Archive for May, 2007

Dr. Ishiguro and his amazing androids

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

I find it hard to believe that we’ve never shown Hiroshi Ishiguro any love through the Trossen Robotics blog. Well, that changes today. Dr. Ishiguro, you’re a hell of a guy and your androids are as eerily lifelike as any I’ve seen.

Dr. Ishiguro and his skin-job doppelgänger, “Geminoid HI-1”

In this article from Damn Interesting, Dr. Ishiguro’s work is examined in relation to Masahiro Mori’s “Uncanny Valley” graph of familiarity. Check it out!

A Walk in the Valley of the Uncanny

Tough Love for Robots

Thursday, May 31st, 2007
Tough Love Robot

Critical articles are good for an industry because they make people think. The Register has an article called, “Why do robot experts build such lousy robots?” which focuses on the fact that most of what is coming out today isn’t useful in the consumer marketplace. I have to agree with a lot of the sentiments in the article. I myself tire of all the big claims that come out of research labs about how this or that technology will change the world. The real case is that the gap between a labratory concept and commercial product viability is greater than the one between Paris Hilton’s ears. And that’s not a small gap.

The criticism that today’s roboticists need to focus harder on real world applications is a fair one. For new technologies to survive and find revenue support they need to prove their viability at improving our lives. Self parking cars that only work half assed are not particularly useful integrations of robotics into our lives. Such “innovations” are gimmicks at best. We know how to park our damn cars. We’ve been doing it for 100 years. What next, a robot that helps me scoot my chair in? The Roomba was a great application of robotics to the consumer market space, hence it’s tremendous success. People want to see this kind of integration repeated.

I’m okay with being harsh on roboticists (including myself) because we all need consistent reminders that the market place is harshly Darwinian. Just because WE may be able to imagine wonderful uses for the technologies we play with in the lab, doesn’t mean they have any real world viability in the current market place today. That’s a problem. Research dollars only take you so far. Eventually you have to create something people can use. Tough love is a good thing. It helps keep us focused on the task at hand, and that is building useful technologies.
Big thanks to Cris Kilner for pointing us to the article in his blog dotnetrobot

First Look: Microsoft Surfacing Computing!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Most of you have probably seen the Minority Report becomes reality video on youtube by now. It was a very cool demonstration of what kind of user interfaces we can expect to see in the future. The question we always wonder when we see these things is, “Cool, but how and where can we seriously use it?” It turns out Microsoft has been asking themselves the very same question and has come up with some pretty good answers.

Larry Larson over at got a preview of Microsoft’s Surface Computer where they demo many real world apps for such technology. Things really start getting slick around the 8 minute mark where surface computing is applied to the restaurant experience. There literally is no need for a waiter to take orders or payment anymore with such a system. A fully interactive menu is right in your tabletop to order from. When the meal is over, everyone can place their payment method on the table and divi up the check by dragging and dropping the meal items to their own cards. Amazing.

It’s great to see emerging technologies being applied intelligently toward improving real world experiences. Far fetched interactive musical tools are neat, but what emerging technologies really need to survive is a way to make life better for the common citizen. It looks like MS has envisioned some very real ways to do this.

Here is another demo we found on youtube, this is the quick version.

post via Scobleizer

UK police add hovering spy drone to surveillance arsenal

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Police departments in the UK are already well known for their extensive use of cameras in public areas. Now they have a new high-tech weapon to aid them in the never ending battle against personal privacy. It’s a four-prop helicopter, designed by the military and handed down to local law enforcement. According to BBC News, the drone will be used “mainly for tackling anti-social behaviour and public disorder.” Speaking as a person who is a big fan of anti-social behavior and public disorder, this leaves me feeling a bit uneasy.

big brother

If you want to see some real information instead of my paranoid ramblings, read the BBC News article.
Found by way of the Boing Boing.

Crust Crawler Underwater Thrusters !

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Alex from CrustCrawler has been kind enough to give us a sneak peak of their new underwater Thruster units. CrustCrawler continues to innovate and push the cutting edge in hobby robotics and we are impressed again. We don’t have any specs on the new units yet, but Alex said they will be posting information about the thrusters over the weekend on their site.

(click to enlarge)

Crustcrawler Thruster

Crustcrawler Thruster

Crustcrawler Thruster

Thanks for the sneak peak Alex !

Dean Kamen and the Robotic Arm

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Ok, we’ve seen some pretty incredible advancements in robotics these last couple of years, but this tops the cake! The articulation from this arm is amazing. It looks like something straight out of the Cyberdyne lab in the Terminator series.

via (BoingBoing)

The Bioloid Expert Kit Is Here!

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Ok. I’ve seen you strutting around at the competitions, with your fancy clothes and your fancy platinum jewelry and your fancy modded KHR-2HV. I know you think you’re the O.G. of the hobby robotics scene. Well… you’re not. I’m sorry. You’re not as cool as you think you are, because you do not have this:

alt The Bioloid Expert Kit. Shiny.Now available from Trossen Robotics

Compared to the Comprehensive kit, the Expert kit boasts a slew of additional hardware and software. In addition to extra frames, actuators, sensors, and controllers; there are a number of new items that set this kit apart from all of the others. More programming tools have been added, as well. The manual is full of tutorials for programming your Bioloid using the Motion Editor, Behavior Editor, and C++. Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s take a look under the hood.

