• Robotics in Asia

    We all know that robotics in Asia has a huge role to play in the fourth Industrial Revolution and this century is being touted as the "China century" for robotics. 

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  • The Essential Knowledge about Industrial Robots

    We're living in a time and age where every industry is dependent on robots and automated functioning. With lack of skilled labour in many organisations and the need for reducing the overhead expenditure increasing, Industrial robots have proven to be a boon in recent times! Here is a basic introductory knowledge about Industrial Robots. 

    1. Integration and Ancillary Equipment design is crucial to success

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  • Can you tell us a bit about Precise Automation and your business goals?

    The controller is built inside the mechanism eliminating the need for external controller cabinets or external harnessing. This reduces floor space requirements and cost. The only external cabling necessary is a standard AC power cord, reducing the cost of cable management.

    Precise Automation was founded in 2004 by Brian Carlisle and Bruce Shimano. They were key members of the team that developed the PUMA robot for Unimation and they founded and ran Adept Technologies before founding Precise.

    Precise’s goal is to help our customers “automate with ease”. Our founders have been in the robotics industry for over 30 years and have assembled an extremely experienced team of automation experts. Our team combined our years of experience with advances in modern technology to create products that are easy-to-use and user-friendly. A major goal of our hardware and software architecture is to eliminate the need to bring in an automation expert to set up and run systems developed with our products. Users without a lot of automation experience can create automation solutions that are powerful, complex and elegant using our products.

    What is co-operative robotics?

    Generally the term co-operative robotics refers to safe interactions between humans and robots. For Precise, our interest in co-operative robotics is the development of products that can be safely integrated and used in automated workcells. Typically, robots are enclosed behind safety shields that protect the operator. These shields are both expensive and take up a lot of floor space. Precise’s newest product, the PreciseFlex 400 Sample Handler, is designed to work in desktop applications without the need for safety shields. The PF400 is a four-axis SCARA mechanism with an integrated servo gripper. All of the forces (including the vertical, horizontal and pinching forces) generated by the PF400 are regulated so that the robot cannot hurt the user even if it collides with them at full speed in any direction. Even with these safety precautions, the PF400 is still powerful enough and fast enough to handle most life science and laboratory automation applications.

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  • Is Superflex the Low-cost Exo-suit We’ve All Been Waiting For?

    Target price point per full suit: $1,000

    For sure when the Red Bull creative team sits down to begin developing its next big thing in the world of sport’s “x-excitement” and mega-extreme TV events, enthusiasm will run sky high for a new company with a new product that’s just appeared on the hey-dude-check-this-out scene in Silicon Valley: Superflex, a tight-fitting, lightweight, wearable robot that looks like something worn by a buffed-out Marvel superhero.

    A Superflex suit weighs all of seven pounds, with the two one-pound motors strapped to the lower half of each leg capable of adding 250 pounds of force to the legs wearing them.

    The suit enables the wearer to do what humans aren’t supposed to be able to do, like carry a 50-lbs. backpack full of sand all day.

    The Red Bull folks are going to have fun building a mega-event around super human physical abilities. How about a simple task like kicking 100-yard field goals?

    End zone to end zone field goals are far from the original purpose that roboticist Roy Kornbluh and his team have for their exo-suit after spending a decade developing Superflex at SRI International’s (SRI) Menlo Park facility; assisting soldiers in the field or enabling people with lower-body injuries to walk was the intention for the power suit.

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  • Low-Cost Programmable Logic Controllers for the Frugal Engineer

    Typical PLCs (programmable logic controllers) are very expensive to get started with, often over $1000 for the hardware and the software. However, some PLCs can be had for less than $100 with free software. Here are a few cheap ways to get started in the world of automation with great (but cheap) PLCs.

    A relatively new company to the PLC community, Velocio offers two low-cost PLCs that are ideal for people wanting to learn about ladder logic and PLCs in general. Starting at $49, the Ace offers basic functionality with 6 digital inputs and 6 digital outputs. Other configurations with different IO are available. Velocio's line of PLCs programs over a standard USB cable using free software.

    AutomationDirect CLICK Series:AutomationDirect sells the Koyo CLICK series of PLCs in the American market. These are low-cost PLCs with industry applications in mind. This line of PLCs has gone through several different compliance tests such as CE and UL. With a handful of different configurations on the CPU module and 19 different output cards, this PLC comes with a lot for the money. The CPUs start at $69, have free software, and the programming cable is only $14, which makes the CLICK series another option at a reasonable price.

