Archive for July, 2011

Robotics orphans picked up by human foster parents

Thursday, July 28th, 2011
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In order to study the effects of robot and human interactions, the University of Western Sydney MARCS Robotics Lab recently launched an innovative program in which willing parents can adopt robots and raise them as their own.

According to the Sydney Mornin Herald, the robotics devices are not unlike human children, as they have limited intelligence and motor skills, stated the news provider. Most devices will only exhibit the basic functions of rolling around the floor and automatically righting themselves once they run into an obstacle.

According to researchers with the program, the interactions will either be peaceful cohabitation or general indifference.

''We want to see if the novelty wears off after 10 days,'' engineer Damith Herath told the media organization.

However, researchers and the general population both believe that robotics will play an increasingly important role in daily human life. Therefore, program officials hope to see human hosts warming up to the automated devices after the six-month pilot ends.

Some people may be elated to find more robots in store for the world. Recently, a paralyzed Japanese man was able to explore a historic French landmark with the help of a robotic suit that powered him up the hilly terrain, reported the Agence France-Presse.

VEX Curriculum Partner DaVinci Minds featured in ROBOT Magazine

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

ROBOT Magazine’s September-October issue features VEX partner DaVinci Minds, Inc. and their development of Analytical Integrated Math, a quickly expanding high school course that utilizes the VEX Robotics Design System to teach mathematical concepts.

It was our pleasure, this issue, to catch up to Cliff Zintgraff, CEO of DaVinci Minds, Inc., to learn how his San Antonio, Texas based company is using VEX Robotics in core classroom curriculum to prepare students to become tomorrow’s innovators. DaVinci Minds offers products and services for middle schools, high schools, community colleges and universities in a broad array of programs that center on the intersection of technology, education and workforce development. This interview focuses on an important and quickly expanding high school course titled Analytical Integrated Math (AIM). AIM was developed by a partnership including DaVinci Minds and other K-12, college and curriculum development partners. AIM has become a keystone curriculum for high school seniors that simultaneously addresses the needs of students, teachers and the community.

Read the entire article here. (PDF)

Major corporations supporting STEM education

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
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Many large corporations have recently voiced their support for STEM education because they see it as an important factor helping to solve issues with hunger, poverty and disease.

For example, Microsoft recently showed its dedication to STEM education by hosting the global student technology competition, according to Mind Shift. There is also the non-profit group, Change the Education, which has helped companies like Dell support science and technology education.

According to the news source, so many companies are interested in STEM because it can help provide a large number of skilled workers further down the line. Some speculate that many companies are using the opportunity more for marketing than promoting education, so it is important for instructors to be able to recognize the difference between some of the available resources.

Robotics competitions are also another great way to promote STEM education while keeping it entertaining at the same time. According to STEMRobotics, many companies offer summer programs for both educators and students who are interested in participating in robotic competitions or using robots as an educational tool.

The future of surgery is already here

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
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Many speculate that robotics are the future of medicine. But with the popular use of the da Vinci system, that future may have already arrived.

According to the Washington Post, approximately 220,000 surgeries were performed in 2010 using the da Vinci surgical system. The robot was approved by the FDA 11 years ago and is now used in 1,300 healthcare systems nationwide.

The system is operated by a surgeon located several feet away from the actual patient and makes much smaller incisions than are possible with traditional surgery, according to the news source. The makers of the system also claim it reduces pain and blood loss for patients.

“Robotic surgery has transformed fields that used to be focused on open procedures into ones focused much more on minimally invasive techniques,” Jonathan Hwang, director of the Robotic Surgery Program at Washington Hospital Center, told the newspaper.

Robotic surgery comes with numerous other benefits as well. According to Saint Barnabas Hospital's website, surgeons using a robotic system can operate with a level of precision that was not possible before. It also reduces the amount of time a patient must remain in the hospital.

‘Science on Tap’ to feature robotics speaker

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
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A psychological sciences professor from Purdue University will speak at the Science on Tap event at the Lafayette Brewing Company in Lafayette, Indiana. The topic – how robotic systems can be used to explain mental functions.

Zygmunt Pizlo is director of the Visual Perception Laboratory at Purdue, and his talk, titled "Minds and Robots," is part of the Science on Tap series. Pizlo is one of the top, international researchers in the study of robotics field and mental functions.

The discussion will touch upon the importance of using mathematics, physics, engineering and robotics to discover how some mental functions work. It will also discuss how robotic systems can be utilized as important additions to the lives of everyday Americans.

"Before cognitive psychology can become a natural science, we must develop an experimental methodology that allows 'measuring' characteristics of mental events and producing 'public' data," said Pizlo.

The Science on Tap program is designed to provide Purdue faculty with opportunities to share research in an informal setting and give presentations meant to reach out to a more general audience. All of the events are free and open to anyone who is at least 21 years old.

