Archive for the ‘Robot Products’ Category

Tennessee hospital brings robotics into the operating room

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Hospitals around the country are turning to robotic surgeries for improving the quality of patient care.

Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, is the latest healthcare provider to adopt the da Vinci Surgical System SI – a robotic revolution transforming medicine.

The $1.6 million investment will make Saint Francis the sixth hospital in the region with a da Vinci system in place. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, doctors have already performed 10 procedures with the equipment since its installation last month.

"It's just better for the patients," hospital vice president, Marilynn Robinson, told the news source. "We're finding without any question that the length of patients' stays are reduced, and complications have been reduced."

Since its debut in 1996, adoption rates for the da Vinci system have grown steadily, aided by its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Much of its success can also be attributed to its utility in prostate surgery and hysterectomies. The minimally-invasive techniques provide a host of benefits to patients, including less blood loss, scarring and pain along with shorter recovery times. And according to the Business Review, the intuitive controls and high-definition magnification of the surgical area make it easier for surgeons to complete delicate procedures.

"The best feature of the robot is that it allows the surgeon to have the instruments, which are our hands, and the camera, which is our eyes, in the body at the same time without compromising the ability to perform the procedure," Dr. John Wilbanks of Alabama's Shelby Baptist Medical Center told MD News.

To coincide with the debut of the da Vinci system, Saint Francis will be hosting a prostate health forum alongside members of the American Urological Association Foundation and the National Football League. According to the Memphis Daily News, industry leading urologists will be in attendance to discuss the early warning signs of prostate cancer as well as potential treatment options. The event will conclude with a question and answer session as well as the opportunity to undergo a free prostate health screening.

The hospital's da Vinci system will also be on display as doctors explain the technology and its associated benefits.

"Men with prostate cancer are having phenomenal results with it, so we definitely wanted them to have the opportunity to see it and get the experience of what it looks like and how it operates," Robinson told the news source.

Although only 150 guests are expected at the event, its impact will extend far beyond the conference hall. As more hospitals and more patients recognize the clear benefits that robotics can bring to medicine, the technology should be poised for widespread adoption and future innovations.

Robot lines up for triathlon

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
A new robot from Japanese researchers will test its skills against the world's top triathletes.

Hawaii's Ironman Triathlon course has humbled thousands of men and women over the years, but Japanese researchers are curious to see if their newest robot is up to the challenge.

The developers behind Panasonic's Evolta have decided to take their robotic device out of the laboratory and into the wild. According to TG Daily, the miniature robot has already tried its hand navigating the walls of the Grand Canyon and riding around racetracks in Le Mans, France. But by taking on one of the world's most notoriously grueling triathlon courses, company officials know their creation has a tough task ahead of it.

"This is a very tough course for a sportsman, but I think it is worth a challenge," developer, Tomotaka Takahashi, told the news providers. "The robot will encounter a lot of hardships on its way, but I hope it will overcome them all and succeed in the end."

The Ironman course requires competitors to swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles before completing a 26.2 mile run. According to the event website, this legendary endurance challenge began as a friendly competition between Navy SEALs before evolving into one of the world's most recognizable sporting events. But although Evolta will be required to complete the same course, a few considerations have been taken into consideration to accommodate the bot.

As reported by Reuters, Evolta is just one-tenth the size of an adult human. To account for this inherent disadvantage, developers are giving their device one full week to complete the mission. The robot will also have a distinct advantage over human counterparts – it has three variable body configurations that will be altered throughout the competition.

"I had to think of the ways to make it waterproof and protect it from mold as much as possible," Takashi told the news outlet.

Although some robotic creations have difficulty translating their utility outside of the laboratory, the 20-inch tall device should be a versatile and reliable addition to the consumer electronics marketplace. According to Reuters, the battery pack can be recharged successfully up to 1,800 times, and Evolta is set to go on sale in Japan at the end of October.

It will be interesting to see how customers respond to this revelation in robotics. But, as is often the case, end-users may envision and create applications for the robot that developers could never have originally imagined.

