Autonomous Excavator Builds Stone Wall Algorithmically

In a move that aims to further the circular economy of the construction industry, researchers at ETH Zurich have let an autonomous excavator loose on a big pile of boulders and reclaimed concrete. The goal? To build a 20 foot (6 meter) and 213 ft (65 m) long dry-stone wall as part of a park where the landscape was digitally planned, and the earth autonomously excavated.

The coolest thing about the Menzi Muck excavator is the software, which is explored in the video after the break. Thanks to a bunch of sensors, the excavator can not only draw a 3D map of the site, it can find in situ boulders dotting the landscape and incorporate them into the wall.

Machine vision allows the excavator to grab the stones and assess their size and shape, as well as approximate their weight and center of gravity.

Then, an algorithm determines the best place for each stone and places them there without using mortar or cement. Menzi Muck is capable of number-crunching 20 to 30 stones at a time, which coincidentally is about the number in one delivery.

Want to build your own excavator? Check out this finely-detailed R/C excavator for top-notch inspiration.

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Hackaday Links: August 27, 2023

We mentioned last week how robotaxi provider Cruise was having a no-good, very bad week, after one of their driverless taxis picked a fight with a semi, and it was revealed that amorous San Franciscans were taking advantage of the privacy afforded by not having a driver in the front seat. It appears that we weren’t the only ones to notice all the bad news, since California’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued an order to the company to cut its robotaxi fleet in half. The regulatory move comes after a recent Cruise collision with a fire truck, which injured a passenger in the taxi. Curiously, the DMV order stipulates that Cruise can only operate 50 vehicles during the day, while allowing 150 vehicles at night. We’d have thought the opposite would make more sense, since driving at night is generally more difficult than during daylight hours. But perhaps the logic is that the streets are less crowded at night, whereas daytime is a more target-rich environment.

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Hackaday Links: October 2, 2022

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” or so the saying goes. We’ve never held to that, finding that laziness is a much more powerful creative lubricant. And this story about someone who automated their job with a script is one of the best examples of sloth-driven invention since the TV remote was introduced. If we take the story at face value — and it’s the Internet, so why wouldn’t we? — this is a little scary, as the anonymous employee was in charge of curating digital evidence submissions for a law firm. The job was to watch for new files in a local folder, manually copy them to a cloud server, and verify the file with a hash to prove it hasn’t been tampered with and support the chain of custody. The OP says this was literally the only task to perform, so we can’t really blame them for automating it with a script once COVID shutdowns and working from home provided the necessary cover. But still — when your entire job can be done by a Windows batch file and some PowerShell commands while you play video games, we’re going to go out on a limb and say you’re probably underemployed.

People have been bagging on the US Space Force ever since its inception in 2019, which we think is a little sad. It has to be hard being the newest military service, especially since it branched off of the previously newest military service, and no matter how important its mission may be, there’s still always going to be the double stigmas of being both the new kid on the block and the one with a reputation for digging science fiction. And now they’ve given the naysayers yet more to dunk on, with the unveiling of the official US Space Force service song. Every service branch has a song — yes, even the Army, and no, not that one — and they all sound appropriately martial. So does the Space Force song, but apparently people have a problem with it, which we really don’t get at all — it sounds fine to us.

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Does Your Programmer Know How Fast You Were Going?

News reports were everywhere that an autonomous taxi operated by a company called Cruise was driving through San Francisco with no headlights. The local constabulary tried to stop the vehicle and were a bit thrown that there was no driver. Then the car moved beyond an intersection and pulled over, further bemusing the officers.

The company says the headlights were due to human error and that the car had stopped at a light and then moved to a safe stop by design. This leads to the question of how people including police officers will interact with robot vehicles.

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This John Deere Tractor Doesn’t Need A Driver

While most autonomous vehicles are meant to travel over the highway, John Deere’s new 8R tractor shown at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show will likely only traverse fields and it will do so without a human at the wheel.

The tractor is slated to be available to farmers in late 2022 and has six pairs of stereo cameras to generate a 360 degree view of obstacles. It also uses location technology, including GPS, to ensure it is where it is supposed to be with a claimed accuracy of 1 inch. You can see a video about the beast below.

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Seoul Introduces Self-Driving Taxis

Last year the Seoul city government passed an ordinance enabling the commercial operation of autonomous passenger-carrying vehicles. A six square kilometer region in the Seoul neighborhood of Sangam, near the 2002 World Cup Stadium, was designated as a pilot program test bed. This area encompasses 24 streets totaling 31.3 km. Two companies were selected, and the pilot program launched a few weeks ago. Currently there are three vehicles and passengers can ride for free during this introductory phase. Three more taxis and a bus will be added within this year, with plans for 50 in this region by 2026. For the time being, these cars require a standby driver who takes control in an emergency and in school zones. Check out the short news report (in English) below the break.

There was a smaller autonomous driving test program in the city of Sejong which we wrote about back in January, and [Alfred Jones] gave a keynote presentation at the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon on the challenges of designing self-driving vehicles if you want to learn more on this topic.

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Alfred Jones Talks About The Challenges Of Designing Fully Self-Driving Vehicles

The leap to self-driving cars could be as game-changing as the one from horse power to engine power. If cars prove able to drive themselves better than humans do, the safety gains could be enormous: auto accidents were the #8 cause of death worldwide in 2016. And who doesn’t want to turn travel time into something either truly restful or alternatively productive?

But getting there is a big challenge, as Alfred Jones knows all too well. The Head of Mechanical Engineering at Lyft’s level-5 self-driving division, his team is building the roof racks and other gear that gives the vehicles their sensors and computational hardware. In his keynote talk at Hackaday Remoticon, Alfred Jones walks us through what each level of self-driving means, how the problem is being approached, and where the sticking points are found between what’s being tested now and a truly steering-wheel-free future.

Check out the video below, and take a deeper dive into the details of his talk.

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