papershredder

DARPA $50,000 Paper Shredder Challenge

Darpa Paper Shredder

DARPA, the same folks that brought us, or at least funded, the development of the Internet and several autonomous robotic vehicles, has a new challenge. If you like puzzles, mental gymnastics, and extremely short deadlines, you're going to love this one.

It turns out that the US military frequently takes over the headquarters of hostile forces, but all too often all the critical paperwork containing precious clues and insights has been shredded before they can get their hands on it. That's where the DARPA challenge comes in. They're putting up a $50,000 prize for the team that can come up with the best solution for putting all the shredded information back together again.

Rather than just present one puzzle, which might be too difficult for any team to solve, DARPA has posted five puzzles with increasing levels of complexity. The puzzles are already up on the challenge website, and can be downloaded by anyone, even if they decide not to enter the competition.

To keep things even more interesting and exciting, they have a Leaderboard on the website that is updated regularly. The winning team will be announced on December 5, 2011.

(Via DARPA Shredder Challenge.)

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Affordable Stretch Sensor from AdaFruit Industries

Adafruit stretch sensor

I'm so incredibly jealous. Lady Ada over at AdaFruit Industries has all these great toys to play and experiment with, and she's figured out how to do it while enriching all of our hacker lives and making a little money to find more great stuff.

The 'toy' that triggered this post for me is some conductive rubber stretch cord that acts as a sensor. It's like being able to pull on the end of a resistor and have it's characteristics change linearly as it gets longer and shorter. Way cool! And it is incredibly cheap. She's priced it at less than ten dollars for a full meter and even includes a pair of alligator clips and a 10k resistor. Science teachers, for example, could dice it up and have enough for each student to have a piece for experiments.

The only drawback that I can see is that the sensor takes a little while to recover after being stretched, though I guess that could be compensated for in some applications by using two sensors in opposition.

As usual, the AdaFruit website has a great related tutorial page so you can learn while having fun.

(Via Conductive Rubber Cord Stretch Sensor + extras! ID: 519 - $9.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits.)

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toyota

Toyota Showcases Healthcare Partner Robots (Video)

Toyota Patient Robot

Basic assumptions, whether explicitly defined or not, often determine the eventual success, or failure, of all research and design projects. It's all too easy for an engineer to make assumptions that don't bear out in the real world. It's also very common for corporate management to dedicate huge budgets to projects built on faulty logic.

After watching, and thinking about, some of the patient assistance robotic technology showcased yesterday by Toyota, I really have to wonder what their original design assumptions were. A good example is the Toyota Patient Transfer Assist Robot.

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Head Mounted Display Set To Roll Out (Video)

head mount display

I've been anticipating the release of practical head mounted display for years since they have tremendous potential for robot and remote telepresence applications. So far all of the designs have either been obtrusive and block the wearer's vision somehow, or they have had limitations that have precluded commercialization.

Now Brother Industries has announced they will roll out their AiRScouter transparent LCD display this Fall for business/industrial applications and hope to follow up with a commercially available version in the near future.

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Fluffy FuwaFuwa Sensor Technology Opens Exciting New Possibilities (Video)

music soft sensor

Technology development today faces some serious limitations that constrains its application and successful deployment, especially in non-traditional sectors. The two biggest limitations, at least from my perspective, are battery capacity/life and sensors. While there has certainly been a lot of progress in both areas over the past two decades, the core technology and design approach hasn't really changed very much.

In order to achieve radical improvements in the way we put technology to practical use some significant breakthroughs in both areas will be critical. Along those lines, one of the most interesting and surprising "thinking out of the box" sensor developments I've run across recently is the FuwaFuwa sensor module developed as a part of the Igarashi Design Interface Project under the auspices of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) ERATO.

"FuwaFuwa" in the Japanese language is a kind of onomatopoeic word that roughly translates as light/airy/fluffy, and that's exactly what the FuwaFuwa sensor module does.

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boomer-robot-maker-faire

KC Robot Builder Featured in Maker Faire Promo (Video)

boomer robot maker faire

Michael Overstreet has been a good and respected friend since the first time we hooked up several years ago at RoboGames in California. So, I hope he doesn't mind if I make some frank, and well deserved, comments.

When we first met Michael seemed like a typical robot geek, very talented with lots of expertise, but a bit shy and withdrawn. You really had to push him to get him to tell you what he thought. I'm sure he had lots of valuable and useful things to share, but they didn't flow easily.

Over the years, with experience, learning, and success, Michael has really blossomed and come out of his shell. He's become a key member of the Cowtown Computer Congress - Kansas City's leading hackerspace, a frequent exhibitor and participant in Maker Faire events all over the US, and a strong proponent of the DARwin-OP humanoid robot platform.

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Larry Page Kind of Explains Why Google Bought Motorola

google motorola android

One lesson that was drummed into my thick skull early on was never to accept the first answer to any important question. I was taught that you absolutely must ask "Why?" at least three or four times before you even begin to start uncovering the truth. Never take anything at face value. Always look under the surface, and beyond the superficial, if finding the true answer is important to you. I was reminded of that lesson this morning as I read through the official PR surrounding Google's surprising move to swallow Motorola Mobility Holdings.

Here is what Larry Page, the Google CEO, had to say:

"In 2007, Motorola was a founding member of the Open Handset Alliance that worked to make Android the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. I have loved my Motorola phones from the StarTAC era up to the current DROIDs."

True enough. No way to argue with that.

In 2008, Motorola bet big on Android as the sole operating system across all of its smartphone devices. It was a smart bet and we’re thrilled at the success they’ve achieved so far."

True again, though there were a lot of other companies that stepped up to the table and placed big bets on Android as well.

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Data the Robot Comedian and his Comely Creator (Video)

data the nao robot

A couple days ago I blogged a photo of Data The Robot doing stand-up comedy routines at the Lincoln Center. Data's owner/operator/muse is non-other than Heather Knight, a.k.a. "Marilyn Monrobot". Heather modestly describes herself as a "Social Roboticist" but her talents go way beyond that humble title. She's pursuing her doctoral research at CMU in Pittsburgh, doing applications design with Aldebaran Robotics, creating interactive installations, while somehow finding the time to put on engaging and entertaining robot and technology gigs that artfully combine traditionally cold/sharp/hard technology with soft/feeling/emotional art and creativity.

Check out Data The Robot, and Heather, in the video below recorded live at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City earlier this summer.

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Google Grabs Motorola Mobility for a 63% Premium

google motorola

This was definitely a surprise, especially given the fact that Google was willing to pay a 63% premium over last Friday's market price for Motorola Mobility Holdings. Of course, no one has any doubts that Google is totally committed to Android and fully intends to make it the defacto standard, ubiquitously connected, operating system for cell phones, mobile computing, robotics, and the cloud.

At the same time, I have to wonder what the primary motivation for the extremely high evaluation was. It can't be based on Motorola Mobility's existing product lines since customers for mobile products tend to be fickle and change phones and makers almost as if they were seasonal fashion items instead of technology gadgets.

Perhaps Google is buying the talent, though that's a risky move. Highly talented developers and managers often jump ship when a major change in management or ownership happens. The most likely factor, in my opinion, is the patent base and position controlled by Motorola Mobility.

"Google said that access to Motorola, which makes phones that run on Google's Android mobile operating system, will "enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing.""

No matter what their reasoning, the move has to be great news for the robotics community. You can be sure we'll see lots Android enhancements and features coming down the road that will spur robot connectivity to all types of devices and to the cloud.

(Via Google to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion - Aug. 15, 2011.)

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