    Divelbiss Micro Bear:Divelbiss’ entire product line is made up of relatively lower-cost PLCs, with their cheapest being a product called the Micro Bear. This is an exposed board PLC, so depending on the application an enclosure may be needed. At a price of $99 for the CPU, $14 for a programming cable, and free software, this is another great low-cost option.

    Smart Relays and Programmable Relays:A large product class that is worth mentioning is smart or programmable relays. Programmable relays are similar to PLCs but aren't as powerful. At times, though, these are grouped together with PLCs. These are ideal for small tasks since many of these "relays" can only support a few hundred lines of ladder logic and limited IO. These often require low-cost or free software. Many large companies make these, such asOmron, Crouzet, Phoenix Contact, Eaton, Rockwell Automation, and Schneider Electric. Smart relays should be considered in simple applications where a full PLC may be overkill. Programmable relay systems (CPU, programming cable, and software) can easily start below $400.

    With PLCs becoming extremely cheap, they're a great option for simple automation tasks and there are tons of new applications for PLCs that were simply too cost-prohibitive before. They're great for automating interior and exterior lights, providing a new level of control for train layouts, simplify industrial automation that previously used relays, greenhouse controllers, or even to replace timer relays. Plus, these cheap PLCs can be a valuable learning tool for ladder logic, terminology associated with automation, and operation of PLCs. Have fun!

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  • Kawasaki Aims to Quadruple Robot Output in China

    Joint venture begins operations

    Kawasaki Heavy Industries (TSE: 7012), parent of Kawasaki Robotics, in a joint-venture partnership with an as yet unidentified, Chongqing-based (China), conveyor systems manufacturer, began conveyor and robot operations in June.

    Under construction since 2013, in Jiangsu province, the new JV partnership, according to the Nikkei Asian Review (NAR), ?will propose efficient production lines for automakers in such areas as welding and painting.?

    For Kawasaki, it is hoped that conveyor sales to automakers will spur sales of Kawasaki?s robots. The joint venture will aim to produce ?simple industrial robots? for automobile welding and parts handling.

    The Global and China Industrial Robot Industry Report, 2014-2017 reports that initial capacity of 2,000 robot units annually will be lifted to 10,000 units by 2017.

    The company seeks to quadruple sales from its industrial robot operations in China to $355 million by 2020. In 2014, with 56,000 robot unit sales, China became the world’s largest market for industrial robots. The market is expected to grow, so says the International Federation of Robotics. The country is expected to account for one-third of the global industrial robot market by 2017.

    The Chinese industrial robot market is expanding,? adds the NAR, ?partly due to the country’s surging labor costs, which roughly doubled over five years. As some foreign companies consider moving their operations to Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, demand for industrial robots is expected to rise in China.?

    The Jiangsu connection : Fearing technology leaks, the NAR writes that Japanese robot manufacturers typically limit their involvement in China to just producing and selling the robots.

    Kawasaki?s venture is taking a risk. Two other Japanese robot makers have also deviated from the norm: Yaskawa-China is slated to double production to 6,000 robots at its new plant; while Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. launched production in 2013. Interestingly, all three robot-building partnerships are located in the coastal province of Jiangsu, which has a GDP ranked second (after Guangdong) among all of China?s 22 provinces; it accounts for 10.4 percent of the national total of over $17 trillion.

    Reports indicate that Kawasaki has more than 50 percent of the total stake of the new venture.

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  • "duAro" Dual-arm SCARA Robot Now Launched

    New Robot Offering for the Manufacturing of Products with Short Life Cycles

    Kawasaki Robotics has announced today that it has launched the "duAro" -an innovative & new, dual-arm SCARA robot that can coexist with humans in the workplace.

    Industrial robots have been developed and intended mainly for mass production involving long product life cycles. However, in fields where new models are introduced frequently at intervals of a few months, automation is considered difficult despite demand for robotization, in terms of both preparation period and cost-effectiveness. Today, Kawasaki offers a brand-new robot that is applicable to such fields.

    The new "duAro" robot's area of motion is the same as that of a person, with motions similar to those of human arms and independent movements for each arm, made possible because of its dual-arm configuration. Through our consistent pursuit of ease of use, we integrated two articulated arms that move simply in the horizontal direction, and we introduced direct teaching functionality into the robot's configuration, resulting in a robot that's both easy to teach and practical. With the integration of the body and controller into the wheeled base, the robot is quite easy to install and relocate.

