Automation and Robotics News–Dec. 27, 2009
- Ford Testing Robot,
- Robot Teachers,
- Mail Automation in Bangladesh,
- Strawberry Inspection Robot,
- Drones Hacked
# Neato’s auto vac gets down and dirty with Roomba
by <http://www.cnet.com/profile/dcarnoy/>David Carno, December 16, 2009
Roomba has been king of the robotic vacuum market for a while, but Neato Robotics, a start-up out of Menlo Park, California, will be trying to usurp the throne in February with a new automated vacuum that will cost $400. While the company expects to have multiple robotic housekeeping products in the future, its debut product is called the Neato XV-11. What makes it better than Roomba vacuums? Neato says it’s smarter because it features a high-tech laser-powered Room Positioning System (RPS) to map your room and avoid most obstacles. And since it’s smarter, it cleans a room in a more efficient manner, allowing it to finish the job more quickly.
# Ford’s RUTH robot gets touchy-feely with interiors
<http://www.cnet.com/profile/legerdemain/>Tim Hornyak, December 16, 2009
Ford has been working with a tactile robot arm to evaluate the feel and appearance of surfaces and controls in its vehicles in a bid to make the testing process less subjective and more scientific. The <http://www.ford.com/about-ford/news-announcements/press-releases/press-releases-detail/pr-ford-engineers-imitate-human-touch-31613>Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics, or RUTH, has been used for several years at the automaker’s <http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=26765>European Research Center in Aachen, Germany, to check the interiors of the European versions of the new Focus and Fiesta, versions of which are coming to the United States in 2010. Ford says it’s the first carmaker to use a robot like RUTH, which is a modified consumer packaging arm, to scientifically test interiors. Work by the machine is now being seen in production models around the world.
# Humanoid robot to teach software class
by <http://www.cnet.com/profile/legerdemain/>Tim Hornyak, December 22, 2009
Classrooms in Japan may soon welcome a new 4-foot-tall educational humanoid robot unveiled by <http://www.nit.ac.jp/english/>Nippon Institute of Technology and other groups. It will be used to teach software programming and hardware engineering to students, but will also be demonstrated in elementary schools and nursing homes. It will act as a “teacher” in class along with a human teacher.
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# Korea introduces English-teaching robots Korea Herald – Dec 22, 2009
Korea introduced a pilot program using English-teaching robots at local schools Tuesday, hoping to better educate students in provincial cities, the government said and Yonhap News reported. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said two robots were brought into elementary schools in Daejeon, about 160 kilometers south of Seoul, and one robot to an elementary school in the port city of Masan on the southeastern coast. The robot in Masan is an “autonomous” unit that can detect its surrounding and has voice-recognition features. The two at the schools in Daejeon are “tele-presence” robots that are remotely controlled by an English teacher who can speak with students via a microphone and move the machine using a built-in camera.
# Automation Alley to aid international businesses
JOSEPH SZCZESNY, Of The Oakland Press, December 19, 2009
Automation Alley has secured a grant to construct an international business center at its headquarters in Troy. The organization received $394,800 in federal funding for the project when President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations for fiscal 2010. The project will create a soft business landing center for international companies looking to conduct business in Southeast Michigan. “It’s not uncommon to see an international business begin with a small presence here in Southeast Michigan,” said Ken Rogers, Automation Alley’s executive director. “The new expansion will allow those international companies to become familiar with the open business culture, technical workforce and quality of life we have in our community. We anticipate that once they become established, their business will grow and new jobs will be created,” he said.
# San Miguel Brewery taps Siemens’ automation for Mandaue plant upgrade
December 17, 2009, 3:40pm
Siemens, Inc., Philippines, a ubit of Siemens A.G. of Germany, an electrical engineering conglomerate and global leader in the field of automation systems, has revolutionized San Miguel Brewery, Inc.’s Mandaue brewery with the installation of Braumat process control system, a powerful, technology-oriented process management and information system specifically designed by Siemens for the beer brewing industry. … When it relied heavily on manual processes, the Mandaue brewery’s former production capacity was at one to four brews per day with an average of 600 hectoliters per brew. At present, with its new system the brewery is now producing six to eight brews a day at 1,400 hectoliters per brew. At about 80% automation, the new system minimizes human intervention, thereby allowing greater flexibility in production volume, tremendous cost-savings, and a smoother management of data, which lead to higher quality control of the brewery’s product portfolio.
