News Article | April 9, 2016
Alphabet X, the company's experimental technology lab, recently showcased its bipedal robot that has the capability to climb stairs and overcome hurdles. SCHAFT, which is part of Alphabet's X and popular for winning a DARPA robotics challenge, showed off this robot during the keynote speech of former Android head Andy Rubin at the New Economic Summit (NEST) 2016 in Japan. In 2013, the company acquired SCHAFT as part of the company's bid to penetrate the field of robotics. Originated from the University of Tokyo's JSK Robotics Laboratory, SCHAFT is among the robot companies owned by Alphabet. With regard to its capability, this bipedal robot has the capability to climb stairs, balance on a pipe and navigate on challenging terrains, such as rocky areas, snow and more. In a video uploaded by someone in the audience during the said event, and shared by IEEE Spectrum, the robot is seen balancing a load of food while passing through a stadium. It is even captured walking on a pebbly beach. Moreover, this robot can likewise clean the stairs with the use of its spinning brush and its vacuum placed on its feet. What are lacking, though, are the robot's arms to support it once it falls down. An X spokesperson told IEEE Spectrum that the presentation was only a mere technical demonstration and not an official announcement for the product (yet). "[It] wasn't a product announcement or indication of a specific product roadmap," said the spokesperson. "The team was simply delighted to have a chance to show them latest progress." This means that it may still take a while, perhaps a few more years, before this robot officially hits the market. At the moment, not much is known about SCHAFT's robot. It is apparent, though, that the company is trying to address a variety of real-world problems. Just last month, we reported that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, put Boston Dynamics up for sale, suggesting that it is not happy with this robotic subsidiary. Reportedly, the company believes that it will not be capable of producing considerable revenue. Until we learn more about that, hit the play button below to get a glimpse of this SCHAFT bipedal robot. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Rovers for Mars and other destinations will operate much too far from Earth for direct teleoperation to be feasible. Instead, some level of automation is essential. Katwijk beach, close to ESA's ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, was chosen to test two new sets of software for rover navigation. "Both software routines rely on the presence of landmark features," explains Martin Azkarate of ESA's Planetary Robotics Laboratory. "The problem is that this flat, sandy North Sea beach doesn't normally have any. "So we added 212 cardboard 'rocks' for our testbed rover to navigate around." The new software was developed by research students Evangelos Boukas and Rob Hewitt working through ESA's Networking/Partnering Initiative, which supports spin-in applications of advanced technology for space. One software set matches landmarks on the ground to images acquired from orbit – in this case, an overhead drone. The other applies lidar – the laser equivalent of radar – to help track the rover's motion. The test drives took place last Thursday, 26 November, with all the rocks retrieved after the testing was over. "Previous rover tests have ranged as far as the Canary Islands and Chile's Atacama Desert," adds Martin. "But Katwijk beach has the advantage of being a lot closer."
News Article | April 5, 2016
Professor Wan Kyun Chung of Pohang University of Science and Technology’s Department of Mechanical Engineering — together with PhD student Young Jin Heo, MS student Junsu Kang, and postdoctoral researcher Min Jun Kim in the Robotics Laboratory — has developed a novel control algorithm to resolve critical problems induced from a Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller by automatizing the technical tuning process. Their research was published in Scientific Reports. “Lab-on-a-chip” designates devices that integrate various biochemical functions on a fingernail-sized chip to enable quick and compact biological analysis or medical diagnosis by processing a small volume of biological samples, such as a drop of blood. To operate various functions on a lab-on-a-chip device, the key technology is the precise and rapid manipulation of fluid on a micro-scale. In microfluidic devices, very small and trivial variables can frequently cause a large amount of errors. Up until now, the PID controller has normally been used for the manipulation of fluids in microfluidic chips. To apply the PID controller, a tedious gain-tuning process is required but the gain-tuning is a difficult process for people who are unfamiliar with control theory. In the case of controlling multiple flows, the process is extremely convoluted and frustrating. The developed control algorithm can improve accuracy and stability of flow regulation in a microfluidic network without requiring any tuning process. With this algorithm, microfluidic flows in multiple channels can be controlled in simultaneous and independent way. The team expects that this algorithm has the potential for many applications of lab-on-a-chip devices. For example, cell culture or biological analysis, which are conducted in biology laboratories, can be performed on a microfluidic chip. Physical and chemical responses can be analyzed in the subdivided levels. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIP). Source: Pohang University of Science and Technology
These strange-looking, two-legged robots might be the predecessor of a machine that someday helps with chores around the home. The bipedal bot, which has yet to be named, was developed by Schaft, a Japanese robotics company that is part of X, the research lab owned by Alphabet (previously Google). It was revealed at an event in Japan hosted by Andy Rubin, who started Google’s robotics project before leaving the company at the end of 2014 to create his own hardware incubator. A video shot by someone at the event shows the robot carrying a heavy-looking gym weight, slipping on a tube without falling over, and cleaning a set of stairs with a vacuum cleaner brush attachment on its feet. It can also be seen walking through a forest and along a rocky beach. It looks like the robot’s low center of gravity might help with its dynamic balancing. Usually such robots are very power-hungry, so it would be interesting to know how much that helps with power consumption. The demo is especially interesting in light of Alphabet’s decision to sell off another robotics company, Boston Dynamics, that's working on walking robots. Perhaps the fact that Schaft’s robot is seen doing housework is a sign that Alphabet thinks it can commercialize the company’s technology sooner. Schaft was spun out of the JSK Robotics Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, and one of the company’s robots took part in the first stage of DARPA’s Robotic Challenge. In fact, Schaft’s robot dominated the competition, demonstrating remarkable control, dynamic balance, and power-efficiency. But it was withdrawn by Google from the second stage of the contest for undisclosed reasons.
