Saturday, October 08, 2005

WowWee + Segway: "We weren't kidding."

Our lovely assistant has come through with more information about the Segway/WowWee licensing deal.

WowWee will be licensing the technology, but are recalcitrant to explain how, or in what systems. Instead they promise a "range" of products that will incorporate the information. The best quote in the story so far is probably "We will use Segway Smart Motion to enable our products to move and behave in ways that challenge the imagination and provide advanced functionality."

I'm afraid that if my robot is behaving in ways that challenge my imagination I might consider that a failure rather than a success. It sounds like the sort of thing I would tell the poor sap in India on the other end of the support hotline.

"Well, he was working fine but this morning he started cursing in German, ripped down the drapes, popped a wheelie and chased after the cat for half an hour. I can't understand what came over him. This completely challenges my imagination. Now the cat won't come out from under the bed, my drapes are ruined, and my imagination is feeling seriously threatened."

In any case the gadget and news media grabbed hold of the story and shook it like dog with a rat. My personal favorite for "most catty" goes to the Register article for managing to make fun of Segway, Wowwee, and throw in a jab at and the governor of California for good measure. C'mon guys, is anybody on your good side?

Here are the Official Bylines from the wire:
WowWee Ltd. First to Use Segway(R) Smart Motion. . .
Segway Inc. Expands Worldwide Market. . .

And here's the spin:
Segway's brains head for toy robot []
WowWee and Segway Partner Up [PCMag]
WowWee Licenses Segway Tech for...Robots![]
Segway rolls out technology licenses ['s water cooler]

Grand Challenge Updates

Grand Challenge official times have still not been posted. Rumours are flying and the last bot with a shot at finishing (Gray) is now less than 7 miles from the finish line.

Red Team Racing has some fantastic links in their race day blog.

It includes a link to a much better route map and a google maps hack that shows the course information.

But far more interesting then their excellent visual aides is their final blog entry for the day. At 5:30 PM PDT, they posted this cryptic snippet:
Officially, DARPA has announced that "There is a Grand Challenge winner, but we are just not sure who it is yet". DARPA will pause vehicles overnight, and finish the challenge tomorrow, the 9th. This marks the end of this blog for today.

I'm not sure what the story is here. Perhaps it's just a simple governmental screw up. Perhaps there was a major timing error or some minor rule is being squabbled over. Hopefully it will all be resolved soon. In any case, according to the 'live' tracking data from the website, Gray is still out there and running. This means one of two things: either the vehicles haven't been paused or the tracking information is even more screwed up than we all thought when we realized the timers didn't stop as soon as the robots crossed the finish line.


Extra, extra, read all about it!

Stanley, the autonomous and heavily modified volkswagen Touareg created by the Stanford Racing Team, has just completed the DARPA grand challenge in 7 hours and 30 minutes. The speed limitations of the course make it impossible for any other bot to catch him in this time-elapsed competition structure.

Congratulations to Stanford and to Stanley for winning the prestige and respect of an industry, as well as a cool US $2 million.

I wonder if the team divides any of that money up, or the school gets to keep it all?

Official Status Board (click link on the left) []

Grand Challenge Update: Leaders past halfway mark

The Grand Challenge is underway, and updates are going up every minute in the teams and vehicles section at

The three bots leading the charge this morning, Sandstorm of Red Team, Stanley of the Stanford Racing Team, H1ghlander of Red Team Too are all past the halfway mark.

The bots each pulled away five minutes apart this morning and Sandstorm and H1ghlander have less than 6 miles between them still, over three hours into the course. Stanley is sandwiched between them. He's been losing a bit of ground to H1ghlander, who must have been awarded the pole position for a reason.

The course is 131.7 miles and includes three tunnels. There is still no official route map or visual data available from the webcast, which is dissapointing.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Feeding the Rumour Mill

Rumour has it that WowWee toys, makers of Robosapien, will be licensing the smart motion technology that keeps the Segway scooter balanced. Nobody knows what for yet though.

The only ones brave enough to publish the rumour right now (that I can find) are the people at the inquirer, so I wouldn't trust this 'scoop' much farther than I can throw it, until I hear something more official.

(special thanks to our lovely assistant for the tip)

Segway Licenses Technology to Robot Firm[]

Image Mash-up courtesy of 30 seconds with the Google Image Search (GIS) and 5 minutes with the Gimp.

DARPA Grand Challenge starts off early tomorrow

At 6AM PDT tomorrow, a live webcast of the grand challenge should be available from I'll be waking up nice and early so I can watch the starts. I will probably post a couple of times tomorrow as events shape up.

My smart money would be on either Stanley or Red Team Too, but 'IT' came from the garage is my 'underdog' hopeful.

Oh, and for those of you that have satellite dishes, the live sat. feeds for tomorrows opening are listed here(pdf).

