Tag Archives: rescue

#435669 Watch World Champion Soccer Robots Take ...

RoboCup 2019 took place earlier this month down in Sydney, Australia. While there are many different events including RoboCup@Home, RoboCup Rescue, and a bunch of different soccer leagues, one of the most compelling events is middle-size league (MSL), where mobile robots each about the size of a fire hydrant play soccer using a regular size FIFA soccer ball. The robots are fully autonomous, making their own decisions in real time about when to dribble, pass, and shoot.

The long-term goal of RoboCup is this:

By the middle of the 21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.

While the robots are certainly not there yet, they're definitely getting closer.

Even if you’re not a particular fan of soccer, it’s impressive to watch the robots coordinate with each other, setting up multiple passes and changing tactics on the fly in response to the movements of the other team. And the ability of these robots to shoot accurately is world-class (like, human world-class), as they’re seemingly able to put the ball in whatever corner of the goal they choose with split-second timing.

The final match was between Tech United from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands (whose robots are called TURTLE), and Team Water from Beijing Information Science & Technology University. Without spoiling it, I can tell you that the game was tied within just the last few seconds, meaning that it had to go to overtime. You can watch the entire match on YouTube, or a 5-minute commentated highlight video here:

It’s become a bit of a tradition to have the winning MSL robots play a team of what looks to be inexperienced adult humans wearing long pants and dress shoes.

The fact that the robots managed to score even once is pretty awesome, and it also looks like the robots are playing very conservatively (more so than the humans) so as not to accidentally injure any of us fragile meatbags with our spindly little legs. I get that RoboCup wants its first team of robots that can beat a human World Cup winning team to be humanoids, but at the moment, the MSL robots are where all the skill is.

To get calibrated on the state of the art for humanoid soccer robots, here’s the adult size final, Team Nimbro from the University of Bonn in Germany versus Team Sweaty from Offenburg University in Germany:

Yup, still a lot of falling over.

There’s lots more RoboCup on YouTube: Some channels to find more matches include the official RoboCup 2019 channel, and Tech United Eindhoven’s channel, which has both live English commentary and some highlight videos.

[ RoboCup 2019 ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435634 Robot Made of Clay Can Sculpt Its Own ...

We’re very familiar with a wide variety of transforming robots—whether for submarines or drones, transformation is a way of making a single robot adaptable to different environments or tasks. Usually, these robots are restricted to a discrete number of configurations—perhaps two or three different forms—because of the constraints imposed by the rigid structures that robots are typically made of.

Soft robotics has the potential to change all this, with robots that don’t have fixed forms but instead can transform themselves into whatever shape will enable them to do what they need to do. At ICRA in Montreal earlier this year, researchers from Yale University demonstrated a creative approach toward a transforming robot powered by string and air, with a body made primarily out of clay.

Photo: Evan Ackerman

The robot is actuated by two different kinds of “skin,” one layered on top of another. There’s a locomotion skin, made of a pattern of pneumatic bladders that can roll the robot forward or backward when the bladders are inflated sequentially. On top of that is the morphing skin, which is cable-driven, and can sculpt the underlying material into a variety of shapes, including spheres, cylinders, and dumbbells. The robot itself consists of both of those skins wrapped around a chunk of clay, with the actuators driven by offboard power and control. Here it is in action:

The Yale researchers have been experimenting with morphing robots that use foams and tensegrity structures for their bodies, but that stuff provides a “restoring force,” springing back into its original shape once the actuation stops. Clay is different because it holds whatever shape it’s formed into, making the robot more energy efficient. And if the dumbbell shape stops being useful, the morphing layer can just squeeze it back into a cylinder or a sphere.

While this robot, and the sample transformation shown in the video, are relatively simplistic, the researchers suggest some ways in which a more complex version could be used in the future:

Photo: IEEE Xplore

This robot’s morphing skin sculpts its clay body into different shapes.

Applications where morphing and locomotion might serve as complementary functions are abundant. For the example skins presented in this work, a search-and-rescue operation could use the clay as a medium to hold a payload such as sensors or transmitters. More broadly, applications include resource-limited conditions where supply chains for materiel are sparse. For example, the morphing sequence shown in Fig. 4 [above] could be used to transform from a rolling sphere to a pseudo-jointed robotic arm. With such a morphing system, it would be possible to robotically morph matter into different forms to perform different functions.

