Archive for June, 2011

Size matters for military robotics

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
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According to the New York Times, U.S. military forces currently deploy 7,000 flying drones in combat operations theaters throughout the world. While the number of robotics deployed by the armed forces is expected to grow, the machines themselves are expected to shrink.

In order to mimic animals and register minuscule radar signatures, military-developed drones are getting smaller and smaller, reported the news source. Eventually, robotics systems resembling hawks or flies in both appearance and physical size may become critical parts of future battlefield operations.

The Pentagon has asked the State Department for an additional $5 billion for research and development relating to these advanced systems.

"It’s a growth market," Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, said, according to the Times.

As the number of robotics drones increases, the number of piloted vehicles being commissioned will likely decrease, stated the media outlet. Accordingly, the Department of Defense has already begun facilitating this transition by providing its pilots and military personnel more robotics training. This year, the number of people trained in unmanned aerial warfare will exceed those trained for manned missions.

Flying military robots have made headlines in recent months. According to the Register, drone robotics devices have the capability of turning traditional cargo planes into strike fighters.

Robotics market expected to prosper

Monday, June 20th, 2011
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According to Robotics Online, favorable economic conditions are expected to return the robotics marketplace to a steady growth pattern. Having slowed during the recent global recession, the predicted rebound has led to marked optimism in the industry.

The driving force behind this upswing will likely be the business sector, reported the news source. In lean economies, private consumers tend to save more and spend less, thereby leaving a large amount of the robotics and technology purchases to large corporations. Furthermore, additional emphasis has been placed on automation capabilities in recent months, as many businesses feel like these processes increase enterprise efficiency.

The media outlet highlighted the fact that manufacturing and production were on the rise in most markets worldwide. This creates an environment in which large companies want to spend surplus profits on business equipment and technology, two categories that apply to many robotic devices.

The new found optimism follows strong first quarter sales for the robotics industry. According to the Robotics Industries Association, not only are businesses buying more robots, but the devices themselves are more expensive. On average, robotics sales were up 31 percent from 2010.

Defense department drafts new robots

Monday, June 20th, 2011
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Robotics systems have been used by every military branch for quite some time. According to National Defense, these robotics soldiers are now being discharged as the next generation is set to be deployed.

The new enlistees will come in three different models, reported the media outlet. One will be the size of a backpack, and another one will be slightly bigger. The largest of the three is to replace a 700-pound robot used for ordinance detection and detonation missions.

“Our plan is to have three different chassis and have all these interchangeable parts and pieces between the three robots," said master gunnery sergeant, Greg Carroll, of the Marine Corps.

The new devices will not be shipped to the front lines right away, however. According to Carroll and other military executives, the current generation of robotics in the service branches will begin a decommissioning process starting in 2017.

The United States Air Force also uses robotics and is currently in the process of designing its next generation flying systems, reported the Register. Robotic drones are currently being developed that will act as aerial decoys, protecting the lives of pilots.

NASA robotics program cleared for take-off

Friday, June 17th, 2011
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Satellites in orbit around the Earth only have enough fuel to carry out their respective missions, rendering them useless once their supply runs out. According to industry news provider Space, a new, robotics program will be tested aboard the International Space Station in July.

The system is designed to refuel satellites already in orbit as well as make necessary repairs to these expensive devices, stated the news organization. The initial tests of this program will be carried out by a Canadian robot named Dextre, which will hover outside the space station and conduct operations using specialized tools developed for the space initiative.

"The nature of this mission is very complex," said Benjamin Reed, NASA's deputy project manager of the Space Servicing Capabilities Project.

If the test is successful, future missions to fix and refuel old satellites will be carried out by NASA. The earliest possible date for one of these missions is in May of 2013, reported the media outlet.

This is not the first time robotics systems have been used in space. Recently, the crew of space shuttle Endeavor used a robotic arm to check if the craft's heat shield was ready for atmospheric re-entry, reported TMCnet.

Robotics system poses for clothes shoppers

Friday, June 17th, 2011
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U.K. clothing retailer, Hawes & Curtis, will soon launch a female version of its Fit.me robotics program, reported Venture Beat. Using the latest technology, the manufacturer hopes its advanced machines will increase online revenues and reduce the number of items returned due to improper fitting.

The system is essentially a high-tech mannequin that uses 3D imaging technology to accurately record the dimensions of customers, according to the news source. Once a person's proportions are measured, the data is then sent to the robot mannequin, and the contours on the device shift to match an individual’s unique body type.

Furthermore, a database of tens of thousands of body types has been established by the company, which then places its clothing on each sizing option and takes a picture. Online shoppers will be able to see how a particular garment hangs on a certain body type, stated the media outlet.

The new female version of the robotics system has a male predecessor. Venture Beats claimed this is mostly due to the fact that women's contours are more varied than men's, prompting the clothing retailer to opt for the simplest solution for its initial program offerings.

The recent mantra of the robotics field may be girl power. Along with the female FitBot, an android resembling a popular Chinese actress was put on display by a jeweler in Beijing, reported Inventorspot.

