Hey Rizzn-ites,

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of robots in the news. I’m fairly certain it’s an uptick, and not just that I happen to be noticing it more now than before. Usually, I just send the robot stories off to Sean, because I know he’s interested in that sort of stuff, but I’ve been sending the emails of to him so often, I felt it necessary to round it up here. I mean, who doesn’t love robots?

My love affair with robots began back in the day when I was but a wee Rizzn watching the Christmas time commercials for Radio Shack, and they kept showing that awesome Tomy robot that grabbed the orange juice from the refridgerator and gave it to the dad. Apparently, I’m not the only one loving robots these days; just a cursory glance at the volume of robot searchers on Google News relative to news volume shows an uptick in interest (see image at left).

So what is the robot news? Let’s scroll back over the past couple months and see the more interesting stories:

The First Armed Robots Rove Iraq: Robots have been roaming the streets of Iraq, since shortly after the war began. Now, for the first time — the first time in any warzone — the machines are carrying guns. The SWORDS — modified versions of bomb-disposal robots used throughout Iraq — were first declared ready for duty back in 2004. But concerns about safety kept the robots from being sent over the the battlefield. The machines had a tendency to spin out of control from time to time. That was an annoyance during ordnance-handling missions; no one wanted to contemplate the consequences during a firefight.

Top 3 Robots Coming Soon to the Battlefield: Live @ DARPATech: In theory, DARPATech 2007 is crawling with robots. Stanford University’s Grand Challenge winner, Stanley, squats in the lobby of the Marriott Anaheim. The first thing you see upon walking into the exhibit hall is Big Dog, the four-legged robotic jogger from Boston Dynamics. There are videos of robotic surgeons and scale models of giant unmanned ground vehicles and a snake-like bot encased in glass. But for the most part, these robots are static props, the machine equivalent of stuffed Siberian tigers, frozen mid-leap, in a natural history museum.

Military tests rocket-powered bionic arm: A rocket-powered bionic arm has been successfully developed and tested by a team of mechanical engineers at Vanderbilt University as part of a $30 million military program to develop advanced prosthetic devices for next generation of super-soldiers. The mechanical arm mechanical arm with a miniature rocket motor can lift (curl) about 20 to 25 pounds, three to four times more than current commercial arms.

Probo: ‘The Intelligent, Autonomous Huggy Robot’: Picture this. A child is in a hospital room, away from home and scared by his or her surroundings. Everything smells different, everything looks different, all the people are different. Where are mom and dad? When is it time to go home? Suddenly, in marches a robotic monster with green fur asking for hugs. Such is the vision of Bill Gates, Fujitsu-Siemens, and the Belgium-based ANTY foundation. They’re building an “intelligent, autonomous huggy robot” to interact with hospitalized children in an attempt to make being away from home a little less scary.

Self-Introspecting Robot Learns to Walk: “There’s something about these things that seems eerily alive! The Starfish Robot reminds me of the Grid Bugs from Tron. But it’s very real, and apparently capable of self introspection. In fact, instead of being explicitly coded, it teaches itself how to walk, and it can even learn how to compensate for damage.”

Robots set sail in Microtransat Challenge: Having already proven their worth on the land in various Grand Challenges, robots are now setting out to conquer the open seas, with the first Microtransat Challenge now getting underway in the Irish Sea off Aberystwyth. From the sound of it, however, this year’s competition is just setting the stage for next year’s race, when larger boats will set sail from France and hopefully find their way across the Atlantic to the finish line in the Caribbean, relying primarily on wind speed and GPS to stay on track.

Man telecommutes by sending in a robot replacement: Programmer Ivan Bowman works from home, but still maintains his presence in the office through the use of a bot he calls IvanAnywhere — a clever play on his name and the name of
his employer, iAnywhere. Basically a webcam-on-wheels, IvanAnywhere motors around the office, takes meetings, and even gives presentations, all while the real Ivan remains safely pantless in his home office. Actually, that sounds pretty smart — anyone got a spare webcam?

The Robots of CEATAC: There are so many beautiful robots here, it’ll make your head spin. They come in all sizes, from a twee bike-riding robot whose visage I cannot now find in my photo library to a set of guard robots that won’t do much guarding when you kick them over before they can alert the authorities.

