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Slideshow: Competitors Gear Up For DARPA Robot Challenge
3/21/2013

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Atlas, a humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics based on its Atlas robot platform, has seven degrees of freedom in each arm, six degrees of freedom in each leg, and a sensor head with stereo vision and laser radar. It is being designed specifically for meeting the demands of the challenge.(Source: Boston Dynamics)
Atlas, a humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics based on its Atlas robot platform, has seven degrees of freedom in each arm, six degrees of freedom in each leg, and a sensor head with stereo vision and laser radar. It is being designed specifically for meeting the demands of the challenge.
(Source: Boston Dynamics)

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Elizabeth M
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Robots to the rescue?
Elizabeth M   3/21/2013 7:13:36 AM
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These are all interesting designs from some of the brightest minds in robotics, and it seems that this type of technology is in demand and innovation is needed. While robots were deployed at Fukushima to help the recovery there, the latest report is that the technology is not working as expected and isn't as advanced at it needs to be yet. This competition should bolster those types of efforts; just depends on how long it will take to make an impact.

mrdon
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
mrdon   3/21/2013 3:03:10 PM
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Elizabeth M, This competition is quite a challenge for Search and Rescue Robot Designers. The bar has definitely been raised based on the design requirements the engineering teams must meet. The slide show is very interesting as well. It's amazing to see different solutions to make a better mice trap. I'll definitely be sharing the slide show with my Electrical Engineering tech students. Great article!

drpauloh
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
drpauloh   3/23/2013 12:49:30 PM
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Indeed, for me the DRC is a teaching moment for roboticists, first responders and policy makers (especially on the roles robots can serve in collaborative tasks, for innovating technologies, and fueling the future economy). 

If there is material I can provide, please don't hesitate asking.  I have a slide presentation (with vocals) on http://www.drc-hubo.com called "The What, Why, When, Where, and How of the DRC".

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Ann R. Thryft   3/21/2013 3:09:24 PM
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Elizabeth, when you say "While robots were deployed at Fukushima to help the recovery there, the latest report is that the technology is not working as expected and isn't as advanced at it needs to be yet.", which specific robot technology are you referring to, and what reports?

NadineJ
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
NadineJ   3/21/2013 5:50:05 PM
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In my search, I found that UK defence technology firm QinetiQ sent surveillence robots in a month after the disaster, according to the BBC.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13114310

Elizabeth M
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Elizabeth M   3/25/2013 6:07:25 AM
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Hi, Ann, here's the link to the report I read about what has been going on at Fukushima: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/03/20/robots-have-failed-fukushima-daiichi-and-japan/


It is more about Japan not having access to the robotic technology it needed when it should have, which I guess speaks to the urgency of developing this type of technology and the relevance of the DARPA contest.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Ann R. Thryft   3/25/2013 12:53:32 PM
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Thanks for clarifying, Elizabeth. Yes, Japan was caught short after Fukushima, in the sense of not having the appropriate robotics technology for search and rescue, since they hadn't been developing robots in that app area. That's why they had to look outside the country, getting help from iRobot and QinetiQ. But now they're developing their own robots for Fukushima, which I covered here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=255699 http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=253921 But I don't think it's accurate to say that the robot technology is not working as expected. Japan didn't have the appropriate technology available during the crisis, and the American robots they imported were not designed to handle such insanely high levels of radiation.

Charles Murray
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Charles Murray   3/21/2013 8:22:17 PM
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It's interesting to note that most of the robots, even those with heads, don't have any kind of "eyes." I wonder if that's an effort to reduce the creepiness (i.e., uncanny valley) factor.

NadineJ
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
NadineJ   3/22/2013 1:09:45 PM
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Are saying that adding eyes would make it less creepy?  I would disagree with that.

I say, let robots be robots.

Charles Murray
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Charles Murray   3/22/2013 5:37:40 PM
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Actually, I was implying that the eyes make it more creepy, Nadine. I'm wondering if they are leaving out the eyes to reduce the creepiness factor. Eyes might make it too human, which creeps people out.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Elizabeth M   3/25/2013 7:01:33 AM
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I am not sure I agree with you NadieJ, but I can see why you would say that you prefer robots that are more clearly machines than human. I think humanoid robots may seem a bit strange, but in some cases I think people may be more comfortable working with them. Then again, it might be creepy to get TOO comfortable and think you're dealing with a human. I guess as they become more commonplace, these problems will get solved.