Breakfast is served, robotics style

Friday, June 17th, 2011
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Everyday chores can be greatly helped by the use of robotics in the household. Soon, people may find machines doing their cooking as well.

Two robots developed by researchers with the IAS group at the Technical University in Munich, Germany recently worked together to make breakfast, reported Technabob. Named TUM-James and TUM-Rosie, each is assigned a specific task that goes into making the most important meal of the day. Furthermore, the robots "learn from doing," meaning many of these cooking functions become second nature to them.

James can slice bread while Rosie fries up sausages, claimed the media outlet. The robotics systems rely on MS kinect sensors to positively identify certain food and kitchen utensils and use internal processors to make logical decisions about how certain things are prepared. The result is a complete and appetizing meal.

The cooking robots may soon have additional help in the kitchen. According to Engadget, another robotics system was developed in 2008 that uses advanced algorithms to learn certain actions and repeat them. After a while, the device learned how to slice ham, the perfect complement to a couple of eggs sunnyside up.

STEM education leads to industry sustainability

Monday, June 13th, 2011
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Technical fields are seeing a 70 percent higher rate of job vacancies than other industries, reported the Atlantic. In an effort to reverse this trend, new educational initiatives have been launched to create the potential science, technology, engineering and math workforce of tomorrow.

Classrooms all across the world now feature hands-on, STEM learning designed to get schoolchildren interested in the field at a young age. The media outlet highlighted innovative classroom programs, such as the dis-assembly of a highly-complex machine as a way to best enact these goals. Accordingly, experts claim robotics in the classroom meet all of the criteria for hands-on, technical learning.

One company dedicated to increased STEM interest is Design and Technology. According to the news source, the company places inherent value on the student mistakes made during hands-on assembly and planning process, as these are often the best ways to learn. The company is confident its efforts will eventually help embattled scientific fields.

Robotics competitions and clubs are also ways in which to make the average student STEM focused, experts agree.

New robots hang 10 on ocean waves

Monday, June 13th, 2011
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In an effort to solve the energy puzzle, companies throughout the world are turning to alternative sources as a possible solution. Accordingly, one company in California is looking to harness the power of ocean waves, reported Sustainable Industries.

Recently, investors poured $22 million into Liquid Robotics’ oceanic initiative, stated the news source. The robotics systems are designed to roam the world’s seas and collect critical, environmental data about aquatic ecosystems. The fact that it’s powered by the waves it sits on makes the robotics system innovative.

The machines, dubbed Wave Gliders, will also have an auxiliary, solar power system to keep them charged and running in the event they drift into the doldrums. Furthermore, oceanographers praise the devices for their ability to monitor marine environments at reduced costs.

“The Wave Glider gives us a unique tool to bring down the costs of observations and sample regions of the ocean that are rarely or never visited by research vessels,” said Christian Meinig, an ocean researcher.

Robotics systems can be specialized to withstand extreme, aquatic environments as well. According to USA Today, two Seaglider robots were sent to explore the frozen, Antarctic waters.

Flying drones to change the nature of air combat

Monday, June 13th, 2011
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According to the Register, the U.S. military is conducting tests of a new aircraft delivery system that could have implications for future conflicts. Years from now, it is possible that robotics devices will be sent to the front lines of aerial dogfights in place of expensive fighter jets.

The system has been labeled by designers and military planners as a “birdcage” delivery method, reported the news source. Through the new warfare tactic, robotic drones will be launched off the back of cargo planes. When fired upon, the devices will highlight the location of enemy anti-air defenses.

Dubbed the Miniature Air Launch Decoy, the droid planes will encounter fire before their more vital counterparts. After an enemy defense installation engages the MALD devices, air-to-surface weapons systems or other military assets will then, in theory, open fire on exposed defense locations and destroy the site, claimed the media outlet.

This tactic would significantly reduce the amount of human personnel in the U.S. Air Force, thus preserving human life. One day, the only manned job left in the USAF will be piloting the cargo launch planes, reported the Register.

Robotics are placed in the line of fire by both the military and police forces when situations become too dangerous for humans. According to the Green Valley News, students in Nevada recently got to see a SWAT robot in action during a field trip to the local police headquarters.

New robotics system aids pharmacists

Monday, June 13th, 2011
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The process of counting each individual pill for a given prescription is time consuming for most pharmacists, Gizmodo recently reported. However, new technology developed by the University of California, San Francisco may create a more efficient and reliable system.

Pharmacies may soon employ robotics and other mechanical devices to dispense controlled substances, according to the news source. The system will likely include a mix of robotics, computers and label printing machines to assure that the correct medicine is assigned to the appropriate receptacle.

Critics of the program may claim there is the room for mechanical error during this automated process. However, the robotics dispensing system is highly accurate, claimed the media outlet, and errors only occur at a rate of one in every 400,000. Usually, the attending pharmacy technician will spot any discrepancies before the customer walks off with the drugs.

The medical industry has a history of embracing robotics systems. According to the Seattle-based healthcare consortium Swedish, the center performs a large number of robot-assisted surgical procedures, which doctors maintain improve their operations.