    The robot has two arms that reach horizontally from the body and that move together as a pair. This configuration can easily perform operations similar to those of a person using both arms within a one-person space. Equipped with a collision detection function and a safety function that slows down its motion when near a person, the robot can be reliably operated in tandem with the operations of workers adjacent to the machine.

    The name of the dual-arm robot, "duAro," is a combination of two English words-dual and robot. With this name, we intend to highlight the concept of a dual-arm machine that can provide users with a sense of reliability, security, and approachability.

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  • Precise Automation Introduces a New Collaborative 6-axis Articulated Robot with Integrated Controller and Harnesses

    Precise Automation introduces the PAVP6, a collaborative 6-axis articulated robot that limits all collision forces. Designed as an intrinsically safe mechanism, it will not injure a user even if it accidentally impacts them at full speed. This eliminates the need for expensive safety barriers and permits the robot to operate safely side-by-side with personnel. Combined with absolute encoder motors, which do not require any motion to home during start-up, these safety features greatly reduce the risk of injuring people or damaging equipment during operation.

    This low-cost, quiet OEM mechanism has its motion controller, harnesses and power supplies embedded within its base to eliminate extra controller enclosures and external power and communication harnesses. This space saving design, combined with the collaborative features of the robot, enables the PAVP6 to be quickly deployed in mixed manufacturing environments where people can enter active automated workcells without interruptions to the process. This allows for easy workcell integration into pre-existing manual lines and a more cohesive human/robot assembly process.

    All Precise Automation mechanisms feature the powerful embedded Precise Guidance Motion Controller. This controller offers gravity balanced free mode teaching aids and excellent capabilities for automatically generating elegant and reliable motion sequences. Its features permit the mechanism's end effector to move along smooth, straight line paths or arbitrarily complex motion sequences by simply moving the robot by hand to start and end positions and letting the controller handle the rest. Combined with a simple, yet powerful programming language, Ethernet interface (featuring PC control via an open source TCP/IP Command Server), kinematics for Cartesian motions, an embedded web server that permits the robot to be operated locally via a standard browser executed on a PC, a wireless tablet or remotely from anywhere in the world, the PAVP6 simplifies programming and reduces cycle times with the most efficient motions possible. When machine vision is needed, Precise Vision can easily be added to the robot as an option.

    Brian Powell, Vice President of Sales and Operations, states, "Unlike most other collaborative robots, which are intrinsically dangerous mechanisms operating in a collaborative mode, the PAVP6 and the other collaborative products produced by Precise are developed from the ground up with the collaborative user in mind. These mechanisms are intrinsically safe in all operation modes and have a number of other features such as the space saving design that make them ideal for both collaborative and traditional automation. We feel that our diverse line of collaborative products make us uniquely qualified to service the needs of a new generation of robot applications and end users."

    ABOUT PRECISE AUTOMATION INC:Precise Automation delivers cutting edge automation technology and leverages years of experience in software, controls, electronic and mechanical design that assists end users and OEM customers to automate with ease. Precise's versatile table-top robots and sample handlers come fully assembled and are extremely easy to set up. Our revolutionary line of intrinsically safe collaborative robots (which include SCARA, 6-axis and Cartesian configurations) are designed specifically to meet the needs of a new generation of desktop automation users. Our low-cost vision-guided motion controllers integrate motor drives in a very compact design that fit inside many mechanisms' structures. The controller's powerful features allow OEM's to create the applications they want and to produce user-friendly systems. Adding vision guidance simplifies complex problems in locating and identifying parts and significantly improves process reliability by easily accommodating to dimensional variances. Precise Automation's flexible and innovative products serve a wide variety of industries including: electronics, semiconductor, life science, medical products and mass storage.

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  • Interview with Jim Shimano – Product Manager at Precise Automation

    Tell us a little bit about Precise Automation and the services you provide.

    Precise Automation was founded in 2004 by Brian Carlisle and Bruce Shimano. They were key members of the team that developed the PUMA robot for Unimation and they founded and ran Adept Technology before founding Precise.

    Precise’s goal is to help our customers “automate with ease”. Our founders have been in the robotics industry for over 30 years and have assembled an extremely experienced team of automation experts. Our team has combined our years of experience with advances in modern technology to create products that are easy-to-use and user-friendly. A major goal of our hardware and software architecture is to eliminate the need to bring in an automation expert to set up and run systems developed with our products. Users without a great deal of automation experience can create automation solutions that are powerful, complex and elegant using our products.