Open up the top compartment, and you’ll find a complete Comprehensive Kit. Eighteen AX-12+ actuators, one AX-S1 sensor module, CM-5 controller, and all the usual trimmings. alt
alt Remove the top compartment. This action requires the unbuckling of four latches, so the initial un-boxing is very dramatic. The bottom compartment is where the real fun is. You’ll find three more actuators, two more sensor modules, and another complete Comprehensive frame set; but that’s not all!
What you’re looking at here is the Robotis wireless camera set. The receiver can connect to a computer via USB, plus it has an RCA composite video output so you can connect it directly to a TV. alt
alt The camera itself is about 1 cubic inch, and it sports two AX-series Dynamixel connectors. The Expert Kit CD contains image processing tools, which you can integrate into your programs to add motion tracking, line following, path detection, and many other vision-related capabilities!
altEverything’s going wireless! You can install these Zig100 modules in the CM-5 controllers for exchanging data between robots, or you can use one CM-5 as a remote to control the other. And what’s this? A Zigbee to RS232 converter! Now you can command your Bioloid creations wirelessly from your PC. (I know it’s already pretty easy to accomplish this by hacking a Bluetooth transceiver, but now there’s an off-the-shelf solution for less adventurous users.)  
alt USB2Dynamixel adapter. I’m really excited about this particular gadget. It allows you to control a network of Dynamixels directly from your computer, bypassing the CM-5 controller entirely!
Bonus! In addition to the standard Bioloid 3-pin TTL port, the USB2Dynamixel has a 4-pin RS485 port, which would theoretically allow you to control Robotis’ shigh-end DX series of Dynamixels. I say theoretically because I haven’t tried it yet, and there’s no info in the manual about controlling RS485 Dynamixels. alt
alt In addition to all of the previously mentioned goodies, you get a pile of fuses and a nice fine-tipped screwdriver.Also, our kit contained an impressive quantity of silica gel packets, ensuring that everything is free from moisture. I know it looks delicious, but the packaging clearly states that it should be thrown away rather than eaten.

Well, thanks for reading the Bioloid Expert Kit Unboxing Extravaganza! Final word: This kit is just stacked full of awesome stuff, and I can’t wait to see all the different ideas that it will inevitably inspire.

Captured! By Robots…

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

…is an unbelievable band that you really need to experience to understand. From their press kit:

Captured! By Robots was started back in 1996. Jason Vance could not get along with human musicians and he decided to build himself a band… a band of robots. Shortly before their completion, he accidentally spilled coffee on their CPUs. When he awoke the next morning, they had come to life and he had been given a Bio-Cerebral chip that allows them to control him. From that point on, he was JBOT, of Captured! By Robots.”

Yeah. JBOT and his creations put on a great show, busting out quirky rock and metal tunes with a robot-supremacy theme. Since the Trossen Robotics team will be out at Maker Faire this weekend, we’re going to miss their gig in Chicago. If you live in or around Chicago, C!BR is playing on Saturday May 19 at The Note. Go there. Seriously. You will be entertained and impressed. I should probably note here that this is not a family show. C!BR will terrify small children and offend those with delicate sensibilities. Thankfully, I don’t think many people from either of those groups read this blog.
Here’s the next few stops on the tour, if you’re interested:

May 17, 2007 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
May 18, 2007 Madison, WI @ The Annex
May 19, 2007 Chicago, IL @ The Note
May 20, 2007 Dekalb, IL @ Ottos
May 22, 2007 Champaign, IL @ High Dive
May 23, 2007 Carbondale, IL @ Big Boy’s BBQ
May 24, 2007 St Louis, MO @ Off Broadway

So check out the Captured! By Robots web site, head out to The Note this Saturday, and don’t forget to tip your bartender.

Almost Human: Making Robots Think – by Lee Gutkind

Monday, May 14th, 2007
Almost Human
From Publishers Weekly
Gutkind (In Fact) spent six years as a self-described “fly on the wall” at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, watching a group of scientists—mostly grad students—try to develop human movement and decision-making capabilities. The machines he encountered came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from dog-shaped toys programmed to play soccer to a Hummer equipped with sensors that enable it to drive itself. As that Hummer indicates, the institute’s research isn’t confined to the lab: Gutkind follows his roboticists to abandoned mine shafts and the northern edges of Chile, where they use the world’s driest desert to test machines developed to find signs of life on the surface of Mars. Gutkind’s reporting captures the individual quirks of the scientists—like one researcher who only shaves on Sundays to save time during the week for his research—but his low-key tone can mute the excitement of their successes, especially given the fail-fix-try-again nature of most of their projects. Yet even though his story lacks the drive of books like Soul of a New Machine or Hackers, it gives a solid sense of what’s going on in the field.

Phidget Motion Sensor… Now Smaller!

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Phidget Motion Sensor

Ok, here’s a little Phidgets history lesson for those of you who’ve never used the Phidget Motion Sensor.

Once upon a time, using arcane technology and primative building materials, our friends at Phidgets produced a motion sensor add-on for the 8/8/8 interface kit. It worked well, and all those folks who dig security and home automation just couldn’t get enough of them. The sensor looked like this (Shown next to a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus Rex for size comparison):


Not bad, but we knew they could do better. With the newest revision, they’ve done away with the bulky enclosure, opting instead for a small, self-contained IR motion sensor produced by Panasonic. Here’s the new motion sensor (Shown next to a fully-grown Ewok, for size comparison):

Ewok Motion

As you can see, the new sensor is roughly the size of an Ewok’s big toe (3cm x 3cm). Follow this link for more information about, and the opportunity to purchase, the new and improved Phidget Motion Sensor!

(Sorry for the lack of source citation for the artwork. If you drew either of the pictures used in this update, I owe you a Coke.)