My Mbot just arrived!

Mbot from Makeblock is here! This robot is an educational robot from a company in Shenzhen, China. It’s not a new concept but the price at $49, is really low. We purchased a similar robot from Parallax robotics for around $150 and on top of that you have to provide your own Arduino Mega board. The difference definitely is in the price.

32335: Robot Shield with ArduinoONE ROBOT PER KID. mBot is the easiest educational robot for kids to learn programming, Arduino and robotics.

It is a simple robot with that comes only with 2 motors, a ultrasonic sensor and a line following sensors with a in-build Arduino Uno.  To top it off, they included a RF serial module that allows you to remove the USB cable if you want to run the robot untethered. This is enough for elementary robotics education with the basic features but you can go to the Makerblock site to purchase a couple of addon sensors but the limit is in the number of IOs on the uno block. That is where the Parallax robot will be better.

In terms of software, It’s riding on the success of  Scratch graphic user interface that makes it easy for children to program their robots. It’s widely used in the education community in projects like Hummingbird Robotics Kit, and basically any robotics kit that uses the Arduino platform. The software is easy to use and you are able to generate arduino code and this is a useful feature for student who want to graduate from visual programming to C programming.

My son assembled the robot in 2 hours and we started to program the robot almost immediately, since he’s quite familiar with the scratch interface. We started with keyboard tele-control and it was a better experience then the Parallax robot since the robot is now untethered. We moved on to line following with the online instructions provided on the website. The Makeblock site provides some educational materials and video that the children can watch to learn. It is certainly work in progress but I am still amazed at the price. At this price, we are slowly getting into the mass market with robotics.

I personally work on mobile manipulators in the office and this mobile base can’t really do much but the future is coming as sensors get cheaper. I can’t wait to put a Microsoft kinect or mobile phone on this to program it to do some human interaction that would be fun for the kids as well.

Great work and I hope that more interfaces to this platform will be developed soon.

Google and Delphi Self-driving Cars’ Close Shave

Self-driving cars are a thing of the near future as we begin to see sign of fully autonomous vehicle appear within vehicles of today. We know the technology is there, but the question everyone ask is whether it’s safe enough. Would I put my life in the hands of a robot? Would a robot do the right thing when I need it to? Everyone has only one chance – when a vehicle crashes, it might be your last.

There are of course statistics that prove that autonomous vehicles are safer. There are statistics that prove otherwise. I personally have placed my life in the hands of a robot and I know where to stand when a robot comes my way. I would always stand in a way to move out of the way if I have to. The analogy is that lifts use to be semi-autonomous (human in the lift) and now they are fully autonomous. Just press the button and you will be sure you will get there.

Accidents and deaths have plagued transport of every kind in big ways because we need to travel. Either to work or to get food and for holidays. It’s a necessary aspect of life. Is the real solution online shopping? or VR? Should we just stop travelling all together. It’s a game of probability and the size of the sample. The percentage might be small but a small percentage of a large number is still huge.

What do you think? I would still put my live in the hands of an autonomous vehicle but there are users and educated users. My take is that we need to show responsibility and learn to use whatever technology we have today. To not use it is to say I would not cook food because fire is dangerous. Embrace the technology but before each trip, please watch the stewardess in the video explain safety features in the “plane”. Do not ignore here!

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Fetch Robotics Secures Investment from SoftBank

The Fetch Robotics’ system is comprised of a mobile base (calledFreight) and an advanced mobile manipulator (called Fetch). Fetchand Freight can also use a charging dock for autonomous continuous operations; allowing the robots to charge when needed and then continue on with their tasks. In addition, the system includes accompanying software to support the robots and integrate with the warehouse environment. Both robots are built upon the open source robot operating system, ROS.

The robots are designed to work autonomously alongside workers, performing repetitive tasks such as warehouse delivery, pick and pack, and more. Fetch and Freight used in tandem are capable of handling the vast majority of all items in a typical warehouse.

