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Top 20 Robot Videos of 2010 Last year was an incredible time for robotics, and to recap the best robot moments of 2010 IEEE decided to compile a list of their favorite videos. Check out their selection — going from No. 20 to the No. 1 — and let us know what you think. [Source: IEEE Spectrum Website]

Spiders and crabs inspire robot locomotion. The walking patterns of crabs, lobsters and spiders are helping to inspire new ways of getting robots to move around. Closer study of the neural networks controlling the legs of invertebrates has revealed the rhythmic nerve impulses that govern gait. [Source: BBC World Service Science and Technology 26th of March 2011]

How Do People Respond to Being Touched by a Robot? Georgia Tech researchers are studying how people respond to being touched by a robot. The researchers say that people generally responded positively. “What we found was that how people perceived the intent of the robot was really important to how they responded,” says Georgia Tech professor Charlie Kemp. “So, even though the robot touched people in the same way, if people thought the robot was doing that to clean them, versus doing that to comfort them, it made a significant difference in the way they responded and whether they found that contact favorable or not.” The team used a robotic nurse to touch and wipe a person’s forearm, exactly in the same way, but note that the reaction was more positive when the subjects believed the robot intended to clean their arm rather than it tried to comfort them. The results were similar to studies involving nurses. The team also tested whether people prefer a verbal warning before touching, but the results were inconclusive because the subjects might have been startled when the robot started speaking. [Source: Georgia Institute of Technology (03/09/11) David Terraso ]

Robot’s space debut ‘giant leap for tinmankind’ The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is sending a humanoid robot, called Robonaut 2 (R2), to the International Space Station for the first time. R2 is made of aluminum and nickel-based carbon fiber and has more than 350 electrical sensors throughout its body. R2 is humanoid from the waist up and measures three feet, four inches tall and weighs 330 pounds. It can carry out preprogrammed orders by itself, once the orders are given. The objective is to help astronauts, not replace them, NASA says. “While it might be just a single step for this robot, it’s really a giant leap forward for tinmankind,” says NASA’s Rob Ambrose. Once onboard the space station, R2 will undergo tests to see how it performs in weightlessness when attached to a fixed pedestal. NASA plans to send legs next year that will enable it to perform indoor chores, and future torso and computer enhancements will allow it to take space walks. R2 is expected to be onboard the space station until it stops operating sometime after 2020. [Source: Associated Press (11/02/10) Marcia Dunn ]

Robots are lords of the dance at South Korean festival Robots danced in competitions, played football, engaged in taekwondo matches, ran obstacle races, and participated in a parade at the recent Robot World in South Korea. The various tasks provided an opportunity to assess the sensory and movement skills of the robots. Billed as the world’s largest robot festival, Robot World has drawn about 120,000 visitors and 6,000 participants for demonstrations of the latest developments in robotics every year since its launch in 2006. This year, Robot World attracted at least 120 companies and 8,000 contestants. Hyun Yun-Duk, a teacher from Incheon mechanical technical high school, says the robots have improved from a year ago. “They are now much more like human beings,” Yun-Duk says. Researchers from countries such as the United States, India, Spain, and Japan participated in the various events. [Source: Agence France-Presse (11/01/10) ]

Driverless Vans End 8,000-Mile Test Drive to China The European Research Council’s 8,000-mile robotic car test, which began in Italy on July 20, came to a conclusion as four unmanned electric vans successfully completed their journey in Shanghai, China. The vehicles, equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and dodge obstacles, are part of an experiment aimed at improving road safety and advancing automotive technology. The vans did not use maps as they traveled through remote parts of Siberia and China. The computerized artificial vision system, called Generic Obstacle and Lane Detector, analyzed the information from the sensors and automatically adjusted the vehicles’ speed and direction. “The idea here was to travel on a long route, on two different continents, in different states, different weather, different traffic conditions, different infrastructure,” says University of Parma researcher Alberto Broggi. The technology will be employed to analyze ways to complement motorists’ abilities, with potential applications in mining, farming, and construction. [Source: Associated Press (10/28/10)]

Robot, Object, Action! European researchers working on the PACO-PLUS project have developed robotic demonstrations to illustrate object-action complexes (OACs) as a new approach to robotic cognition. OACs represent a combination of perception of and action upon any given object. “The first thing a robot will do when it encounters an object for the first time is to lift it before its eyes and then rotate the object so the robot gets a look at it from all angles,” says PACO-PLUS project co-coordinator Tamim Asfour. The basic principle in the OAC concept is the idea that interaction with the environment leads to more sophisticated strategies over time, and ultimately gives rise to intelligence. PACO-PLUS researchers also have developed a method for teaching robots to learn from human observation and human coaching. [Source: ICT Results (10/29/10) ]

