news    views    talk    learn    |    about    contribute     republish     crowdfunding     archives     events

Articles

All the latest news for robotics

by   -   May 30, 2016

In a previous installment, I said that identifying weeds based on what’s left standing after a patch of ground has been grazed won’t control low-growing plants, using goatheads as an example.

To begin with, what some type of herbivore (cattle) finds distasteful another (goats) may find delectable, so not everything left standing by a single species is useless, and it’s a good idea to run cattle, which strongly prefer grass, together with or immediately followed by another herbivore that is less picky, like goats.

Secondly, being unpalatable doesn’t automatically make a plant a weed. Weeds are plants that move aggressively into disturbed ground, smother or chemically inhibit other plant life, and/or put most of their energy into producing above-ground growth and seeds rather than roots. They are typically annuals or biennials (producing seed in their second year). If a plant does none of these things and is not toxic to livestock or wildlife, it’s probably not accurate to describe it as a weed. Even so, if livestock won’t eat it and it’s not a candidate for protection for being rare and endangered or threatened, and not vital to some rare and endangered animal, you probably don’t want it taking up ground that could be producing something more useful in your pasture. So what’s left standing after grazing isn’t such a bad indication, but, as already mentioned, this test won’t catch low-growing plants.

So, how to deal with those low-growing plants? Good question, and a good subject for further research. First you have to be able to identify their presence, and distinguish between them and the grass stubble left behind by grazing. Then there’s the matter of locating the main stem and the location where it and the root system connect. If a plant is laying on the ground, supported by it and not swaying in the breeze, the modeling of its branching structure from video of its motion I referenced earlier won’t work. One way to accomplish this might be to use a vacuum that pulls in a sufficiently large volume of air to pick up the vining tendrils and suck them in, and if you have a serious infestation of this sort of weed then using such equipment might be a reasonable choice. Another way might be a pincer-like manipulator, with cylindrical counter-rotating rotary rasps for fingers, pinching the vine at any point, determining which direction to rotate by trial and error, then using the resulting tension to guide the manipulator to the main stem so it can be uprooted.

Such a manipulator might be generally better at uprooting than a simple grasping manipulator, since the rotation of the fingers would replace retracting the robotic arm, potentially making the overall operation more efficient. A variation on the theme which might prove more generally useful would have low points on each finger matched by shallow indentations on the other finger, at the end furthest from the motors driving finger rotation, progressing to protruding hooks matched by deep indentations at the end nearest the motors. This would allow the same attachment to be used both for ordinary uprooting and for gathering up a something like goatheads, simply by adjusting where along the length of the rotating fingers it grasped the plant.


I also promised to get back to the use of sound, in the context of fauna management and pest control. This by itself could easily be the subject of a lengthy book. Information about the environment can be gleaned from ambient sounds as well as from active sonar, and a robot might also emit sounds for the effects they can produce.

Sonar is already widely used in robotics as a way of detecting and determining the distance to obstacles. While thus far more sophisticated technologies, such as synthetic aperture sonar, have primarily been developed for underwater use, a large market for autonomous robots operating at modest ground speeds in uncontrolled environments might prove incentive enough to justify developing versions for use in air.

Meanwhile, there is a wealth of information available from simple microphones. From tiny arthropods to passing ungulates, many animals produce characteristic sounds, with familiar examples including crickets, frogs, and all types of birds and mammals. These sounds can help identify not only what species are present but where they are and what they are doing.

Sound can also be used to affect the behavior of animals, for example discouraging deer from spending too much time browsing on your vegetable garden or keeping chickens from venturing too far afield. Through sound, a robot might signal the presence of a predator, or food, or a potential mate.

But it’s not just animals; even plants produce sounds. A tree that has sustained wind damage, introducing cracks into its trunk, will sound different from one which has not. A plant with wilted leaves sounds different from one that is fully turgid, and one from which the leaves have fallen sounds different yet.

So far as I’m aware, all such potential uses of sound represent largely unexplored areas of research, so it’s hard to know what all a machine might be able to learn about its biological environment just by listening and processing the data produced, and in what manner it might use sound to exert some control over that environment.


I’ve concentrated on tying up loose ends here because I’m eager to get on to the series on Robotics for Gardeners and Farmers. That’s not to say that this will be the last installment in this series; after all I’ve yet to address planting, pruning, pest control, harvest, or dealing with the plant matter left behind after harvest, as well as animal husbandry. Whether I eventually get to all of these remains to be seen. Touching on all such topics probably isn’t as important as conveying the nature of the opportunities presented by the application of robotics to methods founded in horticulture rather than in conventional agriculture, with an eye to then making them scalable.

Previous installments:

by   -   May 28, 2016


SourceLicense — Photo unmodified from original.

Start with a seed ball, containing seeds of one or more drought tolerant plants.

Next assemble some feathers or vanes, rather like those found on a badminton shuttlecock, but with an adaxial (inner) surface that is both a good radiator of thermal energy and hydrophobic, or having a branching network of hydrophobic veins which converge at the stem end.

Attach the feathers/vanes to the seed ball to form a seed bomb, and experiment iteratively to refine the design. The combination of mass and terminal velocity in free fall must be such that the seed bomb will penetrate dry clay soil surfaces sufficiently to anchor itself against wind, and the feathers or vanes should open up like a flower upon impact and remain in that configuration thereafter. This may require spring-loaded anchors that are triggered by the impact, to keep winds from tearing the seed bomb loose from the soil by its feathers/vanes.