Humans inherently afraid of android robots

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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The thought of the robot apocalypse is enough to spook most humans. Not suprisingly, according to new research, people are fundamentally creeped out by androids.

The reason for our fear of human-like robots may be biological, stated researcher, Ayse Pinar Saygin, in an article for the Hindustan Times. Apparently, when humans observe android motion, there is a disconnect that occurs in our brain between how we expect the device to act and what it actually does.

"What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met – for appearance and motion to be congruent," she told the news provider.

According to the media organization, tasks performed by android robotics systems akin to human motions bother people the most. Using MRI technology, researchers scanned the brains of test subjects who witnessed the most life-like android in the world, the Japanese-built Repliee Q2, performing normal human tasks, such as waving and drinking a glass of water. Through an analysis of the scans, these functions were found to distress humans the most.

According to Wired Science, robotic depictions in popular culture were found to be more likable by human audiences the less realistic they are. Therefore, humans worldwide are biologically programmed to like Pixar's Wall-E more than the Terminator.

Doctors train on robotics simulator

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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The leap from traditional surgical techniques to robotics-assistance requires surgeons to complete additional training, according to the El Paso Times.

Doctors at the Las Palmas Medical Center have been performing robotics surgery since 2008, though their training on the new methodology just got easier, stated the news source. Now, they can use the da Vinci Skills Simulator to both hone their craft and become more comfortable with their advanced technology aids.

"I think it's great," Richard Farnam, a doctor with the medical center, told the media outlet. "It gives you an objective to measure your own skills and develop."

Farnam said the new simulator both evaluates surgical skills and develops objectives for users to try and meet. Occasionally, the system throws doctors a curve ball in the form of a complication arising during surgery, which they have to solve in a short amount of time, as the time it takes to fix the problem may mean the difference between life and death.

"It will make our residents more competent more quickly," said Farnam.

Because the technology is rapidly advancing, more robotic surgical procedures are featured in a growing number of countries. Furthermore, doctors are embracing the methodology wholeheartedly, as in many cases, they represent a less-invasive option.

Canadian high school team wins national robotics competition

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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The robotics team from Oakville Trafalgar High School in Ontario, Canada, recently placed first in a national robotics competition, reported CBC News.

After winning the Innovation Nation Robotics Competition, held in Huntsville, Ontario, the team was awarded roughly $5,000, stated the news provider. While the team from Oakville climbed to the top of the hill, the competition itself was close.

"Ultimately it came down to the individual judging criteria, not necessarily robot vs. robot, because there were some very impressive robots there," Evelyn Wainewright, a student with the Oakville team, told the media outlet.

Their device, which was modified from previous robotics competitions, fared well against systems built by university students. Additionally, some of the contest judging was based on overall presentation and commercial potential.

"We really focused on what they were looking for," added Wainewright.

Several of Oakville's neighbors to the south have also fared well in recent robotics competitions. According to the Bellingham Herald, the robotics team from Blaine High School in Washington state also won a national contest, although during that specific competition, it was paired up with another well-coached robot club.

New robotics device mimics marine life

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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According to the Discovery Channel, a team of European researchers recently programmed and built a robotic arm designed to look and feel like one of the eight tentacles of an octopus.

The real challenge is creating a robotics system that looks and feels like the soft tissue of octopus limbs, while programming it to become rigid enough to grab objects when commanded, stated the news source.

However, the research team maintained that their device will be more than just a cool piece of technology, as they are ultimately intending to put it to use in some pretty hairy situations.

"The applications we envisage are all the applications where you send the robot into very small spaces for exploration tasks but also for rescue under debris," Cecilia Laschi, an associate professor and robotics researcher, told the media organization. "A soft, octopus-like robot could be controlled remotely to retrieve people in a difficult underwater environment."

Robotics systems are no stranger to marine environments, as in many cases they are sent into the water in the place of air-breathing humans. According to USA Today, two Seaglider robots were recently used to explore the frigid waters of the Ross Sea off Antarctica.

Grant program empowers STEM education for Georgia universities

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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According to the Coosa Valley News, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently announced that Columbus State University, West Georgia University and Southern Polytechnic State University will receive grants to replicate the successful UTeach program held at the University of Texas in Austin. The initiative is designed to enhance teacher training on the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

The grant money, which will total $1.4 million, will be part of Georgia’s Race to the Top education initiative intended to produce STEM-focused teachers.

"This program will address the critical shortage Georgia faces in producing STEM teachers," said Governor Deal in a recent address. "The most important thing we can do for students and Georgia's future is to ensure that we have a quality teacher with strong content knowledge and a passion for helping students learn in every classroom. UTeach has seen great success elsewhere, and I look forward to seeing it implemented in our state."

The STEM grants may even support robotics education. Experts say involvement in robotics clubs and teams often compels students to follow STEM-centered, career paths in highly technical fields.