# Deal Talk Drives Rockwell Action
By <http://online.wsj.com/search/search_center.html?KEYWORDS=TENNILLE+TRACY&ARTICLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND>TENNILLE TRACY And <http://online.wsj.com/search/search_center.html?KEYWORDS=BRENDAN+CONWAY&ARTICLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND>BRENDAN CONWAY, DECEMBER 16, 2009
Options traders rallied around <http://online.wsj.com/public/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=ROK>Rockwell Automation after analysts said they thought the company would make a good acquisition target for <http://online.wsj.com/public/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=GE>General Electric. As Rockwell shares hovered near their 52-week highs on Tuesday, options traders made a beeline for bullish contracts in the Milwaukee-based company, picking up 10,200 calls that allow them to buy the stock and 400 puts that allow them to sell it, according to Track Data. Traders showed particular interest in Rockwell’s December $50 calls, as well as its January $50 calls, hoping the stock could breach new highs in coming weeks and months. The January calls are priced at 85 cents and make money if the company’s stock climbs above $50.85 before Jan. 15. The shares closed trading at $46.62, losing 3.1%. The activity followed a research note from J.P. Morgan Chase, which said that GE should make a bid to buy Rockwell Automation for $60 a share, calling such a deal a “potential strategic win/win for both companies.”
# Honeywell Forecasts Sales Rise in 2010
by <mailto:email@example.com?subject=Mail%20bag:%20Emily-Sue%20Sloane>Emily-Sue Sloane, MA Editorial Staff, December 16, 2009
Honeywell today provided revenue and earnings guidance for 2010 based on a kernel of optimism that recent signs of global economic improvement will strengthen over the year. The automation technology vendor anticipates sales in the range of $31.3 billion to $32.2 billion, up 1% to 4% from 2009 levels, and net income ranging from $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion, a decline of 13% to 21%. The company predicted earnings per share at $2.20 to $2.40, down 16% to 23%. … Throughout the downturn, Honeywell continued to invest in new products and services, as well as expanding its global footprint, he said. Half of the company’s sales are now outside the United States, compared with 30% in 2003. And of those overseas sales, about one-third come from emerging regions. The Automation and Control Systems group, in particular, is expected to reap the benefits of expanding into emerging markets, Anderson said, as well as rising demand for energy efficiency, safety, and security products. ACS’ revenue is anticipated to rise 1% to 3% in 2010, to a range of $12.7 billion to $13 billion. More than 60% of ACS’ revenue is tied to energy-efficiency programs, he noted.
# Postal Dept to undergo Automation
UNB, Dhaka, 12/16/09
The government has decided to install automation system in post offices across the country for modernizing the postal department and providing better services. At initial phase, the automation system will be installed in 84 post offices at a cost of Tk 32 crore within next 15 months, said Bangladesh Post Office sources. Later, rest of post offices will be brought under this system.
# Jobs have to get done, even at Christmas
Jean Lundquist, The Free Press , 12/23/09
MANKATO — A holiday isn’t a day off for everyone. In a 24/7 world many people will be making plans for Christmas around their work schedules. If emergencies arise, especially with the winter storm forecast, people who can help will be available. If we are alone on Christmas because of the storm, or for any reason, there is help for that, too. Barry Wortel will be behind the microphone at KTOE Radio on Christmas morning, bright and early at 5 a.m. He has hosted every Christmas morning show on KTOE for the last 30 years. “When I started doing this, I was program director, and I had to do it because no one else wanted to be here on Christmas. Now, I look forward to it.” Automation for radio stations has become very advanced, and Wortel says, “You can make it sound like you’re there, but you’re not.” Wortel believes it is important to be live on the radio on Christmas. “A lot of people are with friends and family, but many are not. But they can turn on their radio and hear a friendly voice, and get current news, weather and sports reports.”
