Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [19/23]

  • Weekly Robotics #17

    1) Bend-It: Design and Fabrication of Kinetic Wire Characters.
    INFO: Disney Research has created a technique for producing kinetic wire characters using CNC bending machines. Researchers introduce spring-like templates in the wire so that the wire doesn’t experience plastic deformation.

    2) Why Doesn’t Amazon Deliver my Stuff via Drone? An Interview with Colin Snow on Drone Delivery.
    INFO: In this short interview Colin Snow of Skylogic Research talks about the challenges facing the concept of drone delivery.

    3) This Plant Is Driving Its Own Robot.
    INFO: Harpreet Sareen from MIT Media Lab is measuring signals from the plant and based on them drive the mobile robot base towards where plant “tells it to”.

    4) BehaviourTree.CPP.
    INFO: BehaviourTree.CPP is a C++ framework for creating Behaviour Trees which might serve as an alternative to Finite State Machine (FSM) for complex task planning. The github project contains a link to a video presenting the BehaviourTree.CPP in action. The project is open sourced under MIT licence.

    5) China prepares mission to land a rover-lander combination on moon’s far side.
    INFO: Chang’e 4 is a mission aiming to land on the dark side of the moon. The goal of the mission is to perform above and below surface exploration and possibly radio-astronomical studies. The mission launched on 7th of December and is expected to touch down on 3rd of January 2019.

    6) CIMON robot debuts at ISS.
    INFO: CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile CompanioN) is a robot assistant that was deployed to International Space Station. The robot was designed by DLR, Airbus and IBM and is using ISS WiFi and transmits the voice commands to Earth so that they can be processed by Watson, an IBM natural-language processing computer.

    7) Publication of the week - Two Years of Visual Odometry on the Mars Exploration Rovers (2006).
    INFO: Did you know that Martian rovers Spirit and Opportunity had were equipped with 45 deg Field Of View (FOV) cameras producing 256x256 pixel stereo images for visual odometry providing a rover pose estimation in 6 degrees of freedom? According to the article the Visual Odometry started as an “extra credit” functionality but ended up being a critical safety system. In the first 10.7 km driven by the rovers the visual odometry was used for over 14% of navigation, mainly on steep terrain. The disadvantage that came with the visual odometry on those rovers is that it slowed down the robots by the order of magnitude, since the calculations were run on a 20 MHz CPU.


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  • Weekly Robotics #16

    1) Point Cloud Library (PCL) data repositories.
    INFO: PCL is an open source project for 2D/3D image and point cloud processing. In the Community Data Repository section at the above link you can find open datasets with point cloud data divided into 8 categories.

    2) AWS RoboMaker.
    INFO: ROS (Robot Operating System) is coming to the cloud. The new service is a development environment that seems to support ROS Kinetic and the set of tools ROS developers are used to (e.g. Gazebo simulator, Rviz). According to the linked article RoboMaker also provides robot fleet management capabilities and over the air updates.

    3) MIT microhydraulic actuators.
    INFO: A team at MIT is working on microhydraulic actuators that utilize electrowetting to achieve the motion. Via the article: Electrowetting applies an electrical voltage to water droplets on a solid surface to distort the surface tension of the liquid. The actuators take advantage of this distortion to force water droplets inside of the actuator to move, and with them, the entire actuator.

    4) How To Do Real Time Object Detection On Drone Video Streams.
    INFO: The above link by Nanonets is a step-by-step tutorial on how to run an object detection on a live video stream using Tensorflow.

    5) How to land on Mars.
    INFO: InSight has landed last week! The above NYT article covers the stages of Mars landing in an easy to follow way. The included timeline helps put the mission in perspective.

    6) AWS DeepRacer.
    INFO: Amazon is to start selling a 1/18th R/C cars built for machine learning. Under the hood the car is said to have an Intel Atom Processor with 4GB of ram and running Ubuntu 16.04. The onboard sensors include a 4MP camera and integrated accelerometer + gyroscope. As part of the project a 3D racing will be available and the developers will be able to participate in a global racing league. The car is said to cost 399 USD but right now it can be preordered for 249 USD.

    7) Publication of the week - Comparison of ROS-based Visual SLAM methods in homogeneous indoor environment (2017).
    INFO: This paper analyses various methods for SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) in a controlled environment. The paper covers LiDAR based SLAM (Hector Slam package) used as a ground reference, Monocular SLAM (ORB-SLAM, DPPTAM), Stereo camera SLAM (ZED Camera), RGB-D SLAM (Kinect with RTAB-Map).


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    1) Automata (London, UK) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Automata’s mission is to make robotics automation affordable and simple.

    2) ABB (Windsor, CT , US) - Senior Embedded Systems Engineer.
    INFO: ABB is seeking a Senior Embedded Systems Engineer for a position in a new group focusing on autonomous vehicles and mobile robotics.

  • Weekly Robotics #15

    1) Ion Drive Drone.
    INFO: MIT researchers are experimenting with a drone powered by ionic wind (airflow induced by electrostatic forces). According to the video in the above blog post the aircraft managed to fly over 60 meters (~10 seconds flight) using this method of propulsion.

