Toyota Teaches Robots to Deal With Transparent and Reflective Objects

Toyota Teaches Robots to Deal With Transparent and Reflective Objects

By Matthew Humphries

Picking up a glass or wiping a transparent surface is really confusing for most robots.

The most common robot found in homes today is probably a robot vacuum, but in the future we could see robots in control of most household chores. They need to understand how to deal with transparent objects first, though, and Toyota just solved that problem.

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Meet SpaceBok: The First Four-Legged Robot Set for Mars

Spacebok during early tests ESA

By  Chris Young

Though wheeled robots are more stable, legged robots can reach areas that a rolling rover couldn’t.

Every roving robot that has landed on Mars up to the latest Perseverance rover, which touched down in February, has one thing in common — every single one of them has wheels.

SpaceBok, built by a team of scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, is a small quadrupedal robot named after the springbok antelope, a report from Wired explains.

The robot was originally designed to leap and bound on the surface of the Moon in the same way astronauts did during the Apollo landings — Springboks are also known to “pronk” or leap into the air, though the exact reason is not known.

The team tested different gaits, as well as small hoof-like feet and flat, round feet with cleats for more stability. 

As much of the research on Mars revolves around craters — Mars Perseverance landed on the Jezero crater due to the belief that it may have once been a habitable river valley — the team behind SpaceBok trained their robot on a large tilted sandbox full of rocks to simulate Mars.

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For $2,700, You Too Can Have Your Very Own Robot Dog

By Victoria Song

Unitree’s Go1 can walk beside you and lug your groceries but costs a fraction of Boston Dynamics’ Spot.

You’re probably familiar with Spot, Boston Dynamics’ highly advanced, nightmare-inducing robot dog. And while it went on sale last year, few of us have an extra $74,500 lying around to buy one. However, Chinese firm Unitree Robotics has a similar quadruped bot that’s not only a fraction of the size, but it also starts at a mere $2,700. For an advanced robot dog, that’s actually pretty dang affordable.

Unitree’s Go1 is also technically impressive. In a video, you can see the bot walking alongside its “owner” while also automatically avoiding obstacles in its path. Unitree calls it an “Intelligent side-follow” system, and it supposedly utilizes “patented wireless vector positioning and control” tech. It’s also got what Unitree dubs a “super sensory system,” or five sets of fish-eye stereo depth cameras and three sets of hypersonic sensors. The company also says the Go1 features a new power joint with a heat pipe cooling system built-in. All-in-all, it looks impressive, considering it doesn’t break when doing a backflip off a tower of crates or when some fool yanks one up and swings it around by its rear leg. 

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Healthcare robots pitch in to help fight Covid-19

Humanoid robot Grace, developed by Hanson Robotics and designed for the healthcare market to interact and comfort the elderly and isolated people, especially those suffering during the coronavirus disease pandemic.

The Hong Kong team behind celebrity humanoid robot Sophia is launching a new prototype, Grace, targeted at the healthcare market and designed to interact with the elderly and those isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports.

Dressed in a blue nurse’s uniform, Grace has Asian features, collar-length brown hair and a thermal camera in her chest to take your temperature and measure your responsiveness. She uses artificial intelligence to diagnose a patient and can speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

“I can visit with people and brighten their day with social stimulation … but can also do talk therapy, take bio readings and help healthcare providers,” Grace told Reuters as she stood next to her “sister”, Sophia, in creator Hanson Robotics’ Hong Kong workshop.

Grace’s resemblance to a healthcare professional and capacity for social interaction is aimed at relieving the burden of front-line hospital staff overwhelmed during the pandemic, said founder David Hanson.

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The robot smiles back: Columbia scientists teach robot how to respond to human facial expressions

Columbia Engineering researchers use AI to teach robots to make appropriate reactive human facial expressions, an ability that could build trust between humans and their robotic co-workers and care-givers.

BY MARK ALLINSON 

While our facial expressions play a huge role in building trust, most robots still sport the blank and static visage of a professional poker player.

With the increasing use of robots in locations where robots and humans need to work closely together, from nursing homes to warehouses and factories, the need for a more responsive, facially realistic robot is growing more urgent. 