Robots demonstrate their skydiving skills

Monday, September 12th, 2011
Thrill-seeking may be the latest human characteristic mirrored by airborne robots.

As technology progresses, robots seem to be adopting more human characteristics every day. A new collaborative effort from Disney Research and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has produced a thrill-seeking robot named Paraswift.

According to NewScientist, the base-jumping bot is capable of autonomously climbing up a building, throwing itself over the side and deploying a paraglider before safely returning to the ground. During its ascent, the remote-controlled device makes use of a spinning rotor to create a vortex capable of binding it to structures.

"The big benefit of this is that you don't need to have a seal between the physical robot and the wall because the vortex forms its own seal around the low-pressure area," Disney researcher Paul Beardsley told the news source.

Paraswift is not the first robot capable of inspecting hard-to-reach places. According to the news provider, similar devices have used the power of magnetic adhesion to stick to dams, tall buildings and even wind turbines. But the obvious distinction in the latest innovation is its ability to fly.

Although originally designed for entertainment purposes, the impressive vortex utility may be useful for a variety of applications as it allows the robot to navigate challenging, not to mention vertical, terrain. By equipping Paraswift with a video camera, developers are already optimistic that the combined climbing and flying capabilities can be used to gather aerial footage for 3D modeling projects.

"For example, with Google Street View, at street level trees and pedestrians could obscure the view," Beardsley told the source.

Paraswift could solve this problem by climbing atop a building and scanning the area while bound to the structure. Or it could also gather snapshots in-flight during its descent.

In its current state, a mechanical arm triggered by remote control deploys the robot's parachute. As this occurs, the vortex is simultaneously turned off and the device begins its safe, although not yet graceful, fall to the ground. In the next generation of the device, researchers are hoping to ensure smoother flight patterns and discover a way to get the parachute to deploy automatically in case the bot accidentally slips. Several such incidents involving past prototypes have been not only disappointing but rather expensive.

Robotics designers continue to find new ways around impressive obstacles. Even gravity is now becoming a problem of the past for the latest devices. And as the technology reaches expanded audiences with engaging inventions, the feedback received may be especially valuable in the creative process and design of future innovations.

Robots running on the power of thought

Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Robotics may transform the medical field once again by offering new communication solutions for paralyzed patients.

Swiss robotics researchers are currently testing a new line of robots that can, quite literally, read human minds. The semi-autonomous devices record brain activity and use the data to power their next movement.

According to ScienceNow, this is not the first example of brain-machine interface systems. The technology has previously been used to control cursors, prosthetics and smaller robots using the power of conscious thought. But biomedical engineer, Jose del Millan, is working on an entirely new approach to the technology.

Millan's chief goal is to develop brain-interface systems that do not require implanting chips in the body. This simpler, less-invasive strategy may have significant potential for the medical community. In particular, it may give paralyzed patients a new-found ability to communicate with others.

But before these revolutionary devices can transform industries, Millan is hard at work testing and honing the technology at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. According to SmartPlanet, the research team is using a modified version of a commerically available robot called Robotino. The three-wheeled device is already capable of maneuvering in tight spaces and sensing obstacles with infrared sensors, but Millan and his colleagues have equipped it with telepresence capabilities.

A laptop running Skype over a wireless connection is mounted on top of the robot. This utility allows the human to see through the eyes of the robot as it makes its journey. But perhaps more importantly, it could allow bed-bound patient to communicate with other humans as their thoughts are communicated to the device through electrodes.

"This opens a new possibility for families," Millan told ScienceNow.

Paralyzed patients could potentially keep in touch with relatives at home using the robot as an intermediary. But first, researchers need to test the communication ranges that their technology supports.

According to ScienceNow, a recent six-week trial has generated impressive results. After weeks of hour-long training sessions with man and machine, several patients were able to maintain effective communication at a range of more than 60 miles. By the end of the study, they were also able to navigate the robot to targets around the laboratory for as long as 12 minutes.