# Rutgers glider robot a sleek ocean explorer
By Sandy Bauers, Inquirer Staff Writer, 12/21/09
The sea was heaving, the skies gray. The captain of the research ship was worried about the weather. About 120 miles off the coast of Spain, three Rutgers University scientists had a narrow window of opportunity to find and retrieve their prize – an 8-foot, torpedo-shaped yellow robot that they had launched seven months earlier off the coast of New Jersey. They could grab it and learn from it, or in the rough seas accidentally ram it and sink it. After an hour of pitching in the 20-foot waves, the shipmates let out a cheer. Having spent 221 days at sea on a voyage of 4,604 miles, the robot dubbed Scarlet Knight was safely aboard. With that came the completion of a mission that made oceanographic history.
# <Robot-Cam: Partying Without a Photographer
TIME – <http://news.google.com/news/search?pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=author%3A%22Adam+Rose%22&scoring=n>Adam Rose – Dec 22, 2009
American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams once said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” He didn’t say anything about robots. But Adams, who died in 1984, could not have anticipated a new device from Sony designed to replace human shutterbugs by making its own decisions about when to take a photo. Called the Party-shot, Sony’s $150 accessory is a camera dock — not much bigger than a palm-sized paperweight — that enables users to enjoy themselves at gatherings without worrying about who is documenting the event. Attach a compatible camera (sorry, Sony only), and the Party-shot will take over, panning and tilting, zooming in and out, and snapping shots of any people who pause in front of it long enough to be detected. The Party-shot was released in September without much fanfare, even though it’s the first robo-cam on the market aimed at consumers. The obvious question is, have digital cameras, nowadays equipped with a considerable amount of artificial intelligence, come so far that they make human photographers obsolete? We tried out the Party-shot at a recent office potluck, and came away thinking it’s less a substitute for a human photographer, and more a supplement.
# Battlefield robot had security hole: Insurgents could steal video before local firm made fix
By <http://search.boston.com/local/Search.do?s.sm.query=Hiawatha+Bray&camp=localsearch:on:byline:art>Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe Staff / December 19, 2009
The same security weakness that allowed Iraqi insurgents to record video from unmanned US surveillance aircraft might also have let them spy on American battlefield robots produced by a local firm. For years, Talon robots, made by Qinetiq North America Operations LLC in Waltham, transmitted analog video images without the encryption that scrambles signals to prevent them from being intercepted. As a result, videos from the robots could have been viewed and recorded by anybody with a laptop and a television receiver, including adversaries. The US military has purchased more than 3,000 Talon robots. Many are used for video surveillance patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan.
# Special Ops robots now do psychological warfare
By <http://forms.theregister.co.uk/mail_author/?story_url=/2009/12/18/military_robot_psyops/>Lewis Page, 18th December 2009
US arms globocorp Boeing has announced yet another military robot demonstration – but this time, one with a difference. Rather than spying on meatsacks or mowing them down with the traditional array of automated weaponry, the war-bots in this trial sought to win over their fleshy opponents using psychological warfare. The demo was carried out for the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), the organisation which runs the noted Green Berets, Rangers etc. “Working with USASOC, we were able to pull together a team to demonstrate this integrated, multimodal operation in just 45 days,” says Boeing bigwig Vic Sweberg. “We brought together hardware and software from five different contractors into a single system that allowed the control of different unmanned systems capabilities to accomplish a particular mission.” Apart from its legions of hardy throatcutters, USASOC is also in charge of the US Army’s active psychological-warfare troops. It seems that a small robot helicopter and an unmanned R-Gator jeep/buggy affair from John Deere were selected to deliver a blistering onslaught of pro-US propaganda. Boeing says the two machine warriors carried out an “electro-optical/infrared, audio, and leaflet drop mission”. Translated, that means that infrared nightsight video of the target area was taken, propaganda announcements were played through speakers (probably on the R-Gator) and leaflets were dropped (probably from the copter). Actually, robots of a sort have already carried out leaflet drops in Afghanistan – <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/12/paramotor_robot_chute_delivery_gps_craft/>SnowGoose robo-paramotor rigs, to be specific. So there’s nothing terribly new going on here.
