Chiba University Drone System Used to Monitor Hazardous Volcanic Activity

Chiba university drone

One of the many multicopter drone systems developed by the Autonomous Control System Institute at Chiba University is being used to monitor the recent volcanic activity near Mt. Fuji in Japan.

The Owakudani area near Hakone, a popular resort area close to Mt. Fuji, has been closed to tourist and even local workers, due to increased volcanic tremors indicating the possibility of earth movement or venting. The authorities have issued orders restricting travel into the hazardous area. However, scientist have been able to effectively monitor activity in the area utilizing a multicopter drone system from Chiba University.

The drone, which provides real time video feedback from a multitude of vantage points and angles, can also carry other sensors and instrumentation. The TBS news website report (in Japanese) also includes a short video showing the drone in action as well as a description of its operation. 

Related links: TBS News - Drone Monitoring with video #robotsdreams
More information at Robots Dreams

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Prep Work For MakerCon and Maker Faire Media Coverage

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Labeling batteries, chargers, and other gear as I get ready for next week’s MakerCon and Bay Area Maker Faire events.

With close to 100,000 people expected to attend the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, it’s going to be a total zoo bordering on chaos. Capturing the right photos and videos in the heat of the moment is a major challenge, but there are some simple things you can do in advance to improve your odds of success.


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Segway Takeover By Chinese Company Ninebot Doesn’t Bode Well For U.S. Technology

Just fourteen years ago, in 2001, everyone was caught up in the buzz about a new mystery product from design genius Dean Kamen that was code named “Ginger”. Ginger was supposed to radically impact personal transportation, facilitate people friendly urban design, and do a multitude of other magical things. Ginger, when it was publicly unveiled, turned out to be Segway, the two wheeled balancing personal transporter.


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ROBOTECH Robot Exhibition Looked Interesting But Where Were The Robots?

Nano Micro Biz ROBOTECH 2014 Japan s leading exhibition focusing on Micromachine MEMS and Nano Technologies

We first attended the ROBOTECH exhibition several years ago. Every odd numbered year (2011, 2013, 2015, …), Japan stages the International Robot Exhibition (IREX), which is generally acknowledged to be the biggest, most interesting robot technology exhibition in Asia, perhaps in the world. Manufacturers, reseachers, students, robot application developers, end-users, everyone that has an interest in robotics travels from the four corners of the globe to participate. But, that leaves a noticeable void during the even numbered years. It was this void, this opportunity, that ROBOTECH hoped to capitalize on.


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HEBOCON – The Robot Contest for Dummies (Video)

HEBOCON The Robot Contest for Dummies The Jury Selections The 18th Japan Media Arts Festival YouTube

Most robot contests award outstanding performance. All the awards and glory goes to the smarter competitors that take advantage of the best, often state-of-the-art technology. Of course, that comes at a price, building champion level robots isn’t cheap. And, more importantly, it leaves out the vast majority of people who are interested in robotics but can’t compete at the top level, or can’t afford the cost of entry.

The answer, at least in Japan, is HEBOCON: The Robot Contest for Dummies!


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New Digital Recorder – TASCAM DR-22WL

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Picked up the new TASCAM DR-22WL digital recorder to capture better audio for interviews and videos. From the specifications, and most user reviews, it should be a good fit for my needs. I’ll be able to give it a few field tests before I make the international trek to MakerCon and Bay Area Maker Faire this May.

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The built-in WiFi capability and free iOS and Android apps were the major selling point for me. Being able to remotely control the recorder from my smartphone will be a huge improvement. That will allow me to position the recorder in the best spot to capture audio while giving me the freedom to move around with my camera as I shoot the action.

My initial tests, though short, indicate that the smartphone control not only works, it actually is simpler and more straightforward to use than the buttons on the recorder itself.

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All though the DR-22WL only supports two channels compared to it’s bigger, and more expensive brother, the DR-44WL, it weighs less, fits in my hand and backpack nicely, and has all the functions I am likely to need built right in.

The build quality is acceptable, though not at the top of the range. For example, you have to look closely at the mini-USB connector to confirm the orientation - something that should be more obvious if the access hole in the case matched the connector. 

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Powered by two AA cell batteries that are easily available almost anywhere on the planet, I shouldn’t have to face unexpected charging problems onsite, which is a significant plus.

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Included in the DR-22WL package are the recorder, batteries, a mini-USB cable, and the instruction manual in both English and Japanese. The more expensive DR-44WL also includes a cloth case for the recorder, which would be nice. Looks like a quick trip to the local 100¥ (dollar store) will fix that shortcoming. 

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With only a few hours use under my belt, I’m pleased by what I’ve experienced with the DR-22WL so far. The display could be a little brighter, especially for outdoor use, and the menu fonts could be much larger - still the recorder is more than adequate in both respects.

The WiFi remote control apps, at least the iOS version, work as advertised and were easy to setup and use. There is also a WiFi file transfer app available for free download from the TASCAM website. That will get tested tomorrow. Of course, coupling your smartphone or computer to the recorder means that you don’t have WiFi access to the internet simultaneously unless you setup a separate router. This isn’t a significant problem for my intended uses, but could impact those that want to broadcast the audio real-time from events.

In addition to recording interviews and audio for event videos, I also plan to use the DR-22WL for article dictation processing the output through Dragon Dictate. It would be nice if the recorder could also be used as an active microphone for direct use with the same application, but I’m not sure if that is possible, and it isn’t a deal killer since I have a Blue Snowball microphone I typically use in the studio.

Related links: TASCAM DR-22WL Digital Recorder


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Robotic Beer Brewing System – Bierre

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Robots Can’t Bring You A Beer, But They Can Brew It!