Long interested in the interactions between robots and humans, researchers in the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia Engineering have been working for five years to create EVA, a new autonomous robot with a soft and expressive face that responds to match the expressions of nearby humans.

The research will be presented at the ICRA conference on May 30, 2021, and the robot blueprints are open-sourced on Hardware-X (April 2021).

“The idea for EVA took shape a few years ago, when my students and I began to notice that the robots in our lab were staring back at us through plastic, googly eyes,” said Hod Lipson, James and Sally Scapa Professor of Innovation (Mechanical Engineering) and director of the Creative Machines Lab.

Lipson observed a similar trend in the grocery store, where he encountered restocking robots wearing name badges, and in one case, decked out in a cozy, hand-knit cap.

“People seemed to be humanizing their robotic colleagues by giving them eyes, an identity, or a name,” he said. “This made us wonder, if eyes and clothing work, why not make a robot that has a super-expressive and responsive human face?”

While this sounds simple, creating a convincing robotic face has been a formidable challenge for roboticists.

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Swarms of robots could dig underground cities on Mars

Concept of a underground habitat and the robots and energy sources that will build and power it.

by Andy Tomaswick , Universe Today

Underground habitats have recently become a focal point of off-planet colonization efforts. Protection from micrometeorites, radiation and other potential hazards makes underground sites desirable compared to surface dwellings. Building such subterranean structures presents a plethora of challenges, not the least of which is how to actually construct them. A team of researchers at the Delft University of Technology (TUD) is working on a plan to excavate material and then use it to print habitats. All that would be done with a group of swarming robots.

The idea stems from a grant opportunity posted by the European Space Agency. Students at the Robotic Building lab (RB) at TU Delft, led by Dr. Henriette Bier, were enthusiastic to participate in the challenge that focuses on in-situ resource utilization for off-Earth construction. The RB team, together with experts in material science, robotics, and aerospace engineering submitted an idea that was granted €100k to develop a preliminary proof of concept. 

The proposed approach focuses on the lab’s specialty—robotic building—and has four main components—digging out the regolith, printing a new habitat using an additive manufacturing process, coordinating the work between all the robots that would be needed to complete the tasks, and powering them as well as the habitat.

Excavating regolith with robots has been explored previously, but usually in the context of the moon. Different patterns of excavation are useful for building different structures, and the pattern the RB team focused on was a downwards sloping spiral. Such a structure could create a stable, safe structure within a relatively small footprint on the surface.

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Israelis to get smart manicures from robots that combine 3D imaging and AI

BY AYUB DAWOOD

Getting an appointment, waiting for your turn and then going through a time consuming process makes manicure a hassle for people across the globe. But in an age when technology has accelerated the pace of all daily tasks, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be such a painstaking procedure.

Hospitality chains in the UAE have launched apps to book spa treatments while ensuring contactless service, and now friendly robots have also been rolled out to provide care for people at home. In the post-pandemic era when visits to the salon won’t be the same for a while, an Israeli startup has created a gadget that performs manicures at the push of a button.

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Chinese unicorn’s robot waiters ready to serve the world

Workers assemble robots at a Keenon factory in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province.

By SHIN WATANABE, Nikkei staff writer

Keenon to have bases in 10 overseas markets this year.

SHANGHAI — As the pandemic propels restaurants and other businesses to keep their distance from customers, Shanghai-based Keenon Robotics looks to bring its automated helpers to markets across the globe.

At a Zui Hui Huang Chinese restaurant chain location here, Keenon’s robotic servers wait by the kitchen for meals to come out. Staffers load them up and tell them which tables to go to via touchscreen. Then they roll off, deftly avoiding obstacles in their way.

Built-in obstacle sensors are a major selling point of the robots. “They have an easier time carrying heavy things and can help ease labor shortages,” a representative of the restaurant chain said.

Keenon aims to have local units set up in at least 10 countries by the end of 2021. It opened a Japan arm in March with just under 10 staffers and is looking at South Korea and Singapore, as well as markets in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Production capacity was roughly doubled in 2020 to prepare for overseas expansion. “Our factories all have extra space, and we can increase capacity to up to 200,000 units,” said Chi Xiaomin, who heads Keenon’s public relations — about triple current levels.