Read this article for free on IEEE Xplore until 5 September 2019

Morphing Robots Using Robotic Skins That Sculpt Clay, by Dylan S. Shah, Michelle C. Yuen, Liana G. Tilton, Ellen J. Yang, and Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio from Yale University, was presented at ICRA 2019 in Montreal.

[ Yale Faboratory ]

< Back to IEEE Journal Watch Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435626 Video Friday: Watch Robots Make a Crepe ...

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. Every week, we also post a calendar of upcoming robotics events; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

Robotronica – August 18, 2019 – Brisbane, Australia
CLAWAR 2019 – August 26-28, 2019 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
IEEE Africon 2019 – September 25-27, 2019 – Accra, Ghana
ISRR 2019 – October 6-10, 2019 – Hanoi, Vietnam
Ro-Man 2019 – October 14-18, 2019 – New Delhi
Humanoids 2019 – October 15-17, 2019 – Toronto
ARSO 2019 – October 31-November 2, 2019 – Beijing
ROSCon 2019 – October 31-November 1, 2019 – Macau
IROS 2019 – November 4-8, 2019 – Macau
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

Team CoSTAR (JPL, MIT, Caltech, KAIST, LTU) has one of the more diverse teams of robots that we’ve seen:

[ Team CoSTAR ]

A team from Carnegie Mellon University and Oregon State University is sending ground and aerial autonomous robots into a Pittsburgh-area mine to prepare for this month’s DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

“Look at that fire extinguisher, what a beauty!” Expect to hear a lot more of that kind of weirdness during SubT.

[ CMU ]

Unitree Robotics is starting to batch-manufacture Laikago Pro quadrupeds, and if you buy four of them, they can carry you around in a chair!

I’m also really liking these videos from companies that are like, “We have a whole bunch of robot dogs now—what weird stuff can we do with them?”

[ Unitree Robotics ]

Why take a handful of pills every day for all the stuff that's wrong with you, when you could take one custom pill instead? Because custom pills are time-consuming to make, that’s why. But robots don’t care!

Multiply Labs’ factory is designed to operate in parallel. All the filling robots and all the quality-control robots are operating at the same time. The robotic arm, in the meanwhile, shuttles dozens of trays up and down the production floor, making sure that each capsule is filled with the right drugs. The manufacturing cell shown in this article can produce 10,000 personalized capsules in an 8-hour shift. A single cell occupies just 128 square feet (12 square meters) on the production floor. This means that a regular production facility (~10,000 square feet, or 929 m2 ) can house 78 cells, for an overall output of 780,000 capsules per shift. This exceeds the output of most traditional manufacturers—while producing unique personalized capsules!

[ Multiply Labs ]

Thanks Fred!

If you’re getting tired of all those annoying drones that sound like giant bees, just have a listen to this turbine-powered one:

[ Malloy Aeronautics ]

In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that nobody has bothered to put a functional robotic dog head on a quadruped robot before this, right?

Equipped with sensors, high-tech radar imaging, cameras and a directional microphone, this 100-pound (45-kilogram) super-robot is still a “puppy-in-training.” Just like a regular dog, he responds to commands such as “sit,” “stand,” and “lie down.” Eventually, he will be able to understand and respond to hand signals, detect different colors, comprehend many languages, coordinate his efforts with drones, distinguish human faces, and even recognize other dogs.

As an information scout, Astro’s key missions will include detecting guns, explosives and gun residue to assist police, the military, and security personnel. This robodog’s talents won’t just end there, he also can be programmed to assist as a service dog for the visually impaired or to provide medical diagnostic monitoring. The MPCR team also is training Astro to serve as a first responder for search-and-rescue missions such as hurricane reconnaissance as well as military maneuvers.

[ FAU ]

And now this amazing video, “The Coke Thief,” from ICRA 2005 (!):

[ Paper ]

CYBATHLON Series put the focus on one or two of the six disciplines and are organized in cooperation with international universities and partners. The CYBATHLON Arm and Leg Prosthesis Series took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, from 16 to 18 May and was organized in cooperation with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the trade fair REHAB Karlsruhe.

The CYBATHLON Wheelchair Series took place in Kawasaki, Japan on 5 May 2019 and was organized in cooperation with the CYBATHLON Wheelchair Series Japan Organizing Committee and supported by the Swiss Embassy.

[ Cybathlon ]

Rainbow crepe robot!

