Indoor 3D plane: flown automatically 
Saturday, November 24, 2007, 04:31 PM - Robotics
For quite some time, a few of us have been toying with the idea of building an autonomous 3D aerobatic plane.

A [video] by Jonathan How and his students at MIT demonstrates an indoor 3D plane flown automatically. Technically, it is not autonomous because the plane is controlled remotely (automatically) from a ground-based computer.

The plane has no on-board intelligence: it is remotely controlled, and its position is accurately measured by a Vicon motion capture system. This eliminates the need, not only for on-bord intelligence, but also for any on-board sensors and telemetry.

The use of a mocap system is a bit of a cheat because it basically eliminates the problem of estimating the position and attitude of the plane (the Vicon Mocap system has mm accuracy at over 60 frames per second).

Still, the control is quite impressive.

A longer video showing Jonathan How research on swarm UAV (using quad-rotor DraganFlyers) is available on this page. The video was shown at the last ICRA.




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FoxBoard: tiny Linux board from Italy 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 03:04 PM - Robotics
ACME Systems in Italy is selling the FOX Board, a tiny 66x72mm, 37gram board built around the ETRAX 100LX CPU from AXIS Communications. The board runs Linux 2.4.x or 2.6.x.. It has USB, Ethernet, and can support webcams through the spca5xx-le driver. It sells for 130 to 150 Euros, depending on the version.

The FOX Board can accept a daughterboard called FOX VHDL which has a 250K gate Actel ProAsic3 FPGA. Hmmm....

Some people have done pretty cool things with the FOX Board, including this hexapod robot.


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Qwerk: All-Inclusive ARM-based Linux robot controller 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:43 PM - Robotics
For some time now, Charmed Labs has been selling the Qwerk embedded robot controller ($350). It has a rather unique combination of features: ARM9 CPU with FPU, Linux and eCOS operating systems, a Xilinx Spartan 3E FPGA for fast custom I/O, ethernet, Wifi, USB ports with Webcam support, 4 DC motor controller (2.0 Amps), 16 servo outputs, 8 Analog inputs (12 bits), 16 digital I/O lines, quadrature encoder inputs. The software was developed at CMU. The Qwerk is the basis of CMU's Terk Telepresence Robot Kit.


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Lightweight webcam driver for embedded Linux 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:20 PM - Robotics
Michel Xhaard has developed spca5xx-LE, a lightweight version of the spca5xx USB webcam driver for Linux. This driver is useful for using webcams with embedded linux boards such as the FOXboard (based on the Axis ETRAX 100LX CPU).

Michel also maintains this list of webcams supported under Linux, particularly those supported by the spca5xx(-LE) driver.

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Yet Another Desktop Humanoid Robot 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:30 AM - Robotics
Japanese company Plen has a cute little desktop humanoid robot with a USB interface that can skate. The noisy all-Flash website is a bit annoying, but the videos are cute.

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Nao: commercial humanoid robot from France 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 06:37 PM - Robotics
French company Aldebaran Robotics is developing a humanoid robot called Nao that should hit the shelves by the summer (or perhaps by the end of the year), and should cost between 2000 and 3000 Euros. The company has around 15 employees, and has been working on the Nao for a few years. Unlike many humanoid robots on the market, the Nao has a lot of on-board compute power, and includes speech recognition and synthesis, vision with real-time face detection, and Wifi communication. The embedded computing platform runs Linux. A number of video clips are available from this page, including a 50 minute TV show in which a semi-working prototype was demonstrated.



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Urbi: event-driven language for robotics 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 06:24 PM - Robotics
French company Gostai offers the URBI platform, a set programming language, SDK, and software tools for programming robots. The URBI language features parallel execution, event-driven programming, a remote object protocol called UObject and other niceties. The open source URBI SDK can be downloaded from Urbiforge, and is available Linux, Mac, and Windows (under minGW). URBI engines are available for Aibo, Khepera robots, and (apparently) for the upcoming Nao humanoid robot from another French company Aldebaran Robotics.



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Spyke wifi-controlled robot with camera 
Sunday, February 25, 2007, 12:00 AM - Robotics
The Spyke Robot will be available in April for 300 UK Pounds ($580). It has a camera, can play music, and can be used as a Skype phone. It is controllable via Wifi, and comes with open source software.



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Coltrane's Giant Steps played by a Robot 
Wednesday, February 14, 2007, 02:44 AM - Robotics
The Takashima R&C Laboratory at Hosei University in Japan has been developing robots that play (real) wind instruments for mnay years. They have a saxophone-playing robot and a trumpet-playing robot. Their web site has pictures and MP3s of their robots playing various pieces, including one of my favorite Jazz pieces of all times: John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Another recording has their robot playing Coltrane's Giant Steps solo faster than Coltrane.

They also have various videos of their Sax robot playing various pieces, including Giant Steps, as well as videos of other robots (trumpet, trombone, shakuhachi).

A video is also available on YouTube.

The recordings were apparently done in 1999.

I'm not sure if this entry belongs to the Robotics or to the Jazz category. I'll go with robotics.


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Flying Insects and Robots Symposium 
Saturday, February 3, 2007, 02:42 PM - Robotics
The 2007 Flying Insects and Robots Symposium will take place August 12-17, 2007 in Ascona, Switzerland. The deadline for submitting abstracts is March 31st.

Looks like fun.



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Small Form-Factor PC for Cars and Mobile Robots 
Thursday, January 25, 2007, 01:53 AM - Robotics
MiniBox.com has a small form-factor barebones PC for $400. The size is 21x26.5x6.6cm, which is a bit too big to fit in those new hackable Roombas.


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Amazing Lego Car Factory 
Wednesday, January 10, 2007, 07:19 PM - Robotics
There is an amazing video of an automated car factory built with Lego Mindstorms on YouTube. The whole setup is huge. I couldn't count how many RCX bricks are used, but it seems like a lot. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any other web site that describes the system.


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Buy a CNC machine from Sears 
Tuesday, January 9, 2007, 12:00 AM - Robotics
Are CNC machines becoming a consumer item? Sears now sells consumer-grade 3D CNC machine called the CompuCarve computer controlled- woodworking machine under its Craftsman brand. The machine sells for $1800. It looks more appropriate for shallow carving, engraving, and cutting thin sheets (the cutting depth is limited to 25mm). It can handle pieces up to 36cm wide, 12.5 cm thick, and almost any length.

Pretty soon, we are going to see low-price consumer-grade CNC machines coming out of the .... woodwork ;-)



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Programmable Roombas 
Monday, January 8, 2007, 09:06 PM - Robotics
Irobot announced the Irobot Create Programmable Roomba. It a version of the Roomba without the vacuum cleaner parts, with a payload bay, a "real" serial port, and an optional Atmel-based programmable micro-controller module that includes external sensor interfaces. The best thing: its' dirt cheap: $130 for the basic robot, $180 with the controller module, and $1000 for a 10-pack. There is an article about it at Robot Magazine.



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Kyosho Manoi Robot Competition 
Saturday, January 6, 2007, 11:40 PM - Robotics
There is astory at Robot Magazine on the recent Kyosho Athlete Humanoid Cup. Most competitors use the Kyosho Manoi humanoid robot. The article has lots of pictures and a nice video.



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Big list of amateur telemetry/UAV web sites 
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