# Robots to Replace Human Soldiers in the field
<http://www.navytimes.com/news/2009/12/army_robots_122709w/>Robots to shape wars of the future
NavyTimes.com – <http://news.google.com/news/search?pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=author%3A%22Kathleen+Curthoys%22&scoring=n>Kathleen Curthoys, <http://news.google.com/news/search?pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=author%3A%22Matthew+Cox%22&scoring=n>Matthew Cox, 12/27/09
Robots may one day be more effective than human soldiers on the battlefield and they may have a sense of ethics — even a sense of guilt, says a robotics expert who has done a study with the support of the Army’s research office. Ethical robots that can use lethal force on the battlefield would adhere to international law and rules of engagement, Ronald C. Arkin told Army Times on Dec. 15. Arkin describes how this could work in his 2009 book “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots.” He is with the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Here’s what the future of robots may hold: Human soldiers eventually may not be up to speed compared to “humane-oids” in the battle space, Arkin says. Future developments may lead to robotic sensors better equipped than soldiers to maintain situational awareness and process information quickly about situations in which lethal force might be used.
# Israel’s military avatar: Robots on the battlefield
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>Ora Coren <http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/tags/index.jhtml?tag=Israel+news>Israel news, 12/27/09
With self-detonating grenades, thinking bullets and robot warriors, humans on the frontline could soon be a thing of the past. When armies clash in the not-too-distant future, remotely-operated robotic weapons will fight the enemy on land, in the air and at sea, without a human soldier anywhere on the battlefield. The first robotic systems are already being used by the Israel Defense Forces and other armies across the world, and only budgetary constraints seem to be keeping science fiction from becoming reality. In places where there is no choice but to send in troops, constantly improving broadband technologies, developed from the civilian communications industry, will serve as an essential part of the infrastructure for all modern military forces. A helicopter that spots suspicious movement on the ground will, for instance, be able to relay a command to a drone aircraft to photograph the site and transmit the picture in real time to troops on the ground and to the command posts in the rear.
# Russia To Send Monkeys, Robots To Mars
Air America, 12/22/09 <http://airamerica.com/author/Megan_Carpentier/>Megan Carpentier
Russian scientists today unveiled a plan to send the first earthlings to Mars: monkeys. The round-trip to the Red Planet would take about a year and a half, and scientists have no intention of cleaning up a 520 days worth of monkey mess when the spaceship returns, so <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/6864142/Monkey-to-be-sent-to-Mars.html>Urmee Khan reports that they plan to build robots to do it for them. The Institute said a robot would accompany the first primate to Mars to feed and look after the ape.
#Robots Could Repair Nation’s Water Mains, Save $245 Billion
Treehugger – <http://news.google.com/news/search?pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=author%3A%22Jaymi+Heimbuch%22&scoring=n>Jaymi Heimbuch – Dec 21, 2009
Thanks to seed money granted by the US Department of Commerce’s Technology Innovation Program for small businesses, two companies – Fibrwrap Construction, Inc. and FYFE Company – and robotics experts at the University of California are creating a team of robots that will help the US keep a handle on its +2 million miles of aging water pipes and infrastructure. By deploying robots, the team hopes that the country can both boost its water conservation efforts as well as minimize the expense of maintaining and upgrading mains systems. The team figures it could mean a massive savings for taxpayers. <http://tipex.nist.gov/tippb/prjbriefs/prjbrief.cfm?ProjectNumber=090060>The Robotic Rehabilitation of Aging Water Pipelines project received nearly $8.5 million to go towards the $17.5 million project cost. The project duration is 5 years, during which the team hopes that they’ll develop a prototype robot to apply carbon fiber reinforcement inside water transmission pipes.
# Alexis is first in the world with a robot ‘play date’
Pilot News – <http://news.google.com/news/search?pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=author%3A%22Rusty+Nixon%22&scoring=n>Rusty Nixon – Dec 24, 2009
ARGOS — Alexis Hicks has a unique distinction of being the first in the world.
The little girl from Argos was invited to be part of a groundbreaking new therapy for those with cerebral palsy at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. The program is in the planning stages and involves the use of space-age robotics to help patients. MIT developed the robots for use in therapy for victims of strokes and doctors have now adapted the ro-bots to help cerebral palsy patients.