    Back in 2012 we spoke with you about Cooperative Robotics. What has developed in collaborative robotics since this article?

    Collaborative robotics is the hottest topic in the automation industry. When Precise first released our PF400 (the world’s first collaborative SCARA robot) in January 2011, there wasn’t even a consensus on the name of this new class of automation. Now pretty much every robot manufacturer is exploring collaborative robots.

    Collaborative robots open up brand new opportunities for the automation industry and have the potential to drive a lot of growth. Users, who couldn’t use traditional robotics due to space and safety concerns, now have an automation solution that fits. Even existing automation users have applications that can benefit from switching from traditional to collaborative robots in certain applications.

    Since the success of the PF400, Precise’s focus is on developing other collaborative robots using the same control architecture and design philosophies. There are hundreds of PF400’s safely working without shields in lab automation, life science and consumer electronic environments. And, our experience in designing and implementing these robots has taught us a lot about what makes a successful collaborative robot. We feel uniquely qualified in to lead the charge in this next generation of table-top robots.

    What advantages do collaborative robots have in traditional robot applications?

    Traditional robots require safety shielding and cannot operate without disrupting the process when the user has access to the area within the shielding. With collaborative robots, the safety shielding is removed, thereby significantly increasing the accessibility of the robot’s workspace while greatly reducing the floor space requirements and the cost to design and to implement the system. In addition, since the operator can work in the robot’s workspace even when the robot is still in motion at full speed, there is much more collaboration between the operator and robot. This allows our customers to create a “mixed manufacturing” environment. In this configuration, people and robots work side by side, with both having available the same parts and equipment without slowing down or altering the processes that are performed by the robot. This allows an automation customer to pick the easy to automate operations and use robots in those cells while still keeping human operators for the hard to automate activities.

    What is unique about Precise’s approach to collaborative robots?

    When we developed the PF400, our focus was not on collaborative robotics specifically. Our goal was to address the needs of the under serviced lab automation market. These users have very different needs than the traditional automation user, yet the only option they had was to use traditional robots and try to adapt them to their applications. Traditional robots are getting bigger, faster and more dangerous, while the laboratory user is interested in safety, floor space requirements and user accessibility. In developing the PF400, Precise’s focus was on developing an entirely new class of robot, the collaborative, tabletop robot, from the ground up.

    I think this is an important difference between Precise’s collaborative robots and most of the other collaborative robots available: the PF400 is designed to be intrinsically safe. There isn’t a special collaborative mode that needs to be turned on to momentarily prevent the robot from being as dangerous as any traditional piece of automation. It is designed specifically to limit the forces that the robot can exert in any direction at all times.

    In addition its design focuses not only on its safety, but also ease of use and implementation. The controller is imbedded inside the robot’s structure, eliminating the need for external harnessing and controller cabinets. It is extremely light. It comes out of the box ready to work, a user just needs to mount it and plug it in. The entire design focuses on a new generation of automation users that have different requirements than the traditional robot customer. Precise isn’t just taking a traditional robot and adding a collaborative feature, we are developing a brand new concept in robot manufacturing.

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

    The PF400 is designed for medium speed, medium payload applications. By limiting the forces the robot is able to exert, we had to give up the extremely high payloads and speeds that are available in larger, traditional robots.

    But, for many non-traditional robot users, trading speed and payload for safety, accessibility, and floor space is an easy decision. Even in traditional robotic environments, the cost and space saving associated with removing the safety shields is worth it in certain applications. Also the mixed manufacturing environment concept makes it possible to automate certain select operations more quickly and cost effectively than a traditional robot implementation. Collaborative robots are never going to replace the high-speed, high payload robots in heavy duty factory operations, but where medium payloads and speeds are acceptable, collaborative robots are a great alternative.

    Robotics and automation innovations seem to be moving at a rapid speed now, how has your business changed over the last 3 or 4 years?

    As previously discussed, collaborative robots open up a wide variety of new industries that had not considered automation before. These new markets are growing rapidly and we are seeing new opportunities every month in industries that were not available to us ten years ago.

    Also, as the cost of labor increases in places like China and Southeast Asia, manufacturers are increasing interested in exploring automation options. This includes both automating their facilities in Asia and bringing manufacturing back to the US and Europe using a mixed manufacturing environment with both people and robots.

