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Google Is Poised to Slow Its Robot Revolution

March 18th, 2016 No comments

From: US News and World Report
Date: March 17, 2016

Google Is Poised to Slow Its Robot Revolution
The robot uprising may be postponed if Google sells Boston Dynamics.

Humanoid robots designed by Boston Dynamics were an internet sensation after people witnessed them walking around rough terrain or getting up after being knocked down with a hockey stick. But the engineering firm’s parent company, Alphabet, is reportedly trying to sell it because they think its machines are unprofitable – and maybe a little scary.

The tech giant, which also owns Google, bet big on the future of robots in 2013 when it purchased startups including Boston Dynamics, but now fears that a marketable version won’t be produced soon enough.

Tension between Boston Dynamics and Google staff also pressured the sale, according to notes from a meeting that were posted on a company wide forum and later obtained by Bloomberg. The staff reportedly had difficulty working together and executives were impatient about how soon the firm would create an affordable robot for consumers. The internal messages also show Alphabet executives are concerned by the negative press and media questions about the four-legged and humanoid robots that Boston Dynamics displayed in a video last month.

Google Communications Director Courtney Hohne stated in one of the internal messages obtained by Bloomberg that the company “would not comment on the video” because of the disturbing questions it generated about robots that can walk autonomously through snowy forests or withstand being hit by human engineers.

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” Hohne reportedly stated.

Existing computer technology is capable of replacing up to 45 percent of activities individuals are paid to do, according to a recent report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Google’s separate investments also including research into artificial intelligence – a field of science that tech leaders including Elon Musk and pioneering physics professor Stephen Hawking have warned could be dangerous to the future of humanity. A Google engineer told U.S. News in a previous interview that it take many years to create machines that are smart enough to out think humans.

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Video Shows Aftermath of Google’s Self-Driving Car Accident

March 17th, 2016 No comments
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Kids Love MIT’s Latest Squishable Social Robot

March 17th, 2016 No comments

From: IEEE Spectrum

Click HERE for full story.

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Collierville HS Wins VEX State Championship

March 11th, 2016 No comments

Congratulations to the Collierville VEX Robotics Team who won the TN State Championship on Saturday in Nashville. The robot named “The Illuminati” was crowned Tournament Champion and will advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, KY April 20-23. The Illuminati team also received the Sportsmanship award, voted on by the other tournament teams and Shelli Brasher (their coach) received the award for TN VEX Partner of the Year for establishing VEX robotics in West TN.

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The Collierville team is looking for sponsors to help offset transportation, hotel and meals costs. Contact Shelli Brasher at (sbrasher@colliervilleschools.org) if you are interested in helping sponsor the team at the world competition.

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Jimmy Fallon’s Take on Atlas

February 29th, 2016 No comments

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5 Robots Seeking Your Crowdfunding Support

February 27th, 2016 No comments

From Robotics Trends


Kamibot Programmable Robot for Kids
Kamibot is a programmable papercraft robot for kids that can be customized with code and colorful skins. Kamibot is built around the open-source Arduino platform, so kids can easily learn how to code using Scratch, a drag-and-drop programming language.

Kamibot has raised $19,115 of its $50,000 goal on Kickstarter.


CoDrone Programmable Drone
CoDrone is a quadcopter that you can be programmed to do almost anything you want using step-by-step videos. You can program CoDrone to follow you, engage in laser battles, go through a maze and much more. It has raised $175,923 with an original goal of $50,000 on Kickstarter.


Xibot Robot Assistant
XIBOT can act as a personal assistant in our lives, helping with e-mails, messages, phone calls, shopping lists and other everyday tasks. With Wi-Fi connected to Xibot, you can monitor your house anywhere and anytime. Xibot has raised $28,150 on Indiegogo with an original goal of $10,000.


