Unboxing of Baxter from Rethink Robotics at OSRF

Baxter is new kind of robot that is trying to redefine manufacturing robotics. It’s the first robot built for industry with  intelligence and safety of humans in mind. A person is able to work closely with the robot and be able to teach baxter what to do just as he/she would with a human. This is interesting as we have to face the fact that Baxter is still far from human capabilities.

OSRF (Open Source Robotics Foundation), formed to engage the world to push the use of open source robotics software in any form of robotics. It would be great to see how they can make Baxter smarter and more capable in manipulation ,and understanding of both humans and environment.

Check out the excitement in the video!!

Omnidirectional Track Base

This is a very really interesting platform. It has the capability of a tracked base with omnidirectional track base capabilities. We typically use tracked robots as they are able to overcome various obstacles and handle even stair climbing. But there isn’t any track base to date that has omni directional capability.

This omni-crawler is from Osaka University and was developed using the omni-ball concept. The omni-ball design is made up of 2 hemisphere which rotates independently and it also rotates around the ball’s axis which allows the base to move as an omni-directional platform. They have plans to use this concept to develop an interplanetary explorer. This is certainly useful for mobile manipulation in different terrain (indoor or outdoor). I will be tracking the progress of this development closely.

Team ViGIR at DARPA Robotics Challenge

Team ViGIR is a team consisting of members from Virginia Tech, Technische Universität Darmstadt and TORC.

darpa DRC scenario

They will be taking part in Track B in the DARPA Robotics Challenge where they will use the PETMAN instead of developing their own robot. The task are shown in the chart above. TORC Robotics will take the lead developing the algorithms required for the humanoid to perform during the competition.

TORC has developed autonomous navigation kits for vehicles and they develop components for autonomous vehicles. Teleoperation with autonomy of vehicles is one technology that they have that will improve the usability of PETMAN robot. TU Darmstadt‘s Simulation, Systems Optimization and Robotics group will join the team. They have developed autonomous robot team and researched in dynamic modelling and optimisation methods in simulation. Last but not the least important is the Human-Computer Interaction Group from Virginia Tech. The team consist of groups with different expertises that make them suited for Track B.

Sliding Autonomy is a buzz word that is used widely in this competition and some feel that this will make the difference between the various teams. This is important as robots are still unable to perform robustly in the given scenario. Human intervention is still required and this is allowed during this competition. This makes it interesting when some form of autonomy is given to the robot but there are of course situations human teleoperation might be more suited. It’s about striking a balance depending on the capability of the robots. In Track B, all teams will use the PETMAN which means that they can concentrate on developing algorithms and teleoperation capabilities for use with the PETMAN. This is certainly a scenario that makes more sense today, as we take the first step away from teleoperating “dumb” robots. Heaphy Robotics was an initiative by Willow Garage a while back (watch video below) that allowed people from around the world to gain control of the PR2 to perform task without their premises. As seen in the video, you could either take full manual control over the robot or allow the robot some form of autonomy. That’s a good example of sliding autonomy.


Team Steel at DARPA Robotics Challenge

DARPA Robotics Challenge is the next grand challenge that’s really getting most of the robotics community on their toes. The goal of this program is to develop ground robots that are able to operate in degraded human-engineered environments performing complex task such as opening a valve, climb a ladder or even drive a car. This is in response to the difficulties faced by robots deployed during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident. That revealed a lot about the current capabilities of the robots in the market today. It’s not that the robots are incapable but it’s a matter about using the wrong tool for the job.

Team Steel, led by Christopher Atkeson, is one of the two CMU teams taking part in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. They have selected to take part in Track B (using a DARPA-provided robot, the PETMAN) while their counterparts (TARTAN RESCUE, lead by Tony Stentz)  have chosen to take part in track A where members of that team will develop a robot of their own.


They have worked on the Sarcos Humanoid Robot, a robot similar to the PETMAN. They will implement some learning methods and interesting techniques for their robot. This will definitely be beneficial to the other team given CMU has fielded 2 teams in this competition.


BarBots are Serving Drinks

Bartending is never easy, even the many different kinds of cocktails and concoctions you have to remember.  On top of that, the amount of each liquid used makes or breaks a drink. The webtender is a site with all the recipes for the different cocktails you can find that every bartender might need. Sounds difficult for a human but say, we give this job to a robot..

Barbot 2013 is an annual showcase of robots that are designed to make and serve drinks. It’s great to see the different ideas that have been used to make these drink and the reward is a good cocktail always!! why not. It’s far more interesting than working on a dish washing robot.

