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Takeaways from Automatica 2018

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Automatica 2018 is one of Europe's largest robotics and automation-related trade shows and a destination for global roboticists and business executives to view new products. It was held June 19-22 in Munich and had 890 exhibitors and 46,000 visitors (up 7% from the previous show). The International Symposium on Robotics (ISR) was held in conjunction with Automatica with a series of robotics-related keynotes, poster presentations, talks and workshops. The ISR also had an awards dinner in Munich on June 20th at the Hofbräuhaus, a touristy beer hall and garden with big steins of beer, plates full of Bavarian food and oompah bands on each floor. From left: Stefan Lampa, CEO, KUKA; Prof Dr Bruno Siciliano, Dir ICAROS and PRISMALab, U of Naples Federico II; Ken Fouhy, Moderator, Editor in Chief, Innovations & Trend Research, VDI News; Dr. Kiyonori Inaba, Exec Dir, Robot Business Division, FANUC; Markus Kueckelhaus, VP Innovations & Trend Research, DHL; and Per Vegard Nerseth, Group Senior VP, ABB.


One-shot imitation from watching videos

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Learning a new skill by observing another individual, the ability to imitate, is a key part of intelligence in human and animals. Can we enable a robot to do the same, learning to manipulate a new object by simply watching a human manipulating the object just as in the video below? The robot learns to place the peach into the red bowl after watching the human do so. Such a capability would make it dramatically easier for us to communicate new goals to robots – we could simply show robots what we want them to do, rather than teleoperating the robot or engineering a reward function (an approach that is difficult as it requires a full-fledged perception system). Many prior works have investigated how well a robot can learn from an expert of its own kind (i.e. through teleoperation or kinesthetic teaching), which is usually called imitation learning.


Robots in Depth with Spring Berman

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In this episode of Robots in Depth, Per Sjöborg speaks with Spring Berman about her extensive experience in the field of swarm robotics. One of the underlying ideas of the area is designing robot controls similar to the ones used in nature by different types of swarms of animals, systems that work without having a leader. We get to hear how many robots can be used together to handle tasks that would not be possible using one or a small number of robots. We also get introduced to the opportunities of mixing artificial animals with real ones. Spring describes some of the challenges within swarm robotics, which can be as diverse as mathematical modelling and regulatory issues.


#263: ICRA 2018 Exhibition, with Juxi Leitner, Nicholas Panitz, Ben Wilson and James Brett

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Leitner speaks about the Amazon Picking challenge, a challenge to advance the state of robotic grasping, and their robot which won the challenge in 2017.


Robots in Depth with Dirk Thomas

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In this episode of Robots in Depth, Per Sjöborg speaks with Dirk Thomas about his work with ROS at the OSR Foundation. We hear about how programmers and roboticists can benefit from being part of and contributing to the open source community. Dirk discusses the development of ROS and how it is being used both in academia and in commercial projects. He also shares his thoughts on the future development of ROS and how it can support advancements in robotics overall. This interview was recorded in 2015.


What is artificial intelligence? (Or, can machines think?)

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Here are the slides from my York Festival of Ideas keynote yesterday, which introduced the festival focus day Artificial Intelligence: Promises and Perils. I start the keynote with Alan Turing's famous question: Can a Machine Think? and explain that thinking is not just the conscious reflection of Rodin's Thinker but also the largely unconscious thinking required to make a pot of tea. I note that at the dawn of AI 60 years ago we believed the former kind of thinking would be really difficult to emulate artificially and the latter easy. In fact it has turned out to be the other way round: we've had computers that can expertly play chess for 20 years, but we can't yet build a robot that could go into your kitchen and make you a cup of tea. In slides 5 and 6 I suggest that we all assume a cat is smarter than a crocodile, which is smarter than a cockroach, on a linear scale of intelligence from not very intelligent to human intelligence.


Robots in Depth with Andrew Graham

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In this episode of Robots in Depth, Per Sjöborg speaks with Andrew Graham about snake arm robots that can get into impossible locations and do things no other system can. Andrew tells the story about starting OC Robotics as a way to ground his robotics development efforts in a customer need. He felt that making something useful gave a great direction to his projects. We also hear about some of the unique properties of snake arm robots: – They can fit in any space that the tip of the robot can get through – They can operate in very tight locations as they are flexible all along and therefore do not sweep large areas to move – They are easy to seal up so that they don't interact with the environment they operate in – They are set up in two parts where the part exposed to the environment and to risk is the cheaper part Andrew then shares some interesting insights from the many projects he has worked on, from fish processing and suit making to bomb disposal and servicing of nuclear power plants. This interview was recorded in 2015.


Magnetic 3-D-printed structures crawl, roll, jump, and play catch

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By Jennifer Chu MIT engineers have created soft, 3-D-printed structures whose movements can be controlled with a wave of a magnet, much like marionettes without the strings. The menagerie of structures that can be magnetically manipulated includes a smooth ring that wrinkles up, a long tube that squeezes shut, a sheet that folds itself, and a spider-like "grabber" that can crawl, roll, jump, and snap together fast enough to catch a passing ball. It can even be directed to wrap itself around a small pill and carry it across a table. The researchers fabricated each structure from a new type of 3-D-printable ink that they infused with tiny magnetic particles. They fitted an electromagnet around the nozzle of a 3-D printer, which caused the magnetic particles to swing into a single orientation as the ink was fed through the nozzle.


Teaching robots how to move objects

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By Mary Beth O'Leary With the push of a button, months of hard work were about to be put to the test. Sixteen teams of engineers convened in a cavernous exhibit hall in Nagoya, Japan, for the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge. The robotic systems they built were tasked with removing items from bins and placing them into boxes. For graduate student Maria Bauza, who served as task-planning lead for the MIT-Princeton Team, the moment was particularly nerve-wracking. "It was super stressful when the competition started," recalls Bauza.


WAZE for drones: expanding the national airspace

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Sitting in New York City, looking up at the clear June skies, I wonder if I am staring at an endangered phenomena. According to many in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry, skylines across the country soon will be filled with flying cars, quadcopter deliveries, emergency drones, and other robo-flyers. Moving one step closer to this mechanically-induced hazy future, General Electric (GE) announced last week the launch of AiRXOS, a "next generation unmanned traffic" management system. Managing the National Airspace is already a political football with the Trump Administration proposing privatizing the air-control division of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), taking its controller workforce of 15,000 off the government's books. The White House argues that this would enable the FAA to modernize and adopt "NextGen" technologies to speed commercial air travel.