Robots Take British Jobs

Robots may take four million British jobs in the private sector within the next decade, some business leaders believe.

Those surveyed for by YouGov for the Royal Society of Arts said 15 per cent of all jobs were under threat.

The most vulnerable fields are finance and accounting, transportation and distribution, manufacturing and marketing and public relations, the survey found.

Robots could take four million British jobs in the private sector within the next decade, some business leaders believe 

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Robot Practically Thinks for Itself

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a robot that can pick up awkward and unusually shaped objects.

The robot learned how to grasp different objects by studying a virtual library of 10,000 3D objects and suitable grasps.

When a new object is placed in front of the bot, its deep-learning system quickly figures out what grasp the arm should use.

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When the robot was unsure of how to grasp an object, it poked it to figure out how to better grasp it. After doing this, it was successful at lifting objects 99 per cent of the time

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As Much Fun as Stripping Paint

Prototype robots autonomously strip paint from aircraft using lasers

Team of robots decoating a cargo plane
Team of robots decoating a cargo plane

If you think stripping paint off an end table can be a messy, time consuming job, imagine removing paint and other coatings from an aircraft like the C-130 transport plane. Tasked with developing a robotic system that would take such a chore out of the hands of maintenance personnel, Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) and Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, developed a team of robots that gets the job done – using laser beams, no less.

Close up of Laser Removal Arm

The prototype robots are being tested at the Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah as part of a program sponsored by the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment to develop ways to cut down on the labor costs, health hazards and environmental problems of repainting military planes. CTC is building six autonomous, mobile robots that work in teams to remove paint and other exterior coatings from fighter and transport planes.

Coating removal system

The large robots consist of a mobile platform on which is mounted a large, articulated arm that moves up and down on hydraulic lifts. On the end of each arm is an array of sensors that allow the arm to glide evenly over the plane’s surface and a continuous wave laser that removes the paint in selective layers. The sensors can also assess the plane’s condition as they go. The speed at which they work needs to remain even so that the laser can strip the paint without overheating the plane’s skin. Meanwhile, a custom High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) system safely collects paint debris as it is removed from the aircraft.

How many robots are required for each team depends on the aircraft. Two robots are enough for a fighter, but four robots might be needed for a cargo plane. The system controlling the robots generates plans for stripping the plane, which can be updated as the job proceeds. It also “virtually” masks areas of the plane that shouldn’t be touched, so maintenance crews don’t have to run about with masking tape and paper.

Mobile robot teams

Using robots means that plane maintenance can carry on around the clock, but it also offers other advantages. For one thing, since they operate autonomously, crews aren’t exposed to harmful chemicals or laser light. According to Jim Arthur, CTC principal process engineer and project manager, “automated laser decoating is expected to significantly reduce labor, waste volume, environmental risk, and overall cost.”

The system is currently in the testing and demonstration phase, but NREC/CTS foresee the robots being used to not only strip, but to also apply paints and coatings as well as inspecting aircraft and doing maintenance and repair work.

Attribution:  , Real Clear Science

Walk Assist

A spinoff from robotic space technology may someday help astronauts stay fit in space and help paraplegics walk on Earth, Nasa says.

The U.S. space agency and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) have jointly developed a robotic exoskeleton called X1.

The 57lb device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.

In the inhibit mode, the X1 exoskeleton would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement.

The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time.

The X1 is based on the technology behind Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, which is currently working with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

‘Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space,’ said Michael Gazarik, director of Nasa’s Space Technology Program.

‘What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth.

‘It’s exciting to see a Nasa-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time.

Worn over the legs, with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, X1 has four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot.

There also are multiple adjustment points,  allowing the X1 to be used in many different ways.

Nasa is examining the potential for the X1 as an exercise device to improve crew health both aboard the space station and during future long-duration missions to an asteroid or Mars.

Without taking up valuable space or weight during missions, X1 could replicate common crew exercises, which are vital to  keeping astronauts healthy in zero gravity.

In addition, the device has the ability to measure, record and stream back data in real-time to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better insight into the crew’s health.

X1 could also provide a robotic power boost to astronauts as they work on the surface of distant planetary bodies. Coupled with a spacesuit, X1 could provide additional force when needed during surface exploration.

Here on Earth, IHMC is interested in developing and using X1 as an assistive walking device. It has the potential to produce high torques to allow for assisted walking over varied terrain, as well as stair climbing.

‘We greatly value our collaboration with Nasa,’  said Ken Ford, IHMC’s director and CEO. ‘The X1’s high-performance capabilities will enable IHMC to continue performing cutting-edge research in mobility assistance and expand into rehabilitation.’

The potential of X1 extends to other applications, including rehabilitation, gait modification and offloading large amounts of weight from the wearer.

Preliminary studies by IHMC have already shown X1 to be more comfortable, easier to adjust, and easier to put on than older exoskeleton devices.

Researchers now plan on improving on the X1  design by adding more active joints to areas such as the ankle and hip to  increase the potential uses for the device.

Attribution: Damien Gayle