NadineJ
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
NadineJ   3/25/2013 11:48:43 AM
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I can see what you mean, Elizabeth.  Many need a "human" connection depending on how the robot is used.

If you're interested in sci-fi anime, Ghost in the Shell 2 depicts the perils of creating very humanlike robots.  I gues a lot of sci-fi does.  What I like about this movie is that it addresses many of the roles we will expect robots to play as the technology progresses.  And, it explores how human and "human" nature clash.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Robots to the rescue?
Elizabeth M   3/25/2013 11:54:19 AM
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Thanks for the recommendation, Nadine. I will check that out sometime. I am not sure how I feel about having very human-like robots. I guess it would depend. I haven't been around any robots live and in person really, so it is hard to say. But Ann, another one of our bloggers, was around Baxter, Rethink Robotics' robot that sort of combines both human and machine features, and I think she actually found "him" quite comfortable to be around. It also, of course, depends on the person.

NadineJ
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IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/21/2013 9:54:36 AM
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Robots are often in humanoid form in order to be well received by the general public.  But, do we still need that?  If a non-humanoid form is more efficient, it should be used.  Do we need robots to look like Iron Man in order to be acceptable?  It's good to see at least two that aren't humanoid.

One quick question: is the phrase "act like any 19-year-old first responder" from the manufacturer? 

Elizabeth M
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Re: IronMan effect
Elizabeth M   3/21/2013 9:57:32 AM
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To answer your second question first, NadineJ: Yes, that phrase is from the manufacturer. It's not exactly how I would word such a thing.

And you're right in that these robots don't all have to be humanoid to get the job done. Perhaps sometimes that is not the ideal design and hopefully engineers will make the right choice in those cases. Thanks for your comment.

bob from maine
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Re: IronMan effect
bob from maine   3/21/2013 10:28:55 AM
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To continue a series of posts on this site from last year; humans will likely continue to design humanoid robots for many years. The existance of a humanoid, bipedal animal representing the results of millenia of evolution suggests this is likely the best form for optimum versatility. Second, we feel comfortable thinking within the central trunk bipedal opposed thumb paradigm. Makes it easier to model during construction. Like the wheel, the original model works pretty well. Two million doesn't seem like very much money considering what they're asking for though.

NadineJ
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Re: IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/21/2013 5:46:22 PM
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Thanks Elizabeth. That phrase made my eyebrow twitch.

At the end of the day, all robots are bio-mimics.  Humans included.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: IronMan effect
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2013 12:11:51 PM
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Biomimicry in robotics, at least, doesn't mean generally resembling; it means something very specific. It refers to studying particular biological systems to see how they work, and translating their neurological, muscular, skeletal, etc systems--structures and/or functions-- into mechanical and/or electronic analogs. This is much more recent than the fundamental research type of approach that goes more like: what would happen if we made a robot with three legs vs six and used XYZ actuation types. Boston Dynamics, for example, was one of the very early pioneers in patterning robots after specific animals.

NadineJ
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Re: IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/26/2013 1:42:23 PM
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Ann-I'm not sure if you're replying directly to my comment

"At the end of the day, all robots are bio-mimics.  Humans included."

To clarify, when I say that all robots are bio-mimics, I am referring to biomimicry in it's truest sense.  I've studied it extensively while designing children's products.

The line "Humans included" is to recognize that biomimicry doesn't just include insects and sea creatures.  Human beings are part of the biosphere and models for biomimicry.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: IronMan effect
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2013 1:51:14 PM
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Nadine, yes I was responding to your comment. I agree that biomimicry doesn't exclude humans: that seems obvious. I've studied biomimicry in robotics, and saying all robots are biomimics isn't accurate in that area, although it may be elsewhere. But it's such a general statement that I don't see its usefulness from robotics engineering standpoint. And saying humans are biomimics doesn't make sense to me at all, since we are biological systems. In any case, my comments specifically about biomimicry in robotics stand.

