Archive for May, 2011

Simple motion-capture system for programming robots

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

A robotic arm can be controlled with a new inertial-sensor input device. When the hand holding the device is moved, the robot emulates the movement.

Programming robotic arms just got a lot easier thanks to the efforts of Bernhard Kleiner and his team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart.

The key breakthrough is a set of inertial sensors in a hand-held input device, and software that ties their inputs together to reconstruct a detailed model of body motion.

The device records precise motions without complicated calibration or configuration — the user makes a gesture, and the robotic arm mimics it. The device can be attached to the thigh of  a patient to determine their gait for control of active prosthetic devices and for physical therapy, for example.

Programming a robotic arm to be used in a factory assembly line, for example, is usually a complex process, involving a hand-held baton with a marker point, a laser beam reflected from the marker, and a camera to recreate the motion, after careful calibration and configuration.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Iris recognition gadget eliminates passwords

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

EyeLock will enable you to log in to a Web site with the blink of an eye. Read more:

Imagine logging in to Facebook or eBay with just a blink of an eye. A new gadget for consumers may soon make that possible.

Designed by the Hoyos Group, a device called EyeLock uses iris-recognition as an alternative to passwords to log you in to password-protected Web sites and applications. Although similar eye-scanning devices are already used in the business and industrial markets, Hoyos calls EyeLock “the first and only portable iris-scanning device for consumers.”

The scanning device, which resembles a wand, plugs into a base that connects to your PC via a USB port. After you install the software and choose the sites and applications that you want to iris-protect, you pass the scanner in front of your eye. A snapshot is taken of your iris to confirm your identity. Assuming you’re the real you, you’re then granted immediate access to the secure Web site or application.

With security always a primary concern, the company boasts that the device is unhackable.

“Every time you log in, it reads your iris and creates a unique key, which is a series of numbers, and this key changes every time you log in, so no one can hack it,” Tracy Hoyos, assistant marketing director, said in an interview with CNN.

And despite what people may have seen in certain science-fiction films, the device will only work with a live person.

“If someone kills you, it won’t work, because once you die your eye automatically flattens so your iris isn’t the same,” Tracy Hoyos told CNN.

The company hasn’t yet revealed a launch date but said the EyeLock will sell for $99 once it hits the consumer market. Demonstrated at a tech show in San Francisco on Tuesday, the EyeLock employs the same technology that Hoyos uses in its portfolio of more advanced iris-scanning products for government agencies and corporations.

“Iris-based systems guarantee a level of security and identity protection that is unparalleled by any other biometric, password encrypted or card-based system in existence today,” Jeff Carter, chief business development officer of Hoyos, said in a statement.

Source | Cnet

Glimpse our robotic future in China

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Disembodied robotic arms, humanoid robots that bumped into things they were supposed to avoid, and Lego-like parts for assembly into everything from robotic dogs to calligraphy machines were evident at this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Shanghai, China.

  • Robotic arms: Yaskawa’s arc welding Motoman will be used in factories while the “assistive robotic arms” of Barret Technologies is currently being used as a surgeon’s aid in knee surgery.
  • Educational robotics: Shanghai XPartner Robotics’ Dragon Guard is a robotic playmate and study partner. The Darwin OP Open Platform Humanoid Project sells a humanoid bot (with a full PC built into it) to university research labs.
  • Robotic kits: Dynamixel sells networked actuators for students to assemble and program. Robotechn’s parts were demoed as robotic worms and starfish displaying different modes of movement selected by the user using a remote control.

‘Team Frankenstein’ launch bid to build a human brain within decade

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

First step: Rat brains were first analysed (above) before the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology was given permission to lead the Human Brain Porject Read more:

A team of scientists has assembled in Switzerland and Germany to pursue a unique goal – the building of a computer model of a human brain.

Called the Human Brain Project – but perhaps inevitably dubbed ‘Team Frankenstein’ in the media – it is in discussion with the EU for a £1billion grant.

Scientists claim success may lead to cures for various diseases like Parkinson’s.

It could also lead to intelligent robots and supercomputers which would dwarf those currently in existence.

Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, has assembled a team of nine top European scientists for the research effort.

‘This is one of the three grand challenges for humanity. We need to understand earth, space and the brain. We need to understand what makes us human.’ Markram told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

The scientists and researchers working with the Human Brain Project believe that if they secure the funding, they will be able to replicate mankind’s most vital organ in 12 years.

The applications for it if successful are enormous; drug companies for instance would be able to dramatically shorten testing times by bypassing humans to test new medicaments on the computer model.

Supercomputers at the Jülich Research Center near Cologne are earmarked to play a vital role in the research which Makram says will involve ‘a tsunami of data.’

Jülich neuroscientist Katrin Amunts has begun work on a detailed atlas of the brain which involved slicing one into 8,000 parts which were then digitalized with a scanner.

Makram added: ‘It is not impossible to build a human brain. We can do it in just over 10 years.

‘This will, when successful, help two billion people annually who suffer from some type of brain impairment.’

The project has already created an artificial neocortical column which is unique to mammals.

We have many of these columns to cope with complex cognitive functions including parenthood and social interactions.

It was digitally constructed using a software model of tens of thousands of neurons.

