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Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events):
RSS 2019 – June 22-26, 2019 – Freiburg, Germany
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 23-26, 2019 – London, U.K.
ETH Robotics Summer School – June 27-1, 2019 – Zurich, Switzerland
MARSS 2019 – July 1-5, 2019 – Helsinki, Finland
ICRES 2019 – July 29-30, 2019 – London, U.K.
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.
Last week at the re:MARS conference, Amazon CEO and aspiring supervillain Jeff Bezos tried out this pair of dexterous robotic hands, which he described as “weirdly natural” to operate. The system combines Shadow Robot’s anthropomorphic robot hands with SynTouch’s biomimetic tactile sensors and HaptX’s haptic feedback gloves.
After playing with the robot, Bezos let out his trademark evil laugh.
[ Shadow Robot ]
The RoboMaster S1 is DJI’s advanced new educational robot that opens the door to limitless learning and entertainment. Develop programming skills, get familiar with AI technology, and enjoy thrilling FPV driving with games and competition. From young learners to tech enthusiasts, get ready to discover endless possibilities with the RoboMaster S1.
[ DJI ]
It’s very impressive to see DLR’s humanoid robot Toro dynamically balancing, even while being handed heavy objects, pushing things, and using multi-contact techniques to kick a fire extinguisher for some reason.
The paper is in RA-L, and you can find it at the link below.
[ RA-L ] via [ DLR ]
Is it just me, or does the Suzumori Endo Robotics Laboratory’s Super Dragon arm somehow just keep getting longer?
Suzumori Endo Lab, Tokyo Tech developed a 10 m-long articulated manipulator for investigation inside the primary containment vessel of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants. We employed a coupled tendon-driven mechanism and a gravity compensation mechanism using synthetic fiber ropes to design a lightweight and slender articulated manipulator. This work was published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters and Transactions of the JSME.
[ Suzumori Endo Lab ]
From what I can make out thanks to Google Translate, this cute little robot duck (developed by Nissan) helps minimize weeds in rice fields by stirring up the water.
[ Nippon.com ]
Confidence in your robot is when you can just casually throw it off of a balcony 15 meters up.
[ SUTD ]
You had me at “we’re going to completely submerge this apple in chocolate syrup.”
[ Soft Robotics Inc ]
In the mid 2020s, the European Space Agency is planning on sending a robotic sample return mission to the Moon. It’s called Heracles, after the noted snake-strangler of Greek mythology.
[ ESA ]
Rethink Robotics is still around, they’re just much more German than before. And Sawyer is still hard at work stealing jobs from humans.
[ Rethink Robotics ]
The reason to watch this new video of the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 quadruped is for the 3 seconds worth of barrel roll about 40 seconds in.
[ Ghost Robotics ]
This is a relatively low-altitude drop for Squishy Robotics’ tensegrity scout, but it still cool to watch a robot that’s resilient enough to be able to fall and just not worry about it.
[ Squishy Robotics ]
We control here the Apptronik DRACO bipedal robot for unsupported dynamic locomotion. DRACO consists of a 10 DoF lower body with liquid cooled viscoelastic actuators to reduce weight, increase payload, and achieve fast dynamic walking. Control and walking algorithms are designed by UT HCRL Laboratory.
I think all robot videos should be required to start with two “oops” clips followed by a “for real now” clip.
[ Apptronik ]
SAKE’s EZGripper manages to pick up a wrench, and also pick up a raspberry without turning it into instajam.
[ SAKE Robotics ]
And now: the robotic long-tongued piggy, courtesy Sony Toio.
[ Toio ]
In this video the ornithopter developed inside the ERC Advanced Grant GRIFFIN project performs its first flight. This projects aims to develop a flapping wing system with manipulation and human interaction capabilities.
A flapping-wing system with manipulation and human interaction capabilities, you say? I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
[ GRVC ]
KITECH’s robotic hands and arms can manipulate, among other things, five boxes of Elmos. I’m not sure about the conversion of Elmos to Snuffleupaguses, although it turns out that one Snuffleupagus is exactly 1,000 pounds.
[ Ji-Hun Bae ]
The Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) has been working on agricultural robots for almost a decade, and this video sums up a bunch of the stuff that they’ve been doing, even if it’s more amusing than practical at times.
[ ACFR ]
ROS 2 is great for multi-robot coordination, like when you need your bubble level to stay really, really level.
[ Acutronic Robotics ]
We don’t hear iRobot CEO Colin Angle give a lot of talks, so this recent one (from Amazon’s re:MARS conference) is definitely worth a listen, especially considering how much innovation we’ve seen from iRobot recently.
Colin Angle, founder and CEO of iRobot, has unveil a series of breakthrough innovations in home robots from iRobot. For the first time on stage, he will discuss and demonstrate what it takes to build a truly intelligent system of robots that work together to accomplish more within the home – and enable that home, and the devices within it, to work together as one.
[ iRobot ]
In the latest episode of Robots in Depth, Per speaks with Federico Pecora from the Center for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems at Örebro University in Sweden.
Federico talks about working on AI and service robotics. In this area he has worked on planning, especially focusing on why a particular goal is the one that the robot should work on. To make robots as useful and user friendly as possible, he works on inferring the goal from the robot’s environment so that the user does not have to tell the robot everything.