    2) NASA Mars landing stream.
    INFO: NASA’s InSight lander is scheduled to land on Mars on 26th of November around 3PM EST (9PM CET). The landing commentary will be streamed online. The goal of InSight mission is to study Mars deep interior.

    3) OpenCV 4.0 was released.
    INFO: After 3.5 years since 3.x release a new major version of OpenCV (Open Source Computer Vision Library) has been released.

    4) Dexter - open-source 3D printed robot arm.
    INFO: This project received a Hackaday 2018 prize. The robot has 5 degrees of freedom (DOF) with a maximum payload capacity of 1kg. The repeatability of the robot is said to be 0.05mm.

    5) Google parent to pull plug on bipedal robot development.
    INFO: Alphabet is dissolving Schaft, a developer of bipedal robots that Google acquired in 2013. In this IEEE Spectrum article you can learn about the Bipedal robot that Schaft showcased on a conference in Japan in 2016.

    6) Stanford giving robotic hands sense of human touch.
    INFO: Stanford Engineers developed a sensor capable of measuring intensity and direction of pressure as well as heat. This allow the manipulator to handle such delicate tasks as moving a ping-pong ball or touching a raspberry without squashing it.

    7) Remotion - A Motion-Based Capture and Replay Platform of Mobile Device Interaction (2018).
    INFO: Remotion is a set of hardware and software tools to replay mobile phone user interactions with a physical setup that replicates the mobile phone movement.

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    1) Torc Robotics (Blacksburg, VA, US) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Torc Robotics is a leader in game-changing remote-control, digital-control, and autonomous robotics technologies and systems.

    2) SAM|XL (Delft, Netherlands) - Software / Automation Engineer.
    INFO: SAM|XL (Smart Advanced Manufacturing XL) is a collaborative research centre where technology is being developed, demonstrated, and de-risked for automated manufacture of large-size lightweight composite parts for aircraft, wind turbine blades, spacecraft and maritime applications.

  • Weekly Robotics #14

    1) Fast line-following robots part 1: control.
    INFO: In this blog post Andy Sloane goes over evolution of his line following robot for DIYRobocars meetup in SF. The article covers the evolution of a line follow algorithm that starts as a purely proportional controller and finally takes a form of a PD controller keeping a target velocity on a curve with a lookahead control. We recommend playing with the included algorithm visualizations and controller tuning.

    2) Unexpected AI.
    INFO: This Google sheet is a compiled list of cases where an AI system uses the imposed rules in ways unexpected by the authors. Some of the entries are robotics related: “a robot arm with a purposely disabled gripper found a way to hit the box in a way that would force the gripper open”.

    3) Cybathlon 2020.
    INFO: Via linked website: The Cybathlon is a unique championship in which people with physical disabilities compete against each other to complete everyday tasks using state-of-the-art technical assistance systems. The teams have time until November 2019 to register, provide safety documentation and complete a pilot form. This video shows a trailer for 2016 edition.

    4) ROSCon and IROS 2019.
    INFO: ROSCon 2019 has been announced and will take place from October 31st to November 1st in Macau. IROS will take place in Macau as well from November 3rd to November 8th.

    5) How multi-beam flash lidar works.
    INFO: The linked document is a technical note on Ouster lidar. Interestingly Ouster lidar is working with light on 850 nm wavelength (for comparison Velodyne HDL-64E is using 905nm light). The article also mentions Outster’s approach for Flash lidar and technological improvements that matter to their technology.

    6) RocketLab’s satellite launch.
    INFO: RocketLab’s Electron rocket just carried out a successful mission, carrying small commercial satellites to the orbit. Compared to most of commercial rockets we usually hear about the Electron is quite small. It’s height is only 17 m (56 feet) and it can carry about 220 kg (550 pounds) of payload.

    7) Publication of the week - UMBmark - A Method for Measuring, Comparing, and Correcting Dead-reckoning Errors in Mobile Robots(1994).
    INFO: UMBMark (University of Michigan Benchmark) is a method for measuring dead-reckoning errors in mobile robots. To successfully perform UMBMark you will need to run the robot on a 4x4m path, while collecting robot position information. On page 15 of the linked document you will find a one-page summary of the procedure. If you are looking for a read that’s shorter than 40 pages, a solder spot article is quite succinct and contains a C source code with UMB results implementation.

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    1) Handling dead nodes in ROS
    INFO: In this article the author of this newsletter explores methods of determining a state of a ROS node (especially capturing whether it’s still alive).


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    1) Robotics & Perception Group at ETH (Zurich, Switzerland) - PhD/Postdoc in Deep/Reinforcement Learning for Computer Vision.
    INFO: Robot Perception Group’s mission is to develop autonomous machines that can navigate all by themselves using only onboard cameras, without relying on external infrastructure, such as GPS or motion capture systems.

    2) Ouster (San Francisco, CA, US) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Ouster is developing lidar sensors (see the 5th entry of this Weekly Robotics issue).