MakerBot Announces New Scanner

It's SXSW  time again already, so it should come as no surprise that companies involved in the interactive space are rolling out press releases and product announcements designed to leverage the excitement of the moment.

May 6 2010 NYC Village MakerBot 164 | Flickr  Photo Sharing

The most exciting, and interesting announcement that we've seen so far came from Makerbot on Friday. The company's CEO, and one of the founders, Bre Pettis stepped into the limelight to let the world know that they are developing a new 3-D scanner. Actual details are kind of sparse at the moment, because the company is still in the prototyping phase. No doubt will be extensive testing, learning, and redesign over the next few months as the product develops. There is currently no indication of the price or release timing, though the company did state that they will start accepting orders this fall.

The scanner consists of a turntable on which you mount objects you wish to scan. Lasers and cameras translate that object into a digital files. Bre said the scanner will be ideal for archiving, prototyping, replicating, and digitizing prototypes, models, parts, artifacts, artwork, jewelry, and other objects.

Assuming that the pricing is reasonable, and by that I mean in line with the pricing for the company's 3-D printers, then the new scanner will be a huge success. There are free solutions out there that usually involve taking a series of photos, then having the photos analysed to re-create the dimensions for the 3-D object. However the free software available online is either difficult to use, or requires significant attention to detail.

The new scanner, on the other hand seems to be much more straightforward and has some nice features that we help make it into the final product design. For example, the turntable, which we assume will be able to rotate the subject smoothly and repeatably.  it appears that the company would like to expand its offerings to include products targeted at all the key steps in the design and manufacturing/printing process.

Related links: Makerbot Announces New Scanner

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How Long Before Cyberdyne’s HAL Robot Suit Proves to be a Viable Business? (Video)

Cybernics research aims to enhance health and vitality through robot suits  DigInfo TV

Technically, logically, and emotionally I have always found Professor Sankai's arguments to be right on target. His vision of a future where human capability is augmented and extended through pragmatic application of robotic technology has tremendous appeal. And his view on how this could (should) be naturally developed in Japan, leveraged by obvious needs in health care and nursing, along with other areas where Japan excels, seems perfectly reasonable. Especially since it allows Japanese robot developers to approach the challenge from a position of strength and know-how.

"In America, a lot of high-tech research originates from the defense and aerospace industries. But in Japan, we'd like to make high-tech advances in the health and welfare field, which is very difficult because technology has to be applied to individuals. And in this way, we think technology from industry could be used to enhance everyday life. We feel this might be one way for Japan to show the world some unique achievements."

However, the one thing that I can't figure out is how it will actually come to fruition. Cyberdyne's technology is certainly world-class, but I have to wonder about the company's business model and long term strategy. Investors and backers have obviously pumped millions of dollars into the project, year after year. Yet no one even begins to hint that it is profitable, even on a run rate basis. 

How deep is the rabbit hole? How much longer will the company's backers continue to support the cash flow required to keep it alive and striving to catch the attention of the world? The jury is still out. Given the state of the Japanese economy over the past few years, Cyberdyne's backers run some risk of not being able to fund the company, even if they want to, since things are getting tighter and tighter here.

The other, possibly significant, risk is a competitive challenger suddenly appearing on the scene - perhaps from Korea or China. While Cyberdyne's robot suits are extremely impressive, even if they don't come in my size, very little of the technology is unique and un-reproduceable. Assuming that a viable market for the robot suits actually exists, which still needs to be proven, Cyberdyne doesn't appear to have created a strong barrier to entry against competitors.

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Tears of Steel – Robot Evolution Remix (Video)

Tears of Steel  Robot Evolution Remix  YouTube

Robert Roschler,  a good friend, fellow robot designer, and AI researcher, put together this impressive remix of "Tears of Steel". Just to be clear, the video footage and impressive animation was done by the Blender Foundation and Robert is using it in accordance with the appropriate derivative license terms and conditions. At the same time, he is the creator, author, and performer of the song "Evolution".

