Blog Archives

The Rise and Fall of the Machines

Boston Dynamics employee pushes robot over to see if it will recover.

Boston Dynamics employee pushes robot over to see if it will recover.

The engineers at Boston Dynamics have done it again, and this time with a video that will make you feel sorry for the robots.

The new Atlas humanoid robot is “designed to operate outdoors and inside buildings,” Boston Dynamics wrote in a description of the video posted on YouTube. Weighing in at 180 lbs (82 kg) and standing 5’9″ (1.75 m) tall, its a slimmer version of its 6′, 330 lb (1.83 m, 150 kg) predecessor.  It uses Lidar and stereoscopic sound to avoid obstacles, navigate, and pick up boxes. And better yet, it’s battery powered.

 

Forbes contributor Brid-Aine Parnell explains:

“Perhaps the most important change this time round is the lack of cables and support tethers. This frees Atlas up for all kinds of uses, including search and rescue operations in areas humans can’t enter and basically any outdoor work.”

It’s no wonder the robots eventually revolt. Stop the abuse now! 🙂

Speculative Fiction

Death Has No Shadow - Cover 9 - ThumbWhat will the future be like when we have humanoid robots?  Let’s say that a military accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment.  They make their way towards a research lab, which after hours is run by science intern Kutisha. As three swarms head her way, the military dispatches hover-tanks carrying human sized robotic mechs as disaster relief. Alone, late at night, she places her faith in the mechs, watching the battle between the big and little machines unfold on her doorstep. The question may not be who will win, but who to trust.

Yes, this is a plug for Death Has No Shadow.

Sources:  Forbes, CBS News

Cyro – Large Robot Jellyfish

cyro

Source: Virginia Tech

 

A robotic jellyfish. Go figure.

Cyro is a human-sized jellyfish robot developed by team of researchers at Virginia Tech College of Engineering, headed by Shashank Priya. They modeled it on one of the world’s largest jellyfish, Cyanea capillata (AKA lion’s mane jellyfish). Cyro is a larger version of Virginia Tech’s human hand sized RoboJelly.

“Jellyfish make great models for self-powered and autonomous bots partly because of their relatively low metabolic rate, meaning they can move through the sea on little energy. They also come in various sizes and inhabit a range of aquatic habitats from shallow coastal areas to the deep-sea, meaning engineers have plenty to work with when looking for a mimic for particular uses” (source: LiveScience).

Specifications:

Weight
170 lbs. (77 kg)
Length
5.6 ft. (1.7 m)
Operating Environment
Oceans
Function Prototype for self-powered, autonomous robots that monitor the seas, map the seafloor and even reveal secrets of marine life
Development Stage Second generation prototype developed at the university level.
Unique Features SubmersibleVertical lift: moves from 8-feet-deep (2.4 m) to the surface with five complete pulsing motions.

Cyro uses an upward swimming motion for propulsion. Linear actuators move radially from an outward position in toward the center that create pulsing motions of the artificial mesoglea, or the gelatinous substance that makes up the jellyfish’s skin.

Calling All Disaster Recovery Robots

DARPA concept image showing two humanoid robots assisting in disaster relief: closing a pipe valve (left) and using a power tool to break down a wall (right).

A few weeks ago, DARPA (the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced that it would hold competitions for autonomous robots that would give aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters and conduct evacuation operations.Calling it the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), the agency is looking for anyone who can advance current robot technology past existing limits to create an autonomous bot for the DOD’s “disaster recovery mission.” The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments.

The winner takes all: a $2 million cash prize.

The DRC is scheduled to launch in October 2012 with events planned for June 2013, December 2013 and December 2014.

One of the main objectives of this program is to develop humanoid robots or at least robots that can work in a human environment.  Dr. Gill Pratt, Program Manager in the Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, explained the reason for this in an interview with IEEE Spectrum:

“The three big ideas here are, first, we need robots that are compatible with shared environments, even though the environments are degraded, and second, we need robots that are compatible with human tools. The reason for that is that typically we don’t know where the disaster is going to be, and right now the stock of tools, all the way from vehicles to hand tools, are really made for people to operate, for maintenance or construction, and so we want the robot to be able to use all those tools. The third thing is compatibility with human operators in two ways: one is that the robot is easy to operate without particular training, and second is that the human operator can easily imagine what the robot might do. For that to be true, the robot needs to have a form that is not too different from the human form. But I think that some variation actually might work.”

