IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel


AI to Help Power Grids Resist Disruptions

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

The U.S. Department of Energy will explore whether artificial intelligence could help electric grids handle power fluctuations, avoid failures, resist damage, and recover faster from major storms, cyberattacks, solar flares and other disruptions. GRIP is the first project to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help power grids deal with disturbances, says Sila Kiliccote, GRIP's principal investigator and director of the Grid Integration, Systems and Mobility lab at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. GRIP will develop algorithms to learn how power grids work by analyzing smart meter data, utility-scale SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) data, electric vehicle charging data, and even satellite and street-view imagery. Some of the first places the project will test its data analytics platform are Southern California Edison, a leader in smart metering, and Packetized Energy, which helps grids manage distributed energy resources.


These Robots Can Merge and Split Their Brains to Form New Modular Bots

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

In a recent paper in Nature Communications, Nithin Mathews, Anders Lyhne Christensen, Rehan O'Grady, Francesco Mondada, and Marco Dorigo from universities in Lisbon, Brussels, and Switzerland, present the idea of a "mergeable nervous systems for robots," with a framework for fully modular robotic systems: We present robots whose bodies and control systems can merge to form entirely new robots that retain full sensorimotor control. Our control paradigm enables robots to exhibit properties that go beyond those of any existing machine or of any biological organism: the robots we present can merge to form larger bodies with a single centralized controller, split into separate bodies with independent controllers, and self-heal by removing or replacing malfunctioning body parts. MNS robots thus constitute a new class of robots with capabilities beyond those of any existing machine or biological organism: An MNS robot can split into separate autonomous robots each with an independent brain unit, absorb robotic units with different capabilities into its body, and self-heal by removing or replacing malfunctioning body parts--including a malfunctioning brain unit. Nithin Mathews: The sensorimotor system that physically connects a robot's central processing unit to its sensors and actuators can be seen as a robotic nervous system--quite similar (at a conceptual level at least) to a biological nervous system of an higher order animal with a single brain controlling its host body.


Starting a Robotics Company? Sell a Service, Not a Robot

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

If you want to start a robot company, plan to kick off by selling a service performed by robots, not the robots themselves. "I'm a big fan of going out and doing a service with a robot, competing with other businesses that provide that service, rather than trying to sell a $100,000 robot," said Nathan Harding, co-founder of Ekso Bionics and now co-founder and CEO of Wink Robotics, a still-mostly-stealthy company intending to bring robotics technology into the beauty salon industry. Beetl intends to sell its product, a dog-poop-scooping robot that uses image analysis and cloud-based machine learning to keep yards clean at about the same price as traditional dog-poop-scooping services charge today, about $80 to $100 a month. The company hasn't set that price yet; its robot is intended to be able to get around cities and into buildings more easily than the rolling delivery robots launched to date.


Video Friday: SpaceX Rocket Mishaps, Robot Puppy, and Lean Robotics

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

A revolutionary NASA Technology Demonstration Mission project called Dragonfly, designed to enable robotic self-assembly of satellites in Earth orbit, has successfully completed its first major ground demonstration. Over time, the system will integrate 3-D printing technology enabling the automated manufacture of new antennae and even replacement reflectors as needed. Vijay Kumar kicks things off with a talk about "research to enhance tactical situational awareness in urban and complex terrain by enabling the autonomous operation of a collaborative ensemble of microsystems." Next, Sean Humbert from UC Boulder talks about develping the fundamental science, tools, and algorithms to enable mobility of heterogeneous teams of autonomous micro-platforms for tactical situational awareness.


EPFL's Collapsable Delivery Drone Protects Your Package With an Origami Cage

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Of the many, many (many many many) challenges that are inherent to urban drone delivery, safety is one of the most important. Nobody has a reliable, cost-effective solution for this, although we've seen some unreliable ones (dangling packages on strings) and cumbersome ones (dedicated, protected landing pads), so we've been missing an elegant way of protecting end users from robots that fly with spinning blades of death. At IROS in Vancouver, researchers from Dario Floreano's lab at EPFL will present a clever origami protective cage that can quickly expand to 92 percent of its original size to safely(ish) deliver 0.5 kilogram of whatever you want, locked up inside. As it turns out, any drone carrying a package takes a big efficiency hit, and that hit essentially overwhelms the impact that the cage has on the quadrotor.


Interview: Max Tegmark on Superintelligent AI, Cosmic Apocalypse, and Life 3.0

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

But with things like nuclear power and superintelligent AI, we don't want to learn from mistakes. I very much hope that we can get any government that funds computer science research to view AI safety research as part of that, so the safety research gets a little slice of the pie. Spectrum: At the conference in Puerto Rico established research priorities for AI safety. Most of the funding went to hard core computer science researchers to work on things like AI transparency, robustness, and value alignment.


A Colonoscopy Robot and Other Weird Biomedical Tech From IEEE's Biggest Robotics Conference

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Then it moves on to other suspicious spots inside the stomach--jab, jab jab! So they mounted onto a mobility scooter a robot arm, and equipped both the scooter and the arm with depth cameras similar to the Microsoft Kinect Sensor, which is used with Xbox. When the user aims a laser beam at the object she wants, the robot arm moves to that object, the camera scans it, and the team's grasp detection algorithm determines how to maneuver itself in order to pick it up. To help, researchers at MIT's computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory came up with a guiding system based on vibration feedback.


Four-Armed Marimba Robot Uses Deep Learning to Compose Its Own Music

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

The melody and harmonic structure that you're hearing is the output of a four-measure-long seed melody running through a neural network that's been trained on nearly 5,000 complete songs (including music by Beethoven, The Beatles, Lady Gaga, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane), along with 2 million motifs, riffs, licks, and other foundational musical elements. Weinberg calls Shimon's music "beautiful, inspiring, and strange," and we'd have to agree: This is something with coherence and structure, but it's also completely unique. One can imagine that if we extend the data set to include other music, and if we provide different kinds of seed melodies, the music Shimon will generate would be quite different. A similar process is done in this work for music so that a network learns how to effectively represent small musical snippets such that similar snippets are grouped closer together.


Roomba Inventor Joe Jones on His New Weed-Killing Robot, and What's So Hard About Consumer Robotics

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Now Jones has started his second robotics company, Franklin Robotics, which is funding its latest project through Kickstarter: Tertill is a solar-powered, weed-destroying, fully autonomous and completely self-contained robot designed for your garden. Joe Jones: I remember working in a back room at iRobot long ago when they were located above the Twin City Plaza in Somerville [outside Boston]. Unfortunately, complete information requires fancy sensors. Do you find that users develop emotional connections with Tertill like people commonly do with Roombas?


Iran's Newest Robot Is an Adorable Dancing Humanoid

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Over the last several years, a team of roboticists at the University of Tehran has been working on increasingly large and complex life-size humanoids. A team of 15 researchers at University of Tehran's Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies worked for over a year to design and build Surena Mini, which is 50 centimeters tall and weighs 3.4 kilograms. Its hands aren't designed for grasping objects, but Surena Mini can push on small things--or karate-chop them: A little over a year ago, the same group unveiled Surena III, an advanced adult-sized humanoid designed for researching bipedal locomotion, human-robot interaction, and other challenges in robotics. The Iranian roboticists plan to continue working on Surena III, but they also want to explore the possibility of creating marketable products based on their research, Professor Yousefi-Koma explained, and one of the ideas they had was building a "kid-size version of Surena."