Fetch is an advanced mobile manipulator, including features such as:

  • Telescoping spine with variable height from 1.09 to 1.491 meters
  • Capacity to lift approximately 6 kgs.
  • 3D RGB Depth Sensor
  • Back-Drivable 7DOF Arm
  • Modular Gripper Interface
  • Head Expansion Mount Points
  • Pan-Tilt Head
  • Differential Drive
  • ROS-Enabled

Freight is a modular base, used separately or in conjunction with Fetch. Features include:

  • Base Expansion Mount Points
  • Payload support of approximately 68 kgs.
  • 2D Laser Scanner
  • Stereo Speaker
  • Computer Access Panel
  • Run-Stop
  • ROS-Enabled

 

iHY, the Low Cost Robot Hand

The iHY Robot Hand is the result of the DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manupulation(ARM) program. the aim was developed with the goal of producing a low cost robotic hand with the flexibility to handle different situations.
The hand is equipped with three fingers that are flexible and able to pick up large objects like a basketball to a small object like a pin. It’s able to sustain the weight of a 50 lb kettle bell. It can open doors, pick up a power tool before operating the power tool with it’s finger. It is a very versatible hand at a very low price. It has contributed greatly to the field of robotics in a big way.
The hand is underactuated and called so because there are fewer motors than joints. The spring like material and mechanical linkages connect the rigid parts of the finger. The design of the finger enables it to grab and hold large object but yet also grasp small objects like a pin. Have a look at the video to see it at work. This is not the first underactuated finger in the market but it is the first with it’s versatility and at that price point.

iRobot has done a great job and they did not do it alone. They had the help of Harvard and Yale, hence the name – iHY.

ieee article

The new Care-O-bot 4

This is the new Care-O-bot is now configurable and still compatible with ROS. It has been given a modern look with newer features.

This fourth generation has many of the features available on Willow Garage’s PR2 and it has the same intelligence as the PR2 given it’s on the ROS platform. It has learnt from PR2 that you can’t sell the entire robot as it’s too expensive. It has the options to purchase the robot with different configuration depending on your budget. Something worth looking into, given it’s german built.

IPhone 6 Built by Robots

Queues are forming outside Apple stores in America as everyone awaits the arrival of the new iPhone 6. The much awaited iPhone 6 is Apple’s flagship product and the demand for the iphone is going to surmountable. This is Apple’s 7th generation phone and they will be launching this phone globally at the same time.

Foxconn, the contract manufacturer for Apple, is now manufacturing millions of iPhones, getting ready for the launch. Foxconn decided in 2011 to introduce robots into their assembly line and Apple will be the first to reap the benefits of this new process.

A total of 10,000 robots, costing around USD 20,000, will be installed on the new line. These robots are in the final stages of testing. Assembly is a task that a robot excels in and these robots will be able to improve the rate of production and the quality of the phone produced. One of these robots will be able to produce around 300,000 iPhones per year.

There will definitely be teething issues with the production line but this is a move in the right direction to reduce the dependence on China’s human workforce. This is a right direction given the rising cost of China’s workforce and their recent issues with the way they treat their employees.

Foxconn planned the development of their own robots and it’s final hope is to develop intelligent robots to handle their current assembly work. These robots will be developed for Foxconn only.

Read more here.

WHILL Wheelchair

WHILL is a Japanese startup that has revolutionised the motorised wheelchair. It’s an omnidirectional wheelchair that has put thought into the usability of the product. It won the Red Dot award in 2014.

The wheelchair is able to handle all kinds of terrain and it able to traverse even on grass and the steep slopes of San Francisco. As you can see the various videos, riding around on this wheelchair is smooth and very responsive. This not just functional but the have added some thought into the experience. Since the wheel is omnidirectional, it makes it easy for the wheelchair to mount a vehicle as long as there’s a slope to the vehicle. I love this feature. It is easy to dismount the wheelchair as the handle on the side can shift out of the way.

The wheelchair is ready for pre-order with a price tag of USD 9,500.

Prequel to Self-Driving Cars

Self driving cars have been in the limelight because of Google’s announcements on their autonomous cars on city streets. This isn’t new given that autonomous vehicle technology research has been ongoing for more than 10 years. The direction now is getting the technology on the road, where the rubber hits the road. Google has shown that they have covered the distance on highways. In their latest revelation, Google have their cars on city streets where things can get pretty messy with many cars, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians around the vehicle. They have gain confidence to showcase their work in this arena and this is indeed a great achievement. But before this becomes adopted by the masses, we want to look at the little steps that we have been taking to get there.