Source | Mail Online

Bionic hand for ‘elective amputation’ patient

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Milo is measured up using his bionic hand prior to the operation

An Austrian man has voluntarily had his hand amputated so he can be fitted with a bionic limb.

The patient, called “Milo”, aged 26, lost the use of his right hand in a motorcycle accident a decade ago.

After his stump heals in several weeks’ time, he will be fitted with a bionic hand which will be controlled by nerve signals in his own arm.

The surgery is the second such elective amputation to be performed by Viennese surgeon Professor Oskar Aszmann.

The patient, a Serbian national who has lived in Austria since childhood, suffered injuries to a leg and shoulder when he skidded off his motorcycle and smashed into a lamppost in 2001 while on holiday in Serbia.

While the leg healed, what is called a “brachial plexus” injury to his right shoulder left his right arm paralysed. Nerve tissue transplanted from his leg by Professor Aszmann restored movement to his arm but not to his hand.

A further operation involving the transplantation of muscle and nerve tissue into his forearm also failed to restore movement to the hand, but it did at least boost the electric signals being delivered from his brain to his forearm, signals that could be used to drive a bionic hand.

Then three years ago, Milo was asked whether he wanted to consider elective amputation.

“The operation will change my life. I live 10 years with this hand and it cannot be (made) better. The only way is to cut this down and I get a new arm,” Milo told BBC News prior to his surgery at Vienna’s General Hospital.

Milo took the decision after using a hybrid hand fitted parallel to his dysfunctional hand with which he could experience controlling a prosthesis.

Such bionic hands, manufactured by the German prosthetics company Otto Bock, can pinch and grasp in response to signals from the brain that are picked up by two sensors placed over the skin above nerves in the forearm.

In effect, the patient controls the hand using the same brain signals that would have once powered similar movements in the real hand.

Milo used a hybrid hand before deciding on the operation

The wrist of the prosthesis can be rotated manually using the patient’s other functioning hand (if the patient has one).

Andrei Ninu of prosthetics company Otto Bock explains the bionic hand to the BBC’s Neil Bowdler

World first

Last year, a 24-year-old Austrian named Patrick was the first patient in the world to choose to have his hand amputated, again by Professor Aszmann, and a bionic replacement fitted. He lost the use of his left hand after being electrocuted at work.

He can now open a bottle quickly and tie his own shoelaces.

“My reaction was ‘Oh my god, I’ve got a new hand!’,” he told BBC News.

“I can do functions which I did with my normal hand with the prosthetic arm,” he said, recalling his response to first being fitted with a bionic hand.

“I think it was very cool – I did not do things with my hand for three years and then you put on the new hand and one moment later, you can move it. It’s great.”

Patrick is already testing a new hand, which its makers say will give him much greater movement. The hand has six sensors fitted over nerves within the lower arm, rather than the two on his current prosthesis.

Multiple signals can be read simultaneously, enabling the patient to twist and flex their wrist back and forward, again using the same brain signals that would have powered similar movement in the real hand.

Professor Oskar Aszmann prefers to calls these elective amputations “bionic reconstruction” and has been working closely with Otto Bock, who have a research and production facility in Vienna.

Elective amputee Patrick shows what he can do with his bionic hand and tests a new hand with additional wrist movement

Before the first operation, the professor held a symposium to discuss the procedure, to which senior surgeons and a theologian were invited.

He believes elective amputations are the best option for patients who have lost hand movement and who have no hope of regaining that movement through surgery.

“You see a patient come to you with a tremendous need for hand function and it’s only a thought away to come to the next conclusion,” he said.

“If the patient cannot address his only hand and I can change his anatomy in a way so he can communicate with an artificial hand, then of course I’ll just take away what’s there and provide a technological hand for him.”

But Professor Aszmann has faced opposition in some quarters, with senior colleagues even requesting he cancel this latest operation – requests the professor promptly rejected.

He said the alternative for patients like Milo would be years of pointless surgery.

“Milorad is now 26 years old and he wants to go on with his life. To biologically reconstruct a hand for him would be a never-ending story and in the end he would still have a non-functional hand.

“It is in the patient’s interest to provide him with a solution he can live with properly and successfully, and so I have no problem with cutting off his hand.”

In the event, the amputation itself passed without incident.

Scar tissue from a previous operation was removed and then the hand cut off with a pneumatic saw. Tissue was then taken from the hand and transplanted to the wrist to provide a cushion for the prosthesis.

Speaking from his hospital bed following the surgery, Milo was a little drowsy, but as positive as ever.

“I feel good,” he said, his bandaged arm lying on a cushion besides him.

“I’m happy that it’s over and look forward.”

Source | BBC News

Uncanny Valley

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Robot Film Festival

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

July 16-17, 2011 || New York City

Please submit your outstanding, dazzling, hilarious or thought-provoking short film. JUST ONE REQUIREMENT: Please feature a robot as one of the main characters as or framing devices of the narrative. Films should be one to eight minutes long. (See teasers here.)Taking place at the Three Legged Dog Art & Technology Center, there will be juried screenings, live performances, AND a red carpet award ceremony! The Robot Film Festival was founded by roboticist Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot to inject a sense of playfulness into traditional science and engineering and explore new frontiers for robotics before the technology is even possible. Don’t forget your party shoes! (or wheels!)

Deadline for submissions: June 5, 2011


PETMAN Prototype

Sunday, May 1st, 2011