There’s also this other robot, which I assume does something besides what's in the video, because otherwise it appears to be a massively overengineered way of shaping cooked rice into a chubby triangle.

[ PC Watch ]

The Weaponized Plastic Fighting League at Fetch Robotics has had another season of shardation, deintegration, explodification, and other -tions. Here are a couple fan favorite match videos:

[ Fetch Robotics ]

This video is in German, but it’s worth watching for the three seconds of extremely satisfying footage showing a robot twisting dough into pretzels.

[ Festo ]

Putting brains into farming equipment is a no-brainer, since it’s a semi-structured environment that's generally clear of wayward humans driving other vehicles.

[ Lovol ]

Thanks Fan!

Watch some robots assemble suspiciously Lego-like (but definitely not actually Lego) minifigs.

[ DevLinks ]

The Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol) helps businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers and public sector bodies to embrace the concept of ‘Industry 4.0'. From training your staff in robotics, and demonstrating how automation can improve your manufacturing processes, to prototyping and validating your new innovations—we can provide the support you need.

[ RIF ]

Ryan Gariepy from Clearpath Robotics (and a bunch of other stuff) gave a talk at ICRA with the title of “Move Fast and (Don’t) Break Things: Commercializing Robotics at the Speed of Venture Capital,” which is more interesting when you know that this year’s theme was “Notable Failures.”

[ Clearpath Robotics ]

In this week’s episode of Robots in Depth, Per interviews Michael Nielsen, a computer vision researcher at the Danish Technological Institute.

Michael worked with a fusion of sensors like stereo vision, thermography, radar, lidar and high-frame-rate cameras, merging multiple images for high dynamic range. All this, to be able to navigate the tricky situation in a farm field where you need to navigate close to or even in what is grown. Multibaseline cameras were also used to provide range detection over a wide range of distances.

We also learn about how he expanded his work into sorting recycling, a very challenging problem. We also hear about the problems faced when using time of flight and sheet of light cameras. He then shares some good results using stereo vision, especially combined with blue light random dot projectors.

[ Robots in Depth ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435605 All of the Winners in the DARPA ...

The first competitive event in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge concluded last week—hopefully you were able to follow along on the livestream, on Twitter, or with some of the articles that we’ve posted about the event. We’ll have plenty more to say about how things went for the SubT teams, but while they take a bit of a (well earned) rest, we can take a look at the winning teams as well as who won DARPA’s special superlative awards for the competition.

First Place: Team Explorer (25/40 artifacts found)
With their rugged, reliable robots featuring giant wheels and the ability to drop communications nodes, Team Explorer was in the lead from day 1, scoring in double digits on every single run.

Second Place: Team CoSTAR (11/40 artifacts found)
Team CoSTAR had one of the more diverse lineups of robots, and they switched up which robots they decided to send into the mine as they learned more about the course.

Third Place: Team CTU-CRAS (10/40 artifacts found)
While many teams came to SubT with DARPA funding, Team CTU-CRAS was self-funded, making them eligible for a special $200,000 Tunnel Circuit prize.

DARPA also awarded a bunch of “superlative awards” after SubT:

Most Accurate Artifact: Team Explorer

To score a point, teams had to submit the location of an artifact that was correct to within 5 meters of the artifact itself. However, DARPA was tracking the artifact locations with much higher precision—for example, the “zero” point on the backpack artifact was the center of the label on the front, which DARPA tracked to the millimeter. Team Explorer managed to return the location of a backpack with an error of just 0.18 meter, which is kind of amazing.

Down to the Wire: Team CSIRO Data61

With just an hour to find as many artifacts as possible, teams had to find the right balance between sending robots off to explore and bringing them back into communication range to download artifact locations. Team CSIRO Data61 cut their last point pretty close, sliding their final point in with a mere 22 seconds to spare.

Most Distinctive Robots: Team Robotika

Team Robotika had some of the quirkiest and most recognizable robots, which DARPA recognized with the “Most Distinctive” award. Robotika told us that part of the reason for that distinctiveness was practical—having a robot that was effectively in two parts meant that they could disassemble it so that it would fit in the baggage compartment of an airplane, very important for a team based in the Czech Republic.

Most Robots Per Person: Team Coordinated Robotics

Kevin Knoedler, who won NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge entirely by himself, brought his own personal swarm of drones to SubT. With a ratio of seven robots to one human, Kevin was almost certainly the hardest working single human at the challenge.