As the technology matures, Millan is hoping to expand its application to tasks as complex as driving a car. Only time will tell, but this case is already intriguing and inspiring robotics engineers who could take the concept to previously unimaginable heights.

Robotics mixes work and play for improved education

Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Students engaging with robotics in the classroom today may become the leading engineers of tomorrow.

Robotics education has come a long way in recent years. The technology is no longer considered a luxury reserved solely for small, after-school clubs. These days, teachers are increasingly willing and able to brings robots into the classroom. This expanded audience is bringing renewed attention to the robotics industry and giving students a creative way to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to USA Today, much of the credit for this phenomenon can be attributed to several public sector initiatives. The importance of STEM education has been underscored in the halls of Congress and town halls across the country. Earlier this year, the National Research Council released a new report detailing a new educational framework that could fuel the progress of millions of students.

"Science, engineering and technology permeate nearly every facet of modern life, and they hold the key to meeting many of humanity's most pressing current and future challenges," the report stated. "Yet too few U.S. workers have strong backgrounds in these fields, and many lack even fundamental knowledge."

The framework is focused around the appreciation and application of fundamentally sound scientific and engineering practices. The program also prides itself on fostering the development of critical thinking such as observing cause and effect relationships. This theoretical knowledge will no doubt provide for a well-rounded education, but the inclusion of hands-on learning experiences has shown perhaps the most significant potential in recent years.

One unique success story is high school sophomore Kelly Carlson of Arizona. In a recent interview with AZCentral, Carlson opened up about her experience with robotics.

"It started out with me being interested in engineering," Carlson told the news source. "Through Mesa Public Schools, you can take engineering classes through Project Lead the Way, so I signed up for that for my freshman year."

Carlson's teacher soon introduced her to a local robotics competition, and within months they were developing their own team of students from around the district. After a few challenges during their early competitions, the team is looking forward to next semester's event schedule. But Carlson is looking even farther down the line and already has dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer.

Stories such as these are welcome news for robotics engineers as they can can rest assured that their industry will be placed in capable hands. By providing engaging and creative ways for students to learn valuable technical skills, a steady stream of robotic innovations are sure to continue in the coming decades.

Household chores become easier with robots

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
The age of robotic housekeepers may not be as far away as previously thought.

California-based startup company, Willow Garage, has recently unveiled a new robotic creation that can chip in with chores around the house. The PR2 robot is still in the prototype stage, but the device is already capable of folding laundry, setting a table and baking a batch of cookies.

Although finding a convenient way to outsource mundane domestic responsibilities is a dream scenario for a number of people, the underlying technology for a robotic housekeeper has been slow to develop. Industry experts are following the Willow Garage process closely to see if innovations are arriving faster than previously assumed.

"The technology is much closer than most people think," Stanford professor Andrew Ng told the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not yet there, but I think that in less than a decade the technology will exist to have a useful household robot."

The company remains in stealth mode, but investors are reportedly excited about the early success and sheer volume of robotics developers associated with the project.

"We're trying to build a personal robotics industry," Willow Garage CEO, Steve Cousins, told the news source. "We want to serve as a catalyst."

The firm is guided by the idea that a lack of standards has been a significant inhibitor for the industry. A lack of hardware and software compatibility often leads researchers to begin a new project from scratch with proprietary resources. This not only delays projects, it has also reduced the motivation for collaborative efforts.

But one of the largest obstacles still facing the company may be making the technology affordable for consumers. Early models of PR2 were priced at approximately $400,000, according to GizMag. In an effort to reduce costs, Willow Company recently decided to offer PR2 SE, a one-armed version of its predecessor with a $285,000 price tag.

To generate interest and support for the product, the company has decided to released two dozen PR2 models to commercial and academic research institutions. The company also plans to host community conference calls twice monthly and maintain a strong presence at industry events to encourage collaboration and constructive feedback processes.