Good luck to all the teams tomorrow, and may the best robot win!

More Robotic Fish News [video and pic]

A new article from Physorg contains more detail about the autonomous fish currently swimming around an empty tank at the London Aquarium. It includes the picture you see to your right.

The video of them in the tank does much better justice though. It can be found here(mpg - 7.11meg) or through the BBC article's sidebar.

Thanks to for the heads up on this one.

Robotic fish in action at London Aquarium[]

Update: An entire video gallery of robotic fish from the University of Essex is now available.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Automated Kitty Litter Cleaner

Welcome to the brilliant "what the hell?" idea of the day: the litter-robot.

This neat little rotating contraption autofilters and seperates litter so that the extent of your work as a cat owner is pulling the bag out and tossing it in the bin. Kindof handy, but as the product website warns--this is not a device for nervous cats. I can certainly imagine that many felines would be concerned that this giant plastic beast could become a "swirling vortex of doom" (as Engadget put it) at any time during the elimination process, which would be unpleasant.

But, admittedly, quite funny.

All I can think of is the hysterical and deeply angry product review(link contains strong language) of an automated litter sifting system that Tycho of Penny-Arcade wrote a year or two ago. Hopefully this thing isn't as bad.

I can't help but think that the first image looks like perhaps this is a disembodied cat head with a robotic 'body' that allows it to roll around. I can imagine it navigating mazes in a puzzle game. "Super-Kitty-Ball!" it would be called.

Litter-Robot automated kitty litter cleaner []
Litter-Robot [product page]

RoboFish coming to London Aquarium

In what might be the shortest news blurb ever,'s technology news announced today that a school of robotic fish will be unveiled at the London Aquarium, courtesy of a research team from the University of Essex. No time frame is given.

Update: The time frame was today, and there is a lot more information to be gleaned from the new article from The Sun online.

Robot Fish to be Unveiled []
Robot Fish Unveiled []

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Grand Challenge NQE Finalists

DARPA has announced the finalists in the Grand Challenge. These teams will go on to compete in the race on October 8th. In alphabetical order:

Axion Racing (Westlake Village, Calif.)
Team Cajunbot (Lafayette, La.)
Team CalTech (Pasadena, Calif.)
CIMAR (Gainesville, Fla.)
Team Cornell (Ithaca, N.Y.)
Team DAD (Morgan Hill, Calif.)
Desert Buckeyes (Ohio State University, Columbus)
Team ENSCO (Springfield, Va.)
The Golem Group/UCLA (Los Angeles)
The Gray Team (Metairie, La.)
Insight Racing (Cary, N.C.)
Intelligent Vehicle Safety Systems I (Littleton, Colo.)
Mitre Meteorites (McLean, Va.)
MonsterMoto (Cedar Park, Tex.)
Mojavaton (Grand Junction, Colo.)
Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)
Red Team (Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh)
Red Team Too (Carnegie-Mellon)
SciAutonics/Auburn Engineering (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
Stanford Racing Team (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Team Terra Max (Oshkosh, Wis.)
Virginia Tech Team Rocky (Blacksburg, Va.)
Virginia Tech Grand Challenge Team.

Astute or anal-retentive readers will note that this is 23 teams, 3 more than originally suggested. I'm not sure if 3 are being given positions as alternates, or if there's merely some subtle change that I didn't hear about.

I think Stanford is the favored leader right now, judging by the statistics. It should be interesting to see how things happen once they get the 'bots out there in the real world.

iRobot helping Packbot enforce Rule #1.

The makers of Roomba, iRobot, are also the manufacturers of a line of infantry assisting robot drones called packbots. The packbot is a basic remote-controlled platform with multiple optional modules such as scouting, exploration and explosive ordnance disposal.

As shown here, the entire platform can be carried by a single soldier, apparently as part of a rig similar to the ALICE pack system. The reason that Packbot (which is a developing platform that has been around for several years) is that iRobot has teamed up with Boston University and recently announced an anti-sniper package for Packbot.

The additional antisniper module, which weighs just over 2 kilograms, can successfully detect the location of a sniper with 94% accuracy, and has a response before the smoke from the first shot has cleared.

In an industry with an increasingly powerful war-based component, it is encouraging to see a company build a guardian like this. This is an intelligent automated component whose primary purpose on the battlefield is to ensure that humans do not come to harm by providing them with more information to help protect them.

Robotic-vacuum maker, BU team up on antisniper device []

iRobot and Boston Univ. Photonics Center Unveil Advanced Sniper Detection System

Robots for the real world: Gorvernment and Industrial [Packbot Product pages at iRobot]

Murata Boy Follow up.

MSNBC has an article up about Murata Boy's demo at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technology (CEATEC). It gives a little more detail about the miniature cyclist (5 kilograms, half a meter tall) and his technological tricks (how he balances while stopped, what his company has planned for him in the future).

