Tag Archives: robot
While being able to drive the ball 300 yards might get the fans excited, a solid putting game is often what separates a golf champion from the journeymen. A robot built by German researchers is quickly becoming a master of this short game using a clever combination of classical control engineering and machine learning.
In golf tournaments, players often scout out the greens the day beforehand to think through how they are going to play their shots, says Annika Junker, a doctoral student at Paderborn University in Germany. So she and her colleagues decided to see if giving a robot similar capabilities could help it to sink a putt from anywhere on the green, without assistance from a human.
Golfi, as the team has dubbed their creation, uses a 3D camera to take a snapshot of the green, which it then feeds into a physics-based model to simulate thousands of random shots from different positions. These are used to train a neural network that can then predict exactly how hard and in what direction to hit a ball to get it in the hole, from anywhere on the green.
On the green, Golfi was successful six or seven times out of ten.
Like even the best pros, it doesn’t get a hole in one every time. The goal isn’t really to build a tournament winning golf robot though, says Junker, but to demonstrate the power of hybrid approaches to robotic control. “We try to combine data-driven and physics based methods and we searched for a nice example, which everyone can easily understand,” she says. “It's only a toy for us, but we hope to see some advantages of our approach for industrial applications.”
So far, the researchers have only tested their approach on a small mock-up green inside their lab. The robot, which is described in a paper due to be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotic Computing in Italy next month, navigates its way around the two meter-square space on four wheels, two of which are powered. Once in position it then uses a belt driven gear shaft with a putter attached to the end to strike the ball towards the hole.
First though, it needs to work out what shot to play given the position of the ball. The researchers begin by using a Microsoft Kinect 3D camera mounted on the ceiling to capture a depth map of the green. This data is then fed into a physics-based model, alongside other parameters like the rolling resistance of the turf, the weight of the ball and its starting velocity, to simulate three thousand random shots from various starting points.
This data is used to train a neural network that can predict how hard and in what direction to hit the ball to get it in the hole from anywhere on the green. While it’s possible to solve this problem by combining the physics based model with classical optimization, says Junker, it’s far more computationally expensive. And training the robot on simulated golf shots takes just five minutes, compared to around 30 to 40 hours if they collected data on real-world strokes, she adds.
Before it can make it’s shot though, the robot first has to line its putter up with the ball just right, which requires it to work out where on the green both itself and the ball are. To do so, it uses a neural network that has been trained to spot golf balls and a hard-coded object detection algorithm that picks out colored dots on the top of the robot to work out its orientation. This positioning data is then combined with a physical model of the robot and fed into an optimization algorithm that works out how to control its wheel motors to navigate to the ball.
Junker admits that the approach isn’t flawless. The current set-up relies on a bird’s eye view, which would be hard to replicate on a real golf course, and switching to cameras on the robot would present major challenges, she says. The researchers also didn’t report how often Golfi successfully sinks the putt in their paper, because the figures were thrown off by the fact that it occasionally drove over the ball, knocking it out of position. When that didn’t happen though, Junker says it was successful six or seven times out of ten, and since they submitted the paper a colleague has reworked the navigation system to avoid the ball.
Golfi isn’t the first machine to try its hand at the sport. In 2016, a robot called LDRICK hit a hole-in-one at Arizona's TPC Scottsdale course and several devices have been built to test out golf clubs. But Noel Rousseau, a golf coach with a PhD in motor learning, says that typically they require an operator painstakingly setting them up for each shot, and any adjustments take considerable time. “The most impressive part to me is that the golf robot is able to find the ball, sight the hole and move itself into position for an accurate stoke,” he says.
Beyond mastering putting, the hope is that the underlying techniques the researchers have developed could translate to other robotics problems, says Niklas Fittkau, a doctoral student at Paderborn University and co-lead author of the paper. “You can also transfer that to other problems, where you have some knowledge about the system and could model parts of it to obtain some data, but you can’t model everything,” he says. Continue reading
It’s been a couple of years, but the IEEE Spectrum Robot Gift Guide is back for 2022! We’ve got all kinds of new robots, and right now is an excellent time to buy one (or a dozen), since many of them are on sale this week. We’ve tried to focus on consumer robots that are actually available (or that you can at least order), but depending on when you’re reading this guide, the prices we have here may not be up to date, and we’re not taking shipping into account.
