Category Archives: Robotics

Combat Creatures Attacknid at CES



Combat Creatures' AttacknidThe mechanised carnage and wanton destruction of Battlebots and Robot Wars is great fun but you need some serious robotics chops to build that level of machine. The Attacknid is an affordable toy alternative from from Combat Creatures – Andy McCaskey finds out more.

The Attacknid is a remote-controlled insect-like robot with a modular gun that fires discs or balls. The premise is simple…you and a friend (or friends) control the robots, shooting at each other’s machine. Three hits to the “battle brain” of the robot and it’s dead. Lots of fun and I can imagine this will be a great Christmas present.

Available in the UK now and will be coming to the USA in the fall for around $100.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News for the Tech Podcast Network.

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Dreambots WheeMe Massage Robot at CES 2013



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There’s nothing quite like a really good massage to relax and remove all the stress from your body but few of us have a masseuse on hand, Jeffrey excepted. The WheeMe Massage Robot from Dreambots might be able to help with this problem, as Jeffrey Powers finds out from Cobi.

The WheeMe is a small massage robot that runs over the back of a person lying down to give them a massage. Completely autonomous, the WheeMe uses tilt sensors to ensure that it doesn’t fall off and it has a couple of programs for different types of massage. The WheeMe uses vibrations, wheels and the long fingerettes to give different sensations.

Available now in a choice of red or blue from retail stores worldwide and online for around $100 (or €70). Additional accessories are coming soon.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine for the TechPodcast Network. Robyn must have the best job in the whole of CES!

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Bird Buggy Amuses a Parrot



This unique little robot is exactly what every parrot owner needs! The Bird Buggy was created by Andrew Gray, who is a student at the University of Florida’s College of Engineering. He is the owner of an African Grey parrot named Pepper. The primary purpose of the Bird Buggy was to give Pepper something to do other than squawk loudly all day. Bird Buggy was built in the University of Florida’s Intelligent Machines Design Lab.

The Bird Buggy has a joystick that Pepper has learned to control with his beak. The parrot can make its robotic “ride” go forward, backward, and turn from side to side. There is an IR sensor that prevents Pepper from ramming into things to hard, and bumpers that respond to collisions by backing up. The Bird Buggy is equipped with a camera that enables it to return to a docking station when Pepper is done using it.

I don’t have a parrot, but I do have several cockatiels. They are smaller than an African Grey, (and not quite as intelligent). My little birds would probably have one reaction to the Bird Buggy – fear. They dislike things that are new. They also would be too small to use the joystick in the way that Pepper can. There are some similarities between cockatiels and African Greys, though, so I can tell from watching the video that Pepper is greatly amused by, and enjoying, the Bird Buggy.


Roomba Picks Up a Mint



The cleaning robots have joined forces! No, I don’t mean the robots connected to each other in the way that the individual parts of Voltron did in order to form a larger, more powerful, form. I am referring to a press release from iRobot Corp. that states that the company has acquired Evolution Robotics, Inc. for $74 million. Together, the two companies can make the floors and carpets of the world a little bit cleaner.

You might be aware that iRobot is the maker of the Roomba, (and the Scooba, the Looj, and the Verro). I had a Roomba once, that was given to my husband and I from his sister. The round, red, disc-like robot tried its hardest to keep up with the birdseed shells that our cockatiels threw out of their cage.

Unfortunately, the configuration of furniture in the room prevented the Roomba from doing much more than traveling in a small circle. It did a nice job of confusing our cockatiels, who seemed to be trying to figure out if it was some sort of flat, non-barking, dog. It did manage to keep the small space it could get to relatively clean.

Evolution Robotics makes an automatic floor cleaner called Mint. It is square shaped and comes in two colors: white and black. The Roomba is good at sweeping, and the Scooba is good at mopping. The Mint can do both at the same time, if you attach a Swiffer cloth to the little robot. It will be interesting to see what these two companies can come up with when they start working together. Personally, I’d like to see a little robot that can clean your bathtub for you.

Image: empty-new-room by BigStock


Robot Ascending Staircase



If you ever find yourself running away from an evil robot army, one way to evade them is to climb the stairs. Robots that use rolling wheels as a form of locomotion are going to be stuck at the bottom of the staircase, with little more to do than to wait for you to walk back down.

Robots that can walk on legs also tend to have trouble with stairs. It takes a lot of calculations of depth and distance, a good sense of balance, and a reasonable amount of coordination for a human to successfully navigate their way up a staircase. Most adults don’t consciously think about all those little pieces of the puzzle, because they have mastered the skill of climbing a staircase long ago. The skill set required to climb stairs is an elusive one for most bipedal robots.