NadineJ
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Re: IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/26/2013 11:18:38 PM
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Ann-it was a statement.  Sorry things aren't clear but I didn't say that humans are biomimics.  Maybe more precise writing and close reading would help.

It's good to stand behind what you write.  I do the same.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: IronMan effect
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2013 2:43:10 PM
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Nadine, thanks for the comment. I interpreted, "At the end of the day, all robots are bio-mimics.  Humans included." to mean what its grammar says, which is that humans are bio-mimics. It's hard to interpret that in some other way. In any case, I do agree about more precise writing and close reading.

NadineJ
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Re: IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/27/2013 2:54:38 PM
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I guess working in a creative enviornment leads to a 'creative' writing style.  I do lean towards the vernacular.  In my comments bio = human.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: IronMan effect
Ann R. Thryft   3/28/2013 11:35:43 AM
I find that using clear, widely-understood meanings for terms makes written, non-duplex communication much easier (spoken, full-duplex communication, like in a phone or F2F conversation, is of course usually a lot clearer since multiple, instant iterations are possible when needed). I also find that precision and accuracy are important in all communications.



NadineJ
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Re: IronMan effect
NadineJ   3/28/2013 12:53:48 PM
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It's true that clear communication and comprehension are important.  Acronyms and colloquialisms can be confusing.

Back to the robots...I don't agree that robots' "perceptions and movements should be as human as possible" in order to work in a space designed for humans.  Observing a cat or dog in a new space demonstrates that non-humans can navigate spaces created for humans as well as, or better than, people.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: IronMan effect
Ann R. Thryft   3/28/2013 2:20:49 PM
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I completely agree with you about human-like robots not being necessary for working in human-design spaces. I also think that goes for how human-like they must be in looks or operation: Some people like that similarity to humans, but some, like me, not only don't need it but find the uncanny valley effect horrific. OTOH, a lot of work has been done to help robots and humans communicate better so they can work together safely and productively. One of those things is designing robot hands to work more like ours for a number of reasons: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=260644

Cabe Atwell
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Re: IronMan effect
Cabe Atwell   5/18/2014 6:10:59 PM
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Virginia Tech's THOR is pretty impressive. I wonder what has become of it, as there isn't any more news about it. Did he join the likes of Johnny 5?

apresher
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Robot Challenge
apresher   3/21/2013 1:47:01 PM
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Elizabeth, Excellent slide show.  It's amazing to see the amount of development that is going into humanoid robot designs.  Will be interesting to see how this materializes in terms of commercial impact in the future.  Thanks.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Robot Challenge
Elizabeth M   3/21/2013 2:51:25 PM
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Sure thing, apresher. It is fascinating for me to write about this and there is significant development in this area, something that could have a real impact on how disaster recovery is carried out in the human world in the future. Thanks for your interest.

apresher
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Robot Challenge
apresher   3/22/2013 8:46:52 AM
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Chuck,  I agree about the eyes and it raises questions about the design goals for these humanoid robots.  I would think that they serve as a research platform especially for the universities, but I would think that some design details (eyes, torsos) are more about aesthetics. I think the Robosimian is an extremely unique design. Love to see how it moves.

Measurementblues
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WPI is a leader in robotics
Measurementblues   3/22/2013 9:19:53 AM
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I visited Worcester Polytechnic Institute this week and wrote about their first-in-the-nation robotics program. The piece goes live on Monday, March 25 at www.TheConnectingEdge.com.

apresher
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Robot Challenge
apresher   3/25/2013 4:02:20 PM
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Thanks for the report and information on the Japanese disaster. Very interesting use for robotics technology, and it's easy to see how the extremely high levels of radiation would create an unanticipated technical challenge for these systems.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Robot Challenge
Elizabeth M   3/26/2013 8:54:33 AM
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I suppose in looking at the report again, Ann, I misspoke in my comment. But it's interesting to see the struggles Japan had using these type of robots and hopefully this can inform future design and development. The DARPA work certainly should go a long way to improving the technology as well.

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