good news since there's no new news now. Say that five times fast!

Wakamaru was released a little over a month ago in Japan. He's a household robot meant to provide cheerful daily interactions with the user. He's a smart little bugger that can apparently memorize the layouts of internal spaces, intuitively grasp your daily schedule (does he understand weekends?) and communicate with you using a pretty advanced Natural Language system.

I'm surprised to notice that he seems to have no visual-display system, which must make it difficult for him to communicate some concepts both to the owner and (in the case of a malfunction) to a technician. It's also interesting to see that his arms possess four degrees of freedom but appear to have no way of grasping an object, being limited to gesturing and pointing.

Cute, attractive, and on sale now, I don't think Wakamaru speaks English yet, but he might be learning soon. He's priced at US$14,000 right now. I expect that home robotics in the next five years will go through the same massive technology shifts and ability upgrades that home computing went through in the 90s, so even if I had the money right now I doubt I'd be picking up one of our little yellow friends.

Wakamaru ready to join the family []

Wakamaru English Product Page []

Friday, October 14, 2005

More Murata Boy Info

More infromation and photographs of the Murata Boy bicycling robot have shown up. They're in Gizmag's article on the subject. There are three low-quality pics included with the article, but two show an earlier version sans-cutesy-casing, which is interesting.

And since it is a slow news day in robotics (aside from the half-dozen print journals that are just now announcing who won the Grand Challenge) you get to see more of the Boy.

Murata's Robot Bicyclist []

Sushi Making Robots

Suzomo has announced a new Sushi-Making robot.

As an amatuer sushi chef myself, I'm intrigued in the automation of this process. I was unaware that even traditional style Sushi was being manufactured by machine and has been for the past 25 years. Sushi creation is a very complex series of steps and proper preparation requires utmost care or the sushi will not satisfy.

In this case the sushi are making fairly simple sushi (Nigiri) which is usually just the ingredient over a pad of rice, perhaps with a small binding. I tend to prefer (and make) Makizushi which is often called 'seaweed roll', and tends to take much more time to make.

The images that accompany this post are one of the Tomoe sushi machines. It is rated at 1,500 wrapped pieces of sushi per hour. This new product of Suzomo's is now making 2,000 wrapped per hour.

Of course, this is Nigiri. Speaking from personal experience with the more complex Makizushi, I can make perhaps. . . 20 pieces in an hour. If the rice is already boiling when I start the timer.

I suppose I'm becoming obsolete.

Suzumo Unveils 2000 Wrapped Pieces per Hour Sushi Robot []

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Robots, Human Rights, and Camels!

Now there are three things you rarely see grouped together.

Over the past year, Qatar and Kuwait have banned the use of children as jockeys in Camel Racing, and with good reason. The little tykes were being kept like slaves and often were malnourished or outright starved to lighten their weight and make them more competitive. The bans occured without a solution in hand, but some smart roboticists jumped in to fill the gap.

The result are small robotic or drone jockeys that are light-weight and remove the need for a human to be aboard the great spitting beasts. These quirky little robots even have molded plastic faces and helmets, which strikes me as ironic.

Kuwait held a six mile trial today in preparation for the season, which starts tomorrow, and Qatar has also staged such races in the past.

Kuwait holds first camel race with robot jockeys []