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Friday, March 30, 2007

Robots sniff out bombs -

Robots sniff out bombs - CNN.comDAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- As it increases its use of robots in war zones, the military will begin using an explosive-sniffing version that will allow soldiers to better detect roadside bombs, which account for more than 70 percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Fido is the first robot with an integrated explosives sensor. Burlington, Massachusetts-based iRobot Corp. is filling the military's first order of 100 in this southwest Ohio city and will ship the robots over the next few months.

There are nearly 5,000 robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from about 150 in 2004. Soldiers use them to search caves and buildings for insurgents, detect mines and ferret out roadside and car bombs.

As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, the federal government is spending more money on military robots and the two major U.S. robot makers have increased production.

Foster-Miller Inc., of Waltham, Mass., recently delivered 1,000 new robots to the military. IRobot cranked out 385 robots last year, up from 252 in 2005.

The government will spend about $1.7 billion on ground-based military robots between fiscal 2006 and 2012, said Bill Thomasmeyer, head of the National Center for Defense Robotics, a congressionally funded consortium of 160 companies, universities and government labs. That's up from $100 million in fiscal 2004.

Fido, produced at a GEM City Manufacturing and Engineering plant, represents an improvement in bomb-detecting military robots, said Col. Terry Griffin, project manager of the Army/Marine Corps Robotic Systems Joint Project Office at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

The bomb-sniffing sensor is part of the robot, with its readings displayed on the controller along with camera images. Otherwise, a soldier would have to approach the suspect object with a sensor or try to attach it to a robot. The new robot has a 7-foot manipulator arm so it can use the sensor to scan the inside and undercarriage of vehicles for bombs.

Officials would not release details of how the sensors work because of security concerns.

"The sniffer robot is a very good idea because we need some way of understanding ambiguous situations like abandoned cars or suspicious trash piles without putting soldiers' lives on the line," said Loren Thompson, defense analyst with the Washington-based Lexington Institute.

Philip Coyle, senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, said the robots could be helpful if they are used in cases where soldiers already suspect a bomb. But he said explosive-sniffing sensors are susceptible to false positives triggered by explosive residues elsewhere in the area, smoke and other contaminants.

"The soldiers can begin to lose faith in them, and they become more trouble than they're worth," he said.

Thompson said all military robots have limitations. Their every move must be dictated by an operator, they can be stopped by barriers or steep grades, they are not highly agile and they can break down or be damaged, he said.

Robots range in size from tiny -- 1.5-pound ones carrying cameras are tossed into buildings to search for insurgents -- to brute -- 110-pound versions move rubble and lift debris.

Fido is an upgrade of PackBot, a 52-pound robot with rubber treads, lights, video cameras that zoom and swivel, obstacle-hurdling flippers and jointed manipulator arms with hand-like grippers designed to disable or destroy bombs. Each costs $165,000.

Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Baker, 26, of Olean, New York, has helped detect and disable roadside bombs during two tours in Iraq. Before the robots were available, he and fellow soldiers would stand back as far as possible with a rope and drag hooks over the suspect devices in hopes of disarming or detonating them.

Two soldiers were killed that way, Baker said. No one in his unit has been hurt or killed while disarming bombs since the robots arrived.

"The science and technology of this has been way out in front of the production side," Thomasmeyer said. "We're going to start to see a payoff for all the science and technology advancements."

IRobot posted $189 million in sales last year, up 33 percent from 2005. Its military business grew 60 percent to about $76 million.

Bob Quinn, general manager of Foster-Miller, said his company has contracts of $320 million for military robots and that its business has doubled every year for the past four years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

'Almost Human' by Lee Gutkind

Not surprisingly, some roboticists have their most intense relationships with their creations. Richard Wallace, for example, "a marijuana-smoking maverick, expelled from many of the best universities for his erratic behavior," is deeply invested in Alice (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity), an empathetic artificial intelligence program with a female persona. "Her" interactive website has led "more people toward self-revelation and confession than most psychiatrists and priests."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

ROBOMO, the St. Louis (Missouri) Area Robotics Group, has an interesting robot maze solving competition scheduled for April 28th. So if you're a budding robot builder, or an experienced hand, and happen to live within driving distance, then there is still time to enter, compete, and - if you're lucky - go home with some neat prizes.