Rook Flying Home Assistant Drone
Rook claims to be the world’s first home drone that you can fly from anywhere in the world. By connecting to the Internet, Rook allows you to control and view the camera stream from your phone in real-time. Just connect Rook to your home Wi-Fi network, and use it as a platform for different needs in your life:

– Flying security camera – Family/pet monitor – Video tour of your home – Check to see if you turned the stove off

Rook has raised $40,227 on Indiegogo with an original goal of $20,000.


SumoBoy Robotics Kit
SumoBoy is a multipurpose Arduino-based robotics kit for sport and education. The goal of SumoBoy is to Kickstart hundreds of new sumo-robot communities all around the world. To push the competition to the next level by introducing new crowds to the scene of robotics.

SumoBoy has raised $7,090 of its $100,000 goal.

Best Robots – DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals 2015

February 26th, 2016 No comments

Beginnings of Skynet: The Best Robots in the World Meets in DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals 2015
From YouTube: Published on Jun 10, 2015

The winner of this final is the Kaist Korean Team, that won 2 millions dollars.

DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is a competition funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The competition takes place from 2012 to June 2015. The stated aim is to develop semi-autonomous ground robots that can perform “complex tasks in hazardous environments, degraded and built by man” 1. The DRC following the DARPA Grand Challenge and the principle of the DARPA Urban Challenge. The competition began in October 2012. Originally, it was to be held for about 33 months with three competitions including a Virtual Robotics Challenge (HRV), which took place in June 2013 and two challenges “real” tests in December 2013 and the final in June 2015.

Besides stimulating the development of semi-autonomous robots, the DRC also seeks to make the robotics software and the development of robotic systems more accessible in the future. To this end, the DRC funded the adaptation of the robot simulator GAZEBO by the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), and construction by Boston Dynamics ATLAS six robots that are given to teams that have performed the best scores in the Virtual robotics challenge (HRV).

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Boston Dynamics Latest Robot

February 26th, 2016 No comments

From YouTube: Published on Feb 23, 2016

A new version of Atlas, designed to operate outdoors and inside buildings. It is specialized for mobile manipulation. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. It uses sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain, help with navigation and manipulate objects. This version of Atlas is about 5′ 9″ tall (about a head shorter than the DRC Atlas) and weighs 180 lbs.

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Robots shoot and score at Collierville High School robotics competition

February 10th, 2016 No comments

From Commercial Appeal

By Linda A. Moore
Posted: Jan. 16, 2016

Inside the varsity gym at Collierville High School Saturday, balls flew through the air, teammates cheered each other’s success, referees in striped shirts made sure everyone observed the rules and adversaries shook hands in congratulations on a game well-played.

But nobody was aiming for the high hoops.

It was the first Dragon Invitational VEX Robotics Competition.

“We have a lot of rookie teams here from Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas,” said Shelli Brasher, STEM (science technology, engineering and math) teacher at Collierville High.

More than 100 students made up 22 teams from 10 middle and high schools. They competed in competition in which robots shot balls into nets about four feet high, while other robots moved balls around for points.

“Part of the strategy is learning to work with the other robot to maximize the points,” Brasher said.

Drew Central High School in Monticello, Arkansas, was among those competing.

“The learning that takes place is out of this world — problem-solving, logistics. It’s amazing,” said Barbie Eubanks, a former science teacher-turned-librarian and robotics team coach.

The robots are made of metal with gears, rollers, rubber bands and wheels. Some are directed through remote control and others have been programmed by the students.

The competitors battled in “Nothing But Net,” with points earned by robots that push balls under a low goal or shoot balls into a high goal.

Throughout the day, teams were eliminated until those who advanced to the championship round created “alliances” with other teams and skillfully selected partners that would enhance the abilities of their own team.

For example, said Nicholas Perkins, 16, a junior at Southaven High School and a member of the DeSoto County Career Tech West team, his team formed an alliance with the Jackson (Tennessee) Area Robotics team, whose robot rose more than 12 inches, gaining extra points.

“You get to learn what other people can do with their robots,” he said. “And if you’re lucky, you get a plaque.”