How to build a RoboFlush: We were always a little wary of bringing our Legos into the bathroom, but if you’ve got no such baseless fears, BattleBricks has published a handy how to on building one of those fancy auto-flushers you see in some of the finest washrooms worldwide. Using only parts from a standard NXT Mindstorms kit, Will Gorman rigged up a contraption that employs the ultrasonic sensor module to detect the presence and then absence of a bathroom-goer, and also features a dedicated button to perform a Rube Goldberg-esque manual flush. Keep on reading for a thankfully-SFW demo vid of the so-called “RoboFlush”..

Virtual Robots Fooled By Visual Illusions: Roland Piquepaille alerts us to research out of University College London in which virtual robots, trained to “see” as we do, were duped by optical illusions the same way humans are. Here’s one of the illusions the software system fell for.

Erector SpyKee:Nikko and Erector just launched the Spykee Spy Robot, a Johnny-5-esque little fellow that recharges itself and includes a webcam and MP3 player all in a clever little package.It costs about $299 and lets you watch your family remotely, ensuring that your domicile will be safe from robo-phobic burglers. It reacts to motion so when someone pops in for a visit the SpyKee can email their picture to you and then burn their face off with huge fiery lasers.

Robotic Scout To Survey Arctic Ice: “The Meridian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a single-engine research aircraft with fixed landing gear designed by engineers at the University of Kansas. According to Technology Review, it will be used to see what happens beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Two units are currently being built for a cost of about 3 million US dollars. The Meridian will fly for up to 13 hours over a distance of 1,750 kilometers. The first flight over Greenland is forecast for next summer, and a second flight will take place over the Antarctic later in 2008.”

Undergrad-built Robots Play “Operation”: UBC Engineering Physics students pit prototype operation robots against each other for prizes and bragging rights in the 7th Annual Robot Competition. Offering solutions to handle delicate body parts on a 6-foot long version of the playing surface resembling the board game “Operation” (including the “shock” buzzer), the second-year students designed and built autonomous surgical robots to remove body organs reliably and quickly (well, most of the time). You can also see video footage.”

Inventor shows off robot chef: While it may not boast quite the same capabilities of the AICookingrobot that came out of China last year, this robot chef designed by retired professor Liu Changfa looks like it should be more at home in your kitchen, if you’re brave enough to let it into your house, that is. According to InventorSpot, the apparently unnamed “food robot” stands nearly five feet tall, and packs a pot and induction cooker inside its torso, along with a robotic arm to aid in the cooking process. Apparently, hungry humans simply need to pick a (presumably simple) recipe and wait while the robot works its magic. While there’s no word on a commercialized version just yet, the bot has reportedly served dinner for some 200 taste testers already, and its inventor is now hoping it has what it takes to take home the top prize in China’s upcoming national invention contest.

GeStream Technology’s new robot challenges i-SOBOT’s title: i-SOBOT, long the holder of the “world’s smallest bipedal robot,” finally has a proper rival, in the form of GeStream Technology’s 15-centimeter-tall gold-colored bot. The latest tiny robotic overlord has 16 degrees of “freedom,” which computes to something like 65,536 possible movements, and will be sold in unassembled so that owners can customize the look and functionality of the miniscule bot. With the price rumored at around $185 to $200, the company is laying claim to the “smallest, lightest, and cheapest in the world,” though it wouldn’t be surprising to see those titles usurped by some like-minded competitor. No word on availability, but as soon as we can get the Engadget offices crawling with a lethal army of these, we’ll let you know.

Samsung Sentry Robot: The time is nigh, people. When the shiznit hits the fazan, these robots will be your only solace and protection. As hordes of ravenous, mutated Moray eels begin roaring out of your plumbing, the Samsung sentry bot, patented but not yet available at Best Buy, will hold them off long enough for you to slit your own throat with a broken bottle and listen as they slither and slope towards your dying body, hoping to feast on your sweet appendix. In your last dying breath say “Thank you, Samsung, for making this sentry robot just to hold these damn eels off long enough for me to die with my dignity — and nose — intact.” Then slip into the warm pool of oblivion and know that this sentry will watch over your masticated body for eternity, a testament to the madness and beauty of life’s monstrous play.

/rizzn

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