Friday Fun Video: The Throwable Surveillance Robot

November 30, 2012

Most of the time, we’re not encouraged to throw, manhandle, or drop kick our technology. If we had a dollar for every time we heard “This is why we can’t have nice things,” we’d be able to buy new nice things. However, iRobot has no such qualms about their new robot — they want you to throw it around.

Fast Company Vs. The Robots
by Neil Ungerleider

The FirstLook is a camera-equipped throwable surveillance robot that is hardy enough to survive a fall from a second story window. It has flippers that allow it to climb up walls and stairs, and is incredibly light–the FirstLook weighs only five pounds. This reporter, in fact, found it out to his chagrin when a quick toss of the robot nearly inflicted damage on a nearby wall. They have much more impact than one would expect.

iRobot’s intended audience for the FirstLook is emergency first responders and the military. A robust video game-like controller allows viewers to move the robot like a remote-controlled vehicle while also controlling the camera. For emergency situations where surveillance of a building that humans can’t safely enter is required, the FirstLook is ideal.

Click here to see the video at Fast Company. Now, if we could only make our cell phones this hardy…


Website Connects Startup Designers to Factories

November 28, 2012

Anyone can have an idea for a great new product. Many people can raise the capital required for the initial startup costs, especially with crowdfunding options like Kickstarter. But not everyone has access to the manufacturing facilities and equipment needed to launch their new business. ‘Maker’s Row’ attempts to change that, connecting designers to manufacturing resources.

‘Maker’s Row’ Bridges Daunting Gap Between Design and Manufacturing
by Joseph Flaherty

3D printers make it easy to create one-off products. Kickstarter gives makers capital to produce at scale. But there aren’t many resources to help navigate the world of high-volume manufacturing. Maker’s Row, a marketplace that connects designers and American factories, aims to fix that by acclimating creators to the culture of manufacturing and making sense of obscure terms like AWO to ZQC production.

The Maker’s Row website allows designers to search for factories with keywords, browse projects the factories have worked on and, in some cases, see videos of the shops and founder in action. The site’s design and videos manage to make manufacturing feel glamorous, and even a little patriotic.

The company grew out of an organic need. Co-founder Matthew Burnett worked for Marc Jacobs and Izod before launching his own line of leather goods. He convinced a friend, Tanya Menendez, who had worked at Google and Goldman Sachs, to join him and help grow the business. After dealing with a costly manufacturing setback overseas, they realized that reorganizing the trillion-dollar manufacturing industry had more upsides than producing well-tailored accessories. They recruited a web designer named Scott Weiner and launched the service.

“Our primary mission is to bring outsourced manufacturing back home, and to plant the seeds of the next generation of businesses that will be able to easily find American manufacturing partners,” Menendez says.

Read the full article at Wired. What do you think? Will the next wave of American manufacturing come from home-run businesses?

Friday Fun Video: Juggling Robot

November 23, 2012

As human-robot interactions become safer and safer in industrial and manufacturing environments, some engineers are exploring other applications. Researchers are Disney have developed a robot that can play catch with guests — and even simulate typical reactions when it drops the ball.

While Disney is thinking of theme parks and other entertainment avenues, it may not be long before parents can send their kids outside to ‘play catch’ with the family robot!


Exoskeleton Robot Powered by Brain Waves

November 21, 2012

When we talk about computer hardware interfaces, we typically mean the ones we physically interact with —  keyboards, monitors, touch screens. But researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a more direct interface, a computer to brain interface, that will allow people with disabilities to control robotic exoskeletons merely by thinking about it.

Robotic system may help stroke patients
By Elizabeth Landau

Melody Moore Jackson, director of the BrainLab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is working on solutions for patients who can’t move parts of their body anymore. Her goal is to create systems that enable people to use artificial limbs just by thinking.

Her research group is working on developing an exoskeleton, a robotic structure that moves when a person’s brain tells it to move.

The scientists have so far focused on the arm. A patient puts his or her arm inside the robotic arm, which responds to the person’s brain signals. So when the patients thinks about moving it to reach a target, and the arm follows the command.

“With this experiment we also learned that we can make neuroplastic change — we can change the brain signals that control the arm,” she said.

The early results are promising, she said.

Read the full article at CNN. How else do you see brain-computer interfaces impacting robotics?

Sensitive Robot Hears What Humans Cannot

November 19, 2012

In the effort to make robots more competent to complete tasks humans can do, researchers have focused on developing robotic senses. Tactile and vision systems have made robots even more sensitive than human senses alone could be, and now researchers in Japan have introduced a system to help robots hear better. Researchers aim to teach the robot how to determine not only what sounds it can hear but which ones are important.

HEARBO Robot Has Superhearing
by Angelica Lim

The beamforming approach is widely used, but HEARBO takes the beamforming approach a step further. What about when the TV is on, the kids are playing on one side of the room, and the doorbell rings? Can our robot butler detect that? HEARBO researchers say it can, using their own 3-step paradigm: localization, separation, and recognition. This system, called HARK, lets you recover the original sounds from a mixture based on where the sounds are coming from. Their reasoning is that “noise” shouldn’t just be suppressed, but be separated out and then analyzed afterwards, since the definition of noise is highly dependent on the situation. For example, a crying baby may be considered noise, or it may convey very important information.

At IROS 2012, Keisuke Nakamura of HRI-JP presented his new super-resolution sound source localization algorithm, which allows sounds to be detected to within 1-degree of accuracy. For example, it could precisely detect the location of a human calling for help in a disaster situation.

Using the methods developed by Kazuhiro Nakadai’s team at HRI-JP, up to four different simultaneous sounds or voices can be detected and recognized in practice. Theoretically, with eight microphones, up to seven different sound sources can be separated and recognized at once, something that humans with two ears cannot do.

Read the full article at IEEE Spectrum. What applications could you see for a super-hearing robot? Will researchers ever find a reason to develop a sense of taste?

Friday Fun Video: Baseball Bat Meets Resilient Robot

November 16, 2012

Here’s something humans will never be able to do — get their fingers thwacked by a baseball bat but continue on with their job. iRobot has developed a flexible but tough robotic hand as a prototype for their DARPA ARM robot. Here they are testing out their design:

To read the article, visit IEEE Spectrum. Happy Friday!

AMT Reports Growth for Manufacturing in September

November 14, 2012

The Association For Manufacturing Technology recently released their September report on US manufacturing technologies, reflecting both a growth from the previous month and also from September of last year.

USMTO News Release for September Manufacturing

September U.S. manufacturing technology orders totaled $667.47 million according to AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. This total, as reported by companies participating in the USMTO program, was up 40.7% from August and up 13.4% when compared with the total of $588.80 million reported for September 2011. With a year-to-date total of $4,282.11 million, 2012 is up 5.6% compared with 2011.

These numbers and all data in this report are based on the totals of actual data reported by companies participating in the USMTO program.

“In the 17 years that this data has been collected, there is only one other month that broke $600 million. Both of those were in months that reflected sales from IMTS, showing its strength as the largest manufacturing event in the Americas,” said Douglas K. Woods, AMT President. “It’s possible we could average $450 million a month for all of 2012 — the largest year ever for this program. This speaks to tremendous strength in the manufacturing industry, and is proof that IMTS 2012 was the strongest show seen in years.”

The United States Manufacturing Technology Orders (USMTO) report, compiled by the trade association representing the production and distribution of manufacturing technology, provides regional and national U.S. orders data of domestic and imported machine tools and related equipment. Analysis of manufacturing technology orders provides a reliable leading economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.

Read the full report here at AMTonline. Was September a particularly good month for your business? Are you also noticing strong growth?