# First Female Sex Robot
<http://www.examiner.com/x-32346-Business-Success-Examiner%7Ey2009m12d22-First-female-sex-robot-to-be-unveiled-at-the-Adult-Entertainment-Expo-2010–in-Vegas–Jan-710>First female sex robot to be unveiled at the Adult Entertainment Expo 2010 in …
Examiner.com – Dec 22, 2009
True Companion is set to unveil the first female sex robot at the upcoming Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Convention Center Jan 7-10,2010. This female robot from True Companion is described as an artificial intelligence robot which was been specifically engineered to completely gratify the owner. The robot is said to be fully equipped with the capabilities to carry on a conversation or to have an intimate encounter. I told my husband about this new artificial intelligence female sex robot and all he could say was, “they made one mistake when they equipped it to talk.” <http://www.truecompanion.com/>http://www.truecompanion.com
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#Aussie Hovering Drone is Straight Outta Avatar
David Hambling, December 17, 2009
Jamers Cameron’s <http://www.avatarmovie.com/>Avatar opens this week, with trailers featuring some funny-looking <http://www.gadgetgrid.com/2009/12/02/avatars-scorpion-gunship-now-available-in-toy-form/>aircraft that resemble helicopters, but with ducted fans instead of the traditional rotor blades. While there are no full-size aircraft employing this technology, it’s already in use on small unmanned drones. And it has distinct advantages over the older approach. Last month, an Australian company, <http://www.cybertechuav.com.au/>Cyber Technology (WA) Pty Ltd, used a drone with ducted fans in an actual operation. Their <http://www.cybertechuav.com/CyberQuadBrochure.pdf>Cyber Quad vertical take-off drone carried out an extended survey of an offshore drilling platform and an oil rig damaged by fire. The drone flew around, under and inside the two structures, which are joined by a gantry, as well as landing on them for a better look.
# Army Tests ‘Universal Remote’ for Future Troopers
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/author/nathanhodge/>Nathan Hodge, December 16, 2009
On future battlefields, the Army wants to have an all-seeing array of drones, robots and sensors that will be tied together over a common network. But the real challenge will be bringing all that digital information down to the lowest level: the individual soldier. That’s the idea behind a recent series of tests pairing Land Warrior, a <http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/06/high-tech-brigade-heads-to-afghanistan-loaded-with-gagdets/>controversial array of infantry gadgets the service has trialed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the <https://www.fcs.army.mil/systems/common_controller/index.html>Common Controller device, a developmental system that functions something like a “universal remote” for different robotic devices.The Common Controller controls the Class I Unmanned Aerial System (aka the “<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/11/national-guard/>flying beer keg“), the <http://www.botmag.com/articles/mule.shtml>Multifunctional Utility/Logistics Equipment vehicle (a robotic cart) and the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (a portable, tracked bot). It can also connect to Urban Unattended Ground Sensors (U-UGS), which are a fancy, networked version of the intrusion detection sensors you might find in your household alarm system. Problem is, this networked central controller works only at the battalion level and above. This new experiment — called the <http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/army-experiments-to-bring-increased-network-connectivity-to-the-soldier-79327582.html>Common Controller & Man packable Network Interoperability and Network Evaluation Experiment — is supposed to bring sensor data from these unmanned systems to smaller units equipped with Land Warrior gear.
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FROM ROBOTICS TRENDS
# Carnegie Mellon Engineers Develop Machine That Visually Inspects and Sorts Strawberry Plants
Machines exceed throughput of human workers and have comparable error rates.
12.20.2009 — CMU researchers combine machine vision and intelligence to develop agricultural solution that formally could only be accomplished manually. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) have developed a plant-sorting machine that uses computer vision and machine learning to inspect and grade harvested strawberry plants and then mechanically sort them by quality — tasks that until now could only be done manually. In a successful field test this fall, the machine classified and sorted harvested plants more consistently and faster than workers could, with a comparable error rate.
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FROM THE WSJ
# Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones: $26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing
By <http://online.wsj.com/search/search_center.html?KEYWORDS=SIOBHAN+GORMAN&ARTICLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND>SIOBHAN GORMAN, <http://online.wsj.com/search/search_center.html?KEYWORDS=YOCHI+J.+DREAZEN&ARTICLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND>YOCHI J. DREAZEN and <http://online.wsj.com/search/search_center.html?KEYWORDS=AUGUST+COLE&ARTICLESEARCHQUERY_PARSER=bylineAND>AUGUST COLE
WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations. Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.