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 []

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Independent Medley

The Independent has run an interesting overview of the state of modern personal robotics.

It contains discussion of the current state of robotics, mentions the DARPA grand challenge, but talks mainly about the kinds of robots people will soon see in their lives. It includes overviews on Wakamaru, the Dyson DC06, the Electrolux Automower, Aibo, and Roboraptor. A good read if you're looking for a general "state of the industry" guide that isn't too comprehensive, but gets the point across.

"The march of robots into our lives" []

Some changes.

I recently (today) accepted a job offer to do research work in this industry.

As such, my time to update this blog will be more limited, and there are times that my coverage of issues might become a conflict of interest or merely an area where I can't speak as freely as I wish.

I plan to check with my employer about the company's stance on upkeeping a blog, especially one within the field, and see what he has to say. More updates as the situation warrants.

I already have one wonderful and lovely assistant that has promised to provide aide and support if the job precludes my updating for a day or two. I wouldn't mind having additional help from people who track this same industry and feel they have something to contribute. If you're interested in doing a little aggregative journalism, drop me a line and we'll talk.

Johnny 5 is alive!

There's new hope for children's education! A replica of the "Number 5" robot from Short Circuit called AJ5 is now a teacher.

AJ5 works for the Apache Junction Arizona Police Department as a firearms safety instructor that is taken to schools to give lectures. It seems he will be teaching all four sections of a segmented gun safety program that follows the children frrom Kindergarten ("don't touch yet!") to high school ("You will probably like this one.") It seems that the program is very pro-gun and pro-gun ownership, while being careful to make sure the children learn safety as they go.

The idea of using a quirky, easily anthropomorphized robot to lecture on such a subject is perfect. The young kids respond with rapt attention and if the robot has enough detail and answers the older kids are less likely to see it as "just another boring authority figure".

The program looks like a pretty good one, the police officers in charge are even studying the options for bringing modified real guns into the classroom for the older kids so they can get a feel of how they work and what they do. Taking the mystery out of a tool is the first step to increasing a person's safety around it, so I'm very much in favour of that.

Folks can meet AJ5 robot []

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

SWORDS article.

The Iraq focused blog Al Mendhar has a new article up about the often controversial SWORDS drone based on the the Talon platform.

SWORDS isn't really a robot, he's basically just a remote control machine gun. Like a regular machine gun, he could be dangerous to innocents in the hands of an evil, foolish or inexperienced operator, but in the hands of a well trained and professional soldier he's not much of a "go crazy and take over the world" risk.

In any case, the SWORDS system has been around in various forms for a while, but up-till-now it has mainly been a discussion piece. This might indicate that there is going to be a real deployment of the system soon, or it might just be that a reporter read the wire a month after it ran. [shrug]

US plans 'robot troops' for Iraq

Waffle-making Robot Sweetens Deal for High School Science

A brilliant young high school grad from Arlington Washington has created a robot that makes waffles--No, strike that--a roboticist has invented a robot that prepares waffles, complete with butter, syrup and whip cream.

His invention is one part industrial robot and one part Rube Goldberg machine, complete with multiple stages. According to the article he even used knowledge of agricultural mechanics somewhere in this process, though we are almost hesitant to muse about the exact purpose.

The robot appears to use frozen waffles and take them through the entire process, though the article isn't clear about whether the robot might also serve you these waffles, or whether there is an optional mode where the syrup is poured perfectly into each hole with the precision of which only an automaton is capable.

The most remarkable quote from the article, for its powerful "out of context this could be awkward" factor, is this quote from the young inventor during his interview.

"I just added whipped cream for the fun of it," [Jesse] Klein said.

Indeed Jesse, but don't we all?

Waffle-making robot a hit[Heraldnet]

Monday, October 10, 2005

Exploring Robots Update

Two news blurbs today about a couple of robotic Indiana Joneses. The first is a reuters article about how a team in Egypt plans to use a small robot to climb up an 20cmx20cm shaft in the cieling of one of the rooms in the Cheops pyramid at Giza. They hope to discover what lies beyond the shafts, which have generated speculation among Egyptologists for years.

Egypt prepares new probe of mystery pyramid shafts

The second is an update about Wagner Technologies' Arturito. We wrote about him here and here when he discovered buried treasure on an island off the coast of Chile a couple weeks ago.

It seems that Wagner Tech have renounced all their rights to the treasure in exchange for an assurance that the Chilean government will donate some of the money to charities. Wagner claims it only wanted the publicity from the find, and doesn't really want the treasure. It feels like there is more to this story than anybody is revealing right now, but hopefully it'll all work out ok in the end.

Wagner Renounces Claim to Chile's Buried Treasure

Grand Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, the Grand Challenge is over, and the robots are all headed home. Stanford has been heavily decorated and Team TerraMax might have proved that sometimes all you really need is a bigger hammer.

As Primm Nevada slowly goes back to being just a hiccup on the way from L.A. to Las Vegas, I thought we'd compile a couple of the more interesting Grand Challenge sights that provided race-day information and summaries.

I also think there is a neat human-interest story worth mentioning: Gray Team, who finished the race with an official time of seven and a half hours is from the southern Louisiana area. 75% of their team is still homeless as a result of Katrina. When dusk was approaching they said they were prepared to let their bot run beer-bottle pass (the most dangerous portion of the race) in the dark since their sytem didn't make use of visible light, and were completely confident in their creation's ability to win. That is pretty amazing.

And for those of you who might think that this was a waste of taxpayer dollars, here's a figure to consider. When asked by a reporter how much DARPA would have spent to get this kind of performance out of contracting projects to private research firms, a DARPA official estimated 150 to 200 million. Even if DARPA spent another 23 million on the course, equipment, employees, and press-recruiting for this competition, (which is likely, when you consider all the following trucks, the helicopter, the man-made barriers, and the E-stop devices used), I think a savings of 125 million is a reasonable amount.

I think it's too bad that the Grand Challenge is over, I'd love to see another government agency assume the mantle of host and change the objectives. Wouldn't it be nice to see an autonomous road-race from the Department of Transportation? Perhaps something cross-country with penalty points for every time your human second has to wrest control from the vehicle for safety?

In any case, here's a couple of links that might interest you. If you missed the webcast but are interested in hearing how the race played out, the first link provides a really engaging event-based log that is a great read and much more informative than DARPA's coverage.

The Live TG Daily Grand Challenge Weblog []

The Darpa Grand Challenge Forum []

The Popular Science Grand Challenge coverage []

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Official DARPA results for the Grand Challenge.

Darpa published an official statement at with the final times for the five finishing robots.

These times are listed below. The organization links will take you to the web site for each race team.

Robot Name



Stanford Racing
CMU Red Team
CMU Red Team
Gray Insurance
Team TerraMax



Avg. Speed(MPH)


Congratulations again to all the robot designers who competed this year. It was a really oustanding competition. And extra congrats to Stanley. $2 million might be the largest cash prize ever awarded to a single autonomous robot in any competition.