Beer brewing can be fun, and is something that is easily accomplished at home. However, like many complex processes, brewing beer that tastes good and has consistent quality requires an attention to detail that is often challenging for hobby beer brewers.

Thankfully, affordable technology exists to assist home brewers in their quest for tasty beer on a repeatable, predictable basis. Utilizing off the shelf components along with

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smartphones that almost everyone carries around in their pockets these days, Leo Innovations LLC successfully designed and launched Bieree: Smartphone Beer Brewing System.

Constructive Feedback Yields Results-

Driven by their passion for beer brewing, the founders at Leo Innovations spent years experimenting and refining their approach. Their initial attempts, though successful at producing quality beer, met with some criticism. The main complaint was that the system was too automated, too robotic. It produced the beer with a minimum of interaction from operators - as if it was on autopilot, so users felt isolated from the process.

Responding to this valuable feedback, the developers came up with the latest Bieree version expanding its user programability and data display/collection. Not only can users set parameters like temperatures and times, they can also expand the system to include other types of sensors or controls.

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What’s Inside?

The Bieree beer brewing system has five basic elements. The heart of the system is a Bluetooth enabled micro controller with two power FETs. Fluid is pumped through the system using dual food grade coffee machine pumps. A temperature probe monitors operating temperatures, which are extremely critical for brewing. Devices are switched on or off using a power relay.

Users control the system using custom software applications available on both Android and iPhone/iOS platforms. Using the app of their choice, users setup the controller to measure temperatures, turn pumps on to circulate water through the different brewing vessels, and control refrigerated cooling. Communication between the smartphone and the Bierre process controller is via Bluetooth.

Successful Kickstarter Project-

Setting modest, yet achievable, goals, the company introduced Bieree to the world via a Kickstarter project in the summer of 2014. The project attracted 57 backers, primarily through word of mouth among beer brewing hobbyists, and exceeded it’s project funding goal of $6,000.

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The People That Made It Happen-

Leo Innovations was founded by Leonardo Estevez who was born in Uruguay, became a naturalized US citizen, and holds both a PhD in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Cognitive Neuroscience. He is committed to helping students to develop STEM based products that improve users quality of life.

Using open source hardware and software developed by Leo, Sam Dalong, the Leo Innovations project lead and designer, produced the Bierre kit. Sam holds a Masters degree in mathematics, and like Leo, has a strong interest in STEM development and motivating users.

Related links:

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SmartWatch Wannabe’s Continue to Focus in the Wrong Direction


Swatch, according to the latest reports/rumors from Bloomberg Business plans to release their answer to the long awaited Apple Watch before this summer, perhaps even beating Apple’s design to market.

Unfortunately, as far as we can tell from the limited information already available, Swatch, like most of the other smart watch wannabes trying to capitalize on all the energy, buzz, and hype around the sector, is focusing on the “watch” side of the equation without a significant differentiating play on the ‘smart’ side.

Before Apple did a complete reboot of cellphones and revolutionized the market, a phone was just a phone, though many of them had a few additional features, like a calendar or camera duct taped on. Apple, or more specifically Steve Jobs, shifted the focus to the total customer experience at a deep kinesthetic gut level and built a complete eco and economic system around the device. While we still refer to our smartphones as a ‘phone’, the actual use of those devices has totally minimized their phone functionality. 

Smart watches will follow the same evolutionary path, without a doubt. My Nike+ FuelBand, for example, has become a totally integrated part of my day to day existence. Of course I still use it to check the time occasionally, but the way that it allows me to track, monitor, and expand my physical health and exercise has become invaluable. 

While companies, and tech reporters, continue to promote the latest smart watch offering as a serious competitor to the Apple Watch, the ones we’ve seen so far amount to just digital watches with some additional features. There’s nothing really compelling about them that would make you want to run out and get one right away.

I’m guessing, and hoping, that in a few months Apple will change all of that and deliver a smart watch that will totally change the way that we think about and utilize watch form factor devices in our daily lives.

Via: Swatch Plans Smartwatch to Compete With Apple Watch’s Debut - Bloomberg Business #robotsdreams
   More information at Robots Dreams

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We the Geeks: “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something” – White House Google+ Hangout Tuesday

We the Geeks  Don t Be Bored Make Something | The White House

Look what the White House just announced for Tuesday afternoon (ET):

Have you ever considered what you might create with a state-of-the-art digital design studio? Have you ever thought about planning and printing a new pair of sneakers, instead of just buying some? Have you ever dreamt about what you would make if you had all the tools of industrial design at your fingertips?

Well, those dreams may be closer than you think.

A new generation of American pioneers is democratizing the tools of the industrial revolution and spreading them to students around the country. But these tools aren’t the rusty machines you might imagine – they’re 3-D printers, laser cutters, and water jets, and they give you the ability to make almost anything. Not only that, they may be coming soon to a school near you.

Announcing the first ever White House Science Fair, the President called for an all hands on deck approach to grow a generation of Americans who are, “the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.” And at the 2012 White House Science Fair, the President met student Joey Hudy and launched his marshmallow cannon, noting that Joey’s motto was, “Don’t be bored, make something.” Responding to that call, citizens, communities, and organizations are coming together to give students the tools to design with their minds and make with their hands.

Join us and leading tinkerers, educators, and innovators on Tuesday, November 12th, at 2:00 pm EST for a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout, called “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something”.

The Hangout will be moderated by Kumar Garg, Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation, and Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges, and will feature a panel of these leading experts:

Hear from the people building the next generation of shop class by tuning into "We the Geeks: Don’t be Bored, Make Something" live on and the White House Google+ page on Tuesday, November 12, at 2:00 pm EDT.

Got comments or questions? Ask them using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and on Google+ and we'll answer some of them during the live Hangout.


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