One component of autonomous vehicles that interest me is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Advance Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

ACC normally keeps the car moving at a set speed but intervenes if necessary to avoid keeping too close to the vehicle in front. It takes control of the throttle and the brake of the vehicle but not the steering. ACC is a upgrade to the cruise control of most vehicles. Many have placed their trust on these systems. It says something about how a driver can trust that a collision does not happen when the ACC takes control. This will be applied to Lane Keeping technology in the near future.

There are many other Advance driver assistance systems (ADAS) including, lane departure warning system, collision avoidance system, traffic sign recognition and other systems in development. This is the first stage towards self-driving cars on the road. People need to trust these basic components first before they can let go of the steering wheel. Do we trust cars to drive themselves, given there are human drivers around us. Roads can be a pretty messy place and machines might not be able to react faster than we can.

Self-driving cars are coming. It is a matter of time and they question is are we ready. You can google survey on self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles and you will find that people generally say no but this is a changing view – all thanks to Google! They convince by making it happen, the best way to do it.

$15.5M Investment in Toy Robots – Orbotix

Orbotix is a robotic toy maker behind Sphero and Ollie.

They are simple robot toys that can be controlled using an iPhone or an Android based phone. There is just something about seeing things move and kids do get very excited, especially if they can make the robot move the way they want. Games on smartphone are now combining items in the physical world. We have seen this with Anki racing cars.


The company will use this round of funding to further their reach in the global market. These toys are not common in Asia at present.

Flying Robot Have Legs

This is what you have seen with bats. They have legs within their wings. This is an interesting structure and consideration for a robot that we hardly think about. UAVs are usually developed for flight and with this approach the robot will be able to move around it’s environment in more ways than one.

This reminds me of RHex from Boston Dynamics. RHex is able to overcome almost all forms of terrain. Imagine with the ability to fly, RHex will be able to overcome more terrains and handle more situations. This certainly has use but it’s up to our imagination.

Zebro – RHex’s Brother

Zebro is a six legged robot conceptualised in TUDelft. It’s a brother of the RHex robot by Boston Dynamics. The aim of the research group is to study and develop control methods for platforms like the RHex. Various learning techniques are being used in the robot and studies are being done to improve the design of the legs and various components on the robot.

The RHex was able to perform locomotion in various undulating terrain. It’s a very promising form of a robot but is it scalable? It would be useful to see this platform scale up to perform task.

 

http://robotics.tudelft.nl/?q=research/zebro-six-legged-robot

Robots are Building the Tesla Model S

WIRED has a recent article about the factory production of the Tesla Model S. The factory is producing around 400 cars a week and the production line is really impressive with the number of robots being used at every stage of production. This is really impressive for a company that started producing cars around 10 years ago. I am really impressed with the amount of automation.

 

Robot Cleaning the Sydney Harbour Bridge

This is the first time in history that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is being cleaned, not by human but by a robot. Sabre Autonomous Solutions, a Sydney robotics start-up,  has received a major investment from Burwell Technologies to commercialize the world’s first grit-blasting robot. Grit-blasting is a tedious process and can be highly hazardous for humans. On top of that, the robot is able to perform it’s task in areas that are difficult for human. There are many steel structures around the world and this robot will be useful for different structures. The funding obtained by Sabre Autonomous Solutions will be used to better the technology and improve the usability of the system.

Sabre Autonomous Solutions has it’s beginnings at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). The technology developed allows the robot the ability to sense the steel structure and maps a path for the grit-blasting tool. Professor Dikai Liu of the Centre for Autonomous systems at UTS is the lead of the team that developed this technology.

RAPIRO – the latest addition to Kickstarter Robots

Raripo is the creation of Shota Ishiwatari. This is yet another low cost robot like the 3D printed robot – MAKI. It’s a pretty cute robot (rather small) with 12 motors and LED for effects. It runs off a Raspberry Pi and has a camera and PSD distance sensor to add to the ability to the robot. This is one of the first Raspberry Pi projects for robotics. Pledge £199 and you get yourself a robot with all the parts you need by the end of the year. He has already reached his goal with his kickstarter robot.

One interesting aspect of this project is that he will provide the STL 3D files that you can use for printing another set of the robot. The 3D printable robots are coming and it’s a very good idea given the microprocessors and computers are readily available almost everywhere in the world. There is no need to look for a manufacturer to get your parts made (high risk) and this is made to order which reduces the logistical problems.