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Robot Round-Up

Blade_starRobots are always a big crowd-pleaser at CES, and this year’s no exception. WowWee, known for its innovative but affordable ‘bots, just announced four new products that uphold its reputation. And Erector (yup, of Erector sets) brought out three follow-ups to last year’s popular Spykee, a build-it-yourself Wi-Fi robot that acts like a roving webcam. Go with WowWee if you want your artificial friend to run right out of the box, or with the Erector DIY kits if you like to work for your robot love.

Continue reading below to see the best new robotic products to hit CES this week.

Continue reading "Robot Round-Up" »

Automaker Plans to Move Robots Into Homes

Toyota The robot business is getting serious. Toyota just announced plans to move several advanced robots into the marketplace by 2010, hoping these machines will help people in homes, factories and health-care facilities. The automaker revealed two new robots, a violin-playing humanoid and a kind of futuristic wheelchair called a "mobility robot." Additionally, Toyota says it will double the number of engineers it has working on these projects, and build a new research facility dedicated to the field. By 2020, the company hopes that robotics will be one of its core businesses.—Gregory Mone

(Image credit: Toyota)

Robots in The Gym

Strokerobot3enlarged Before they start mixing us drinks and folding our laundry, robots are going to do some seriously important work, like helping stroke victims.

Rice university engineers are launching a two-year program to test a new joystick-based device designed to help stroke victims recover faster. Patients use the joystick to try to move objects around on a screen, and the joystick pushes back when the patients err. The technology effectively tries to get things back in sync, teaching the hand to do what the brain is asking of it.

Several other labs are using robots for stroke-rehab, too, including an ankle-focused device like the one picture here. One MIT scientist envisions an entire gym stocked with robo-assistants.-Gregory Mone

(Image credit: MIT / L. Barry Hetherington)

Robots in the Ring

This past weekend, Tokyo's 12th Robo-One Grand Championship featured 25 two-legged robots trying to punch and jab their way to victory. One of them even sang a Christmas carol, only to get knocked over by a punch form a penguin-headed robot. The winning warrior, which earns the title of world's strongest two-legged fighting robot, has to throw and dodge punches and pull Rocky-Balboa-like feats of getting back on its legs after a devastating blow. No lasers or missiles allowed.—Gregory Mone

Via The Feed

Robots Impress at Japanese Convention

Simroid In Tokyo yesterday, engineers showed off a range of advanced machines at the 2007 International Robot Exhibition, the nation's top robotics showcase.

On display were a Rubik's Cube-solving machine, a panda-like bot designed to relieve stress in the people it interacts with, and a new dental training robot, Simroid, that features a realistic mouth and false teeth embedded with sensors. (And sort of looks like it's been struck by Jack Nicholson's Joker.) If an aspiring dentist drills in the wrong spot, Simroid emits a protest, letting the student know he or she has erred. The robot is not ready for production just yet, so young dentists will continue practicing on cash-strapped grad students.—Gregory Mone

Via AP

Robot Submarine Proves Reusable

Saf0700200001 Military engineers have taken another step in the march toward robotic warfare. During recent tests, a manned Navy attack submarine launched an unmanned undersea vehicle from one of its torpedo tubes. The Boeing-built AN/BLQ-11 robotic sub then returned to the mother sub, which hauled it aboard using a 60-foot-long robotic arm.

It was the first demonstration of a robot recovery by a submerged sub while under way, according to the Navy and Boeing. During similar tests in January 2006, the robotic arm docked with the sub but did not successfully retrieve it.

Unmanned vehicles are designed to do work that is too dirty, dangerous or dull for humans. For example, robot subs could be used to detect and detonate enemy mines. In the recent tests, the robotic sub performed "shadow submarine" maneuvers in which it operated alongside the larger sub.

As its name indicates, the AN/BLQ-11 is 11 inches in diameter. That makes it a perfect fit for a torpedo tube. The robotic arm used to grab the mini-sub and stuff it back into its launch tube is deployed from a second torpedo tube. The same technology may be used for larger-diameter robot subs in the future.—Dawn Stover

Image: Boeing Company

Robo-Roaches Take the Lead

Roaches Sure, they're a little funny-looking, and wider than the rest, and they've got these weird little lights, but none of that seemed to  matter to the cockroaches enlisted in a group behavior experiment with tiny robots.

Scientists dropped the robo-insects into a controlled environment with natural cockroaches to determine whether the machines, acting without intervention from the researchers, could influence the real thing. In these games of follow-the-leader, the robots managed to lead the cockroaches to inappropriate shelters. Since these weren't the kind of spots the roaches would've normally picked, the behavior indicated that the robots had some sway. They actually fit in.

The goal of the research, which is published in the current issue of Science, is to someday use these smart, independent robots to study the behavioral patterns of group-friendly animals.—Gregory Mone

Gutter-Cleaning Robot Wins Award

Auger_in_gutter The Looj, iRobot's gutter-cleaning robot, won a Best of Innovations Design and Engineering award at this year's Consumer Electronics Showcase. Controlled via wireless remote, the Looj makes gutter-cleaning a safer enterprise, as you don't have to keep moving the ladder down the length of the gutter. You let the robot do the traveling instead, and an auger spinning at 500 RPM flings pinecones, leaves and sludge right over the edge.

Still, even with a starting price of $99, it seems a little over-the-top—the local handyman could probably do the job much faster, and, over time, for not that much more money. The Looj really makes you wonder if the folks at iRobot plan to design a machine for every household chore.—Gregory Mone

Robo-Koala Makes a Lazy Pet

Kobie A new robotic pet manufactured by South Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute has been modeled after the Australian koala bear. The researchers reportedly chose the koala because it's lazy—they wanted a robo-pet that wouldn't raise people's expectations too high. If they tried to build a dog, for example, people might expect a lot of running and jumping, and the researchers say the motors they use in their robots aren't good enough for those sorts of motions yet.

The pet, called Kobie, reacts to light, touch, sound and posture. All of its processing happens elsewhere, via a wireless connection with a nearby server or PC. And it never responds too dramatically. Senior researcher Sohn Joo-Chan was quoted as saying that slapping the pet once provokes little reaction, but after a few more strikes, it starts to signal that it's scared. OK, that sounds cool, but why is this guy slapping his robot?—Gregory Mone

A Robotics Startup Without a Timetable

Steve_with_pod_small The personal robot has a new benefactor. A Silicon Valley startup called Willow Garage is developing both the hardware and software for domestic robots and autonomous cars. But it's not making promises about Rosie the Robot rolling through your living room by 2030. The company, founded by an early Google employee, is focused on research, not profits.

As a result, Willow Garage sounds more like a university environment, but without the administrative and teaching responsibilities. In other words, every researcher's dream. The company is already working on self-driving boats (a section of which is pictured at left) and a Ford Hybrid that steers itself. Willow is also partnering with Stanford's Computer Science Lab and developing the PR2, the next generation of a Stanford-built personal assistance robot.

You've got to love that Google money.—Gregory Mone

Via ZDNet

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