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Expo will feature a panel discussion with roboticists and demonstrations of novel co-robot research.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. announced that it will begin using drones for checking warehouse inventories. In a press conference, Wal-Mart’s Vice President of Last Mile and Emerging Sciences Shekar Natarajan said that the operations would begin in six to eight months. The drones will reduce the time it takes to update inventories, from one month to a single day, explained Natarajan.

by   -   June 1, 2016

The new actuators could pave the way for entirely soft-bodied robots that are safer than their conventional rigid counterparts.

by ,   -   June 1, 2016

Felix von Drigalski, leader for Team NAIST, spoke with Robohub about their robot design, unforeseen challenges, and working together to find a solution to prepare for the competition.

An MQ-9 Reaper flies at an air show demonstration at Cannon Air Base, NM. Cannon is home to the Air Force Special Operations Command’s drone operations. Credit: Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez / US Air Force
An MQ-9 Reaper flies at an air show demonstration at Cannon Air Base, NM. Cannon is home to the Air Force Special Operations Command’s drone operations. Credit: Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez / US Air Force

At the Center for the Study of the Drone

As more commercial drone users take to the sky, insurers are struggling to develop policies to cover the eventualities of flying. Meanwhile, insurance companies also want to fly drones themselves for appraisals and damage assessments. We spoke with Tom Karol, general counsel-federal for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, to learn about the uncertain landscape that is the drone insurance industry.

Robot weaving carbon fiber into rocket parts. Source: NASA/YouTube
Robot weaving carbon fiber into rocket parts. Source: NASA/YouTube

The US just moved a step closer to building an advanced robotics institute modeled on the hugely successful Fraunhofer Institutes. The proposed ARM or Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute is one of seven candidates moving forward in an open bid for $70 million funding from NIST for an innovation institute to join the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Previously funded institutes are for advanced composites, flexible electronics, digital and additive manufacturing, semiconductor technology, textiles and photonics.

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.

Through the cooperation of multiple robots geometrically complex three-dimensional structures become buildable, enabling the design and fabrication of differentiable and material-efficient structures.

by   -   May 26, 2016

Harvard senior Serena Booth, a computer science concentrator at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, examines the issue of over-trusting robotic systems by conducting a human-robot interaction study on the Harvard campus.

by   -   May 25, 2016

After a natural disaster strikes, emergency workers can often struggle to cope with destroyed buildings obstructing routes to injured people, fires engulfing entire forests at a bewildering rate, and storms blinding search and rescue operations. Now with EU-funded RECONASS project, drones and satellite technology can help emergency workers in post-disaster scenarios.

by   -   May 25, 2016


Robohub covered the Airbus Shopfloor Challenge that took place during #ICRA16 in Stockholm. Below, you can see an extensive photo gallery as part of our coverage. Check it out!

by   -   May 24, 2016

3… 2… 1… drill! Who would have thought that drilling could be so exciting. At the Airbus Shopfloor Challenge last week in Stockholm, 7 teams from around the world competed over 4 rounds of intense drilling. The event was part of the annual International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

by   -   May 24, 2016

New method extends energy life of insect-inspired flying microrobots.

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