Archive for May, 2011

Robots serve as reference librarians

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
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The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago employs some high-tech staff members.

The $81 million dollar facility uses robots to search for library volumes and books. The machines, developed by Dematic, are essentially robotic cranes. When retrieving a book, the device locates the appropriate storage bin and then uses a barcode scanner to find the exact book a person wants.

Aside form its robotic aides, the library itself is an impressive facility. The entire structure is housed in an underground chamber, is five stories tall and houses 35,000 bins, of which contain millions of books.

Furthermore, it only takes the robots a short amount of time to locate a desired book. This system is also more efficient than a classical library layout, as the machines calculate the dimensions of each book and place them in bins where space can be optimized.

The machines featured at the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library are not unlike the warehouse management robotics systems manufactured by Kiva. According to Wired, the company's robots are currently deployed by large retailers to make inventory processes more streamlined.

Robotics to guide the blind

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
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Technology has the potential to improve the lives of the less fortunate and, according to PhysOrg, may even help blind people find their way around.

At the University of Southern California, a robotics system is currently being developed with the purpose of addressing the challenges faced by blind people and empowering them to become more independent, claims the news source.

"We wanted to build an effective system that would provide new opportunities for the visually impaired,” Gérard Medioni, a professor at the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at USC Viterbi, told the news organization.

System users will wear a vest that is attached to simultaneous localization and mapping software. As the user moves throughout the environment, the SLAM program highlights structures blocking the person’s route and send signals to the vest. Motors situated at strategic locations on the garment will pulsate, telling the wearer to go either left or right depending ion what lies ahead.

Robotics can significantly improve the quality of life for people with physical impairments. According to CNet, a Girl Scout Troop recently developed a robotic prosthesis to help a little girl born without fingers on her right hand.

Small robot tackles tough terrain

Friday, May 27th, 2011
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According to the IEEE Spectrum, a new robotics system has been developed with the ability to "tumble" around in virtually any terrain. Dubbed the Aquapod, the robot is also amphibious and can float and sink at will, making it a diverse machine capable of exploring hard-to-reach locations.

Its unique motion can be credited to its "two carbon fiber arms connected to servo motors that can rotate continuously," claimed the news source. Therefore, if the robot ends up on its back, it can use its automated limbs to right itself. In rough terrain, this process may be repeated many times, making it appear as if the robot is tumbling up and down the landscape.

The robot may be used for a variety of functions. It originally was intended to be used by researchers mapping aquatic environments, though the media organization stated its maneuverability can make the robot well suited for land exploration. Furthermore, the platform is heralded by scientists as "very promising," as its $2,000 price tag makes it relatively cheap to manufacture.

The Auqapod may eventually join the Seaglider robot underneath the waves. Recently, this advanced system was used to explore the Ross Sea in Antarctica, reported USA Today.

Space shuttle features robotic arm

Friday, May 27th, 2011
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In the unforgiving expanse of space, robots boldly go where humans cannot. They can help astronauts conduct critical safety assessments with greater efficiency.

According to TMCnet, the space shuttle Endeavor is currently orbiting the Earth, and the crew recently conducted a test of the ship’s safety features. Aiding them in the process was a 50-foot robotic arm used to check the vessel’s heat shield, which experts say protects the spaceship as it re-enters the planet's atmosphere.

The robotic system, called the Orbital Boom Sensor System, is part of an initiative to help keep astronauts safe in the wake of the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster that took the lives of seven crew members, stated the media organization.

Robotics systems may help NASA controllers breathe a little easier as future spacecrafts begin their descent to Earth.

“Endeavour's performing absolutely flawlessly. We're tracking no significant issues whatsoever with the vehicle, and the crew is doing outstanding as well," said Gary Horlacher, Endeavor’s flight director.

Space may be the final frontier, though for some robots it’s a new horizon. Recently, a robotics competition aboard the international space station was announced, reported Space Ref.

Massachusetts robotics company experiences significant growth

Friday, May 27th, 2011
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As society becomes more dependent on technological instruments, it is likely the robotics manufacturing field will boom. According to Biz Smart, Kiva Systems recently moved its operations to a much larger venue.

The company, based in Woburn, Massachusetts, makes robotics systems designed to automate ecommerce processes for vendors and manage warehouse for large retailers, reports the news source. Now, it appears that the company is in high demand and, as a result, expanded its enterprise accordingly.

“We’re a high-growth, high-tech, venture-backed business that’s been growing nicely the last several years,” Mick Mountz, CEO of Kiva Systems, told the media organization.

The new warehouse will not only help Kiva Systems expand its business reach, it will also serve as a demo area for its line of robots used to help manage warehouse distribution systems. These robotics systems, according to Biz Smart, use “mobile shelves” to bring supplies to inventory managers quickly, effectively halving production times.

According to Wired, the company has some pretty big contracts. Walgreens and Staples currently employ Kiva System’s robots in their warehouses.