    Do you have any other new developments you would like to share with us?

    Precise is continuing to expand our collaborative robotics line. In the coming months, we will be officially announcing the release of a collaborative 6 axis articulated robot and a collaborative 4 axis Cartesian robot all based on the same control and design schemes. Our experience and success with the PF400 makes us uniquely positioned to lead the way in this next generation of collaborative robots and we are excited about the opportunity.

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  • Malles Automation at Automation Expo

    Malles Automation is participating in the grand Automation Expo 2015 in Mumbai. You can find us at stall number P6.

    The Automation Expo is hailed as a comprehensive, successful and one-of -its- kind shows hosted by IED Communications in the South East Asian Region. Since its inception 10 years ago, it has been consistently providing Indian as well as Global automation industry with a unique platform to converge and showcase its capabilities and products. It also allows them to exchange, engage and explore new opportunities.

    Over the last decade, the Indian automation industry has witnessed a big churning. Resultant, new ideas and new opportunities have emerged. To put it simply, finally it has taken wings and made a mighty impression in the global scene. What’s more, the recent developments and changes at the political helm in India will provide perfect foil to Indian automation industry to be a force to be reckoned with in future.

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  • Advanced Vision Guided Robotics: Technology & Trends Impacting VGR Proliferation

    Give a robot “sight” and you expand its range of possibilities. When a robot can see an object, various items can be picked and placed without the need for custom tooling. Generic bins, racks and conveyor systems can be reused with different products. These advantages typify even the most basic vision guided robotics (VGR) applications.

    Enter advanced VGR, with smart camera-wielding robots employing the latest in 3D vision technology and software. Now objects of different geometry and size, contrast and color, even touching and overlapping items, become easier to detect and maneuver. Robot work cells become more adaptable to different products, short runs and quick changeovers.

    “Companies could save so much money by applying vision, specifically with changeover in mind,” says Steven Prehn, senior vision product manager for FANUC Robotics America Corp. in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “It makes your tooling much simpler because now you don’t need very tight robot compliance. The robot can respond relative to its environment. It’s huge!”

    Technology and ease of use have converged to where a variety of industrial applications can leverage VGR effectively. Advanced 3D sensing technologies are refining object detection and making VGR a practical solution for random bin picking, while emerging technologies are providing a tantalizing view into VGR’s future. Collaboration between vision and robotics suppliers is making implementation easier, more reliable and cost-effective. VGR is gaining momentum.

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  • Apple investing record $10.5 billion in supply chain robots & machinery

    More of Apple's assembly processes for devices like the iPhone and iPad will be accomplished by machines and robots, thanks to a $10.5 billion investment in manufacturing planned by the company over the next year.

    Details on Apple's major expense were revealed on Wednesday by Bloomberg, which detailed how the new equipment will be used for tasks such as polishing the plastic case on the iPhone 5c and testing camera lenses on iPhone and iPad models. Details of the new manufacturing methods were revealed by anonymous sources, though the company's financial commitment was revealed in its annual capital expenditure report last month.

    The sources reportedly revealed that Apple is striking exclusive machinery deals, outspending rival technology companies to give the Cupertino, Calif.-based corporation a leg up on the competition.

    The report suggested that Apple's manufacturing process, which is a key area of interest for Chief Executive Tim Cook, has "taken on heightened urgency." Cook is known for being an expert in managing Apple's supply chain.

    In all, Apple disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it plans to spend about $11 billion on capital expenditures in 2014. That's up considerably from 2013, when Apple spent $7 billion — $6.5 billion of that on items such as product tooling and manufacturing process equipment — according to its 10-K filing.

    Wednesday's report revealed that after Apple's industrial design team, led by chief designer Jony Ive, comes up with a product idea, they then work with the company's hardware engineering group. Together, the teams develop large-scale methods for getting products with unique designs built.

    "Apple engineers often spend weeks at facilities in Asia making sure the parts and equipment they buy or make are working properly," reporter Adam Satariano revealed.

    The company has in the past built custom equipment to test new features, such as the motion-sensing advanced gyroscopes the company introduced in 2010 with the iPhone 4. According to Bloomberg, that feature was tested with an Apple invention involving a granite base and cubes that spin multiple iPhones around 30 degrees. The machines had to be manufactured by Apple and then provided to suppliers in China to test iPhone 4 models as they were built.

