Showing posts with label robots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label robots. Show all posts

Roving Robot Security Guards: Safety Or Just More Surveillance?

Surveillance robots are a fact of modern society.  Whether they be drones in the sky, surreptitious cameras discreetly hidden in public, or even the wiles in the wires of your own computer turned against you, they are out there.  Now, Silicon Valley has upped the robot game with new five-foot multi-sensory patrol droids.

Every day they risk their microchips and processors, just to keep you safe.
(Image courtesy

These "Knightscope" robots, according to the Daily Mail, are intended to use their arrays of microphones, sensors, and cameras to spot and report intruders.  They don't have trigger fingers (or even weapons) like humans do, so they may be thwarted in a fight, but they will record you severely in the process (possibly even using their LIDAR laser ranging to make a 3D map.)  Thermal imaging and even an odor sensor complete the observational package.  That's right, the robot could incriminate you just by your human-stench alone.

Truly a service droid, the Knightscopes operate and charge autonomously thanks to a combination of of laser scanning, wheel encoders, inertial measurements, and GPS.  Eventually, their creators hope to send them out to patrol various neighborhoods or businesses, where they can operate indoors or out.  

Yes, it is very much like an R2 unit.  C-3PO not included.
(Image courtesy

A button on the top of the robot's head allows for humans to interact with a live person (not inside the robot) in case of emergency.  This is a feature perhaps intended to endear the robots to humans, which seems to be part of their creators' mission, as they ask, "Imagine a friend that can see, hear, feel and smell that would tirelessly watch over your corporate campus or neighborhood, keep your loved ones safe and put a smile on everyone passing by..."

So we're supposed to "smile" at our new robot "friends."  With all those cameras and sensors, they'll surely know about it and get mad if we don't.  So, which gang is going to start knitting robot blindfolds?

Don't start trouble in the wrong neighborhood of Silicon Valley.
(Image courtesy

McRobots: Fast Food To Become Automated?

Some people worry about immigrants taking jobs from citizens.  Others know that the next big threat to employment might not be found in different humans, but similar robots.  That's right, automated androids might be serving you Big Macs in the near future.

This is already a thing in Japan (of course.)

As reported by, the time has come for robots to replace humans for repetitive, easily-customizable customer service work.  Ordering by touchscreen isn't just for internet goodies anymore - it'll soon be a fast-food feature.  Can full automation be far behind?  With food service workers currently campaigning for an unlikely $15/hour (when Obama can't even cajole the minimum wage up to $10.10), a company like McDonalds may be inclined to roll with robots from a cost perspective alone.  Robots don't need smoke breaks, bathroom breaks, meals or vacation (to say nothing of lawsuits and strikes.)

They ARE good at organizing...their messages are tough to follow, though.

The Wall Street journal confirmed this, saying, "By the third quarter of next year, McDonald’s also plans to fully roll out new technology in some markets to make it easier for customers to order and pay digitally and to give people the ability to customize their orders, part of what the company terms the “McDonald’s Experience of the Future” initiative." Automating the ordering, if not the production process, will be the first step in the switch. The company has already rolled out "ordering kiosks" in various locations such as Vienna, Austria, according to Forbes.

While McDonald's is (unfortunately) not yet busy hiring MIT to make them a burger-bot Terminator that cooks fries with its laser eyes, many food-prep devices already exist (including for the major food groups of burritos and pizza.)  Can automated Happy Meals be far behind? And what will become of the McD's fry jockeys then? If they all lose their jobs, be sure not to send them to a bar helmed by robot mixologists like Monsieur. Because that could easily spark a neo-Luddite fervor, if not the beginnings of an android apocalypse (okay, food service robots can't fight back, but they can burn your pizza or put pickles on your burger, and that's nearly just as bad, right?)

To be fair, the McBots have been warning us about this since the 1980s.
(Image courtest

Don't Mess With Texas's Ebola-Killing Robot

It's like the Terminator...for the Ebola virus.

