Robots at Work
Ever wanted to become Iron Man? Here's some good news: Sarcos recently said that its second-generation exoskeleton robot suit, XOS 2, is now five years away from production. IEEE Spectrum contributor Susan Karlin writes : The wearable robotics suit augments the operator's strength by using a system of high-pressure hydraulics, sensors, actuators, and controllers to bear the weight of an object, while leaving its wearer agile enough to kick a soccer ball. It's also lighter, stronger, and more environmentally resistant, and it uses half the power of the company's first exoskeleton, XOS 1, which rolled out in 2008. The XOS 2 has been nicknamed the Iron Man suit in homage to the high-tech power suit in the comics and movies.
China is planning to send a robotic exploration rover to the Moon around 2013. Despite the fact that the moon is so close (cosmically speaking), we haven't really interacted much with the lunar surface since the late '70s. We've taken pictures of it and crashed the occasional spacecraft into it, but in general the moon has been bypassed for sexier planets like Mars .
At the InnoRobo conference in Lyon, France, last month, I got a chance to speak with Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot -- in a very candid interview about his view on the robotics industry, his vision for AVA, a new robot platform his company is developing, and how he sees things shaping up in the coming years. Cool over function In keeping with a presentation Colin gave earlier in the day, he started off our conversation with a discussion on how there have been hundreds of millions of dollars spent on making cool demos – but relatively little in the way of solving high value business needs. To illustrate his point, he mentioned the incredible effort that has been undertaken on the development of humanoid robots. He calls this an exercise of “cool over utility."
This video shows how the Mars Science Laboratory rover (aka "Curiosity") is planning to get from here to the surface of Mars. Since MSL is too large for airbags and Mars doesn't have enough atmosphere for a parachute to do the whole job, the only option is a rocket-assisted landing. The "sky-crane" system in the video above has never been used for a mission before, and I can't even imagine how agonizing it's going to be waiting to find out whether everything went successfully when touchdown happens in August of 2012. Boing Boing recently had the chance to send a photographer to JPL to check out the more or less completed rover before it's sent of to Florida next month to prepare for its November launch. Here are a couple of my favorite pics:
Modular Open interfaces let you use different grippers, forearms, whole arms or sensors. Modularity Specs Power to Go
Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . When it comes to robots, Japan is a superpower, with some of the world's most advanced robotic systems and the highest levels of industrial automation. So it makes sense to ask: Why can't Japan use robots to fix the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Dai-1 nuclear power plant? Many people have wondered about this possibility , and there's been a lot of speculation and confusion. One news report even slammed Japan for lacking nuclear-disaster robots.
This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . UPDATE 4/20: Watch videos of the PackBots inside the reactors. The Associated Press is reporting that two PackBot ground robots from iRobot have entered Unit 1 and Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and performed readings of temperature, oxygen levels, and radioactivity. The data from the robots, the first measurements inside the reactors in more than a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, revealed high levels of radioactivity -- too high for humans to access the facilities.
Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . Japanese researchers have sent a robot into a damaged gymnasium where a partially collapsed ceiling makes it dangerous for rescue workers. The team used a remote-controlled ground robot to enter the building in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in the northeastern portion of Japan's Honshu island, and assess damages.
Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . iRobot Warrior 710s getting prepared for deployment to Japan. The Special Ops group of Japan's Self Defense Forces has asked iRobot for some robotic assistance with the situation at the Fukushima Dai-1 nuclear plant , where several reactors are dangerously unstable after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami led to failures of their cooling systems last week. Four robots, including iRobot's Packbot 510 and Warrior 710 , left Bedford, Mass., this morning on their way to Japan, along with a team of iRobot employees to provide support, an iRobot spokesperson told me. The iRobot team will be training Japanese defense personnel, who will control the robots remotely, from a protected vehicle, and iRobot employees will not be getting close to the reactors themselves. These robots may be able assist at Fukushima Dai-1 in several different ways.
Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . Japan's earthquake will be a major test for search-and-rescue robots like Quince, developed by Chiba Institute of Technology roboticists, shown here during a demonstration. Japan's leading experts in rescue robotics are deploying wheeled and snake-like robots to assist emergency responders in the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the country last Friday. Details are still scarce, but I've gotten word that at least two teams plan to use their search and rescue robots, one team in Tokyo and another in or around Sendai, the city that suffered the most damage in the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. I'm waiting confirmation about a third team, also in Tokyo.
Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . UPDATE: The U.S. Air Force informs us that the schematic below is of a Global Hawk model Block 40; the drone used in Japan is a Block 30. A U.S.
Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency . Japanese roboticists plan to use the KOHGA3 ground robot (shown here during a test) to inspect a collapsed building in Hachinohe, in the northeastern portion of Honshu island. Japan is mobilizing more robots to assist with rescue and recovery operations after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the country last Friday. As we reported earlier , two teams are on standby, ready to deploy ground and snake-like robots. One team is based in Tokyo and the other in Sendai, but they are prepared to travel anywhere in Japan where they are needed. Now I've learned that two other teams are also ready to field their robots.