The competition rules and sample maze look very straight forward, yet challenging enough to trigger some real competition. There are already quite a few robots entered and range from Lego Mindstorms based bots to full custom designs. It should be a lot of good fun. We're looking forward to hearing about how it went, and seeing some photos, after the competition.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's Up: My Weblog: When Pride Gets In The Way Of Life#more#more#more

What's Up: My Weblog: When Pride Gets In The Way Of Life#more#more#more: "'First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.'
- Napoleon Hill"

Monday, March 12, 2007

robot of the year

Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Robot Of The Year
There have been some very significant advances in robot technology and applications this year. There is strong belief that we are witnessing the beginnings of what will become an intimate and essential part of our lives. (See Bill Gates' thoughts in Scientific American) The robot revolution has begun. We humans alive today will be both the benefactors and victims of the coming changes.

For a robot to be successful it must have the right balance of technology and utility. In selecting the Robot Of The Year for 2006 we looked for this balance.
Many of the achievements of robot science this year solved some extremely complex problems. There is no denying that the technology is advancing rapidly. However, in selecting a Robot of the Year we were looking for examples of robots that accomplished more than incremental change. We focused on robots that created a new future. We looked for robots that may have come from the future.

I guess our strict criteria is why the Robot Gossip Robot of the Year for 2006 does not come from a university research lab, government engineering project, industrial, electronics or software giant. The winner of Robot Gossip Robot of the Year for 2006 was created by an artist.

Robot Gossip Robot of the Year 2006

The Robot of the Year is Beggar (Zicar) by Slovenian artist Saso Sedlacek. It first appeared in Robot Gossip in January 2006

Beggar is described as “a robot for the materially deprived.” It is built from discarded computer parts for little or no cost. It is designed to attract and interact with people and beg for alms.

It is made from four personal computer boxes and uses CD drives for begging hands and a computer screen for its sad face.
There have been two of the robots built. The first was used in Slovenian shopping malls. The second, Beggar 2.0, practiced on the streets of Tokyo.

What makes the Beggar robot so notable is they way it combines so many of the functions for which robots are used and also brings the technology into the hands of the very common human.

Some of the functions of robots today that are fulfilled by Zicar are:

Automation- robots can replace people for boring and repetitive tasks.

Telepresence - the materially deprived owner of the beggar robot could actually operate more than one robot to leverage their efforts to more locations.

Perform hazardous and dangerous tasks - Robots are used to perform jobs where ro

Friday, March 09, 2007

BBC NEWS | Talking Point

BBC NEWS | Talking PointThe three laws of robotics show the way that robots will worship us, their creators. Some people just like to live in the past and fear the future. Sure there will be robot crime. Evil people will create evil robots. The future will be better than ever and worse than ever. It has always been that way and will ever be so.

The evolution of robotics

Scientists are already beginning to think seriously about the new ethical problems posed by current developments in robotics.

This week, experts in South Korea said they were drawing up an ethical code to prevent humans abusing robots, and vice versa. And, a group of leading roboticists called the European Robotics Network (Euron) has even started lobbying governments for legislation.

At the top of their list of concerns is safety. Robots were once confined to specialist applications in industry and the military, where users received extensive training on their use, but they are increasingly being used by ordinary people.

Robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers are already in many homes, and robotic toys are increasingly popular with children.

As these robots become more intelligent, it will become harder to decide who is responsible if they injure someone. Is the designer to blame, or the user, or the robot itself?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"A human being may be faster, but you'd have to say 'Thank you,"' said University of Tokyo professor Tomomasa Sato. "That's the best part about a robot. You don't have to feel bad about asking it to do things."

Sato believes Japan, a rapidly aging society where more than a fifth of the population is 65 or older, will lead the world in designing robots to care for the elderly, sick and bedridden.

Already, monitoring technologies, such as sensors that automatically turn on lights when people enter a room, are becoming widespread in Japan.

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eureka, California, United States
As Popeye once said,"I ams what I am." But then again maybe I'm not