    Details on new and more advanced manufacturing processes from Apple come as the company was revelealed to have inked a $578 million deal with GT Advanced Technology for sapphire crystal protective material. Apple already uses scratch-resistant sapphire to cover its camera lens and Touch ID home button on the iPhone 5s.

    And starting this year, Apple has even brought machinery into its own retail stores to automatically fix customers' iPhones. The advanced machine helps to simplify display calibration for Apple's retail employees, which one employee described as like "bringing China to the Genius Room," referring to the fact that iPhones are built in China by Foxconn.

  • Robotic Dogs Guide the Blind: The Future of Fetching

    For many, a dog is more than a best friend — it’s a life line. As part of International Assistance Dog Week, we honor not only the dogs that faithfully guide the visually impaired to greater independence, but also the work they inspire.

    Because guide dogs can be costly to train and keep, and can’t go everywhere (they’re often banned in certain living situations, such as facilities for patients who are highly susceptible to bacterial diseases), doctors around the world are developing robots and wearable technology that can.

    NSK, a Japanese electronics company, has collaborated with the University of Electro-Communications (UEC) since 2009 on a series of guide robots. Early versions looked like a futuristic trashcan on wheels, a kind of real-life R2-D2 droid. Two years later, NSK debuted the NR 003, which looks less like a droid and is far more technologically advanced.

    Like its canine counterpart, the NR 003 has four robotic legs, with each leg containing a set of wheels on which it actually moves. Amazingly, each leg is capable of moving, allowing the robot to climb stairs when needed. Its single “eye” consists of Microsoft Kinect sensors that help it identify and navigate obstacles and stairs. The NR 003 also has “paws on its legs that contain bumper sensors that also help it avoid obstacles.

    And, like real guide dogs, the NR 003 has voice recognition. It can receive verbal instructions from users and, unlike a real dog, responds back in words.

    Beyond the NR 003, many assistive technologies are being incorporated into wearable devices that further empower visually-impaired users.

    New York-based Tactile Navigation Tools is developing a vest that uses sensors to detect obstacles and can alert the wearer to them with vibrations. Dubbed the Eyeronman, the device is equipped with LIDAR (short for Light Detection and Ranging, a technology that uses lasers to measure distance), ultrasound and infrared sensors to help detect obstacles 360 degrees around the wearer. When the sensors detect an obstacle nearby, part of the vest will vibrate.

    In the United Kingdom, Oxford University neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Hicks is testing a pair of high-tech smart glasses that work by enhancing the residual vision left in patients affected by diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

    The glasses capture video and increase the contrast of important objects, such as potential obstacles, to make them stand out more. One case study participant, 43-year-old Iain Cairns, who has only central vision left in both eyes due to the retinal degenerative disease choroideremia, tried on the glasses. According to Oxford University, Cairns said what he saw compared to “Lord of the Rings when he puts the ring on … like I’ve wandered into an ’80s’ pop video.” Still, the glasses show promise in helping visually-impaired users navigate on their own. Cairns noted that they could really help with the day-to-day challenges he faces.

    Then there’s Erik Weihenmayer, whom we profiled earlier this year for his love of adventure despite being blind. Weihenmayer was born with a condition called retinoschisis that left him fully blind by the age of 13. To get around his loss of vision, he trained and fine-tuned his other remaining senses, and used a number of high-tech tools. One notable technology is the BrainPort, a device that converts images on a video camera into an “image” that he feels on his tongue. As a result of rigorous training and testing, Weihenmayer can use the BrainPort to play with his daughter, grab himself a hot cup of coffee and read posted signs.

    And thanks in part to the BrainPort, Weihenmayer has successfully reached the peaks of the Seven Summits, including Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

    While robots and wearable devices don’t look, bark or snuggle like dogs, the guide dogs we salute this week and the assistive technology they’ve inspired have something very important in common: both help the visually impaired lead more independent lives.

    Ever since he had an atresia surgically repaired at age five, Scott has been fascinated with the field of medical science. Combining his love of consumer electronics and technology with medicine, he studied biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2009. By day, Scott is a technical services engineer at St. Jude Medical, but moonlights as a senior editor at Medgadget, a leading medical technology and innovation blog. Scott is always searching for the next big thing in medical technology and digital health and looks forward to sharing these life-transforming innovations with iQ by Intel’s audience.

  • DARPA Autonomous Vehicle Race Proves What's Possible

    WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2005 – When five unmanned vehicles crossed the finish line last weekend after a 132-mile race through the Mojave Desert, they signaled more than just a technological breakthrough.