Robot Teachers Are the Latest E-Learning Tool [Access to full article may require payment] Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) researchers are building robots to provide English instruction to schoolchildren. The researchers, led by KIST’s Mun Sang Kim, are designing the robots with realistic facial features, arms that enable them to gesture, and sensors so they can keep their distance from students. The robots can teach either by leading students through preprogrammed exercises or by being operated remotely over the Internet. The researchers say the goal is to be able to build robots that are less expensive than hiring teachers from abroad to teach English. “The role of robots will go up steadily, and the role of human teachers will shrink,” Kim says. The brightly colored robots are about three feet tall, display facial expressions as they speak, and have built-in speech recognition technology. The researchers have developed 40 prototypes, which will be placed into service at 18 elementary schools for a three-month pilot test. [Source: Chronicle of Higher Education (10/31/10) Jeffery R. Young]

Robot ‘Hands’ Write Without Fingers University of Chicago physicist Eric Brown has conducted detailed research on the use of grain sacks as a universal gripper for robots. Brown and colleagues use a thin rubber sack filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres, which contracts by 1 percent in volume when the hand comes in contact with an object. A small pipe sucks air from the sack, enabling the hand to mold to the shape of the object. The hand has some trouble grasping flat objects such as plastic discs, porous objects such as cotton balls, and anything bigger than half its size. However, researchers say the hand is very versatile and can pick up just about any shape, and unlike conventional robotic hands, does not require the manipulation of 20-odd joints with a computer. “This seems like a much better way to go,” says Yale University physicist Corey O’Hern, who believes that making the sack stickier could solve the porous-object problem, but notes that his idea might make it hard to let go of objects. The researchers believe the technology would benefit amputees, as it would be easier to operate than current prosthetic hands on the market. [Source: ScienceNOW (10/25/10) Kristen Minogue ]

The robot that reads your mind to train itself. University of Washington researchers are developing brain-computer interface (BCI) technology by teaching robots new skills using only brain signals. The researchers, led by Washington professor Rajesh Rao, began by programming a humanoid robot with simple behaviors that users could select with a wearable electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, which detects brain activity. The researchers are developing a hierarchical BCI for controlling the robot to emulate human thought and decision making. “The resulting system is both adaptive and hierarchical–adaptive because it learns from the user and hierarchical because new commands can be composed as sequences of previously learned commands,” Rao says. Other research groups also are developing thought-controlled robots. Honda researchers recently demonstrated a robot that can lift an arm or a leg through signals sent wirelessly from a system operated by a user wearing an EEG cap. University of Zaragoza scientists are working on creating robotic wheelchairs that can be manipulated by thought. “It does make good sense to teach the robot a growing set of higher-level tasks and then be able to call upon them without having to describe them in detail every time,” says Tufts University professor Robert Jacob. [ BBC News (10/24/10) Lakshmi Sandhana ]

Robot Arm Punches Human to Obey Asimov’s Rules University of Ljubljana researcher Borut Povse is conducting experiments in which a robot limb repeatedly hits human volunteers on the arm to evaluate human-robot pain thresholds in order to facilitate adherence to Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics, which prohibits robots from injuring people. Povse says accidental collisions between robots and humans are unavoidable, and the experiments are “taking the first steps to defining the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans.” The tests will continue using an artificial human arm for the purpose of modeling the physical impact of far more severe collisions. The objective is to limit the speed a robot should move at when it detects humans in close proximity to avoid harming them. Baylor College of Medicine biomechanics specialist Michael Liebschner questions the use of pain as a measure of outcome. “Pain is very subjective,” he notes. “Nobody cares if you have a stinging pain when a robot hits you–what you want to prevent is injury, because that’s when litigation starts.” [New Scientist (10/13/10) Paul Marks]

Robots ‘Think’ With Their Hands The European PACO-PLUS project is developing a new approach to robot cognition based on a theory called object-action complexes (OACs). Robotic cognition theorists believe that if perception and interaction can be developed, intelligence will emerge spontaneously. OACs are types of software and hardware that are designed to enable robots to think about objects in terms of the actions that can be performed on that object. The PACO-PLUS approach imitates the learning processes of young infants, using trial and error and watching other people to learn new information. A key part of the research involves working with humanoid robots. “Humanoid robots are artificial embodiments with complex and rich perceptual and motor capabilities, which make them … the most suitable experimental platform to study cognition and cognitive information-processing,” says Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researcher Tamim Asfour. [ICT Results (10/18/10) ]

Flying Robot Swarm Takes Off The Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne is experimenting with flying robots that would create a communications network for rescuers in disaster areas. Researchers involved in the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network project have equipped 10 flying robots with autopilot capabilities to control altitude, airspeed, and turn rate, and have designed a microcontroller that uses three sensors–a gyroscope and two pressure sensors. The robots have a global positioning system module for logging flight journeys, and the swarm controllers running Linux are connected to an off-the-shelf USB Wi-Fi dongle. [Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne — October 1, 2010]