And if these robots aren’t enough for you, many of our picks from years past are still available: check out our guides from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012. And as always, if you have suggestions that you’d like to share, post a comment to help the rest of us find the perfect robot gift.
Lego Robotics Kits
Lego has decided to discontinue its classic Mindstorms robotics kits, but they’ll be supported for another couple of years and this is your last chance to buy one. If you like Lego’s approach to robotics education but don’t want to invest in a system at the end of its life, Lego also makes an education kit called Spike that shares many of the hardware and software features for students in grades 6 to 8.
Indi is a clever educational robot designed to teach problem solving and screenless coding to kids as young as 4, using a small wheeled robot with a color sensor and a system of colored strips that command the robot to do different behaviors. There’s also an app to access more options, and Sphero has more robots to choose from once your kid is ready for something more.
Sphero | Amazon
Nybble and Bittle
Petoi’s quadrupedal robot kits are an adorable (and relatively affordable) way to get started with legged robotics. Whether you go with Nybble the cat or Bittle the dog, you get to do some easy hardware assembly and then leverage a bunch of friendly software tools to get your little legged friend walking around and doing tricks.
Root educational robots have a long and noble history, and iRobot has built on that to create an inexpensive platform to help kids learn to code starting as young as age 4. There are two different versions of Root; the more expensive one includes an RGB sensor, a programmable eraser, and the ability to stick to vertical whiteboards and move around on them.
The latest generation of TurtleBot from Clearpath, iRobot, and Open Robotics is a powerful and versatile ROS (Robot Operating System) platform for research and product development. For aspiring roboticists in undergrad and possibly high school, the Turtlebot 4 is just about as good as it gets unless you want to spend an order of magnitude more. And the fact that TurtleBots are used so extensively means that if you need some help, the ROS community will (hopefully) have your back.
iRobot Create 3
Newly updated just last year, iRobot's Create 3 is the perfect platform for folks who want to build their own robot, but not all of their own robot. The rugged mobile base is essentially a Roomba without the cleaning parts, and it's easy to add your own hardware on top. It runs ROS 2, but you can get started with Python.
Mini Pupper is one of the cutest ways of getting started with ROS. This legged robot is open source, and runs ROS on a Raspberry Pi, which makes it extra affordable if you have your own board lying around. Even if you don’t, though, the Mini Pupper kit is super affordable for what you get, and is a fun hardware project if you decide to save a little extra cash by assembling it yourself.
I’m not sure whether the world is ready for ROS 2 yet, but you can get there with Rae, which combines a pocket-size mobile robot with a pair of depth cameras and onboard computer shockingly cheaply. App support means that Rae can do cool stuff out of the box, but it’s easy to get more in-depth with it too. Rae will get delivered early next year, but it’s cool enough that we think a Kickstarter IOU is a perfectly acceptable gift.
Roomba Combo j7+
iRobot’s brand new top-of-the-line fully autonomous vacuuming and wet-mopping combo j7+ Roomba will get your floors clean and shiny, except for carpet, which it’s smart enough to not try to shine because it’ll cleverly lift the wet mop up out of the way. It’s also cloud connected and empties itself. You’ll have to put water in it if you want it to mop, but that’s way better than mopping yourself.
Neato’s robots might not be quite as pervasive as the Roomba, but they’re excellent vacuums, and they use a planar lidar system for obstacle avoidance and map making. The nice thing about lidar (besides the fact that it works in total darkness) is that Neato robots have no cameras at all and are physically incapable of collecting imagery of you or your home.
How often do you find an affordable, useful, reliable, durable, fully autonomous home robot? Not often! But Tertill is all of these things: powered entirely by the sun, it slowly prowls around your garden, whacking weeds as they sprout while avoiding your mature plants. All you have to do is make sure it can’t escape, then just let it loose and forget about it for months at a time.