    "These vehicles haven't just achieved world records, they've made history," said Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as the DARPA Grand Challenge concluded in Primm, Nev.

    Four of the finishers crossed the finish line Oct. 8 and the fifth, the following day.

    The DARPA Grand Challenge was the first race of its kind in which autonomous ground vehicles used nothing but onboard sensors and navigation equipment to steer themselves along the desert course in under 10 hours. And unlike traditional vehicle races that include mostly straights and curves, this race included tunnels, mountain switchbacks, lake beds and on- and off-road stretches - similar to routes typical military convoys follow.

    The race was the second Grand Challenge for DARPA. None of the competitors was successful during the last race, in March 2004, fueling some naysayers' doubts about the suitability of autonomous vehicles for long-range military missions. But following this year's successful race, Tether compared it to the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, N.C., "proving it could be done."

    Similarly, the DARPA Grand Challenge "demonstrated the possible," agency spokeswoman Jan Walker told the American Forces Press Service.

    Walker said the race demonstrated once and for all that autonomous vehicles are indeed capable of traveling long distances over difficult terrain at high enough speeds to be "tactically relevant."

    The breakthrough represents a big step forward for battlefield technology that DARPA officials hope will have long-term benefit for U.S. troops.

    Five autonomous vehicles successfully completed the DARPA Grand Challenge, led by "Stanley," the Stanford University team's entry that finished the course in 6 hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds, Walker said.

    The winning team of faculty and students from Stanford's School of Engineering in Palo Alto, Calif., modified a stock, diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg sport utility vehicle with full-body skid plates, a reinforced front bumper and a drive-by-wire system.

    For their efforts, the team earned a $2 million prize, which Tether presented during the closing ceremony. But defense officials call that a small down payment on what they consider the ultimate prize: fewer U.S. deaths on future battlefields.

    Two robotic vehicles entered by teams from Carnegie-Mellon University, Red Team's "Sandstorm" and Red Team Too's "H1ghlander" followed closely behind. The modified Hummers finished the course at 7 hours, 4 minutes, 50 seconds and 7 hours, 14 minutes, respectively.

    "KAT-5," a vehicle sponsored by Gray Insurance Company in Metarie, La., and named after Hurricane Katrina, completed the course in 7 hours, 30 minutes, 16 seconds.

    The first four finishers entered the history books as the first ground vehicle robots to complete such a demanding course in under 10 hours. Stanley averaged 19.1 mph over the course; Sandstorm, 18.6 mph; H1ghlander, 18.2 mph; and KAT-5, 17.5 mph.

    Another vehicle, the Oshkosh Trucks 16-ton robot, "TerraMax," finished the course Oct. 9, exceeding the time limit with an unofficial time of 12 hours, 51 minutes.

    Tether called the finishes a major achievement for DARPA, DoD's lead agency for accelerating the development of promising new technologies and turning them over to others to develop viable applications.

    "The DARPA Grand Challenge is about fresh thinking and new approaches to the tough technical problem of developing a truly autonomous ground vehicle," Tether said.

    He expressed hope that the results would follow the course of the Wright Brothers' historic flight in Kitty Hawk. "And just as aviation 'took off' after those achievements, so will the very exciting and promising robotics technologies displayed here today," he predicted following the race.

    Walker said it's now up to the services to determine if they'll build on the technology showcased during the race.

    Grand Challenge Program Manager Ron Kurjanowicz called the innovations demonstrated by the 23 teams that participated in the competition a testament to the nation's "heritage of ingenuity and resourcefulness."

    The 23 finalists were among 195 teams from 36 states and four foreign countries that filed applications to compete. Over the past several months, the teams advanced to the final event by completing a series of rigorous tests that helped gauge their capability to finish the desert course.

    "The competing teams have worked many hours to develop their vehicles, and this event demonstrates their vision, creativity, inspiration and hard work," Tether said.

    Unmanned systems are playing an increasingly important role in combat operations. Unmanned air vehicles such as the Predator and Global Hawk have carried out reconnaissance and surveillance missions in Iraq, and the Predator has performed precision air strikes.

    The Defense Department also is stepping up efforts to develop unmanned ground systems that would work together with manned systems to enhance the capabilities of U.S. forces and save lives.

    During Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, combat troops moved quickly toward Baghdad, followed by supplies and material. Protecting the supply lines was critical. In the future, officials said unmanned systems may be able to conduct resupply missions without using humans as drivers, and without requiring troops for protection.

