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Slideshow: Service Robots Can Do Most Anything
11/12/2012

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A robot being designed by computer vision and robotics company Blue River Technology will automate the backbreaking labor of weed pulling, eliminating the need to use harmful chemicals to kill weeds. The robotic weeder will employ image sensors in the implement (shown in red), as well as machine vision algorithms for recognizing and distinguishing among different types of plants.   (Source: Blue River Technology)
A robot being designed by computer vision and robotics company Blue River Technology will automate the backbreaking labor of weed pulling, eliminating the need to use harmful chemicals to kill weeds. The robotic weeder will employ image sensors in the implement (shown in red), as well as machine vision algorithms for recognizing and distinguishing among different types of plants.
(Source: Blue River Technology)

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NadineJ
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Diversity
NadineJ   11/12/2012 11:37:27 AM
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Nice slide show.  I enjoy seeing the variety.  Olga Kalugina did a great job.  I hope to see the prototype highlighted here.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/12/2012 11:51:52 AM
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Thanks, Nadine. Olga's design is now a few years old--I looked for info on deployments or other more recent info about the prototype but haven't found any yet.

TJ McDermott
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TJ McDermott   11/12/2012 12:04:06 PM
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This is terrific stuff Ann.  But put yourself in the soldier's position for a moment, trapped under heavy debris, when the Golum Krang robot rolls out of the smoke carrying a big-ass pipe in its hands, with a mechanical voice coming from its grill "I am Golem Krang.  I am here to help you".  Talk about SF movies in real life.

Elizabeth M
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Elizabeth M   11/12/2012 1:08:00 PM
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That's really funny, TJ! In reading and writing about all these robots and not having seen any of them up close and personally (yet), I have to say it does creep me out sometimes to think of how sophisticated these machines are becoming. While I appreciate the tasks they can accomplish, there is that whole "Terminator" worry lurking in the background. At what point do robots become smarter than us? (Hopefully never, of course, but the artificial intelligence being created today is getting pretty darned smart!)

TJ McDermott
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TJ McDermott   11/12/2012 1:20:03 PM
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Elizabeth, I'm not at all worried about a Terminator takeover.  It's the base programming that we should worry about.

Modern airliners are fly-by-wire.  Pilots give control inputs which tell the flight computers what the pilot wishes to do.  The flight computers interpret that input and adjust the planes control surfaces, engines, etc. to best meet these wishes.

Flight computers today can override or discard a pilot's inputs if they're outside of acceptable range.  Effectively, a computer engineer designing the control laws has overriden the pilot.  Granted with the best of intentions, but it still means a set of rules set down by someone not in immediate control has more say in what happens than the pilot.

There was a Paris airshow crash back in the 90's I think it was, that can be attributed to the pilot and the flight computer having a difference of opinion.  The aircraft made a low, slow flyby of the show with flaps down, gear down.  The plane kept sinking slowly while the pilot was pulling back (go up!).  The plane thought the pilot wanted to land (flaps down, gear down), and so igored the excessive pull-up input by the pilot.

Something similar happened to one of the YF-22 prototypes (also in the 90s).  The pilot was in a similar situation (low, slow, flaps down, gear down), and decided to abort his landing.  He went through full power into afterburner, and that confused the flight computer.  Flaps down, gear down, but MAX throttle.  Eventually, the plane crashed (after the landing gear retracted, but no injuries) because the plane got into PIO Pilot-Induced-Oscillations.

Elizabeth M
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Elizabeth M   11/12/2012 1:57:44 PM
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I totally understand, TJ. So if the underlying programming and technology is good, there won't be a problem and in fact, in some cases, robots know best. It's when the code under the covers is faulty that there could be issues with the behavior of these more sophisticated robots. Let's hope that all those working behind the scenes know what they're doing! (Well, of course they do, or we wouldn't have such clever robots.)

William K.
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Re: Diversity
William K.   11/13/2012 8:36:44 PM
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The problem with the robots and the controls is that all of that software is written by programmers. And, really, we all know it, programmers are NOT normal people. Actually, it goes way beyond that, which is to say that the problem will always be t6hat the computer systems don't know how to handle the exceptions. Even when they believe that all possible exceptions are covered, up pops another one. On top of that, artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity. Of course, when designers attempt to prevent problems from dumb users any given system becomes much less useful, and often much less intuitive as well.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/13/2012 12:15:48 PM
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That type of problem is what's being addressed in work done by the University of Aberdeen, which we wrote about inHumans, Do You Speak !~+V•&T1F0()? http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=251721 so humans and robots can communicate at a distance about specific tasks the robot is engaged in, and change plans or tactics as necessary.

Cabe Atwell
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Cabe Atwell   11/13/2012 6:47:59 PM
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The gardening bot is the only silly one in the group. Isn't home gardening like a hobby or relaxing task? Otherwise, all those bots are useful. Much of the world around us, our electronics, etc are affected by robots.

I used to design and fabricate small steel bridges. What cut the bridge components? Industrial robots.