If you like the idea of having a semi-autonomous mobile robot with a direct link to Amazon wandering around your house trying to be useful, then Amazon’s Astro might not sound like a terrible idea. You’ll have to apply for one, and it sounds like it’s more like a beta program, but could be fun, I guess?
The Skydio 2+ is an incremental (but significant) update to the Skydio 2 drone, with its magically cutting-edge obstacle avoidance and extremely impressive tracking skills. There are many drones out there that are cheaper and more portable, and if flying is your thing, get one of those. But if filming is your thing, the Skydio 2+ is the drone you want to fly.
We had a blast flying DJI’s FPV drone. The VR system is exhilarating and the drone is easy to fly even for FPV beginners, but it’s powerful enough to grow along with your piloting skills. Just don’t get cocky, or you’ll crash it. Don’t ask me how I know this.
ElliQ is an embodied voice assistant that is a lot more practical than a smart speaker. It's designed for older adults who may spend a lot of time alone at home, and can help with a bunch of things, including health and wellness tasks and communicating with friends and family. ElliQ costs $250 up front, plus a subscription of between $30 and $40 per month.
Not all robots for kids are designed to teach them to code: Moxie helps to “supports social-emotional development in kids through play.” The carefully designed and curated interaction between Moxie and children helps them to communicate and build social skills in a friendly and engaging way. Note that Moxie also requires a subscription fee of $40 per month.
What is Qoobo? It is “a tailed cushion that heals your heart,” according to the folks that make it. According to us, it’s a furry round pillow that responds to your touch by moving its tail, sort of like a single-purpose cat. It’s fuzzy tail therapy!
Qoobo | Amazon
Before you decide on a real dog, consider the Unitree Go1 instead. Sure it’s expensive, but you know what? So are real dogs. And unlike with a real dog, you only have to walk the Go1 when you feel like it, and you can turn it off and stash it in a closet or under a bed whenever you like. For a fully featured dynamic legged robot, it’s staggeringly cheap, just keep in mind that shipping is $1,000.
Unitree Continue reading
Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.
CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALANDEnjoy today's videos!
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science and the University of California, Berkeley, have designed a robotic system that enables a low-cost and relatively small legged robot to climb and descend stairs nearly its height; traverse rocky, slippery, uneven, steep and varied terrain; walk across gaps; scale rocks and curbs, and even operate in the dark.
[ CMU ]
This robot is designed as a preliminary platform for humanoid robot research. The platform will be further extended with soles as well as upper limbs. In this video, the current lower limb version of the platform has shown its capability on traversing over uneven terrains without active or passive ankle joint. This under-actuation nature of the robot system has been well addressed with our locomotion control framework, which also provides a new perspective on the leg design of bipedal robot.
[ CLEAR Lab ]
Inbiodroid is a startup “dedicated to the development of fully immersive telepresence technologies that create a deeper connection between people and their environment.” Hot off the ANA Avatar XPRIZE competition, they're doing a Kickstarter to fund the next generation of telepresence robots.
[ Kickstarter ] via [ Inbiodroid ]
A robot that can feel what a therapist feels when treating a patient, that can adjust the intensity of rehabilitation exercises at any time according to the patient's abilities and needs, and that can thus go on for hours without getting tired: it seems like fiction, and yet researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and imec have now finished a prototype that unites all these skills in one robot.
[ VUB ]
Self-driving bikes present some special challenges, as this excellent video graphically demonstrates.
[ Paper ]
Pickle robots unload trucks. This is a short overview of the Pickle Robot Unload System in Action at the end of October 2022—autonomously picking floor-loaded freight to unload a trailer. As a robotic system built on AI and advanced sensors, the system gets better and faster all the time.
[ Pickle ]
Learning agile skills can be challenging with reward shaping. Imitation learning provides an alternative solution by assuming access to decent expert references. However, such experts are not always available. We propose Wasserstein Adversarial Skill Imitation (WASABI) which acquires agile behaviors from partial and potentially physically incompatible demonstrations. In our work, Solo, a quadruped robot learns highly dynamic skills (e.g. backflips) from only hand-held human demonstrations.