    While unmanned vehicle technology is advancing, most current models rely on a person to operate the vehicle remotely. Vehicles that don't require a human operator tend to move very slowly and have difficulty traversing terrain with minimal obstacles.

    For unmanned ground vehicles to be truly useful to the military, officials said, they must be able to cross rugged terrain quickly and easily without needing human assistance - something the DARPA Grand Challenge proved possible.

    Ultimately, Walker said, the technology showcased during the DARPA Grand Challenge could lead to autonomous vehicles capable of "taking people out of the driver's seat," particularly during dangerous missions.

  • Extending The Robotic Arm

    Robotics has benefited many fields including the medical field where people robots are employed to carry out critical procedures and also to help people with physical limitations. Instances can be seen in various cases. One such case was that of a woman paralyzed from the neck down, who was able to control a robotic arm with just her thoughts thanks to advances in brain-computer interface technology. This is just the beginning of how technology can help people overcome physical setbacks. Last year, a man who lost both his arms was given control of two robotic prosthetic arms attached to his body. “Luke” (after Luke Skywalker), the robotic arm is a DARPA funded project intended to restore functionality for individuals with upper extremity amputations.

    Leslie Baugh was involved in an accident because of which both of his arms were amputated upto his shoulder level. For many years members of the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory have been working on developing Modular Prosthetic Limbs, or robotic arms, as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program which aims to “restore near-natural motor and sensory capability to upper-extremity amputee patients.” Leslie decided to take part in a trail conducted by the University.

    After working on the limb system for many years, the researchers wanted volunteers with whose help they can test the usability of the prosthetics. For the arms to be fitted, Baugh underwent a muscle reinnervation to redirect his nerves to the devices. The surgery was relatively new and it reassigned the nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand. According to Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, “By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”

    The procedure ended with the researchers using pattern recognition algorithms to identify the muscles that contract during movement, and translated that into actual prosthetic movements. Later with proper training and time Baugh became familiar with the working of the prosthetic limbs and started having a close to normal everyday life.

    Science has been highly influenced by robotics and it surely has benefitted many people like Baugh to regain normalcy in their lives.

  • Amputee Simultaneously Controls Two Robotic Prosthetic Limbs With His Thoughts

    Science appears to be on a serious roll this week. Just two days ago we heard of a woman, paralyzed from the neck down, who was able to control a robotic arm with just her thoughts thanks to advances in brain-computer interface technology. And now, in a world first, a double amputee has managed to gain control of two robotic prosthetic arms attached to his body, using his mind. In a short training period, the man was able to manoeuvre the arms simply by thinking about the movements, and performed various different tasks.

    Leslie Baugh was involved in an electrical accident some time ago which meant that both of his arms had to be amputated at shoulder level. Forty years on, he decided to participate in a trial conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University. For the past 10 years, members of the University’s Applied Physics Laboratory have been working on developing Modular Prosthetic Limbs, or robotic arms, as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program which aims to “restore near-natural motor and sensory capability to upper-extremity amputee patients.”

    Having made huge progress in developing this limb system, the researchers needed to scrutinize the usability of the prosthetics on volunteers. But before the arms could be fitted onto Baugh, he had to undergo a surgical procedure at Johns Hopkins Hospital called targeted muscle reinnervation, which basically redirects his nerves to the devices.

    “It’s a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi said in a statement. “By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform.”

    Next, the researchers used pattern recognition algorithms to identify the muscles that contract during movement, and translated that into actual prosthetic movements. During the next phase, Baugh was trained to operate the system using a virtual-reality version in preparation for the real thing. After becoming familiar with how it works, Baugh was fitted with the prosthetic limbs, which were attached and supported via a shoulder socket. This socket also joined up the devices with the reinnervated nerves.

    Amazingly, after just 10 days of training, Baugh was able to perform a variety of tasks with the thought-controlled limbs, such as picking up objects and moving them around. He could even manipulate the arms independently at the same time, which is the first time that such a feat has been achieved through mind control.

    “I think we are just getting started. It’s like the early days of the internet,” Principal Investigator Michael McLoughlin said in a news release. “There is just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us, and we’ve just started down this road. And I think the next five to ten years are going to bring phenomenal advancement.”

    According to the team, they are now working towards being able to send Baugh home with the limbs so that he can begin to integrate them into his everyday life.