Speculative Fiction

What will the future be like if we have humanoid robots assisting in disaster relief?  Let’s say that a military accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment.  They make their way towards a research lab, which after hours is run by science intern Kutisha. As three swarms head her way, the military dispatches hover-tanks carrying human sized robotic mechs as disaster relief. Alone, late at night, she places her faith in the mechs, watching the battle between the big and little machines unfold on her doorstep. The question may not be who will win, but who to trust.

Yes, this is a plug for Death Has No Shadow.

Sources:  DARPA’s announcement, Interview with IEEE Spectrum

Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) – Part 1

Honda demonstrates its brain-machine interface (courtesy Honda Research Institute)

Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported that a paralyzed man remotely controlled a simple robot using only thoughts.  (The images shown here are not from that experiment, but from one done three years ago by Honda.  More on that later.)

The robot was a small, simple device that moved on wheels, was equipped with a camera, and had a laptop computer perched on top.  The paralyzed man, Mark-Andre Duc, was 62 miles (100 km) away and controlled it using only a head cap while trying to raise his paralyzed fingers.  The electroencephalogram (EEG) cap measured his brain signals, which were interpreted as command movements.

Both the researchers and the Mr. Duc admit it is not easy to use.  Jose Millan, the team’s leader said, “Sooner or later your attention will drop and this will degrade the signal.”  Mr. Duc told The Associated Press through the video link on the laptop, “When I’m in pain it becomes more difficult.”

Using measureable thoughts to control an electronic device isn’t totally unique.

  • Spring 2006: Honda Research Institute in Japan used feedback from an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine to remotely control a robotic hand. (Shown in video below.)
  • Spring 2009: A team lead by Javier Minguez at the University of Zaragoza in Spain worked on robotic thought manipulated wheelchairs.
  • Spring 2009: Honda Research Institute in Japan demonstrated how their robot Asimo could lift an arm or a leg through signals from a user with EEG and NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy sensors). (Shown in video below.)
  • Fall 2009: Toy maker Mattel released a game based on a simplified version of this concept with mixed reviews.
  • Fall 2010: A team lead by Rajesh Rao from Neural Systems Laboratory, University of Washington, not only working on mind control of a robot, but also to how to teach the robot simple tasks using the same mechanism (The Robot That Reads Your Mind to Train Itself).
  • Spring 2011: A team lead by C.T. Lin from California State University at Northridge creates EEG cap driven wheelchair that adapts to the operator’s unique brain patterns. For obstacle avoidance, the wheelchair is also equipped with a laser sensor and cameras. (See their video.)

Intricate manipulation such as tying shoelaces is not possible yet with EEG caps since the signal is inherently too noisy.  To get cleaner signals, we have to tap directly into the brain.  Ouch.  That painful subject is for another blog.

Healing Stones – Part 3: More Targeted Cancer Therapy

All that glitters is not gold.  Sometimes it is cancer.

How about gold-plated cancer?

We can do that now, or more technically: gold nanoparticles infused with an antibody called cetuximab attach to growth factors (EGFR) expressed on the surface of some cancer cells.  In other words, bind just the right antibodies to gold nanoparticles, inject them into tissue, and cancer cells will be covered with gold.

Ok, you get gold to stick to cancer cells like socks stick to a sweater pulled from a dryer.  What a waste of money, right?

Well, no. First, although they’re not cheep, don’t go rushing to the gold exchange with jar filled with nano-gold-slush.  You won’t get much for it there.  The gold nanoparticles are spheres of gold less than 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter.  To put the size in perspective, 100 nm is about 500 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.

Second, according to a paper released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, you can zap the gold-targeted cancer cells with shortwave radiofrequency (RF) energy.  “Exposure of cells to a noninvasive RF field produced nearly 100% cytotoxicity in cells treated with the cetuximab-conjugated gold nanoparticles, but significantly lower levels of cytotoxicity in the two control groups (P < 0.00012).”  In other words, the cancer cells died, and the normal cells lived.

Shortwave RF penetrates deeply into the body with no adverse side effects, as long as you’re not entirely made of gold.  Like putting a fork in the microwave oven, it kills the cancer cells by heating them up.  Now in this study, it only worked with two types of cancer cells: ones for pancreatic and colorectal cancer (Panc-1 or Difi cells), but similar methods may be available for different cancers.  In another study (How could gold save my life?), it was shown that the same method might also be used to detect breast cancer.

Thanks guys.  Great work!

Video courtesy Kathryn Dean via YouTube.

See the soon-to-be-published science fiction novel Recruiting Angles for bio-nanotechnolgy in action.

Jumping Robot

SandFlea“Soldier, I want you to take this video camera, jump onto the roof that building, take images of the enemy, and come back.  Oh, and they’ll be shooting at you.”

“Or you can use the SandFlea.”

