Micro-Robots Are Scary Awesome

microrobots

A team of scientists at SRI international are creating real-life replicators from Star Gate SG1 — micro-robots capable of smart (and scary!) manufacturing. Thousands working in parallel will be able to achieve tasks previously unheard of, in a completely compact and integrated system.

These tiny ant-like robot systems are magnetically controlled and can use tools, move at incredible speeds, and swarm over surfaces. SRI’s vision was “to have an army of ants under your control”. It’s actually been an ongoing project since the 1990’s — but a recent undisclosed chunk of funding from DARPA has helped accelerate the project — giving it a new title of the MicroFactory for Macro Products project.

You have to see the video to believe it. Potential applications for these tiny swarm-bots include precise pick & place manufacturing, micro bio-technology, electronics manufacturing, and even rapid prototyping of high quality parts.

We get shivers just watching them slide around effortlessly on almost any surface.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Wrap Up

schaft-drive

The DARPA robotics challenge trials 2013 are have finished up. The big winner is Team Schaft, seen above preparing to drive in the vehicle trial. This isn’t the end of the line for DARPA’s robotics challenge – there is still one more major event ahead. The DARPA robotics finals will be held at the end of 2014. The tasks will be similar to what we saw today, however this time the team and robot’s communications will be intentionally degraded to simulate real world disaster situations. The teams today were competing for DARPA funding. Each of the top eight teams is eligible for, up to $1 million USD from DARPA. The teams not making the cut are still welcome to compete in the finals using other sources of funding.

The trials were broken up into 8 events. Door, Debris, Valve, Wall, Hose, Terrain, Ladder, and Vehicle. Each trial was further divided into 3 parts, each with one point available. If a robot completed the entire task with no human intervention it would earn a bonus point. With all bonuses, 32 points were available. Team Schaft won the event with an incredible total of 27 points. In second place was Team IHMC (Institute for Human Machine Cognition) with 20 points. Team IMHC deserves special praise as they were using a DARPA provided Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot. Teams using Atlas only had a few short weeks to go from a completely software simulation to interacting with a real world robot. In third place was Carnegie Mellon University’s Team Tartan Rescue and their Chimp robot with 18 points.

The expo portion of the challenge was also exciting, with first responders and robotics researchers working together to understand the problems robots will face in real world disaster situations. Google’s recent acquisition — Boston Dynamics — was also on hand, running their WildCat and LS3 robots. The only real downside to the competition was the coverage provided by DARPA. The live stream left quite a bit to be desired. The majority of videos on DARPA’s YouTube channel currently consist of 9-10 hour recordings of some of the event cameras. The wrap-up videos also contain very little information on how the robots actually performed during the trials. Hopefully as the days progress, more information and video will come out. For now, please share the timestamp and a description of your favorite part with your comments.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Day 1

darpa-val1

Today was the first of two days of trials at the DARPA Robotics challenge at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Created after the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, The robotics challenge is designed to advance the state of the art of robotics. The trials range from driving a car to clearing a debris field, to cutting through a wall. Robots score points based on their performance in the trials. Much of the day was spent waiting for teams to prepare their robots. There were some exciting moments however, with one challenger falling through a stacked cinder block wall.

Pictured above is Valkyrie from NASA JPL JSC. We reported on Valkyrie earlier this month. Arguably one of the better looking robots of the bunch, Valkyrie proved to be all show and no go today, failing to score any points in its day 1 trials. The day one lead went to Team Schaft, a new robot from Tokyo based startup company Schaft inc. Schaft scored 18 points in its first day. In second place is the MIT team  with 12 points. Third place is currently held by Team TRACLabs with 9 points. All this can change tomorrow as the second day of trials take place. The live stream will be available from 8am to 7pm EST on DARPA’s robotics challenge page.

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Robot Battle for the Big Leagues: Valkyrie and the DARPA Challenge

valkyrieRobot

Even though NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s impressive build for the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge is one of many entries, it has to be one of the coolest. The gang at IEEE Spectrum got a sneak peak of the robot dubbed “Valkyrie”, which at 1.9m and 125kg boasts 44 degrees of freedom while managing to look like a finished product ready to roll off the shelf. We can expect to see other custom robots at the challenge, but a number of teams will compete with a Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot, which we’ve covered a couple times this year.