MORSE – Simulator for ROS

Simulation is important for robotics but a realistic simulation is what is useful for most roboticists. In ROS, gazebo and Rviz are used for  visual and physics simulation but there’s always room for a better simulation. This took 4 years but it’s finally here. MORSE (Modular OpenRobots Simulation Engine) is the latest simulation tool available for ROS among other robotics architecture and middleware. It’s the most realistic simulation I have seen and it allows you to take control of how real you want the simulation to be.

It’s based on open source projects like Blender for 3D rendering and Bullet for physics simulation. It’s build on an established workflow and that’s allows the simulation to sit on these two establish platform. It allows single and multi robot simulation and has 20 classes of sensors from cameras, depth sensors to IMUs. It currently supports 4 open source middleware – ROS, YARP, Pocolibs and MOOS.

One interest aspect of MORSE is that it can handle multiple robots in joint simulation scenario and work together in a distributed network of simulation nodes. This is a server-client model and it allows the use of multiple systems to run the simulation smoothly with distributed computing.

Full documentation is available on their site.

Neato’s New Signature Robot

Neato is always under my radar due to it’s low-cost hackable LIDAR that came with the XV-11. It came with a 360 degrees scanning LIDAR with 1 degree accuracy and 10Hz scanning speed. This is a entire website dedicated to getting the xv11 to run under ROS. They have recently launched the XV Signature series. It looks really nice with it’s all black casing but even better still is the fact that this new Neato has 50% more suction power with the same hardware and specification.

Honestly, i am not really concerned about the vacuuming but i am rooting for Neato to build better, faster and more efficient low-cost solutions to the navigation ability to this robot. Hopefully, this will be a general base one day where we can hack it to sweep, mop, fetch and cook at very affordable prices.



A*STAR SERC Grant Call – Industrial Robotics Programme

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the agency for R&D in Singapore. The Science and Engineering Council (SERC) has a recent grant call for productivity driven robotics application. This is an opportunity for development of robot application to improve manufacturing productivity in Singapore.

This is a huge thrust in increasing productivity in Singapore, some what of a hot topic lately in Singapore. Singapore has many industries that are heavily reliant on human resource. It has been a difficult task for companies and the government to switch to automation. This maybe be the first step and there is hope that more steps will take place soon. Follow the link to find out more.

Willow Garage is Changing Focus

Willow Garage has always had deep pockets before of the visionary founder and funder Scott Hassan. He has announced that he will stop funding Willow Garage in 3 months. This has caused Willow Garage to look into a future where their PR2 or maybe ROS (Robotics Operating System) will bring in some money for the company.

We are all indeed grateful as a community for the wonderful work they have done in coordinating the robotics effort globally, uniting all robotics effort into building ROS. Willow Garage as a company has spun-off many companies and technologies and brought the PR2 in the the world (50 of them). We do not know what is going to happen for Willow Garage in the future but one would imagine that growth and survival will be on their minds.

Scott Hassan is now the CEO of Suitable Technologies, a spin-off of Willow Garage.

FRIDA Working With a Human

FRIDA(Friendly Robot for Industrial Dual-arm Assembly) is ABB’s dual arm robot. The robot was developed to work side by side with humans in the manufacturing environment. The aim of FRIDA is much similar to that of Baxtor from Rethink Robotics. It’s lightweight, human-safe with 2 arms, padded, adaptable to different situations, and low cost.

This video is a demostration of FRIDA at Automatica 2012 in Munich. Very interesting to see that the robot is aware of human present and give the lady a nudge when the lady forgot a part in assembly.   This gives the human the impression that the robot is “alive”. It did not have to talk or do anything complex. Just a simple nudge.

Dancing Robot Travis

Is this a robot or a moving speaker? Travis  is an better version of the Shimi. It is able to select songs from a library based on the rhythmic input.

This is not the only dancing robot around but another way to introduce robot technology to the real work through different mediums. Speakers docks are very popular given that most people own at least 1 smart phones. This reminds me a lot of the Sony Rolly.

Learning by Demonstration

It’s never easy to program a robot to perform a useful task. A person has to first attend a course or pick up some skills from a robotics manufacturer. There’s always a designated person in the factory that is able to program the robot and no one else. This is not true for a human operator as all we have to do is instruct the person to perform the task, and this is possible if you know the task to be accomplished.

Many researchers have worked on Learning by Demonstration and the following video is the work done at Willow Garage where they run trials on normal end-users. The end-users are able to physical move the PR2 to show it how to perform a particular task engaging the robot using speech recognition. This is one of the key things that will bring robots closer to a human centric environment.

Robots from ICRA 2012

This is the latest and greatest robots in the year 2012 was showcased at the ICRA (International Conference on Robotics and Automation, IEEE). Many robotics companies were there including, Adept Technology, Intuitive Surgical. Kinova Robotics and Willow Garage.

One of the more interesting robots present was the DARPA ARM program. It was developed using 2 WAM Arms from Barrett Technologies.

Source – IEEE Spectrum