Robots could improve everyday life at home or work Cornell University scientists are developing robots that can perform household chores without human intervention. “Just like people buy a car, I envision that in five to 10 years, people will buy an assistive robot that will be cheaper or about the same cost as a car,” says Cornell professor Ashutosh Saxena. One of the biggest challenges is enabling robots to learn in uncertain environments. One of Cornell’s projects is a robotic arm with a gripper. The robot uses a camera to evaluate an object and determine the best way to grab it. [Cornell University – Chronicle Online (Sept. 21, 2010)]

Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotions The Dying Swan is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky´s majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing. Yet this is no ordinary ballet dancer, but a robot in the form of a swan, created at Mälardalen University and choreographed by professional dancer Åsa Unander-Scharin. [ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2010) ]

Autonomous Robot Dancer Identifies Dance And Music In Intelligent Manner Built from a simple Lego NXT kit, a new robotic system designed by a student of FEUP can identify different types of dance and music in an intelligent manner and is fully autonomous. The next step is to create and manage choreography between humanoid robots. [ScienceDaily (Mar. 6, 2009) ]

DARPA Wants to Create Brainiac Bot Tots The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding scientist Shane Mueller’s efforts to expand upon the Turing test as part of an attempt to determine the level of artificial intelligence in bot tots. DARPA is interested in developing robots with the capabilities of an average toddler. [Wired News (09/10/10) Katie Drummond ]

European Partnership Funds Research Toward Robot Aides for the Elderly. A team of researchers from 20 European states, the European Union, and several private enterprises recently launched a project aimed at developing robots capable of serving as adaptable, interactive, and safe assistants for older adults. [GERMAN language — Technische Universitaet Muenchen (09/13/10) ]

Wheelchair Makes the Most of Brain Control. Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used an artificial intelligence (AI) approach known as shared control to make it easier for paralyzed people to maneuver a robotic wheelchair with their thoughts. The wheelchair uses AI software that is capable of taking a simple command such as “go left” and assessing the immediate area to determine how to follow the instructions without hitting anything. [Technology Review (09/13/10) Duncan Graham-Rowe]

Robot Invasion Welcomed in Japan. TOKYO — Could it be that the Japanese view of robots as friendly helpers — and not as the rebellious, violent machines that populate much of Western science fiction — is rooted in the Shinto religion, which blurs the boundaries between animate and inanimate? To the Japanese psyche, this theory goes, a humanoid and sentient robot may simply not feel as creepy or threatening as it does in other cultures. [New York Times — September 13, 2010]

Singapore Researchers Unveil Social Robot Olivia.  Olivia, a social robot from Singapore, loves to talk — and gesticulate with its sleek 6-degrees-of-freedom white plastic arms. [Source: IEEE Spectrum]

Geminoid F: Hiroshi Ishiguro Unveils New Smiling Female Android.  Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled today his latest creation: a female android called Geminoid F. The new robot, a copy of a woman in her 20s with long dark hair, can laugh, smile, and exhibit other facial expressions more naturally than Ishiguro’s previous androids. [Source: IEEE Spectrum]

Robots for Real: Surgeons and Robots Scrub Up. Johns Hopkins University, doctors and engineers collaborate to create the next generation of robots for the operating room. [Source: IEEE Spectrum]

The Robots Are Cutting in on Our Dance Moves. Four humanoid robots recently danced in Australia with the Melbourne dance troupe Wickid Force. A team of Sydney scientists spent several months fine-tuning motor control algorithms that enabled them to program the robots for the highly controlled, fluid dance movements. [Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (08/28/10) Phillips, Nicky]

IEEE Spectrum — Special Report on Tele-presence.  Will telepresence robots revolutionize work, manufacturing, medicine, and other facets of modern life? [Source: IEEE Spectrum]

Hiroshi Ishiguro: The Man Who Made a Copy of Himself.  Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Osaka University, in Japan, has, as you might expect, built many robots. But his latest aren’t run-of-the-mill automatons. Ishiguro’s recent creations look like normal people. One is an android version of a middle-aged family man—himself. [Source: IEEE Spectrum]

Rise of the Helpful Machines.  The world’s most sophisticated robots don’t assemble trucks or cruise around Mars. They’re designed to support our surging population of elderly and disabled citizens. Meet 10 of the most promising senior-friendly ’bots.  [Source: Popular Science Magazine]

National Geographics — The Bionic Age [ January 2010 issue].  The Bionic Body As scientists work to link machine and mind, bionic limbs are gaining many of the capabilities of human ones. A Better Life With Bionics The blind can see, a one-armed woman can fold her shirts. Learn how bionics are changing lives.

Mechanical Engineers Have New Bug-Inspired Robot That Senses Its Way With Flexible Antenna Researchers have developed a flexible, sensor-laden artificial antenna to help a robotic “bug” move and navigate just like the common cockroach. The bug can curry along walls, turn corners, avoid obstacles, and feel its way through the dark. In rescue operations, such robots could be sent to explore collapsed buildings and other situations that could pose hazards or just be inaccessible to humans. [ScienceDaily (July 1, 2005) ]