I like how robotics is being pushed early in the education system. A friend of mine hosts a robotics club for neighborhood kids. They have competed nationally, and still do so. Some of the kids from the group moved on to engineering fields in college. So, perhaps the next big bot revolution will come from a kid like this. We all need a robot personal assistant, am I right?

C

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/14/2012 2:06:25 PM
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Cabe, I wouldn't want a gardening bot either. I like to get my hands dirty--shades of my toddler-era mudpie making--and connect with green things. But did you mean the CROPS harvesting robot or the Blue River weed puller? Neither one was for home gardening. Besides, I'm all for someone else pulling weeds.

I love the fact that robotics has gotten into high school competitions. I've seen tons of news items about those. I

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Diversity
Ann R. Thryft   11/12/2012 3:36:56 PM
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TJ, thanks for the laugh. I totally agree on that name--I would NOT want to hear it while in that guy's position.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   11/12/2012 7:20:38 PM
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Agreed, TJ. The second image suggests that the idea of a RoboCop (as in the 1987 movie) may not be as far away as we think.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   11/12/2012 7:25:47 PM
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The Blue River Technology weed puller serves as a reminder that robotic farming is already arriving. Deere was showing off autonomous tractors as far vack as 2008.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   11/14/2012 12:36:19 PM
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Chuck, I found pictures of a John Deere walking tractor at this link:
http://www.theoldrobots.com/Walking-Robot2.html
Don't know if this is the same one you mentioned, but in any case, it's sufficiently creepy: looks like a big bug to me.

Charles Murray
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Charles Murray   11/14/2012 6:46:18 PM
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Wow, I think that tractor's cool, Ann. Actually, it's better than the one I was referring to. We published an article about ithe other one a few years back. Unfortunately, the photos seem to have disappeared.

http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=219094

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Diversity
Ann R. Thryft   11/15/2012 12:22:37 PM
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Thanks for the link, Chuck. Too bad there's no photo!

mrdon
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Re: Diversity
mrdon   11/18/2012 8:40:46 PM
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Ann and nadinej, Very nice slideshow. These robots look more artistic than functional. I'm. wondering what stage of robotic develeopment these machines are at? Some of them look like non functional machines instead of operating robots.

NadineJ
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Re: Diversity
NadineJ   11/19/2012 10:57:12 AM
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Good questions.  Video can be helpful to show functionality but sometimes, in early development, video is disappointing.

mrdon
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Re: Diversity
mrdon   11/19/2012 12:16:57 PM
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NadineJ, You are correct. Product Concept videos generally look cheesy because of the low fidelity CGI used to make them.

SparkyWatt
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SparkyWatt   11/28/2012 6:43:25 PM
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Actually, I was disappointed with this post.  There are a lot of great concepts here, but very little that actually works.  This points to some great directions that we can try to go, but it doesn't show much that we are actually doing.  People can tout concepts all day, and even have a good idea about how to make them work, but that is a long step from having a usable system.

mrdon
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mrdon   11/29/2012 12:58:35 AM
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SparkyWatt, I agree. The slideshow was not impressive due to the unrealistic designs being proposed. I'm a firm believer that design concepts need to be validated using functional prototypes instead of "What If" imagery. Its about practicality thru functionality that truly brings a design to life.

mrdon
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Re: Diversity
mrdon   11/29/2012 12:58:35 AM
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SparkyWatt, I agree. The slideshow was not impressive due to the unrealistic designs being proposed. I'm a firm believer that design concepts need to be validated using functional prototypes instead of "What If" imagery. Its about practicality thru functionality that truly brings a design to life.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   12/6/2012 12:21:30 PM
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mrdon, to answer your question, 5 of these are in development (numbers 2, 5, 8, 10 and 11), and the other 6 are actually operational. Many readers want to see what's being developed, tried out, or even just thought of, as well as what's actually working.

mrdon
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Re: Diversity
mrdon   12/6/2012 1:02:03 PM
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Ann, Ok . Thanks for clarifying the slides. It's cool sometimes to see what is possible to what's practical. Imagination is truly the seed for innovation.

Ann R. Thryft
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Ann R. Thryft   10/10/2013 1:14:55 PM
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mrdon, thanks for your response. We try to tell readers about stuff that's actually available or in existence, as well as designs and products that are bleeding edge or just out of the lab. We think great concepts and ideas are worth knowing about, as well as ones that have made it all the way to commercialization. That path may be littered with the corpses of great ideas, so to speak: they sometimes fail for other reasons.

mrdon
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mrdon   10/22/2013 11:33:06 PM
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Ann

Quite welcome. This forum for communicating/discussing the latest in Design Tools, Products technology is great. The articles allow me to stay current with tech without searching for additional web resources which really helps with a busy schedule.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Diversity
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2013 12:11:47 PM
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Thanks for the compliments, mrdon. It's good to know our efforts are  keeping you informed.



mrdon
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Re: Diversity
mrdon   10/23/2013 12:37:56 PM
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Ann,

Your quite welcome. I'm glad to be apart of this forum working with the Editorial Staff of Design News. Great format for communicating tech stuff via this forum.

robatnorcross
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Re: Diversity
robatnorcross   12/26/2012 6:07:58 PM
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Hi Ann,

Is that a USB port on the fishes lower lip (I guess fish have lips) anyway, instead of sprinkling food in the water for the old-fashioned type of fish the port is probably for down-loading the "fishes" memory and for recharging the thing.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Diversity
Ann R. Thryft   10/10/2013 1:21:44 PM
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robatbnorcross, good observation. It sure looks like a USB port to me, too. And yes, fish have lips. Haven't you ever seen someone "make fish lips" at you?