Equip an aircraft with sensors that enable automatic determination of whether there are any people, domestic animals, or wildlife below and use this information to avoid harming them by interrupting the release of seed bombs. Drop the seed bombs near the desert’s edge, where there is occasional rainfall, but not enough to support grazing, much less agriculture. Where there is enough rainfall to support grazing, a different type of seed bomb should be used.

Even without precipitation, so long as there is some humidity in the air, condensation (dew) will collect on the inner, now upward-facing radiative surfaces of feathers/vanes, from where it will run down towards the seed ball due to their hydrophobic character.

In this manner, it should be possible to establish greenery at the edge of a desert, with the effect of locally altering the climate, perhaps enough so that a few years later another swath, closer to the center of the desert, can be seeded.

by ,   -   April 18, 2016

engineering_still_needs_more_women-heroIt’s super hard to find skilled people willing to work for robotics companies in Silicon Valley. Even though robotics is awesome and going to change the world. Because big companies with big paychecks are stealing all the talent. So, you seriously can’t afford to overlook anyone. Yet, judging from the gender ratio at robotics companies, most are overlooking one huge potential talent pool.

by   -   April 6, 2016

NRW-logo-new2

Happy National Robotics Week! This week robot-related activities, events, and talks are happening all across the US. Are you attending any events near you? 

by   -   April 1, 2016
The fast and ideal scribbler helper. Source: Robotiq
The fast and ideal scribbler helper. Source: Robotiq

Lots of companies have been promoting hilarious robot news pranks. Here are a few that caught our eye. What are some of your favourites?

by   -   April 1, 2016

The last place you might expect to find drones and rovers is checking up on a corn field, but they could soon join tractors and ploughs on a farmer’s list of must-have agricultural tools, thanks to their potential to reduce pesticide use and increase the amount of crops that can be grown.

by   -   March 18, 2016

CruiseForget about Google and Boston Dynamics. This week the real news is that GM acquired small San Francisco based startup Cruise Automation for the rumored sum of more than $1B US, according to Fortune. Robotics has its first unicorn!

by   -   December 14, 2015

logo_euRobotic_week
With over 750 events across Europe, this year’s edition of the European Robotics Week broke all records. Throughout the week, Europeans were invited to visit laboratories, join debates, build and program robots, and voice their opinion. This was a unique opportunity for over 30’000 participants to live robotics rather than watch it through lens of the media or popular culture.

by   -   November 12, 2015

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is taking its revolutionary Robotics Fast Track program on the road.

by ,   -   November 6, 2015
Researchers believe robots can be more effective than puppets and other traditional methods of treating autism. Image courtesy of the DREAM project.
Researchers believe robots can be more effective than puppets and other traditional methods of treating autism. Image courtesy of the DREAM project.

Few could deny the power of computer games and avatars to entertain us and perhaps even educate us. But now researchers are turning to internet and robotic technologies to develop new ways of helping children with autism interact with the world around them.

by   -   September 23, 2015

A Robot Arm in Every HomeUnsatisfied by the low cost, low precision and poor functionality desktop robotic arms on the market, a group of six hardcore robot makers decided to quit their high-paying industry jobs, and build their own. Their first product is named Dobot: an affordable robotic arm that can actually DO the job, with industrial precision.

by   -   August 26, 2015

readerspick3

For the past two weeks, Robohub readers have been voting for the “Readers’ Pick” startup from the Robot Launch competition. This week we publish the final 10 videos from our Top 30. During our live final in September (details TBD), we’ll announce the ultimate Robohub Readers Favorites. Each week we’ve been showcasing a different aspect of robotics startups and their business models, from consumer facing robots, to B2B service robotics, to component technologies suitable for use by the robotics industry. Make sure you vote for your favorite – below – by 11:59pm EDT,  1 September and spread the word through social media using #robotlaunch2015.

by   -   August 19, 2015

readerspick2

This month, Robohub readers can vote for the “Readers’ Pick” startup from the Robot Launch competition. Each week, we’re publishing 10 videos from our Top 30. Our ultimate Robohub Readers’ Favorites, along with lots of other prizes, will be announced in a September live final. Every week we’ll showcase different aspects of robotics startups and their business models, from consumer facing robots to B2B service robotics and component technologies. This week we kick off round two. Make sure you vote for your favorite – below – by 11:59pm EDT,  25 August, spread the word through social media using #robotlaunch2015 and come back next week for the next 10!

by   -   August 12, 2015

readerspick1

For the next three weeks, Robohub readers can vote for their “Readers’ Pick” startup from the Robot Launch competition. Each week, we’ll be publishing 10 videos from our Top 30. Our ultimate Robohub Readers’ Favorites, along with lots of other prizes, will be announced in a September live final. Every week we’ll showcase different aspects of robotics startups and their business models: from consumer facing robots to B2B service robotics and component technologies. Make sure you vote for your favorite – below – by 11:59pm PDT, 18  August, spread the word through social media using #robotlaunch2015 and come back next week for the next 10!

by ,   -   July 27, 2015

Speakers CU

Renowned technology commentators and authors John Markoff, Jerry Kaplan and Martin Ford entranced the audience with their perspectives on robotics, automation, AI and the impact on society. The event at IDEO on July 16 was one of a new series of salon talks organized by Silicon Valley Robotics to create a venue for enjoyable, intelligent and informed discussion around the important issues in robotics and AI.





INNOROBO 2015 Showcase
May 29, 2016


Are you planning to crowdfund your robot startup?

Need help spreading the word?

Join the Robohub crowdfunding page and increase the visibility of your campaign