Last summer, in a Harvard robotics laboratory, an insect took flight. Half the size of a paper clip, weighing less than a tenth of a gram, it leapt a few inches, hovered for a moment on fragile, flapping wings, and then sped along a preset route through the air.
Like a proud parent watching a child take its first steps, graduate student Pakpong Chirarattananon immediately captured a video of the fledgling and emailed it to his adviser and colleagues at 3 a.m. — subject line: “Flight of the RoboBee.”
“I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep,” recalls Chirarattananon, co-lead author of a paper published this week in Science.
The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot is the culmination of more than a decade’s work, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
Automated tools aim to make it easier to teach a computer than to program it
Machine learning - the ability of computers to understand data, manage results, and infer insights from uncertain information - is the force behind many recent revolutions in computing. Email spam filters, smartphone personal assistants and self-driving vehicles are all based on research advances in machine learning. Unfortunately, even as the demand for these capabilities is accelerating, every new application requires a Herculean effort. Even a team of specially-trained machine learning experts makes only painfully slow progress due to the lack of tools to build these systems.
The Probabilistic Programming for Advanced Machine Learning (PPAML) program was launched to address this challenge. Probabilistic programming is a new programming paradigm for managing uncertain information. By incorporating it into machine learning, PPAML seeks to greatly increase the number of people who can successfully build machine learning applications and make machine learning experts radically more effective. Moreover, the program seeks to create more economical, robust and powerful applications that need less data to produce more accurate results - features inconceivable with today’s technology.
“We want to do for machine learning what the advent of high-level program languages 50 years ago did for the software development community as a whole,” said Kathleen Fisher, DARPA program manager.
“Our goal is that future machine learning projects won’t require people to know everything about both the domain of interest and machine learning to build useful machine learning applications. Through new probabilistic programming languages specifically tailored to probabilistic inference, we hope to decisively reduce the current barriers to machine learning and foster a boom in innovation, productivity and effectiveness.”
Russian Internet mogul Dmitry Itskov is looking for backers for the world’s first immortality research center.
Startups devise some fairly clever tactics to sell investors on their business models, but Russian tech entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov’s newest venture sells itself: Invest in his new research and development interest and the payoff could be immortality. A new corporate entity that the Russian multi-millionaire will formally announce at an event in June will allow investors to bankroll research into neuroscience and human consciousness with the ultimate goal of transferring human minds into robots, extending human life indefinitely. Early investors will be first in line for the technology when it matures, something Itskov believes will happen in the 2040s.
Over lunch with reporters last week, 32-year-old Itskov outlined a rough roadmap for the future of his 2045 Initiative, a multi-decade research and development push to understand human consciousness and ultimately how to transfer it from human bodies into robotic avatars. When Itskov first became serious about selling off his Russian Internet concerns to pursue what he calls “the next evolutionary step for humanity” a few years ago, he had hoped to do so in a non-profit manner. But now, he says, he realizes that a business case is the best case for moving the project forward.
“In the beginning I thought once we raised this question it would be obvious to people that this is possible and everyone would be interested,” Itskov says. “It was naive thinking, I have to be honest. I understand now that I shouldn’t neglect those business aspects that I tried to avoid when I started thinking about this idea. We have to create business opportunities in this process or nobody will be interested over the next ten or twenty years, especially the entrepreneurs that could potentially afford to do this.”
A 70-pound “cheetah” robot designed by MIT researchers may soon outpace its animal counterparts in running efficiency: In treadmill tests, the researchers have found that the robot — about the size and weight of an actual cheetah — wastes very little energy as it trots continuously for up to an hour and a half at 5 mph. The key to the robot’s streamlined stride: lightweight electric motors, set into its shoulders, that produce high torque with very little heat wasted.
The motors can be programmed to quickly adjust the robot’s leg stiffness and damping ratio — or cushioning — in response to outside forces such as a push, or a change in terrain. The researchers will present the efficiency results and design principles for their electric motor at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May.
Sangbae Kim, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says achieving energy-efficiency in legged robots has proven extremely difficult. Robots such as Boston Dynamic’s “Big Dog” carry heavy gasoline engines and hydraulic transmissions, while other electrically powered robots require large battery packs, gears, force sensors and springs to coordinate the joints in a robot’s leg. All this weighty machinery can add up to significant wasted energy, particularly when a robot’s legs need to make frequent contact with the ground in order to trot or gallop.
“In order to send a robot to find people or perform emergency tasks, like in the Fukushima disaster, you want it to be autonomous,” Kim says. “If it could run for more than two hours and search a large field, that would be useful. But one of the reasons why people think it’s impossible to make an electric robot that does this is because efficiencies have been pretty bad.”
Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover has been put into “safe mode” after a computer glitch caused by corrupted files.
The robot, which is analysing rock samples on the Red Planet, is now running from a back-up computer.
Nasa engineers are looking into possible causes for the files on the robot’s flash memory being damaged.
The fault means the rover’s work has been put on temporary hold while the back-up computer is reconfigured so it can take full control.
“We’re still early on in the process,” said project manager Richard Cook, in an interview with Space.com.
“We have probably several days, maybe a week, of activities to get everything back and reconfigured.”
The rover has been running on the back-up computer since Thursday.