By the end of the day, the final bracket pitted the Red Alliance — formed by teams from Brentwood Academy from Brentwood, Tennessee, and Collierville High — against the Blue Alliance, with teams from Drew Central; its neighbor, Monticello Occupational Education Cooperative, and Memphis Collegiate School.

In the best-two-out-of-three round, the robot from Brentwood quickly gobbled up balls and tossed them into the net, while Drew Central’s team fed balls to a robot that flung them with impressive accuracy.

But in the end, the Red Alliance won the day.

“I’m extremely proud of them and that they were able to do it all with their hometown team,” said Kelly Griffin, engineering teacher at Monticello Occupational.

Hank Roberson, 13, an eighth-grader at Brentwood, was thrilled with his team’s win.

“We’ve had to redo our robot three times, so this feels like the final one,” he said. “It feels like my baby.”

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5 Challenges We Need to Solve for Home Robots

January 20th, 2016 No comments

Let’s Bring Rosie Home: 5 Challenges We Need to Solve for Home Robots
From IEEE Spectrum
By Shahin Farshchi
Posted 13 Jan 2016 | 16:25 GMT

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Science fiction authors love the robot sidekick. R2-D2, Commander Data, and KITT—just to name a few—defined “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and “Knight Rider,” respectively, just as much as their human actors. While science has brought us many of the inventions dreamed of in sci-fi shows, one major human activity has remained low tech and a huge source of frustration: household chores. Why can’t we have more robots helping us with our domestic tasks? That’s a question that many roboticists and investors (myself included) have long been asking ourselves. Recently, we’ve seen some promising developments in the home robotics space, including Jibo’s successful financing and SoftBank’s introduction of Pepper. Still, a capable, affordable robotic helper—like Rosie, the robot maid from “The Jetsons”—remains a big technical and commercial challenge. Should robot makers focus on designs that are extensions of our smartphones (as Jibo seems to be doing), or do we need a clean-sheet approach towards building these elusive bots?

Take a look at the machines in your home. If you remove the bells and whistles, home automation hasn’t dramatically changed since the post–World War II era. Appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers, and air conditioners, seemed magical after WWII. Comprised primarily of pumps, motors, and plumbing, they were simply extensions of innovations that came to bear during the industrial revolution. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that industrial behemoths such as GE, Westinghouse, and AEG (now Electrolux) shepherded miniature versions of the machines used in factories into suburban homes. At the time, putting dirty clothes and dishes into a box from which they emerged clean was rather remarkable. To this day, the fundamental experience remains the same, with improvements revolving around reliability, and efficiency. Features enabled by Internet-of-Things technologies are marginal at best, i.e., being able to log into your refrigerator or thermostat through your phone.

But before wondering when we’ll have home robots, it might be fair to ask: Do we even need them? Consider what you can already do just by tapping on your phone, thanks to a host of on-demand service startups. Instacart brings home the groceries; Handy and Super send professionals to fix or clean your home; Pager brings primary care, while HomeTeam does elderly care. (Disclosure: my company, Lux Capital, is an investor in Super, Pager, and HomeTeam.) So, again, why do we need robots to perform these services when humans seem to be doing them just fine? I don’t think anyone has a compelling answer to that question today, and home robots will probably evolve and transform themselves over and over until they find their way into our homes. Indeed, it took decades of automobiles until the Model T was born. The Apple IIs and PC clones of the early 1980s had difficulty justifying their lofty price tags to anyone who wasn’t wealthy, or a programmer. We need to expect the same from our first home bots.

So it might be helpful to examine what problems engineers need to crack before they can attempt to build something like Rosie the robot. Below I discuss five areas that I believe need significant advances if we want to move the whole home robot field forward.