Researchers from the University of Freiburg’s Humanoid Robots Laboratory have created a robot that can not only climb a staircase, but also can successfully navigate its way up a spiral staircase. The robot is named Nao, and, fortunately for us, doesn’t appear to be the least bit evil. Personally, I think it is very cute. As a gamer, my first thought was that Nao resembles Megaman, (but is a different color).

The video of Nao in action was created by the Humanoid Robots Laboratory. Watch as Nao figures out how to get up onto the next step. I find it amusing that he raises his arms over his head, as a sign of victory, after he makes it all the way up the stairs.

How is Nao able to do this task that has perplexed many of the robots that were created before him? It makes use of the laser range scanner that is located at the top of its head. This gives Nao a global estimation of its current position. It also uses a 3D model of the staircase to match up the image it “sees” from the laser with the physical step that it is about to ascend. A lower camera, located on its “face”, is also used to help coordinate the data from the two sources. Our potential future robot overlords are adorable!


Robot Plays “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and Always Wins



The game “Rock, Paper, Scissors” sounds simple. Two players quickly choose one of the three potential options, and both players reveal it at the same time. Scissors beats paper, paper beats rock, and rock beats scissors. Children play this game on the recess field when trying to make a decision about something.

The game just got a whole lot tougher to win! Researchers at the Ishikawa Oku Lab at the University of Tokyo have created a robot hand that has been taught how to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. The robot can beat a human opponent 100% of the time. You can play the game, over and over, as many times as you like, but the robot will always win.

Why does the robot always win? The simple answer is that it wins because it has been taught how to cheat. The robot recognizes a human hand with the use of a high speed camera. It takes the computer 1 millisecond to recognize the position of the hand of its human opponent. The robot quickly detects which of the three potential choices the human player has made and then selects the option that will allow it to win the game. This happens faster than the human eye can track it.

The purpose of this robot is not only to have a high-tech way to play a children’s game. Instead, it is an example of how robots and humans can work together in a cooperative effort that involves motion detection. The robot can follow the movement of a human hand without their being a time delay before the robot moves.


Implant Uses Brain Waves to Move Robotic Arm



A team of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists at Brown University and Harvard Medical School have created a specialized brain-computer interface. It is called the BrainGate Neural Interface System. The project has been going on for more than a decade. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The scientists have created an implant that is designed to enable people who are paralyzed to move a robotic arm and hand by using their mind. It is quite remarkable! The implant consists of a sensor chip that is about the size of a baby aspirin. It is implanted directly onto the motor cortex of a person’s brain. This is the part of the brain that controls movement.

The sensor picks up signals that are generated by a person’s brain cells while the person is thinking about moving his or her own arm and hand. Those signals are sent through a wire to a device that connects with a computer. The computer has been taught to read the signal it receives and to translate that signal in order to tell a robotic arm what to do. Together, this allows a paralyzed person to move a robotic arm and hand on their own, just by using their brainwaves.

Here is a video created by the BrainGate Corporation that shows a woman who is paralyzed using the BrainGate Neural Interface System to move a robotic arm and hand. The video also explains more of the science behind the system.

Image: Brain by BigStock


MIT Duo Creates Algorithm To Power Replicating “Smart Sand”



Inanimate matter programmed to spontaneously create duplicates of any object. That’s what MIT student Kyle Gilpin and computer science and engineering professor Daniela Rus have figured out how to do (in theory, of course). The duo’s research project and subsequent paper they co-authored (to be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May) details an algorithm by which “smart pebbles” or “smart sand” could be programmed to form duplicate three-dimensional shapes based on the original item.

From MIT News, the best way to imagine how this would work is to think of immersing a small item (they use a footstool as an example) in this smart sand. The grains of sand read and effectively learn the shape by passing information back and forth via electric pulses sent through magnets (the magnets act to connect grains, as well as pass power and information). More accurately, the smart sand mimics shape, but through learning the space occupied by the item (specifically the border created by the item), rather than the item itself.

Hang on a second. You know who can explain this better? Paper co-author and PhD Kyle Gilpin himself:

The implications for scaling this technology are pretty amazing. Smart sand technology could theoretically be used to re-create broken mechanical parts; manufacture new tools or other items; or to take smaller items and make larger, identical replicas.

You think copyright and patent laws are complicated now? Imagine the hurricane of litigation that would surround the commercial or private use of smart sand.