Civic leader calls on robotics to improve Pennsylvania city

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
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Hazelton, Pennsylvania, Mayor Joe Yannuzzi believes the city may be able to benefit greatly from advanced technology and robotics systems, according to the Standard Speaker. In a recent address, he proposed technology improvement initiatives that hinge on innovative solutions to normal urban problems.

The parking situation of Hazelton may be aided by a robotic parking garage. The news source reports that such a facility will feature a robot-operated hydraulic system that will allow city officials to put more cars in the confined space.

In the past, only 40 cars were able to fit at the parking site. With the advent of robotic parking systems, more than 150 cars may be precisely moved into designated spaces, states the media organization. However, the initiative will likely be expensive, forcing Yannuzzi to wait for additional funding to arrive.

Cities with limited space to build parking garages may find value in robotics parking. According to Curbed, Los Angeles will build automated parking garages in Chinatown and West Hollywood, two of its more populous neighborhoods.

More to robot than meets the eye

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
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A new robotic prototype developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota can rule the land and air, reports Geek.com.

The machine can run on land, using its two wheels to roll itself around. In addition to this functionality, the news source reports that via a second, independently-operating motor system, the robot can effectively switch its mode of transportation to fly around like a helicopter.

The device was developed by researchers Alex Kossett and Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, who displayed their innovative design at a recent robotics symposium in Shanghai, China, stated the media outlet.

With the ability to transform itself from a driving machine to a flying craft, the miniature robotics system may incur a good amount of consumer interest, claims Geek.com. However, the prototype's design is too expensive to be commercially viable, though in the future technological advancements or manufacturing refinements may make the system more affordable.

Furthermore, when the device enters the robotics marketplace, it may find itself in a booming industry. according to the Robotics Industries Association, this sector has grown the past year, as first quarter robotic sales displayed a year-over-year increase of 31 percent.

Robotics empower a paralyzed student to walk

Friday, May 20th, 2011
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Recently, Austin Whitney was able to walk across the stage at his University of California Berkeley graduation procession, reported Computerworld. However, the fact that he was even able to so is newsworthy in and of itself, as Whitney has been paralyzed since 2007.

An advanced robotics system designed by the university's researchers powered his movements up to the stage, according to the news source. The "exoskeleton" was designed by Homayoon Kazerooni, one of the professors at UC Berkeley, and while it looked futuristic, it was nonetheless effective.

Being able to stand on his own for the first time in years, Whitney praised the technological advancement.

"The second I pressed the button and stood up, I was flooded with a series of emotions," he told the news source. "It was overpowering…. I've stood in the [exoskeleton] machine a lot of times before, but I knew that it would be different up here [on stage], and it truly was."

Along with its functionality, the exoskeleton is cost-effective as well. According to GeekOSystem, a rechargeable battery and light materials enabled researchers to develop the robotics system for $15,000. Usually, such an advanced instrument would cost close to $100,000, according to researchers at UC Berkeley.

‘Rolling droids’ explore unknown structures

Friday, May 20th, 2011
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Firefighters and SWAT team members often have no idea what awaits them in the buildings they must bravely enter. Thanks to robotics, they may soon be able to enter these facilities with more knowledge.

Robots are being developed that will scan, map and explore unknown architectures, reports CNET. As part of a military robotics initiative, the machines are manufactured with laser scanners and video feeds, which will relay information back to controllers.

The advanced devices may even work together in a team, according to the news source.

"There is no lead robot, yet each unit is capable of recruiting other units to make sure the entire area is explored," Henrik Christensen, a robotics instructor at Georgia Tech, told the media organization. "When the first robot comes to an intersection, it says to a second robot, 'I'm going to go to the left if you go to the right.'"

Area awareness is now available in several robotics systems. According to Wired, robots in large company warehouses are able to determine the fastest route in order to manage the supply chain more efficiently.

Seattle doctors receive robotics training

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
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According to Swedish, the Seattle-based healthcare provider has begun an innovative robotics education program intended to help its doctors become proficient in using medical robots. Surgeons now train for robot-assisted surgery in a state-of-the-art, virtual reality simulator.

The center prides itself on being one of the foremost robotics-focused medical care providers in the region. Furthermore, it realizes that, while surgeons are an invaluable part of medical operations and procedures, robot precision ultimately trumps all human motion calculations. In an effort to get the best of both worlds, Swedish began utilizing robot-assisted surgery in 2005 and has since performed 3,400 procedures with the mechanical aids.

"While the robot's movements are under the control of the surgeon, the computer can be adjusted so that the movements of the surgeon's hands on the controllers are scaled down and translated to far smaller movements," said James Porter, the director of the robot-assisted surgery program for Swedish. "This provides a level of precision that the unaided human hand could never achieve."

Robotics in the medical field is becoming more commonplace. According to a study by ABI Research, the global medical robot market is expected to reach $1.3 billion by 2016.
Approved: JW, AO, RQ