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Soft robotics actuators heal themselves

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Repeated activity wears on soft robotic actuators, but these machines' moving parts need to be reliable and easily fixed. Now a team of researchers has a biosynthetic polymer, patterned after squid ring teeth, that is self-healing and biodegradable, creating a material not only good for actuators, but also for hazmat suits and other applications where tiny holes could cause a danger. "Current self-healing materials have shortcomings that limit their practical application, such as low healing strength and long healing times (hours)," the researchers report in today's (July 27) issue of Nature Materials. The researchers produced high-strength synthetic proteins that mimic those found in nature. Like the creatures they are patterned on, the proteins can self-heal both minute and visible damage.


Exploring the DARPA SubTerranean Challenge

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The DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge aims to develop innovative technologies that would augment operations underground. On July 20, Dr Timothy Chung, the DARPA SubTChallenge Program Manager, joined Silicon Valley Robotics to discuss the upcoming Cave Circuit and Subterranean Challenge Finals, and the opportunities that still exist for individual and team entries in both Virtual and Systems Challenges, as per the video below. The SubT Challenge allows teams to demonstrate new approaches for robotic systems to rapidly map, navigate, and search complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks. The SubT Challenge is organized into two Competitions (Systems and Virtual), each with two tracks (DARPA-funded and self-funded). Teams in the Systems Competition completed four total runs, two 60-minute runs on each of two courses, Experimental and Safety Research.


OmniTact: a multi-directional high-resolution touch sensor

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Touch has been shown to be important for dexterous manipulation in robotics. Recently, the GelSight sensor has caught significant interest for learning-based robotics due to its low cost and rich signal. For example, GelSight sensors have been used for learning inserting USB cables (Li et al, 2014), rolling a die (Tian et al. 2019) or grasping objects (Calandra et al. 2017). The reason why learning-based methods work well with GelSight sensors is that they output high-resolution tactile images from which a variety of features such as object geometry, surface texture, normal and shear forces can be estimated that often prove critical to robotic control. The tactile images can be fed into standard CNN-based computer vision pipelines allowing the use of a variety of different learning-based techniques: In Calandra et al. 2017 a grasp-success classifier is trained on GelSight data collected in self-supervised manner, in Tian et al. 2019 Visual Foresight, a video-prediction-based control algorithm is used to make a robot roll a die purely based on tactile images, and in Lambeta et al. 2020 a model-based RL algorithm is applied to in-hand manipulation using GelSight images.


RSS 2020 – all the papers and videos!

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RSS 2020 was held virtually this year, from the RSS Pioneers Workshop on July 11 to the Paper Awards and Farewell on July 16. Many talks are now available online, including 103 accepted papers, each presented as an online Spotlight Talk on the RSS Youtube channel, and of course the plenaries and much of the workshop content as well. We've tried to link here to all of the goodness from RSS 2020. The RSS Keynote on July 15 was delivered by Josh Tenenbaum, Professor of Computational Cognitive Science at MIT in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, CSAIL. Titled "It's all in your head: Intuitive physics, planning, and problem-solving in brains, minds and machines".


Opportunities in DARPA SubT Challenge

Robohub

The DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge aims to develop innovative technologies that would augment operations underground. The SubT Challenge allows teams to demonstrate new approaches for robotic systems to rapidly map, navigate, and search complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks. The SubT Challenge is organized into two Competitions (Systems and Virtual), each with two tracks (DARPA-funded and self-funded). The Cave Circuit, the final of three Circuit events, is planned for later this year. Final Event, planned for summer of 2021, will put both Systems and Virtual teams to the test with courses that incorporate diverse elements from all three environments.


#314: High Earth Orbit Robotics, with William Crowe

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The mission of HEO Robotics is to provide high quality imagery of satellites, space-debris and resource-rich asteroids. Crowe discusses the technical challenges which make robotics and satellites similar like computer vision and controls, and those where traditional robotics approaches aren't suitable like localization and mobility. He explains new trends in the satellite industry, and the need for high quality imagery. William Crowe is CEO of High Earth Orbit Robotics, a company that performs health checks on satellites by assessing data on images they take from other satellites. He has a PhD in Astrodynamics, where his research focused on the use of swarms to characterize asteroids, especially those that fly closer than the Moon.


#313: Solid State Lidar – the 3D Camera, with Erin Bishop

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In this episode, Abate interviews Erin Bishop from Sense Photonics about the technology in their "Solid State" LiDAR sensors that allows them to detect objects more accurately and over a larger field of view than traditional scanning LiDAR. Erin dives into the technical details of Solid State Lidar, discusses the applications and industries of the technology. Erin operates at the intersection of product management, project engineering, customer development, and product-market fit within 3D camera company Sense Photonics. Over the past several years, she has worked to initiate the market appetite for telepresence robots, indoor mobile robots, and robotic picking in warehouses. Erin has made appearances at CES, UX Week, RoboBusiness, HardwareCon, and Mobile Future Forward.


'Robotics for Infectious Diseases' and other resources

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In times of crisis, we all want to know where the robots are! And young roboticists just starting their careers, or simply thinking about robotics as a career, ask us'How can robotics help?' and'What can I do to help?'. Cluster organizations like Silicon Valley Robotics can serve as connection points between industry and academia, between undergrads and experts, between startups and investors, which is why we rapidly organized a weekly discussion with experts about "COVID-19, robots and us" (video playlist). During our online series, we heard from roboticists directly helping with all sorts of COVID-19 response, like Gui Cavalcanti of Open Source Medical Supplies and Alder Riley of Helpful Engineering. Both groups are great examples of the incredible power of people working together.


Conversation on racism and robotics

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Talking about racism and it's impact on robotics and roboticists was the first conversation in our new biweekly online discussion series "Society, Robots and Us" on alternate Tuesdays at 6pm PDT. It was a generous, honest and painful discussion that I hope has left a lasting impact on everyone who listened. There is systemic racism in America, and this does have an impact on robotics and roboticists in many many ways. The US Senator Elizabeth Warren in conversation today with Alicia Garza from Black Futures Lab said, "America was founded on principles of liberty and freedom, but it was built on the backs of enslaved people. This is a truth we must not ignore. Racism and white supremacy have shaped every crucial aspect of our economy, and our political system for generations now."


Why robotics startups fail!

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What are the main reasons that robotics companies and startups fail? Is it the technology or is it the business? Fresh Consulting analyzed significant industry case studies from Rethink Robotics to iRobot for their whitepaper "Why Robotics Companies Fail," and launched it on June 11 at a panel discussion moderated by James Dietrich, from Fresh Consulting, with guest speakers Aaron Prather, Senior Advisor for the Technology Research and Planning Team at FedEx Express; Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics and startup accelerator advisor, and Eric Klein, Partner and Founder at Lemnos Labs. In a lively discussion, the speakers weighed in on what key factors for success or failure were most likely in their experience. Andra Keay believes that lack of business fundamentals is the most critical error a young company faces.