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U of T researchers develop microrobots to conduct minimally invasive brain surgery

Eric Diller of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is collaborating with medical researchers to develop dexterous, magnetically controlled microrobots that could perform minimally invasive brain surgery on children

Researchers at the University of Toronto are developing microrobots, precisely controlled by magnetic fields, that could one day be used to perform minimally invasive brain surgery on children.

The research team – co-led by Eric Diller, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and James Drake, a professor in the department of surgery in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) – says the technology represents a departure from the rigid, wired designs of most micro-surgical tools.

“Advancing surgery through an endoscope in the pediatric brain requires miniaturized versatile tools which can be precisely controlled,” says Drake. “This novel concept of using tiny, magnetized tools, controlled by robotic external magnets, shows great promise in addressing this need for both pediatric and adult patients.”

Each year 24,000 malignant brain tumours are detected in the United States. These tumours are the most common form of solid cancer in children, and surgery to remove the tumour is often the first recommended course of treatment. The surgeries can be highly invasive with a long recovery process. In some cases, when surgery via endoscope is possible, the tools may not be small or dexterous enough to perform the treatment.

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Surgeons Use Self-Navigating Robot to Find Leaky Valve in Pig Hearts

The robotic catheter used for heart surgery on pigs. 

By George Dvorsky

During a recent experiment at Boston Children’s Hospital, bioengineers used a robotic catheter to reach a leaky valve insidepig hearts. But get this—the device was completely autonomous, navigating through the heart all by itself and without the benefit of a surgeon’s guiding hand. Welcome to the future of heart surgery.

New research published today in Science Robotics describes a robotic catheter that’s capable of moving autonomously inside a living body. In tests, the device navigated through beating, blood-filled pig hearts in search of its target—a leaky prosthetic valve. Once at the scene, a surgeon took over to finish the repair. The senior investigator of this project, bioengineer Pierre Dupont from Boston Children’s Hospital, said this proof-of-concept experiment suggests autonomous surgical robots could be used for complex procedures, freeing up surgeons to focus on the most difficult tasks. 

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Say ‘hei’ to Trombia, the robot cleaning up Helsinki’s streets

Is this the end of trash collectors?

by Sarah Wray 

The City of Helsinki is trialing a quiet, emission-free robot in a bid to find new ways to keep streets clean with minimal disruption to residents.

The Trombia Free vehicle will run from today until April 27 on weekday evenings on a busy street (Välimerenkatu) and bicycle path (Baana) in the Jätkäsaari area of Helsinki.

“The autonomous and electric street sweeper is so quiet that it makes it possible to sweep the streets at night, hindering traffic as little as possible,” said Antti Nikkanen, Managing Director, Trombia Technologies. “For us, Jätkäsaari is an ideal smart city test location and a reference for the world’s major cities, as Jätkäsaari at night will show what can really be achieved with automation in an urban environment.”

In particular, the pilot will monitor the noise level and efficiency of the street sweeper as well as broader benefits and limitations. The machine can detect obstacles and pedestrians in its path and stop, but during the pilot it will always be accompanied by an operator.

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Weed-killing robot is 20 times faster than humans

Carbon Robotics, a Seattle-based developer of autonomous farm technology, has announced its third generation of weed elimination robots.

The Autonomous Weeder, developed by Carbon Robotics, uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and laser technology to safely and effectively drive through crop fields – identifying, targeting and eliminating weeds.

Unlike other weeding technologies, the robot utilises high-power lasers to eradicate weeds through thermal energy, without disturbing the soil. This could allow farmers to use less herbicides, while reducing labour costs and improving the reliability and predictability of crop yields.

“AI and deep learning technology are creating efficiencies across a variety of industries and we’re excited to apply it to agriculture,” said Paul Mikesell, CEO and founder of Carbon Robotics. “Farmers, and others in the global food supply chain, are innovating now more than ever to keep the world fed. Our goal is to create tools that address their most challenging problems, including weed management and elimination.” 

The technology developed by Carbon Robotics can improve crop yields and quality, since lasers leave soil microbiology undisturbed, unlike tillage. The lack of herbicides and soil disruption can pave the way for a regenerative approach, leading to healthier crops and higher yields, as well as reduced health problems in humans and other mammals.

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