News Article | July 14, 2015
California's record-breaking drought crisis is now in its fourth year. And while it may seem from past coverage that the severe temperatures and water scarcity are tied to the current drought specifically, California and the western U.S. have actually been in and out of states of drought for centuries. Governor Jerry Brown's inter-agency Drought Task Force, which was convened in 2013 to investigate the current drought, has been done before. Task forces have been implemented by different California governors throughout the past four decades, all in response to crises arising from the state's systemic water issues. Now, Lara Setrakian is pulling together her own task force of veteran California reporters and editors deeply embedded in the history of the state's water issues and giving them a platform to tell those stories—all of them. Today she's launching a new website, Water Deeply, which will focus on the deep-seated problems contributing to the California drought as well as how they relate to the rest of the world's water scarcity issues. The site is the third of its kind to originate inside the news platform Setrakian founded in 2012 called News Deeply. The platform plays host to pop-up websites that act as "news dashboards" and are dedicated to covering a single, pressing issue instead of the traditional online media model, which covers a variety of topics. Water Deeply will operate on a one-year trial run. Past News Deeply sites include Syria Deeply (which remains live), and Ebola Deeply, which is set to wrap in October of this year, assuming the disease is no longer active. "The California drought just did not have a coherent narrative—and not just for people in California, but in terms of understanding the drivers of drought, but also the implications and the policy decisions that are going to be made in California that will echo nationwide," Setrakian tells Fast Company. "You’re talking about a state that is really a global player in many ways." As with her previous Deeply projects, Setrakian knew her strength was in hyperlocal reporters, academics, and policy people. So her first hire at Water Deeply was Matt Weiser, an environmental reporter and author who's spent 30 years covering California's water systems (including the last 10 at the Sacramento Bee). He'll serve as the new site's managing editor, or as Setrakian calls his position, a "super-beat reporter." "I know the politics of water pretty well. I know the mechanics of water pretty well, in terms of how it moves through the state and who turns the valves and what the consequences of that are for the environment and for the supply of water. Who gets it, who goes without, and why all that happens," says Weiser. Weiser has already set to work creating a network of contributors and partners for Water Deeply's hyper-focused content. At the Bee, Weiser was afforded the uncommon luxury of having a beat entirely dedicated to California's water, shielded from the economic turmoil and attrition plaguing most print newspaper media. "They really, really ought to be commended for hanging onto that beat," he says. But the structure of media currently isn't equipped to give important issues like water scarcity their full attention all the time. "A lot of the news coverage as it is for many subjects is kind of crisis driven. They’re covering the fire instead of writing about how the fire started or the mechanics of firefighting," Weiser says. "What we hope to do is to give people that background to help them understand how we got here with the drought because it’s a long process. The drought didn’t just happen due to the weather, although that was certainly a big factor. It also occurred because of the way we manage water in California and decisions that were made historically that set us up for where we are now." The Deeply platform allows journalists to highlight both bits of information and longer pieces through its highly customized interface (Ushahidi built the wireframe template for Syria Deeply, and Water Deeply employs many of the same functions). To deliver its highly specialized reports on California's drought and big-picture water scarcity stories, Water Deeply has inked distribution deals with other outlets. It will republish stories from the Bee and the Financial Times tied to the water crisis, and has signed partnerships with the Associated Press and McClatchy in a distribution deal that will help Water Deeply reach millions, according to the company. "In the stretch since the launch of Ebola Deeply back in October, we have become sort of an integrator of different streams of information. We refer to ourselves as the Switzerland of news. We kind of work with everybody and partner with everybody. And so we’ve really leaned into that with Water Deeply," Setrakian says. The terms of the deals include rights to republish articles from all five of McClatchy's California newspapers and the creation of "content modules" for the Associated Press to be distributed to AP clients worldwide. "Basically, AP clients would have a way of tapping into in-depth reporting from Water Deeply to enhance their own coverage of the California drought,'" Setrakian says. "If we find a really smart distribution partner, suddenly we have a destination news site that serves the hard-core readers of topics, and then distribution that helps us reach millions and millions of other people." The site has also named a board of advisers from the academic and policy worlds in California to get a fuller picture of California's complicated backstory. Before Water Deeply even comes close to its one-year mark, Setrakian says the Deeply platform will already be launching another pop-up site: Arctic Deeply will roll out in October of this year. Whereas Syria Deeply works with ABC News and Christian Science Monitor, and Ebola Deeply partners with The One Campaign and Shine On Sierra Leone for its distribution, Setrakian says Arctic Deeply will have its own partners, too. "There will always be a unique array of partners around a topic based on what we want to in-take and integrate," Setrakian says. "We’ve done this definitely in a tailored way by topic, but it’s becoming a formula. What we landed on with every new topic was elements of a formula. So it’s becoming faster and faster to launch new topics."