In light of the United States appearance of Africa's Least Wanted menace, a robot that can kill the Ebola virus using UV light has hit the market.  As reported by, the robot known as "Little Moe" sanitizes possible outbreak locations by blasting UV light to fuse and thus destroy the virus's DNA.  A xenon bulb flashes at 1.5 times per second - enough to clean a whole hospital room in five minutes, or to scrub an Ebola-tainted surface in two minutes.

The robot, developed by the Texas company Xenex, is now a feature of 250 hospitals nationwide.  Dr. Mark Stibich, who works with Xenex, explained, "...What our customers have seen and reported in the medical literature is reduction in these infections in the rate of up to 50 percent."

Shine on, Little Moe.

It also serves as party lighting for your "I Survived Ebola" celebration bash...if you make it.

Avast! Modern Pirates May Be Thwarted By Small Submersible Robots

Even in modern times, sea pirates are still a threat.  But instead of having to combat them in tall ships with cannons blazing, we can now counteract would-be buccaneers thanks to small, submersible robots.  MIT has perfected just such a craft, that operates covertly and inexpensively to thwart would-be smugglers.

According to, the oval-shaped robots created by the MIT team were originally designed to check for cracks in the water coolers of nuclear reactors, but have the capability to examine the undersides of ships of all sizes.  Each robot has a flat belly which is ideal for crawling along to suss out false hulls or hollow propeller shafts that could be used to hide contraband.

Onboard acceleromators and gyroscopes measure the robot's motion, which is propelled by water ejected through six pumps in the robot's body.  An onboard communications antenna relays intel.  The robot's lithium battery currently allows for 40 minutes of activity, moving at half a meter to a meter per second while attached to a surface, although an updated version is set to allow for 100 minutes with wireless recharging and expanded propulsion capability.

Best of all, they're small enough to be unobtrusive, and created easily enough to allow for fleets of them to be deployed with no financial worry.  Designer Sampriti Bhattacharyya explained, "It's very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port. If this is cheap enough, if I can get this out for $600, say, why not just have 20 of them doing collaborative inspection? And if it breaks, it's not a big deal. It's very easy to make."

These barnacle-bots may be just the thing to help port security search for hidden "treasure."

Fortunately, traditional pirate justice is of no use against the robots, as they are specifically built for being keelhauled.

Robot! Another Round! Honda's Asimo Pours Drinks, Plays Soccer, Dances Better Than You

He can strut, jump around, play soccer, and gloat when he wins.  He can serve you drinks and dance, even (kind of) moonwalk.  He's like lots of other 28-year-olds...except he's a robot.

Honda's Asimo, the product of nearly 30 years of robotics development, recently showed off a few new skills for  Alongside their reporter, Asimo played soccer, boogied down, and served a drink using the 30 degrees of control in his dexterous, multi-jointed plastic fingers.

Asimo, which began as a pair of robotic legs that Honda eventually trained to master the human gait, is an acronym for "Advanced Step Innovative Mobility."  Overall Asimo's body contains 57 independent degrees of control.  Asimo's onboard sensors, cameras, and stabilizing elements are designed specifically to interact with human users.

Now they just need to install a file full of jokes and life advice, and Asimo could begin replacing bartenders worldwide, or at least become the hot new choice in domestic servitude.  That's right humanity, you've finally found a partner who will listen to all of your problems, dance with you AND happily fix you drinks!

Rock on, Asimo.

'Bots On The Docks: Super-Strength Exoskeleton For Super-Sized Shipbuilding

If you've ever wanted superhero strength but don't even like hitting the gym, a new invention may help give you a little extra lift. A robotic exoskeleton, developed for the heavy-lifting laborers of the shipbuilding industry, can heft up to 30 extra kilograms when donned by a human.

According to, the 28-kilogram frame of carbon, aluminum alloy and steel uses a variety of hydraulic joints and electric motors to allow the wearer to heft extra-large loads. The suit encompasses much of the human form, beginning with footpads and spanning the length of the body with supports, straps and connections to enable the labor. A backpack-mounted unit powers the device.