Federico has also worked with AI robotics planning in industry to optimize results. Managing the relative importance of tasks is another challenging area there. In this context, he works on automating not only a single robot for its goal, but an entire fleet of robots for their collective goal. We get to hear about how these techniques are being used in warehouse operations, in mines and in agriculture.
[ Robots in Depth ] Continue reading
Trees are a low-tech, high-efficiency way to offset much of humankind’s negative impact on the climate. What’s even better, we have plenty of room for a lot more of them.
A new study conducted by researchers at Switzerland’s ETH-Zürich, published in Science, details how Earth could support almost an additional billion hectares of trees without the new forests pushing into existing urban or agricultural areas. Once the trees grow to maturity, they could store more than 200 billion metric tons of carbon.
Great news indeed, but it still leaves us with some huge unanswered questions. Where and how are we going to plant all the new trees? What kind of trees should we plant? How can we ensure that the new forests become a boon for people in those areas?
Answers to all of the above likely involve technology.
Math + Trees = Challenges
The ETH-Zürich research team combined Google Earth mapping software with a database of nearly 80,000 existing forests to create a predictive model for optimal planting locations. In total, 0.9 billion hectares of new, continuous forest could be planted. Once mature, the 500 billion new trees in these forests would be capable of storing about two-thirds of the carbon we have emitted since the industrial revolution.
Other researchers have noted that the study may overestimate how efficient trees are at storing carbon, as well as underestimate how much carbon humans have emitted over time. However, all seem to agree that new forests would offset much of our cumulative carbon emissions—still an impressive feat as the target of keeping global warming this century at under 1.5 degrees Celsius becomes harder and harder to reach.
Recently, there was a story about a Brazilian couple who replanted trees in the valley where they live. The couple planted about 2.7 million trees in two decades. Back-of-the-napkin math shows that they on average planted 370 trees a day, meaning planting 500 billion trees would take about 3.7 million years. While an over-simplification, the point is that planting trees by hand is not realistic. Even with a million people going at a rate of 370 trees a day, it would take 83 years. Current technologies are also not likely to be able to meet the challenge, especially in remote locations.
Technology can speed up the planting process, including a new generation of drones that take tree planting to the skies. Drone planting generally involves dropping biodegradable seed pods at a designated area. The pods dissolve over time, and the tree seeds grow in the earth below. DroneSeed is one example; its 55-pound drones can plant up to 800 seeds an hour. Another startup, Biocarbon Engineering, has used various techniques, including drones, to plant 38 different species of trees across three continents.
Drone planting has distinct advantages when it comes to planting in hard-to-access areas—one example is mangrove forests, which are disappearing rapidly, increasing the risk of floods and storm surges.
Challenges include increasing the range and speed of drone planting, and perhaps most importantly, the success rate, as automatic planting from a height is still likely to be less accurate when it comes to what depth the tree saplings are planted. However, drones are already showing impressive numbers for sapling survival rates.
AI, Sensors, and Eye-In-the-Sky
Planting the trees is the first step in a long road toward an actual forest. Companies are leveraging artificial intelligence and satellite imagery in a multitude of ways to increase protection and understanding of forested areas.
20tree.ai, a Portugal-based startup, uses AI to analyze satellite imagery and monitor the state of entire forests at a fraction of the cost of manual monitoring. The approach can lead to faster identification of threats like pest infestation and a better understanding of the state of forests.
AI can also play a pivotal role in protecting existing forest areas by predicting where deforestation is likely to occur.
Closer to the ground—and sometimes in it—new networks of sensors can provide detailed information about the state and needs of trees. One such project is Trace, where individual trees are equipped with a TreeTalker, an internet of things-based device that can provide real-time monitoring of the tree’s functions and well-being. The information can be used to, among other things, optimize the use of available resources, such as providing the exact amount of water a tree needs.
Budding Technologies Are Controversial
Trees are in many ways fauna’s marathon runners—slow-growing and sturdy, but still susceptible to sickness and pests. Many deforested areas are likely not as rich in nutrients as they once were, which could slow down reforestation. Much of the positive impact that said trees could have on carbon levels in the atmosphere is likely decades away.
Bioengineering, for example through CRISPR, could provide solutions, making trees more resistant and faster-growing. Such technologies are being explored in relation to Ghana’s at-risk cocoa trees. Other exponential technologies could also hold much future potential—for instance micro-robots to assist the dwindling number of bees with pollination.
These technologies remain mired in controversy, and perhaps rightfully so. Bioengineering’s massive potential is for many offset by the inherent risks of engineered plants out-competing existing fauna or growing beyond our control. Micro-robots for pollination may solve a problem, but don’t do much to address the root cause: that we seem to be disrupting and destroying integral parts of natural cycles.
Tech Not The Whole Answer
So, is it realistic to plant 500 billion new trees? The short answer would be that yes, it’s possible—with the help of technology.
However, there are many unanswered challenges. For example, many of areas identified by the ETH-Zürich research team are not readily available for reforestation. Some are currently reserved for grazing, others owned by private entities, and others again are located in remote areas or areas prone to political instability, beyond the reach of most replanting efforts.
If we do wish to plant 500 billion trees to offset some of the negative impacts we have had on the planet, we might well want to combine the best of exponential technology with reforestation as well as a move to other forms of agriculture.
Such an approach might also help address a major issue: that few of the proposed new forests will likely succeed without ensuring that people living in and around the areas where reforestation takes place become involved, and can reap rewards from turning arable land into forests.
Image Credit: Lillac/Shutterstock.com Continue reading