If successful, this project may be much more important for robotics developers than consumers who ultimately own a PR2. Willow Garage's wider mission of open-source robotics technology and cross-team interaction may yield impressive creations that come to market much faster.

Talking robots become increasingly convincing

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Robots and humans are starting to learn a lot from each other.

Humanoid robots have become stunningly realistic in recent years. Perhaps the final hurdle for developers to clear has been the creation of more intelligent robotic speech. But if recent robotics productions are any indication, that issue may soon become a problem of the past.

According to the Pasadena Star News, robots could soon be standing at the front of a classroom. Professor Ron Lee of Pasadena City College has developed a new device that may helping children learning English as a second language.

"It's a talking robot, so [students] are not afraid of asking anything," Lee told the news source. "A community college like PCC has many international students, and first they have to listen to English to communicate with their professors."

The on-screen "English Tutor" program may be as capable as a native speaker. The robot can correct spelling and grammatical errors while helping students build a more natural vocabulary. The device is also equipped with a deep knowledge bank and capable of carrying on 2,000 conversations regarding 25 different topics. The software can test a student's knowledge of geography or build their language skills with more personal conversations such as discussing marital status.

This interactive learning process is a two-way street, and students are not the only ones benefiting from the conversations. Professor Lee will be able to enhance the robot's capabilities over time.

"The robots are learning from their mistakes," Lee told the news outlet. "People are chatting with them, and I can see all the questions they asked."

Robotics developers are also debuting innovative devices that can carry on conversations without human input. According to Hot Hardware, a new line of "chatboxes" are capable of memorizing human phrases for use in future conversations. Cornell University researcher associated with the project are hoping the technology is advanced enough to actually convince unwitting humans that they are talking to another person.

That is exactly the challenge being posed to developers at the 2011 Loebner Prize Competition in Artificial Intelligence. The top prize for robotics teams capable of fooling two or more judges will be awarded a $100,000 grant over 20 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Cornell and Pasadena developers will comprise two of the four teams vying for the title in October.

NASA powers up humanoid robot

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Robots may soon be tagging along on spacewalks.

Engineers are finding ways to apply robotics all over the galaxy these days. Last week, Robonaut 2, NASA's latest humanoid robot, was turned on for the first time at the International Space Station.

According to PC Magazine, the $2.5 million device is the first of its kind to be launched into space. Weighing more than 300 pounds and standing approximately three feet tall, R2 spent its first few days in operation undergoing a series of tests to ensure clear communication with ground controllers in Houston.

"Those electrons feel good! One small step for man, one giant leap for tinman kind," joked R2 from its dedicated Twitter account.

This sense of humor is just one of many human characteristics defining the robot. R2's torso contains its mainframe while more than 30 processors are embedded in its arms to control the movement of its joints. According to the BBC, the second-generation humanoid robot is also smaller, faster, more dexterous and capable of a deeper and wider range of sensing than its predecessor.

R2 will be essential for observing how humanoid robots operate in weightless environments, and NASA has big plans for the device. Its torso may eventually be attached to a motorized cart to help the bot navigate challenging terrain and assist astronauts on lunar and Martian spacewalks.

One of the biggest challenges for developers will be staying patient and not asking too much of R2 too early. The bot made its way to the ISS in February but was only recently unpacked and assembled. If operational testing continues to go well, R2 may be able to take on mundane chores such as reading velocity gauges early in 2012.

"Just like a crew member has to kind of acclimate themselves to zero gravity, our robot has to do a very similar things and learn how it needs to move," project manager Nicolaus Radford told the Daily Mail.

The joint creation of NASA and General Motors has taken more than 15 years to construct, but it may be well worth the investment. Although the bot is not expected to replace human astronauts any time in the near future, it may be a valuable companion capable of undertaking difficult or dangerous aeronautical tasks. And as is often the case within the quickly evolving field of robotics, Robonaut 2 may hold the potential for uses developers could never have anticipated.