“We switched computers to get to a standard state from which to begin restoring routine operations,” Mr Cook said.
On the robot’s Twitter feed, Nasa wrote: “Don’t flip out: I just flipped over to my B-side computer while the team looks into an A-side memory issue.”
The corrupted files may have been caused by stray cosmic rays.
Always Innovating is pleased to announce the MeCam, a revolutionary new product. The MeCam is a self video nano copter to point-and-shoot yourself. MeCam videos can be uploaded to Social platforms such as Youtube, Google , Facebook, Twitter.
Today people capture and share their photos and videos using archaic methods and with mixed results. The MeCam launches from the palm of a hand and hovers instantly. The MeCam streams video to an Android or iOS phone or tablet that can be easily shared on social media platforms. The MeCam doesn’t need any remote control: the user can control the device with voice commands or uses the follow-me feature.
More: Always Innovating
A BBC documentary team unleashed 50 spycams into penguin colonies, including cameras that served as eyes for robotic penguins, to capture stunning close-up footage of the unusual birds.
James Bond and robotic spy-camera penguins have a lot in common. They both wear tuxedos and they both sneak into precarious places to do spy work. The robot penguins were unleashed by John Downer Productions for an up-close BBC documentary look at penguin life.
“Penguins: Spy in the Huddle” documents nearly a year hanging out with penguins through the surrogate eyes of 50 different spycams. Some of the spycams were disguised as chunks of snow or small boulders, but the most adorable cameras were those in the guise of robotic penguins.
The production team visited with several different kinds of penguins, spawning the creation of the RockhopperCam, EmperorCam, and HumboldtCam. Each fake bird had cameras for eyes.
The RockhopperCam is particularly impressive. The bipedal penguin-bot features 20 degrees of freedom of movement and gyro/accelerometer sensors. It can waddle over challenging terrain and pick itself up if it falls over. The producers say it was so realistic, some of the penguins accepted it as part of their colony.
Rex the bionic man shows how close technology is to catching up with – and exceeding – the abilities of the human body
He cuts a dashing figure, this gentleman: nearly seven feet tall, and possessed of a pair of striking brown eyes. With a fondness for Ralph Lauren, middle-class rap and sharing a drink with friends, Rex is, in many ways, an unexceptional chap.
Except that he is, in fact, a real-world bionic man. Housed within a frame of state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs is a functional heart-lung system, complete with artificial blood pumping through a network of pulsating modified-polymer arteries. He has a bionic spleen to clean the blood, and an artificial pancreas to keep his blood sugar on the level. Behind the deep brown irises are a pair of retinal implants, giving him a vista of the crowds of curious humans who meet his gaze.
He even has a degree of artificial intelligence: talk to him, and he’ll listen (through his cochlear implants), before using a speech generator to respond. Although, like us, he sometimes stumbles over his words, memorably describing his idol Eminem as a “well-known crapper”, before quickly correcting himself.
RP-VITATM, by iRobot and InTouch Health, enables doctors to provide patient care from anywhere in the world via a telemedicine solution
iRobot Corp. a leader in delivering robotic solutions, announced that the RP-VITA Remote Presence Robot has received 510(k) clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in hospitals. RP-VITA is the first autonomous navigation remote presence robot to receive FDA clearance.
RP-VITA is a joint effort between two industry leaders, iRobot and InTouch Health. The robot combines the latest in autonomous navigation and mobility technologies developed by iRobot with state-of-the-art telemedicine and electronic health record integration developed by InTouch Health. RP-VITA allows remote doctor-to-patient consults, ensuring that the physician is in the right place at the right time and has access to the necessary clinical information to take immediate action. The robot has unprecedented ease of use. It maps its own environment and uses an array of sophisticated sensors to autonomously move about a busy space without interfering with people or other objects. Using an intuitive iPad® interface, a doctor can visit a patient, and communicate with hospital staff and patients with a single click, regardless of their location.
The FDA clearance specifies that RP-VITA can be used for active patient monitoring in pre-operative, peri-operative and post-surgical settings, including cardiovascular, neurological, prenatal, psychological and critical care assessments and examinations.
More: iRobot: Press Release
Video highlighting successes released before next solicitation
Inserting new capabilities into a satellite is no simple task. Doing so as that satellite hurdles through space 22,000 miles above the Earth is a bit more challenging still. DARPA’s Phoenix program, which hopes to repurpose retired satellites while they remain in orbit, seeks to fundamentally change how space systems could be designed here on earth and then sustained once in space.
This video illustrates some of the program’s technical progress since it began in July 2012. As performers demonstrate the progress of their work in the lab, an artist’s simulation of a fully-realized Phoenix demonstration scenario runs in the background to help illustrate how the technology would be applied. Demonstrations include flight-capable robotic arm manipulation with simulated space contact dynamics, tool development for the robotic arm with unique gripping and adhesion capabilities, autonomous robotic control software and hyperdexterous conformable robot modules in operation, among others.
“Today, satellites are not built to be modified or repaired in space,” said Dave Barnhart, DARPA program manager. “Therefore, to enable an architecture that can re-use or re-purpose on-orbit components requires us to create new technologies and new capabilities. This progress report gives the community a better sense of how we are doing on the challenges we may face and the technologies needed to help us meet our goals.”