Our favorite online site for high quality and hard to find tools, I Heart Engineering, just completed a major makeover. The website has always been easy to use and a great source for robot and engineering parts, accessories, hand tools, and information. But its latest evolution makes it even easier to use, research, and order.
At the same time, I Heart Engineering announced availability of the new TurtleBot 2 complete Open Source robot development kit - perfect for colleges, universities, research organisations, and independent developers.
One thing that I really appreciate about I Heart Engineering is that the management comes from the robot research and development community, so they understand the challenges faced by their customers and are positioned to respond quickly and accurately. In fact, several of their accessory products were custom designed and manufactured specifically for customers based on their experience and know-how.
And, to make things even sweeter, they regularly share the background behind their product development including the reasoning behind a lot of the design decisions on the I Heart Robotics blog.
Remember Dr. Guero, the robot builder that stunned everyone last year with his bicycle riding Primer-V2 humanoid robot? He's back with another astonishing robot feat. This time his Primer-V4 robot is a full fledged tightrope walker!
Pretty darn amazing, especially considering that just a few short years ago many of the hobby level humanoid robot builders were lucky to keep their robots balanced and upright while walking for an extended period or boxing in the ROBO-ONE ring.
The tightrope used for this feat was a 4mm diameter cable suspended 1 meter above the floor. The technical challenges were significant and considerably different from normal humanoid robot walking. When a bipedal robot walks on the ground the standard approach is to apply gyro sensor feedback corrections primarily to the leg servos to shift the center of gravity. The arms don't play a significant role.
With tightrope walking the arms and upper body play a much more critical role in shifting the robots center of gravity to keep it balanced and avoid crashing to the floor. Dr. Guero's blog doesn't mention the use of any safety net, but I'm sure he had to catch the robot quite a few times before he got it working perfectly.
The robot's feet have a small slot for the tightrope, which is fair enough. A human tightrope walker in the circus would cup their feet and use their toes in the same fashion.
Here's Dr. Guero's bicycling robot, for those that haven't already enjoyed it:
Lady Ada is up to it again! This time she's skinned Furby alive!
I'm not surprised that she's prepped Furby for hacking - that's parr for the course with our favorite creative hacking guru. But, she's done it with the brand new Furby that is just hitting the market, and she did the whole skinning process with Furby fired up and working the whole time.
Wait until PETA gets word of this. Or, more likely, PETR (People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots).
The excellent NYTimes article linked below outlines how robotics is bringing manufacturing back from overseas, but without repatriating the jobs we traditionally associate with factories.
While most of this is very positive in terms of the general economic impact, especially on domestic economies, it marks a dramatic shift in perspective - especially when it comes to the perceived value of workers. For example, when referencing Foxconn chairman Terry Gou:
Foxconn has not disclosed how many workers will be displaced or when. But its chairman, Terry Gou, has publicly endorsed a growing use of robots. Speaking of his more than one million employees worldwide, he said in January, according to the official Xinhua news agency: “As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.”
Needless to say, it's also become a key issue in the current Presidential election campaign, or at least a political football that both sides want to grab and run with.
The Obama administration says this technological shift presents a historic opportunity for the nation to stay competitive. “The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
All that being said, it's a given that manufacturing jobs will be drastically eliminated in the same way that most agricultural jobs went the way of the Dodo bird during our grandparents generation. The critical question, the question that everyone seems to be ignoring, is what will most of the people in the population do to create meaningful value that others are willing to pay for.
The Android Robot Walker STL is available on Thingiverse for download and 3D printing. It uses the Makerbot Windup Walker mechanism.
Michael Curry and his 3D printed robot Minions at Makerbot Headquarters in Brooklyn, NYC last week.