Recon robots go behind enemy lines

Monday, August 29th, 2011
Military-grade robots are already providing American troops with a competitive advantage.

Quality reconnaissance can be the difference between life and death on the battlefield. With that in mind, military officials are always searching for new ways to keep troops safe while gathering critical information in dangerous combat zones. As a result, military technologists around the world have been exploring the potential of taking humans out of the equation and deploying robots for fact-finding missions behind enemy lines.

At the recent Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C., a new line of "throwable" robots garnered attention from technology enthusiasts and government officials alike. These portable and durable devices will soon be deployed in hostile territory to protect their human counterparts.

According to Popular Science, tactical robots have gained traction in the military in the past decade due to their impressive versatility. However, many of these devices have a tendency to be cumbersome, overly complex and prone to malfunction. Soldiers have been requesting smaller, more intuitive robots for several years, and manufacturers have finally delivered.

Approximately 2,000 Recon Scout Throwbot systems are currently being used by forces around the world, according to AtoZRobotics. The device weighs only 1.2 pounds and can be tossed more than 100 feet when necessary. Once it lands, it can orient itself and respond to commands within five seconds.

"One time we dropped it out of a helicopter," designers told Popular Science. "The worst that happened was that one wheel was slightly damaged, so it wanted to drive a little wobbly. But it still rolled."

Soldiers have been able to carry the small robots on their person during patrols and toss them over walls and into second-story windows, according to the news source. The devices are then navigated via handheld Xbox-like controllers that have been quickly mastered by the rising generation of young troops.

A separate device, the Dragon Runner 10, is also a popular attraction at the convention. Popular Science reporters observed one demonstration in which the device rolled over rocks and sand to uncover wires leading to mock-explosive devices. This 11 pound robotic device is cannot be tossed around as causally as the Throwbot, but soldiers can still use them to see what's around the corner in close-quarter scenarios.

When tasked with finding answers to challenging real-world problems, robotics experts have once again stepped up to the plate. This new wave of portable reconnaissance robots is exactly what modern militaries need to gain a critical competitive advantage.

Michigan school debuts robotics bachelor’s degree

Friday, August 26th, 2011
Improvements in robotics education bode well for the future of the industry.

The robotics industry seems to be getting the attention it deserves as new audiences continue to learn about the versatile technology everyday. Consumers and business professionals alike are discovering that robots are no longer meant solely for science fiction movies – they are now being put to use in a variety of real-world applications. But to build upon past success and bring new innovations to the field, a new generation of engineers will be needed to push the limits of technology. As a result, several higher education institutions have identified this emerging need and debuted academic programs specifically geared toward future robot engineers.

One such school is Lawrence Technological University, located in Southfield, Michigan. Beginning this fall, students will be able to enroll in a new bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering. This unique program is already attracting attention from robot hobbyists and technology professionals.

Edward Dolar, a 35 year-old computer programmer, has been looking for a way to pursue his study of robotics beyond the scope of the courses offered at a local community college.

"I happened to check Lawrence and the robotic engineering program popped up," Dolar told the Detroit News. "It had everything I wanted to pursue. I wanted to be more involved in engineering."

According to the university website, the curriculum will be divided into three main areas. Students will receive a well-rounded education in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science. School officials believe this balanced program will leave graduates well-positioned to find rewarding opportunities in the field.

"Robotics has grown to be a primary engineering field in its own right, and with the growing demand for qualified robotics engineers in the related careers, this interdisciplinary degree ensures graduates are provided the tools for success," program director, Giscard Kfoury, told the Oakland Press.

The Detroit-area school is also stressing the importance of robotics in the automotive industry, a field that has long defined the local economy. Manufacturers are already looking to the advanced technology to help open new markets and keep pace with production demands, and these local automotive plants may eventually serve as a valuable source of student internships.

The establishment of this unique degree is an important step forward for the industry. By providing an avenue for interested students and developing a relevant, standardized curriculum, schools such as Lawrence Technical University are ensuring the future of the robotics industry.