Robotic Skin Sees When (and How) You’re Touching It

Cameras are getting less and less conspicuous. Now they’re hiding under the skin of robots.

A team of researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland have recently created a multi-camera optical tactile sensor that is able to monitor the space around it based on contact force distribution. The sensor uses a stack up involving a camera, LEDs, and three layers of silicone to optically detect any disturbance of the skin.

The scheme is modular and in this example uses four cameras but can be scaled up from there. During manufacture, the camera and LED circuit boards are placed and a layer of firm silicone is poured to about 5 mm in thickness. Next a 2 mm layer doped with spherical particles is poured before the final 1.5 mm layer of black silicone is poured. The cameras track the particles as they move and use the information to infer the deformation of the material and the force applied to it. The sensor is also able to reconstruct the forces causing the deformation and create a contact force distribution. The demo uses fairly inexpensive cameras — Raspberry Pi cameras monitored by an NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit — that in total provide about 65,000 pixels of resolution.

Apart from just providing more information about the forces applied to a surface, the sensor also has a larger contact surface and is thinner than other camera-based systems since it doesn’t require the use of reflective components. It regularly recalibrates itself based on a convolutional neural network pre-trained with data from three cameras and updated with data from all four cameras. Possible future applications include soft robotics, improving touch-based sensing with the aid of computer vision algorithms.

While self-aware robotic skins may not be on the market quite so soon, this certainly opens the possibility for robots that can detect when too much force is being applied to their structures — the machine equivalent sensation to pain.

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Colorizing Images With The Help Of AI

The world was never black and white – we simply lacked the technology to capture it in full color. Many have experimented with techniques to take black and white images, and colorize them. [Adrian Rosebrock] decided to put an AI on the job, with impressive results.

The method involves training a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) on a large batch of photos, which have been converted to the Lab colorspace. In this colorspace, images are made up of 3 channels – lightness, a (red-green), and b (blue-yellow). This colorspace is used as it better corresponds to the nature of the human visual system than RGB. The model is then trained such that when given a lightness channel as an input, it can predict the likely a & b channels. These can then be recombined into a colorized image, and converted back to RGB for human consumption.

It’s a technique capable of doing a decent job on a wide variety of material. Things such as grass, countryside, and ocean are particularly well dealt with, however more complicated scenes can suffer from some aberration. Regardless, it’s a useful technique, and far less tedious than manual methods.

CNNs are doing other great things too, from naming tomatoes to helping out with home automation. Video after the break.

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Wiping Your Windscreen To The Beat

Nothing spoils your mood quite like your windscreen wipers not feeling it when the beat drops. Every major car manufacturer is focused on trying to build the electric self driving vehicle for the masses, yet ignoring this very real problem. Well [Ian Charnas] is taking charge, and has successfully slaved his car’s wipers to beat of its stereo.

Starting with the basics, [Ian] first needed to control the speed of the wiper motor. This was done using a custom power supply adapted from another project. The brain of the system is a Raspberry Pi 3B+ which runs a phase locked loop algorithm to sync the music and the motor. Detecting the beat turned out to be the most difficult part of the project, and from the research [Ian] did, there is no standard solution. He ended up settling on “madmom“, a Python audio and music signal processing library, which runs a neural net to detect the beat in real time. The Raspi sends the required PWM and Enable signals to an Arduino over serial, which in turn controls the power supply. The entire system was neatly integrated in the car, with a switch in the dash that connects the motor to the new power supply on demand, to allow the wipers to still be used normally (and safely).

[Ian] filed a provisional patent application for the idea, and will be putting it on auction on eBay soon, with the hope that some major car manufacturer would be interested. For older cars, you can shove an Arduino into the stereo, or do a super cheap bluetooth upgrade. Check out the video after the break. Continue reading “Wiping Your Windscreen To The Beat”

Name Stone Helps You Greet Coworkers

When starting a new job, learning coworkers names can be a daunting task. Getting this right is key to forming strong professional relationships. [Ahad] noted that [Marcos] was struggling with this, so built the Name Stone to help.

The Name Stone consists of some powerful hardware, wrapped up in a 3D printed case reminiscent of the Eye of Agamotto from¬†Doctor Strange. Inside, there’s a Jetson Nano – an excellent platform for any project built around machine learning tasks. This is combined with a microphone and camera to collect data from the environment.

[Ahad] then went about training neural networks to help with basic identification tasks. Video was taken of the coworkers, then the frames used to train a convolutional neural network using PyTorch. Similarly, a series of audio clips were used to again train a network to identify individuals through the sound of their voice, using MFCC techniques. Upon activating the stone, the device will capture an image or a short sound clip, and process the data to identify the target coworker and remind [Marcos] of their name.

It’s a project that could be quite useful, given to new employees to help them transition into the new workplace. Of course, pervasive facial recognition technology does have some drawbacks. Video after the break.

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This Machine Learning Algorithm Is Meta

Suppose you ran a website releasing many articles per day about various topics, all following a general theme. And suppose that your website allowed for a comments section for discussion on those topics. Unless you are brand new to the Internet, you’ll also imagine that the comments section needs at least a little bit of moderation to filter out spam, off topic, or even toxic comments. If you don’t want to employ any people for this task, you could try this machine learning algorithm instead.

[Ladvien] goes through a general overview of how to set up a convolutional neural network (CNN) which can be programmed to do many things, but this one crawls a web page, gathers data, and also makes decisions regarding that data. In this case, the task is to identify toxic comments but the goal is not to achieve the sharpest sword in the comment moderator’s armory, but to learn more about how CNNs work.

Written in Python, the process outlines the code itself and how it behaves, setting up a small server to host the neural network, and finally creating the webservice. As with any machine learning, you need a reliable dataset to use for training and this one came from Wikipedia comments previously flagged by humans. Trolling nuance is thrown aside, as the example homes in on blatant insults and vulgarity.

While [Ladvien] notes that his guide isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but rather to fill in some gaps that he noticed within other guides like this, we find this to be an interesting read. He also mentioned that, in theory, this tool could be used to predict the number of comments following an article like this very one based on the language in the article. We’ll leave that one as an academic exercise for now, probably.

Largest Chip Ever Holds 1.2 Trillion Transistors

We get it, press releases are full of hyperbole. Cerebras recently announced they’ve built the largest chip ever. The chip has 400,000 cores and contains 1.2 trillion transistors on a die over 46,000 square mm in area. That’s roughly the same as a square about 8.5 inches on each side. But honestly, the WSE — Wafer Scale Engine — is just most of a wafer not cut up. Typically a wafer will have lots of copies of a device on it and it gets split into pieces.

According to the company, the WSE is 56 times larger than the largest GPU on the market. The chip boasts 18 gigabytes of storage spread around the massive die. The problem isn’t making such a beast — although a normal wafer is allowed to have a certain number of bad spots. The real problems come through things such as interconnections and thermal management.

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Memristor Computing On A Chip

Memristors have been — so far — mostly a solution looking for a problem. However, researchers at the University of Michigan are claiming the first memristor-based programmable computer that has the potential to make AI applications more efficient and faster.

Because memristors have a memory, they can accumulate data in a way that is common for — among other things — neural networks. The chip has both an array of nearly 6,000 memristors, a crossbar array, along with analog to digital and digital to analog converters. In fact, there are 486 DACs and 162 ADCs along with an OpenRISC processor.

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