 Robert is one of those rare individuals that that is been able to bridge the gap between left brain right brain individuals merging his grasp of both the technical realm and the artistic. He loves creating a fusion of robotics and automation with the performing arts. In fact, that unique talent inspired him many years ago to create the RoboDance project.

That project, which was primarily self-funded by Robert himself, enabled people to create complex dance and performance sequences with computer assistance utilising low-cost robots like the Robosapien. He doesn't let artificial constraints stand in the way of creativity. In fact he sees it as a challenge to apply technology in new ways to create his visions.

Here are the reference links provided by Robert:

Remix of the amazing Tears of Steel animation video by the Blender Foundation. Video footage and some sound effects are used in accordance with the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license the video was released. This license allows content usage in both commercial and non-commercial derivative works as long as proper attribution is given. My personal thanks to the creative geniuses at the Blender Foundation for this latest open source project in a series of true gems that they have released over the years. To see the original film in its entirety please visit:

The song "Evolution" is an original work and not part of the Tears of Steel project, (c) Android Technologies, Inc. For more information visit:

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Using 3D Printing for Practical Designs

IPhone Lens 3D printing

Design World has an online webinar scheduled for next Tuesday, December 4th, featuring Chong Pak of Olloclip explaining how they used 3D printing technology to design and manufacture their 3-in-one lens system for the iPhone camera. According to the webinar registration webpage:

"Olloclip has created the ultimate 3-in-one lens system for your iPhone that fits in your pocket and takes your picture taking ability to the next level. Product design in the most recent years has been impacted tremendously by 3D printing and Olloclip’s camera lenses are no different. Whether it’s wide angle, fish eye or a macro picture view, this development in camera phone technology has been made possible by Objet 3D Printing. Please join Chong Pak of Olloclip and Objet Geometries as they discuss product design within the iPhone era and how 3D printing can help engineers design, create and ultimately bring products to life faster.

Attend this webinar to learn about:
-Olloclip and their fast hitting iPhone accessory
-3D printing and the design process
-Objet’s multi-platform capabilities"

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Turtlebot 2 Roams the Streets of Nagoya (Video)

Turtlebot 2 robot

This is Japan, so you would think the people wouldn't be surprised to see a robot rolling around in the streets. But, somehow,  the TurtleBot-2 managed to surprise and delight quite a few customers and bystanders in the streets of Nagoya this weekend.

William Morris, the founder of Iheartengineering – a great resource for specialty tools, kits, ideas, and even custom parts – dropped in on us last week during his business trip to Korea. William was kind enough to bring along the latest turtle bot configuration and show it off.

 I'll be posting more about the turtle bot in the next day or so, including more video, some detailed photos, and a summary of Williams presentation at the Tokyo HackerSpace.

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NAO Humanoid Robot Movement Detection (Video)

NAO Robot Motion Detection

Aldebaran Robotics released a new video for the NAO humanoid robot. Of course, you would expect that a robot this expensive would be able to identify movement around it. So, of the video is in anything spectacular. It's just a simple tutorial.

But, what I found interesting was the copy of robot magazine laying on the desk in the video. It's a little bit hard to tell from the angle, but it appears to be the recent issue featuring  the NAO Developer Days event held in Paris earlier this year. Of course, I have a personal attachment to that particular issue.... :)

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I Heart Engineering Website Renewal

i heart engineering robots

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.

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Dr. Guero’s Amazing Tightrope Walking Robot (Video)

Tightrope Walking Robot

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.

tightrope robot

Here's Dr. Guero's bicycling robot, for those that haven't already enjoyed it:

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Lady Ada Skins Furby Alive! (Video)

furby skinned

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). :)

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How Robots Are Bringing Manufacturing, But Not Jobs, Back Home

robot factories

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.

Via: New Wave of Deft Robots Is Changing Global Industry -

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