Learning by Demonstration

It’s never easy to program a robot to perform a useful task. A person has to first attend a course or pick up some skills from a robotics manufacturer. There’s always a designated person in the factory that is able to program the robot and no one else. This is not true for a human operator as all we have to do is instruct the person to perform the task, and this is possible if you know the task to be accomplished.

Many researchers have worked on Learning by Demonstration and the following video is the work done at Willow Garage where they run trials on normal end-users. The end-users are able to physical move the PR2 to show it how to perform a particular task engaging the robot using speech recognition. This is one of the key things that will bring robots closer to a human centric environment.

Autonomous Golf Cart from NUS

National University of Singapore(NUS) is working on developing autonomous vehicles that can be used for urban systems of the future. The aim of the project is to achieve autonomous navigation with the lowest cost allowable without sacrificing the robustness and reliability of the system.

This is autonomous golf cart equipped with 3 LIDAR on the vehicle for feature detection, curb detection and obstacle avoidance. Other sensors used on the cart are is the camera and the odometry system. This allows the cart to localize it’s position and navigation autonomously. The video shows the cart has the ability to perform SLAM and handle human traffic in a low traffic place like the university.

The Google autonomous car has set very high standards for autonomous navigation with features within the system to plan it’s actions at road junctions and real life traffic conditions. This might come at a high cost given the sensors that are used on the google car. NUS hopes to lower the cost of development. There are uses for autonomous vehicles within pretty controlled environments like university campuses and small towns.

“Baxter” Revealed

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Industrial robotics has changes the way it looks. Baxter is the much awaited robot developed by Rethink Robotics. It a lower cost robot that will be easier to deploy and more flexible than the robots that are now in the market. This configuration is not new as we have seen this in the past. Foxconn has plans to launch a similar robot in coming years and the Yaskawa Robot, not to mention the ones found in the research labs.

At USD22,000, this is not a large investment for companies if it doesn’t require a drastic change to the existing workflow. It will be interesting to see how intelligence and perception will enable Baxter to work with the people around him. This is how they plan to reduce the accuracy and precision required by industrial robots. Brooks has a lot of experience in dealing with this aspect of robotics – Behavioral robotics. With the revolution on the software side with Willow Garage’s Robot Operating System (ROS) and the other projects at the Open Source Robotics Foundation, it’s going to see how this non-proprietary “robot intelligence” will push robots into our daily lives.

Rethink hopes to target the small-scale manufacturers where flexibility matters, where they are still reliant on their human workforce. With it’s current price tag and ease of implement, the barriers for entry is greatly reduced. The Baxtor is a made in USA robot. Various parts have been optimised to reduce the cost of the robot by looking into novel methods of manufacturing the parts.

Article at IEEE Spectrum

Kinect Guru’s New Robot Project

Garratt Gallagher has done many hacks for the Kinect. He won first place in the Kinect/ROS competition. He’s started a KickStarter project – Bilibot. It’s a iRobot Create with the Kinect as a sensor for navigating the robot around.  Kinect is a great tool and there are still competitors on the market hopeful to get a bite of the pie. They have changed their business model from selling products to being OEM for consumer product manufacturers. There’s a lot of prospect in this area given how microsoft has brought down the cost to this level. The rules of competition is different and the consumers are there to reap the rewards of this battle. Can’t wait.

The new Kinect will hopefully push cheap robots to a higher level of competence.

Hizook has covered this story in detail.