[ WASABI ]
NASA and the European Space Agency are developing plans for one of the most ambitious campaigns ever attempted in space: bringing the first samples of Mars material safely back to Earth for detailed study. The diverse set of scientifically curated samples now being collected by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover could help scientists answer the question of whether ancient life ever arose on the Red Planet.
I thought I was promised some helicopters?
[ NASA ]
A Sanctuary general-purpose robot picks up and sorts medicine pills.
Remotely controlled, if that wasn't clear.
[ Sanctuary ]
I don't know what's going on here, but it scares me.
[ KIMLAB ]
The Canadian Space Agency plans to send a rover to the Moon as early as 2026 to explore a polar region. The mission will demonstrate key technologies and accomplish meaningful science. Its objectives are to gather imagery, measurements, and data on the surface of the Moon, as well as to have the rover survive an entire night on the Moon. Lunar nights, which last about 14 Earth days, are extremely cold and dark, posing a significant technological challenge.
[ CSA ]
Covariant Robotic Induction automates previously manual induction processes. This video shows the Covariant Robotic Induction solution picking a wide range of item types from totes, scanning barcodes, and inducting items onto a unit sorter. Note the robot’s ability to effectively handle items that are traditionally difficult to pick, such as transparent polybagged apparel and oddly shaped, small health and beauty items, and place them precisely onto individual trays.
[ Covariant ]
The solution will integrate Boston Dynamics' Spot® robot, the ExynPak™ powered by ExynAI™ and the Trimble® X7 total station. It will enable fully autonomous missions inside complex and dynamic construction environments, which can result in consistent and precise reality capture for production and quality control workflows.
[ Exyn ]
Our most advanced programmable robot yet is back and better than ever. Sphero RVR+ includes an advanced gearbox to improve torque and payload capacity, enhanced sensors including an improved color sensor, and an improved rechargeable and swappable battery.
[ Sphero ]
I'm glad Starship is taking this seriously, although it's hard to know from this video how well the robots behave when conditions are less favorable.
[ Starship ]
Complexity, cost, and power requirements for the actuation of individual robots can play a large factor in limiting the size of robotic swarms. Here we present PCBot, a minimalist robot that can precisely move on an orbital shake table using a bi-stable solenoid actuator built directly into its PCB. This allows the actuator to be built as part of the automated PCB manufacturing process, greatly reducing the impact it has on manual assembly.
[ Paper ]
Drone racing world champion Thomas Bitmatta designed an indoor drone racing track for ETH Zurich's autonomous high speed racing drones, and in something like half an hour, the autonomous drones were able to master the track at superhuman speeds (with the aid of a motion capture system).
[ ETH RSL ] via [ BMS Racing ]
Moravec's paradox is the observation that many things that are difficult to do for robots to do come easily to humans, and vice versa. Stanford University professor Chelsea Finn has been tasked to explain this concept to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert.
[ Wired ]
Roberto Calandra from Meta AI gives a talk about “Perceiving, Understanding, and Interacting through Touch.”
[ UPenn ]
AI advancements have been motivated and inspired by human intelligence for decades. How can we use AI to expand our knowledge and understanding of the world and ourselves? How can we leverage AI to enrich our lives? In his Tanner Lecture, Eric Horvitz, Chief Science Officer at Microsoft, will explore these questions and more, tracing the arc of intelligence from its origins and evolution in humans, to its manifestations and prospects in the tools we create and use.
[ UMich ] Continue reading
The word quadruped means, technically, “four feet.” Roboticists tend to apply the term to anything that uses four limbs to walk, differentiating it from bipedal robots, which walk on two limbs instead. But there’s a huge, blurry crossover there, in both robotics and biology, where you find animals (and occasionally robots) that can transition from quadruped to biped when they need to (for example) manipulate something.