A few readers are probably polishing their pitchforks in anticipation of shouting “Not a hack!” but before you do, take a look at the tasks for the robots in this challenge and consider how new this territory is. To that end, the NASA JSC crew seem to have prepared for resolving catastrophes, even if it means throwing together a solution. They’ve designed the limbs for quick removal and even reversibility: the arms are identical and only slight adjustments are required to turn a left arm into a right. Unlike the Atlas, which requires a tether, Valkyrie is battery-operated, and it can run for around an hour before someone needs to crack open the torso and swap in a new one, Iron Man film-style.

The team was also determined to make Valkyrie seem more human, so they added a soft fabric layer to serve as a kind of clothing. According to IEEE Spectrum, it’s even getting custom made footwear from DC Shoes.There are some utilitarian compromises, though: Valkyrie has adopted a shortcut taken by time-constrained animators in many a cartoon, choosing three fingers per hand instead of four. Make sure you watch the video after the break for a closer look.

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Atlas Survives the Wrecking Ball

atlas

[Boston Dynamics] has been just full of videos over the last few days. They’ve dropped updates on Atlas and LS3 in addition to the WildCat update we already featured.

This video shows updates to the Atlas robot. This is to be a simplified version of the atlas, as compared to the robots sent off to competitors in the DARPA robotics challenge. Arms have been replaced with weights. It appears that this update focuses on Atlas’ balancing and handling on rough terrain. Atlas walks gingerly, over some crushed cinder blocks – possibly the same ones we saw BigDog throwing around recently. There are a few tense moments, but Atlas manages to get through unscathed.

The real scary part (for us) is watching Atlas get hit with a weighted ball. We’re assuming the 20 on the ball indicates pounds. Imagine getting hit from the side with a 20lb swinging weight. Would you be able to stand up? Did we mention Atlas did this all while standing on one foot? Atlas takes it in stride though – waving its arms to maintain balance in a very human manner.  Notable is the balance system. Atlas never lifts its foot off the ground. This is slightly different from the bouncing/hopping system of balance we’ve come to know and love in [Boston Dynamics’] other robots.  [Read more...]

Boston Dynamics Takes WildCat Outside

wildcat

[Boston Dynamics] has released a video of their latest robot, which means it’s time to go hide in bed before this thing comes to get us. The new video features WildCat, which is apparently the evolution of the Cheetah robot we saw last year. Cheetah was an indoor cat, tethered by power, data, and hydraulic lines while running on a treadmill. WildCat has been released to terrorize people explore the great outdoors

Reminiscent of the early videos of BigDog, WildCat is currently powered by an internal combustion engine. The engine drives a hydraulic system, which then actuates the robot’s legs and front/rear pods. The beauty of a system like this is that switching to an electric motor is simple – just replace the IC engine. While we’re sure this would make a much more stealthy cat, weight and run time could be issues. Moving the power system onboard has also slowed down WildCat a bit. Cheetah was able to reach 28 MPH while WildCat can only muster 16 MPH.

WildCat is part of DARPA’s maximum mobility and manipulation program. The research appears to be focused on improving the gaits the robot uses to move at various speeds. The video highlights both bounding and galloping.  Slo-mo sections show all four of WildCat’s legs leaving the ground, which is the suspension phase of a classic gallop gait. Control isn’t perfect yet, as WildCat tumbles at one point in the video.  It gets right back up though – ready for more.

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Atlas humanoid robot standing on his own

boston-dynamics-atlas-humanoid

Boston Dynamics likes to show off… which is good because we like to see the scary looking robots they come up with. This is Atlas, it’s the culmination of their humanoid robotics research. As part of the unveiling video they include a development process montage which is quite enjoyable to view.

You should remember the feature in October which showed the Robot Ninja Warrior doing the Spider Climb. That was the prototype for Atlas. It was impressive then, but has come a long way since. Atlas is the object of affection for the Darpa Robotics Challenge which seeks to drop a humanoid robot into an environment designed for people and have it perform a gauntlet of tasks. Research teams participating in the challenge are tasked with teaching Atlas how to succeed. Development will happen on a virtual representation of the robot, but to win the challenge you have to succeed with the real deal at the end of the year.

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