Fan Favorite: Team NCTU

Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

The Fan Favorite award went to the team that was most popular on Twitter (with the #SubTChallenge hashtag), and it may or may not be the case that I personally tweeted enough about Team NCTU’s blimp to win them this award. It’s also true that whenever we asked anyone on other teams what their favorite robot was (besides their own, of course), the blimp was overwhelmingly popular. So either way, the award is well deserved.

DARPA shared this little behind-the-scenes clip of the blimp in action (sort of), showing what happened to the poor thing when the mine ventilation system was turned on between runs and DARPA staff had to chase it down and rescue it:

The thing to keep in mind about the results of the Tunnel Circuit is that unlike past DARPA robotics challenges (like the DRC), they don’t necessarily indicate how things are going to go for the Urban or Cave circuits because of how different things are going to be. Explorer did a great job with a team of rugged wheeled vehicles, which turned out to be ideal for navigating through mines, but they’re likely going to need to change things up substantially for the rest of the challenges, where the terrain will be much more complex.

DARPA hasn’t provided any details on the location of the Urban Circuit yet; all we know is that it’ll be sometime in February 2020. This gives teams just six months to take all the lessons that they learned from the Tunnel Circuit and update their hardware, software, and strategies. What were those lessons, and what do teams plan to do differently next year? Check back next week, and we’ll tell you.

[ DARPA SubT ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435172 DARPA’s New Project Is Investing ...

When Elon Musk and DARPA both hop aboard the cyborg hypetrain, you know brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are about to achieve the impossible.

BMIs, already the stuff of science fiction, facilitate crosstalk between biological wetware with external computers, turning human users into literal cyborgs. Yet mind-controlled robotic arms, microelectrode “nerve patches”, or “memory Band-Aids” are still purely experimental medical treatments for those with nervous system impairments.

With the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program, DARPA is looking to expand BMIs to the military. This month, the project tapped six academic teams to engineer radically different BMIs to hook up machines to the brains of able-bodied soldiers. The goal is to ditch surgery altogether—while minimizing any biological interventions—to link up brain and machine.

Rather than microelectrodes, which are currently surgically inserted into the brain to hijack neural communication, the project is looking to acoustic signals, electromagnetic waves, nanotechnology, genetically-enhanced neurons, and infrared beams for their next-gen BMIs.

It’s a radical departure from current protocol, with potentially thrilling—or devastating—impact. Wireless BMIs could dramatically boost bodily functions of veterans with neural damage or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or allow a single soldier to control swarms of AI-enabled drones with his or her mind. Or, similar to the Black Mirror episode Men Against Fire, it could cloud the perception of soldiers, distancing them from the emotional guilt of warfare.

When trickled down to civilian use, these new technologies are poised to revolutionize medical treatment. Or they could galvanize the transhumanist movement with an inconceivably powerful tool that fundamentally alters society—for better or worse.

Here’s what you need to know.

Radical Upgrades
The four-year N3 program focuses on two main aspects: noninvasive and “minutely” invasive neural interfaces to both read and write into the brain.

Because noninvasive technologies sit on the scalp, their sensors and stimulators will likely measure entire networks of neurons, such as those controlling movement. These systems could then allow soldiers to remotely pilot robots in the field—drones, rescue bots, or carriers like Boston Dynamics’ BigDog. The system could even boost multitasking prowess—mind-controlling multiple weapons at once—similar to how able-bodied humans can operate a third robotic arm in addition to their own two.

In contrast, minutely invasive technologies allow scientists to deliver nanotransducers without surgery: for example, an injection of a virus carrying light-sensitive sensors, or other chemical, biotech, or self-assembled nanobots that can reach individual neurons and control their activity independently without damaging sensitive tissue. The proposed use for these technologies isn’t yet well-specified, but as animal experiments have shown, controlling the activity of single neurons at multiple points is sufficient to program artificial memories of fear, desire, and experiences directly into the brain.

“A neural interface that enables fast, effective, and intuitive hands-free interaction with military systems by able-bodied warfighters is the ultimate program goal,” DARPA wrote in its funding brief, released early last year.

The only technologies that will be considered must have a viable path toward eventual use in healthy human subjects.

“Final N3 deliverables will include a complete integrated bidirectional brain-machine interface system,” the project description states. This doesn’t just include hardware, but also new algorithms tailored to these system, demonstrated in a “Department of Defense-relevant application.”