If you look at quadrupedal robots simply as robots with four limbs rather than robots with four feet, they start to seem much more versatile, but that transition can be a tricky one. At the 2022 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2022) in Kyoto, Japan, last week, researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in Massachusetts, and ShanghaiTech University presented a generalizable method whereby an off-the-shelf quadruped robot can turn into a biped with some clever software and a tiny bit of mechanical modification.
We’ve seen robots that can transition from quadruped to biped before, but they’re almost always designed very deliberately to be able to do this, and they pay a penalty in weight, complexity, and cost. What’s unique about this research is that it’s intended to be applied to any quadruped at all—with some very minor hardware, your quadruped can become a biped, too.
The mechanical side of this bipedalization is a 3D-printed stick that gets installed onto the shin of each of the quadruped’s hind legs. This provides additional support so that the robot can stand and walk robustly—without the shin attachments, the robot wouldn’t be statically stable. This is especially useful as the robot stands up, since its center of mass is fully supported during that process. The video shows this working on what looks like a Mini Cheetah robot, but again, the platform really doesn’t matter as long as it meets some basic requirements.
“We [seek] to reap the benefits from two worlds: stability and speed from quadrupeds, manipulability and a gain in operational height from bipeds.”
—Andre Rosendo, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Once the robot is upright, walking comes from a policy that’s trained first in simulation and then transferred onto the real robot. This isn’t trivial, because the controller is trying to get the robot to both walk and not fall over, which is a bit of a contradiction, but the best performing policy was able to get the robot to walk for several meters. It’s important to remember that this is a robot that was not designed to walk bipedally at all, so in some sense you’ve got software struggling to get hardware to work in a way that it isn’t supposed to and certainly isn’t optimized for. Perhaps if this kind of thing catches on, quadruped designers might be given incentives to build a little extra flexibility into their platforms to make them more adaptable.
For more on this research, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Andre Rosendo, who is now a professor at WPI.
Fundamentally is there a difference between a four-legged robot and a four-limbed robot?
Andre Rosendo: As seen in nature, quadruped locomotion enables higher speeds, and the robot is noticeably faster when moving with four legs. That said, the benefits related to manipulability seen in this animal transition from four to two legs (for example, Australopithecus using their hands to bring food to their mouths) are also true to robots. We are currently developing a “variant end effector” for the forelimbs to allow this quadruped robot to become a “two-arm manipulator” when standing, handling objects and operating environments.
Why did you decide on this particular system to enable the bipedal transition?
Rosendo: We noticed that it is quite easy to adapt the hind legs of a quadruped robot with a fixed structure, with very little drop in performance. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as an active structure, advances in materials nowadays allow us to use a small carbon-fiber link protruding from the leg to mimic the same passive stability that our feet give us (known in legged locomotion as the polygon of stability). An active retractable system, on the other hand, would add a tiny motor to the leg, increasing the moment of inertia of that leg during locomotion, affecting performance negatively.
What are the limitations to the walking performance of this system?
Rosendo: We trained the robot in a simulated environment, and the walking gait, after being transferred to the real world, is stable, albeit slow. Bipedal robots usually have more degrees of freedom in their legs to allow a more dynamic and adaptive locomotion, but in our case, we are focusing on the multimodal aspect to reap the benefits from two worlds: stability and speed from quadrupeds, manipulability and a gain in operational height from bipeds.
What are you working on next?
Rosendo: Our next steps…will be on the development of the manipulability of this robot. More specifically, we have been asking ourselves the question: “Now that we can stand up, what can we do that other robots cannot?”, and we already have some preliminary results on climbing to places that are higher than the center of gravity of the robot itself. After mechanical changes on the forelimbs, we will better evaluate complex handling that might require both hands at the same time, which is rare in current mobile robots.
Multi-Modal Legged Locomotion Framework with Automated Residual Reinforcement Learning, by Chen Yu and Andre Rosendo from ShanghaiTech University, was presented this week at IROS 2022 in Kyoto, Japan. More details are available on Github. Continue reading
Recent technological advancements are opening new and exciting opportunities for communicating with others and visiting places remotely. These advancements include telepresence robots, moving robotic systems that allow users to virtually navigate remote environments and interact with people in these environments. Continue reading