William K.
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Service robots: Concepts versus reality
William K.   12/26/2012 12:17:43 PM
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Some of the applications proposed were very good ideas, but some did seem to be quite unrealistic. The "service station" satelite is one that is quite a stretch in that it could only work with those packages designed to work with it. 

In addition, all of the packages showing a system using only two wheels wind up beng fairly limited, since the effort to maintain balance will certainly reduce the types of surfaces that they can function on. That is even more so for those units mentioned as working in law enforcement or surveilence, where stability is vital. It would be quite simple to disable a two-wheeled robotic cop, for instance. Just toss a heavy coat over it's head and it is out of service.

BUt the ultimate realm of service robots is very large once we get past the unworkable concepts. That is where engineering enters the picture, because engineers usually have a better grasp of what can and can not work. 

sdoyle
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fish video link
sdoyle   10/10/2013 9:55:49 AM
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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: fish video link
Ann R. Thryft   10/10/2013 1:18:42 PM
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sdoyle, thanks for the video link to the fish robot. That makes it a lot clearer how it works.

William K.
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Interesting post, unlimited applications.
William K.   1/2/2014 3:43:26 PM
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Ann, thanks indeed for the interesting post. It certainly is true that the potential realm of robotic service applications is primarily limited by imagination, although some applications may never be practical, even if they are possible. That will be the challenge for quite a while, since the advances in 3D printing keep lowering the costs of making complex parts. The new developments will provide a source ofr future articles for quite a long time, it appears.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
Ann R. Thryft   1/3/2014 12:59:22 PM
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You're welcome, William. I was surprised, myself, at the diversity of what service robots can do and what they're being used for. And that's a good point about the effects of 3D printing on component costs, especially in the professional service sector where volumes are lower than the personal and domestic sector. We discussed those differences here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=258622

William K.
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
William K.   1/3/2014 5:06:37 PM
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Ann, the one very big limitation of 3D printing is that it takes a 3D design drawing of some kind. The classic and more common 3-views are no longer enough, at least I am not aware of any 3D printer that can work from a multiple view drawing. That puts folks like me in a real bind. I simply have not had the time available to become proficient at 3D design drawing and design ing. I can certainly visualize a three dimensional design in my head, and usually see it very well in my mind. But producing that object in a single 3D drawing suitable for the printer is a different task completely. It is even worse for those with Autocad experience. 

How abouta robot that can convert 3 views to a 3D drawing suitable for printing?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
Ann R. Thryft   1/6/2014 12:02:54 PM
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William, interesting point. I think a related issue may be 3D scanning software, correct? In any case, perhaps you should talk to Cabe--he's our design software guy, and has written quite a bit about 3D design and scanning software. Check it out.

William K.
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
William K.   1/6/2014 1:55:26 PM
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Ann, I did investigate some of the better, I think, 3D scanners about 8 years ago. At that time they cost more than quite a few of the 3D printers that I have seen prices for. Not as much as the good ones that print metal, but still quite expensive. And one would still need to add all of the internal details and features. 

Now I am thinking and visualizing a robot that has a tool hand for 3D printing so that it can do repairs. Robotic production welders have been around a long time, that was an early robot task. But a more mobile service robot that could provide a 3D printing function could be quite the service tool.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
Ann R. Thryft   1/7/2014 12:33:43 PM
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William, this collaboration between 3D Systems and Intel, aimed at lower-cost scanning tools, may help with the software issue: http://www.3dsystems.com/press-releases/3d-systems-further-democratize-physical-photography-intel-corporation

Robots that do repair of various kinds have been around for some time, but to date, none of them do 3D printing. One that might do so in the future in space is being designed in collaboration with NASA, which we reported here:

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=267732

 

William K.
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
William K.   1/7/2014 8:22:14 PM
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One interesting chalenge for all of the powder feeding 3D printing systems in outer space will be the lack of gravity to feed the powder. And just imagine the mess if some of that metal powder gets loose in a zero-gravity room. The only worse thing I can imagine is a laser printer cartridge in a zero gravity location having a spill failure. What a mess that would be.

BUT possibly a metal printing system could use a wire feed, like the welders. What an interesting possibility.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Interesting post, unlimited applications.
Ann R. Thryft   1/8/2014 12:04:51 PM
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William, we've discussed 3D printing in space several times in DN. Here's the latest one:
http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=270456

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