1. We Need Machine-Human Interfaces

Siri and Amazon’s Alexa demonstrate how far speech recognition and natural language processing have come. Unfortunately, they are no more than a human-machine interface, designed to displace the keyboard and mouse. What we need is a machine-human interface. Where is the distinction? It starts with understanding people, rather than aggregating data and using statistical patterns to make inferences. It can understand our moods and emotional contexts, as an artificial intelligence would. Humans do not interact with one another through a series of commands (well, maybe some do); they establish a connection, and once a computer can take on that role, then we have a true machine-human interface. Scientists are starting to tackle this by applying concepts used in programming toward establishing rules for robot-human conversations, but we’ll need much more if we want to have engaging AI assistants like the one in the movie “Her.” ​

2. Cheap Sensors Need to Get Cheaper

Driverless cars will generate hard cash for their operators, so forking over thousands for an array of lidar, radar, ultrasound, and cameras is a no-brainer. Home robots, however, may need to fit the ever-discretionary consumer budget. The array of sensors the robot would need to properly perceive its environment could render it cost prohibitive unless the sensors cost pennies as they do in mobile phones. MEMS technology dramatically lowered the cost of inertial sensors, which previously cost thousands of dollars and were relegated to aircraft and spacecraft. Can computer vision applied to an array of cheap cameras and infrared sensors provide adequate sensing capability? And can we expect lidar to come down in price, or do we need a whole new sensing technology? A startup called Dual Aperture has added a second aperture for infrared hence creating the ability to infer short distances. Meanwhile, DARPA is funding the research on chip-based lidar, and Quanergy expects to launch a solid-state optical phased array, thereby eliminating the mechanical components that raise the cost of lidar. We expect engineers to find creative ways to reduce the cost of existing sensing technology, while obviating others altogether, and hopefully making them as cheap as sensors in our phones today.

3. Manipulators Need to Get a Grip

Loose objects find their way into our homes because they are easy to manipulate with our hands. If we expect a robot to be able to clean and organize these objects as efficiently as humans do, it needs manipulators that are at least as effective as the human hand. Companies such as Robotiq, Right Hand Robotics, and Soft Robotics, among others, have designed efficient and reliable manipulators. Though air-powered inflatable grippers have the advantage of being soft and lightweight, they do require a pump, which is not very practical for a mobile robot. Efforts funded by DARPA at iRobot, SRI, and other labs and companies seem to be taking us in the right direction, helping robots get a grip.

4. Robots Need to Handle Arbitrary Objects

Opening doors, flipping switches, and cleaning up scattered toys are simple tasks for us humans, but compute-intense for machines today. A robot like Roomba performs two tasks: running a suction motor and generating a path along what’s expected to be a flat surface with rigid obstacles. How about washing dishes or folding laundry? These tasks require a suite of capabilities ranging from recognizing objects, identifying grasping points, understanding how an object will interact with other objects, and even predicting the consequences of being wrong. DARPA, NSF, NASA, and European Union science funding agencies are sponsoring much-needed research in this area, but “solving manipulation” will probably require leveraging a number of different technologies, including cloud robotics and deep learning.

5. Navigating Unstructured Environments Needs to Become Routine

Anyone who saw this year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge would appreciate how difficult of a problem it is to navigate and manipulate an unstructured, unknown environment. Those robots were slow. Though driverless cars pose a formidable challenge, it has been proven to be more tractable. Deep learning techniques can help robots recognize soft objects vs. hard obstructions, and human assistants may be able to “teach” robots until the algorithms take over. Like the manipulation problem, real-time navigation requires robots to quickly sense, perceive, and execute—probably several orders of magnitude faster that they DRC winning team is today. Full autonomy won’t happen overnight, but that isn’t a problem: humans can help robots get out of a bind. Willow Garage was a pioneer with its Heaphy Project, where assistance to robots is crowdsourced to remote operators. More robotics and industrial automation companies are embracing the notion of humans overseeing robots, with the expectation of going from the (superfluous) 1:1 human-robot ratio to a single operator being able to oversee/assist many robots.

Shahin Farshchi is a partner at Lux Capital, where he invests in hardware and robotics companies. Follow him on Twitter:@farshchi

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