The Tools
Right off the bat, the usual tools of the BMI trade, including microelectrodes, MRI, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are off the table. These popular technologies rely on surgery, heavy machinery, or personnel to sit very still—conditions unlikely in the real world.

The six teams will tap into three different kinds of natural phenomena for communication: magnetism, light beams, and acoustic waves.

Dr. Jacob Robinson at Rice University, for example, is combining genetic engineering, infrared laser beams, and nanomagnets for a bidirectional system. The $18 million project, MOANA (Magnetic, Optical and Acoustic Neural Access device) uses viruses to deliver two extra genes into the brain. One encodes a protein that sits on top of neurons and emits infrared light when the cell activates. Red and infrared light can penetrate through the skull. This lets a skull cap, embedded with light emitters and detectors, pick up these signals for subsequent decoding. Ultra-fast and utra-sensitvie photodetectors will further allow the cap to ignore scattered light and tease out relevant signals emanating from targeted portions of the brain, the team explained.

The other new gene helps write commands into the brain. This protein tethers iron nanoparticles to the neurons’ activation mechanism. Using magnetic coils on the headset, the team can then remotely stimulate magnetic super-neurons to fire while leaving others alone. Although the team plans to start in cell cultures and animals, their goal is to eventually transmit a visual image from one person to another. “In four years we hope to demonstrate direct, brain-to-brain communication at the speed of thought and without brain surgery,” said Robinson.

Other projects in N3 are just are ambitious.

The Carnegie Mellon team, for example, plans to use ultrasound waves to pinpoint light interaction in targeted brain regions, which can then be measured through a wearable “hat.” To write into the brain, they propose a flexible, wearable electrical mini-generator that counterbalances the noisy effect of the skull and scalp to target specific neural groups.

Similarly, a group at Johns Hopkins is also measuring light path changes in the brain to correlate them with regional brain activity to “read” wetware commands.

The Teledyne Scientific & Imaging group, in contrast, is turning to tiny light-powered “magnetometers” to detect small, localized magnetic fields that neurons generate when they fire, and match these signals to brain output.

The nonprofit Battelle team gets even fancier with their ”BrainSTORMS” nanotransducers: magnetic nanoparticles wrapped in a piezoelectric shell. The shell can convert electrical signals from neurons into magnetic ones and vice-versa. This allows external transceivers to wirelessly pick up the transformed signals and stimulate the brain through a bidirectional highway.

The magnetometers can be delivered into the brain through a nasal spray or other non-invasive methods, and magnetically guided towards targeted brain regions. When no longer needed, they can once again be steered out of the brain and into the bloodstream, where the body can excrete them without harm.

Four-Year Miracle
Mind-blown? Yeah, same. However, the challenges facing the teams are enormous.

DARPA’s stated goal is to hook up at least 16 sites in the brain with the BMI, with a lag of less than 50 milliseconds—on the scale of average human visual perception. That’s crazy high resolution for devices sitting outside the brain, both in space and time. Brain tissue, blood vessels, and the scalp and skull are all barriers that scatter and dissipate neural signals. All six teams will need to figure out the least computationally-intensive ways to fish out relevant brain signals from background noise, and triangulate them to the appropriate brain region to decipher intent.

In the long run, four years and an average $20 million per project isn’t much to potentially transform our relationship with machines—for better or worse. DARPA, to its credit, is keenly aware of potential misuse of remote brain control. The program is under the guidance of a panel of external advisors with expertise in bioethical issues. And although DARPA’s focus is on enabling able-bodied soldiers to better tackle combat challenges, it’s hard to argue that wireless, non-invasive BMIs will also benefit those most in need: veterans and other people with debilitating nerve damage. To this end, the program is heavily engaging the FDA to ensure it meets safety and efficacy regulations for human use.

Will we be there in just four years? I’m skeptical. But these electrical, optical, acoustic, magnetic, and genetic BMIs, as crazy as they sound, seem inevitable.

“DARPA is preparing for a future in which a combination of unmanned systems, AI, and cyber operations may cause conflicts to play out on timelines that are too short for humans to effectively manage with current technology alone,” said Al Emondi, the N3 program manager.

The question is, now that we know what’s in store, how should the rest of us prepare?

Image Credit: With permission from DARPA N3 project. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots