Insanely-Quick 3D Tracking with 1 Camera

Let’s face it: 3-dimensional odometry can be a computationally expensive problem often requiring expensive 3D cameras and optimized algorithms that can be difficult to wrap our head around. Nevertheless, researchers continue to push the bounds of visual odometry forward each year. This past year was no exception, as [Christian], [Matia], and [Davide] have tipped the scale in terms of speed with an algorithm that can track itself in 3D in real time.

In the video (after the break), the landmarks are sparse, the motion to track is relentlessly jagged, but SVO, or Semi-Fast Visual Odometry [PDF warning], keeps tracking its precision with remarkable consistency, making use of “high frequency texture” as a reference. Several other implementations require two cameras or a depth camera variant, but not SVO. It uses a single camera with a high frame rate between 55 and 300 frames per second. Best of all, the trio at the University of Zürich have made their codebase open source and available as a package for ROS.

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The Challenges of A Laundry Folding Robot

rosie“This is the year of the general purpose home robot!” “2016 is going to be for robots like 1976 was for the home computer!” The problem with statements like those is the fact that we’ve been hearing them since the 1970’s. General purpose home robots still have a long way to go. Sure, we’ve got Roomba, we’ve even got self-driving cars. But we don’t have Rosie from the Jetsons. And while I don’t think we’re going to get to Rosie for a while, there are some simple challenges that can spur development in that direction. One need look no further than one’s own laundry room.

maytagUsing machines to wash and dry laundry isn’t a new concept. Washers and dryers have become commonplace enough that we don’t think of them as robots. Hamilton Smith patented the rotary washing machine in 1858. Maytag has had home machines available for nearly 100 years. Many of the early machines were powered by gasoline engines, as electricity wasn’t common in rural farmhouses. Things have improved quite a bit since then! From the dryer we transfer our laundry to a basket, where it has to be folded. It is this final step that cries out for a homemaking automaton to take this chore out of Everyman’s hands.

As one can imagine, folding laundry is one of those tasks that is easy for humans, but hard for robots. However, it’s not impossible. The idea of this article is to show what has been done, and get people talking. A project like this would take a person or group of people with skills in mechanics, electronics, machine vision, and software. It would also be sure to place well in the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

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Open Furby Opens The Furby

Remember Furby? The cute reactive robot was all the rage a few years ago, when the strange chattering creature was found under many a Christmas tree. Most Furbys have been sadly neglected since then, but the Open Furby project aims to give the toy a new lease of life, transforming it into an open source social robot platform.

We’ve featured a few Furby hacks before, such as the wonderful Furby Gurdy and the Internet connected Furby but the Open Furby project aims to create an open platform, rather than creating a specific hack. It works by replacing the brains of the Furby with a FLASH controller that runs the Robot Operating System (ROS), making the Furby much easier to program and control. They have also replaced the eyes with small OLED screens, which means it can do things like show a weather forecast, facebook notification, etc.

It is still in the early stages, but it looks like an interesting project. Personally, I am waiting for the evil Furby that wants to kill you and eat your flesh with that nasty beak…

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Texel: Art Tracks You, Tracks Time

French robot-artist [Lyes Hammadouche]  tipped us off to one of his latest works: a collaboration with [Ianis Lallemand] called Texel. A “texel” is apparently a time-pixel, and the piece consists of eight servo-controlled hourglasses that can tip themselves over in response to viewers walking in front of them. Besides making graceful wavelike patterns when people walk by, they also roughly record the amount of time that people have spent looking at the piece — the hourglasses sit straight up when nobody’s around, resulting in a discrete spatial representation of people’s attentions to the piece: texels.

We get jealous when we see artists playing around with toys like these. Texel uses LIDAR scanners, Kalman-filtered naturally, to track the viewers. openFrameworks, OpenCV, and ROS. In short, everything you’d need to build a complex, human-interactive piece like this using completely open-source tools from beginning to end. Respect!

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Drones Are Getting A Lot Smarter

[DJI], everyone’s favorite — but very expensive — drone company just announced the Manifold — an extremely capable high performance embedded computer for the future of aerial platforms. And guess what? It runs Ubuntu.

The unit features a quad-core ARM Cortex A-15 processor with an NVIDIA Keplar-based GPU and runs Canonical’s Ubuntu OS with support for CUDA, OpenCV and ROS. The best part is it is compatible with third-party sensors allowing developers to really expand a drone’s toolkit. The benefit of having such a powerful computer on board means you can collect and analyze data in one shot, rather than relaying the raw output down to your control hub.

And because of the added processing power and the zippy GPU, drones using this device will have new artificial intelligence applications available, like machine-learning and computer vision — Yeah, drones are going to be able to recognize and track people; it’s only a matter of time.

We wonder what this will mean for FAA regulations…

Santa’s Autonomous Helping Hands Let the Jolly ol’ Fellow Kick Back this Season

For those skeptical about the feasibility of Santa’s annual delivery schedule, here’s an autonomous piece of the puzzle that will bewilder even the most hard-hearted of non-believers.

The folks over at the Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) in Germany have whipped together a fantastic demo featuring Santa’s extra pair of helping hands. In the two-and-a-half minute video, the robot executes a suite of impressive autonomous stocking-stuffing maneuvers: from recognizing the open hole in the stocking, to grasping specific candies from the cluster of goodies available.

On the hardware-side, the arms appear to be a KUKA-variant, while on the software-side, the visualizations are being handled by the open source robot software ROS‘ RVIZ tool.

If some of the props in the video look familiar, you’ll find that the researchers at CITEC have already explored some stellar perception, classification, and grasping of related research topics. Who knew this pair of hands would be so jolly to clock some overtime this holiday season? The entire video is set to a crisp computer-voiced jingle that serves as a sneaky summary of their approach to this project.

Now, if only we could set these hands off to do our other dirty work….

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Cutting Ribbons with Robots and a Oculus Rift

PR2-GrandOpening

On June 26th, 2014, Clearpath Robotics opened up the doors to their brand new 12,000 square foot robot lair by bringing out a PR2 to cut the ceremonial ribbon and welcome everyone inside. And instead of just programming the ‘locate and destroy’ ribbon sequence, the co-founders opted to use an Oculus Rift to control the robot tearing through the material with flailing arms.

This was accomplished having Jake, the robot, utilize a Kinect 2.0 that fed skeleton tracking data via rosserial_windows, a windows-based set of extension for the Robot Operating System which we heard about in January. The software gathers in a stream of data points each with an X,Y,Z component allowing [Jake] to find himself within a 3D space.Then, the data was collected and published directly into the PR2’s brain. Inject a little python code, and the creature was able to route directions in order to move it’s arms.

Thus, by simply stepping in front of the Kinect 2.0, and putting on the Oculus Rift headset, anyone could teleoperate [Jake] to move around and wave its arms at oncoming ribbons. Once completed, [Jake] would leave the scene, journeying back into the newly created robot lair leaving pieces of nylon and polyester everywhere.

An earlier (un-smoothed) version of the full system can be seen after the break:

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