It also included a picture, the one you see here. I don't know if there were any Japanese girls in the show floor, but I imagine if there were, shrieks of "Kawaii!" were common whenever he was put out to show off.

Japanese robot goes bike-riding []

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stanley Dominates NQE Results

The Grand Challenge results are coming in, and Stanford Racing Team's entry, Stanley, has been dominating the event. Stanley is a modified Volkswagen Touareg with some very strong visualization and navigation software. For lots more information about Stanley, and some awesome animations of how he does what he does, have a look at the Stanford Racing Team's homepage.

He is the only robot to place in the top three on all four runs, and has passed every gate and maneuvered every obstacle on each attempt.

The Stanford Racing Team site has leaked that 10 finalists (including Stanley) have now been chosen, and ten more will be added tomorrow before the event comes to a close. The blog hasn't had an update since Sunday, so hopefully we'll hear something official soon.

Then it's off to the desert for the real race. : R is for Robot has released an excellent editorial/in depth article on human and robot interaction research being done at the Early Childhood Education Center in San Diego. The article talks about the researchers work there, describes some of the author's personal reactions to the program and talks about the future of robotics.

The main children in focus here are Rubi, and Qrio. Rubi (pictured here) is the ECEC's own in-house research bot. Built for just under $3,000 Rubi acts as a teacher and singalong leader for the kinds in short increments. She is part autonomous robot and part pre-scripted drone. And Qrio is on loan from Sony, along with a researcher who is studying how to make him more dynamic and more capable of emulating human interactions.

The article is a great read if this is your field. Have a glance.

R is for Robot []

RoboNexus is Coming!

It's a good time to be a roboticist. Next week is the launch of RoboNexus 2005. Unfortunately it is in San Jose and I'm on the other side of the country, unable to attend. Hopefully I'll be there next year.

The Business Wire tells us that Colin Angle, co-founder of iRobot, is giving the keynote address this year. If any of my readers is attending RoboNexus this year and would like to provide me exclusive coverage, drop me a line.

I wonder if they'll have live television coverage of the Grand Challenge? It will be taking place during the convention and I can't think of a group of people more interested in the results from the race.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Roborior Launches

Back in December of 2004, Gizmodo reported that Roborior was being released by Sanyo.

The robot, whose name is derived from (Robot+Interior), launched in department stores across Japan on September 28th, as a product from TMSUK (pronounced "temzack"). The little wheeled device is apparently completely integrated with the cell phone system, so when it detects an intruder it can call you and provide slide-show style video of the event. You can then talk directly into your phone and your voice will be broadcast by Roborior within the house.

The Roborior main page is flash, and Japanese. But if you follow the "movie" link, the video is pretty self-explanatory, even if it is all in a language that is foreign to most of you. In the video Roborior is shown as being a nice, normal white, however it appears that using his internal LEDs he can glow various colors in the dark, which seems like it would make him either extremely safe and nonthreatening or absolutely terrifying--I don't know which.

It seems you can also drive the little guy around your home using your cell phone keypad, which could make for some fun surprises if your friends get hold of your Roborior's number and decide to play "chase Bob's cat with the psychotic pulsing robot" at three in the morning.

tmsuk Releases New Household Robot []

Canadians get Library Robot

The University of British Columbia campus has a robot infestation in the heart of their library. It seems they moved about 800,000 low-use volumes (mainly out-of-date journals and publications that are rarely accessed) into an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS).

The system takes about 5 minutes to retrieve a volume once queried, but saves massive amounts of space on the library floor for books, while keeping hardcopies of this material rather than relying on digitization. The system seems pretty well received, and since no-one really 'browses' journals, the impact on the day-to-day operation of the library is pretty slim.

I don't know if the system also says "Sssshh" when sound levels raise above a certain amount.

UBC opens Canada'’s first robot-based library []

Image courtesy of the original article, created by Sanya Anwar.

Korea re-invents Teddy Ruxpin

Korea has an ambitious plan to improve its population's English : A robotic teacher.

The new robot, nameless at this time, is a project from the Korea Advanced Intelligent Robot Association aimed at teaching English speech and pronunciation to young students. The robot will tell the students short stories and have them repeat English sentences, then correct their pronunciation.

When put into full production, the whole package is expected to cost under one million won, which is less than US$1,000. For now there is a limited run being conducted, 64 robots should be deployed and tested by the end of 2005.

Supposedly additional software modules to be created later will add mathmatics lessons for older students, and high speed net access might expand the abilities of the robot significantly.

No word yet on whether the robot will look like a possessed stuffed animal and keep the little ones up at night in fear.

Robot English Teacher Makes Its Debut[]
Korea tests combat, English-teaching robots[EEtimes]