The SandFlea looks like the RC car most kids would love to play with because, in addition to cruising around the yard, it can jump 30 feet into the air, high enough to clear a wall, on to a roof of a house, up the stairs, or though a second story window.  An onboard stabilization system keeps it oriented during flight to improve the view from the video uplink and to control landings.

Sand Flea is funded by the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and scheduled to undergo safety and reliability checks at the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC).  If it passes evaluation, several will be field tested in Afghanistan, where US military currently uses more than 2,000 robots.

Specifications:

Weight
11 lbs. (5 kg)
Speed
3.4 mph (5.5 km/h)
Jump Height
3-30 ft. (1-8 m)
Camera resolution
1280 x 960
Battery life
2 Hours
Kinetic energy
25 Jumps
Operating Environment
Tolerant of humidity, salt, oil, and sand
Intended use
Ruggedized reconnaissance robot
Unique Features
It is equipped with
 
Onboard gyro stabilization system to assist in-flight
(a) orientation,
(b) video quality, and
(c) controlled landings,
 
Laser guided the launching,
 
Launching piston used for the jump fires out the back of the robot and is powered by CO2,
 
Wheels designed to cushion the shock of landing.

For more information visit http://www.bostondynamics.com/robot_sandflea.html.

See Death Has No Shadow for fictional acrobatic-mechs in action.

Healing Stones – Part 2: Targeted Cancer Therapy

How do you get a nano-robot to target and kill just cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone?

Think like a suicide bomber:

  1. Carry a concealed mass killing weapon like a bomb,
  2. Act and look like you belong,
  3. Get into the enemy’s site, and
  4. Blow it up.

Nanotechnology for medicine does not necessarily mean robotic machinery. On the nanometer scale, the mechanism is more like a virus and can better be characterized by bio-chemistry. A nano-scaled robot uses molecular keys (cell targeting ligands) and special polymers (diblock copolymers) instead of gears and cogs.

This video explains it best:

So what are the healing stones?  They are theoretical first-aid nano-bot factories and delivery systems.  See other “Healing Stone” articles for more information.

Of all the future technological breakthroughs noted on this site, I hope this one comes first.

See Recruiting Angles for nano-medicine in action.

Image and video from Frank Gu Research Group, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Healing Stones – Part 1: Bio-Nano-Robots to the Rescue

Bio-nano-robot

I just got back from the doctor for a cybernetic implant tune-up.  She got on my case for going beyond the six month recommended tune-up cycle.  I also haven’t been taking the prescribed minerals the nano-factories need to spit out the little doctors.

Tsk tsk.

What? You haven’t heard about little doctors? (Yes, this is fictional.) How about nanites? No? What century are you living in, the 21st?  OK, I’ll explain.  Here in the 23rd Century, little doctors or bio-nano-robots are microscopic biomechanical engines — some as small as a large molecule — injected into your bloodstream either by needle, by healing stones, or more commonly by cybernetic implants.  The implants create the little doctors on an as-needed basis.

I’ll expand on this more in future posts, but in summary, they extend your natural healing systems, reinforce bone and muscular structures, and help fight against aging. Here’s an old but good vid about the early uses of nanotechnology and bio-nano-robots:

Oh, by the way.  If you do get the implants, be sure to keep your virus protection up to date.  The implants makes potential computer viruses more deadly than some biological viruses.

See Recruiting Angles for healing stones in action.

See Death Has No Shadow for for nanites gone wild.

Image from Metallurgy for Dummies.

iCheetah

Created by Boston Dynamics, Cheetah is now the fastest legged robot on the planet.  The video below was released by DARPA today.

OK.  So it looks like it’s running backwards, but a top speed of 18 mph is pretty good.  It doesn’t match a cheetah’s 70 mph, but it could probably outrun you.  The fastest human currently on record, Usain St. Leo Bolt, a Jamaican sprinter, can run 23.35 mph … for 100 meters.

Why not use wheels?  It could go a lot faster than 18 mph.  Legged robots handle some off-road terrain better. Research into making four-legged robots faster has the potential of developing better prosthetics for amputees, right?  Well, prosthetics for canines.

But it’s built by DARPA.  (Somebody commented, “Built by people who never saw The Matrix nor Terminator.”)  DARPA… they don’t make toys.  This isn’t the next contender for “Tickle Me Elmo” and you won’t find it next to the Barbie doll isle.  And DARPA isn’t a branch of the Veteran’s Administration researching better prosthetics.  Ever see the Boston Dynamics BigDog robot? Creepy.  It still gives me nightmares.  This is war craft.

Part of me says “cool!”  Another part says, “yikes!”

See Death Has No Shadow for more scary-cool-military-mechs in action.