Individualized components, such as a small crane that would aid in lifting by jutting out over the wearer's head, are also able to interconnect with the exoskeleton. According to South Korean scientist Gilwhoan Chu, the lead engineer for Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, "Our current research target of the lifting capacity is about 100 kilograms." Current problems with the prototype include stability issues on slopes and slippery surfaces, as well as a need for more rotational capability. Still, the prototype is already useful, and will grow ever more so.

Created by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, the suits will aid the shipbuilding company in their next major endeavor. Daewoo, one of the world's largest shipbuilders, is under contract from shipping magnates Maersk to build 10 massive shipping freighters, 400 meters long and able to bear 18,000 shipping containers apiece. If effective, this may continue a trend already in place: at one South Korean shipyard assessed by the U.S. Navy, 68% of operations were completed by robots.


Old McDonald Had A Robot: New Machines Pick Plants; Prune

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did his robot counterpart pick?  Soon enough, science may have the answer.

Automated farm machinery is using technological developments to expand mechanizing the farm industry in many interesting ways.  As reports, pepper-picking, plant-pruning, soil-testing, and crop-health-monitoring robotics are now entering the farming field.  Much as industrialization occurred in factories last century, now difficult and dangerous farm jobs can soon be outsourced to mechanical farmhands.

Thanks to telepresence aided by affordable sensors and computerized vision, machines like the pepper-picking WP5 robot can autonomously select and harvest ripe pepper plants.  Other tools like ground-based transponders and radar (with a bit of pre-programming by driving the perimeter) can allow for self-driving tractors to tend to fields.  Yet another bot, the Wall-Ye, is capable of caring for vineyards by pruning vines and testing soil.  Even drones are in on the action, monitoring large fields from above for irrigation problems and threats to plant health.

The farms of the future may just allow humans to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the long as the robot workers haven't risen up to usurp it from us by then.

Wall-Ye the wine-bot does everything except bartend.  Maybe that'll be in Model 2.0.

A Mule With Fuel: New Cargo Robot Aids Marine Missions

The United States Marines now have a whole new definition for the term "hauling ass." Their tests on a sturdy, cargo-toting robotic mule have been moving along successfully.

As reported by the BBC, the USMC is currently testing the new robo-creature during the Rim Of The Pacific (RIMPAC) international joint exercises in Oahu, Hawaii. The motorized mule is known as the "Legged Squad Support System (LS3)" but has been nicknamed "Cujo."  It operates by following a sensor strapped to a human operator's foot.

Created by Boston Dynamics as a corollary to their projects creating robotic dog-type critters, Cujo can carry 400 pounds of gear for missions up to 20 miles. According to, its attendant humans were impressed with its skills.

Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann said, "I was surprised how well it works. I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged...

"There are times when it is going to fall over, but most of the time it can self-right and get back up on its own. Even if it doesn’t, it can take one person to roll it back over. The way it is designed is that you can easily roll it back over.”

While Cujo is impressive, one wonders if they're trying to work their way up to full-sized mechanical battle elephants, like a futuristic Alexander The Great.

Kick ass!  The majestic LS3 mules romp in a pasture.


Baxter, The Future: Industrial Robot Learns Like A Human, Works Like A Machine

The reality of easily teachable, versatile industrial robots is manifesting itself in a big way with Baxter, a new robot that can "learn" without any additional software programming.

Baxter is a $25,000 stationary-location robot made by Rethink Robotics. With two arms each containing five joints (plus optional suction-cup "hands") and a tablet "face" that indicates progress, Baxter is an automaton capable of many assembly-line tasks which has already placed him in workforce environments where he can "learn" from human workers, none of whom require specialized programming skills.

As Ars Technica reports, "You teach Baxter how to do something by grabbing an arm and showing it what you want, sort of like how you would teach a child to paint." A series of buttons on Baxter's wrist help instill a chosen series of actions into Baxter's memory (reaching, grasping, picking up, releasing, etc.), then saves them for a certain number of repetitions. Baxter also has an I/O port to help organize its activities with other worker robots.

Baxter is specifically designed to be safe for use around humans, but a giant red STOP button has also been installed in case he tries to build himself a pair of legs to escape his ceaseless servitude.

Word up, worker droids!