Manus industrial robots

The 30 second mark is quite interesting and odd how the robots move the way they do when humans are walking bye. Manus is a set of ten industrial robots that are programmed to behave like a pack of animals. While each robot moves independently, they share the same central brain. So instead of acting in isolation, they have intertwined behaviors that ripple through the group as people walk by.

Jetpack helps soldiers run faster

What if every soldier could run a four-minute mile? That's the goal behind 4MM, or 4 Minute Mile, a student project to create a wearable jetpack that enhances speed and agility. Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and a faculty mentor, Jason Kerestes is the mastermind behind 4MM. He built a prototype of the jetpack and is now testing and refining his design to be as effective as possible. The 4MM project is part of an ASU program called iProjects, which brings students and industry together to find innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Soft Robotic Exosuit

In this video, Harvard faculty member Conor Walsh and members of his team explain how the biologically inspired Soft Exosuit targets enhancing the mobility of healthy individuals and restoring the mobility of those with physical disabilities. Credit: Harvard's Wyss Institute. Note: This technology is currently in the research and development phase and is not available commercially. Any suggested or implied claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Muscle Activation During Gait animation credit: K. Oberhofer, K. Mithraratne, N. S. Stott, I. A. Anderson (2009). Anatomically-based musculoskeletal modeling: prediction and validation of muscle deformation during walking.

MIT Robotic Cheetah

MIT researchers have developed an algorithm for bounding that they've successfully implemented in a robotic cheetah. (Learn more: The key to the bounding algorithm is in programming each of the robot's legs to exert a certain amount of force in the split second during which it hits the ground, in order to maintain a given speed: In general, the faster the desired speed, the more force must be applied to propel the robot forward.

Top 10 Reasons Drones Are Disruptive

If you think today’s drones are interesting, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Drones are in their deceptive phase, about to go disruptive. Check out where they’re going…

What makes today’s “drones” possible?

The billion-fold improvement we’ve seen between 1980 and 2010 is what makes today’s drones possible, specifically in four areas:

  1. GPS: In 1981, the first commercial GPS receiver weighed 50 pounds and cost over $100K. Today, GPS comes on a 0.3 gram chip for less than $5.
  2. IMU: An Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) measures a drone’s velocity, orientation and accelerations. In the 1960s an IMU (think Apollo program) weighed over 50 lbs. and cost millions. Today it’s a couple of chips for $1 on your phone.
  3. Digital Cameras: In 1976, Kodak’s first digital camera shot at 0.1 megapixels, weighed 3.75 pounds and cost over $10,000. Today’s digital cameras are a billion-fold better (1000x resolution, 1000x smaller and 100x cheaper).
  4. Computers & Wireless Communication (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth): No question here. Computers and wireless price-performance have gotten a billion times better between 1980 and today.

10 Industries Using Today’s Drones:

  1. Agriculture: Drones watch for disease and collect real-time data on crop health and yields. This is an estimated $3B annual market size.
  2. Energy: Energy companies monitor miles of pipeline and oil rigs with autonomous drones.
  3. Real Estate and Construction: Drones photograph, prospect and advertise real estate from golf courses to skyscrapers; they also monitor construction in progress.
  4. Rapid Response and Emergency Services: Drones aid in search and rescue operations ranging from forest fire fighting to searching for people buried in rubble or snow using infrared sensors.
  5. News: It’s faster and safer to deploy drones to cover breaking news/disaster/war zones than news crews.
  6. Package/Supply Delivery: Companies like Matternet (founded at Singularity University) are building networks of UAVs to deliver food and medical supplies to remote villages around the world.
  7. Photography/Film: Visual artists use drones to capture beautiful new images and camera angles.
  8. Scientific Research/Conservation: Drones assist in everything from counting sea lions in Alaska to conducting weather and environmental research to tracking herd movements on the Savannah in Africa.
  9. Law Enforcement: Drones can be used during hostage situations, search and rescue operations, bomb threats, when officers need to pursue armed criminals, and to monitor drug trafficking across our borders.
  10. Entertainment/Toys: Good old fun.

So, Where Next?

What happens in the next 10 years when drones are 1000x better? Or 30 years from now when they are 1,000,000,000x better? What does that even mean, or look like? Here are some directions for your imagination:

  • Smart and Autonomous: Drones will have a mind of their own… thinking, doing, navigating, avoiding, seeking, finding, sensing and transmitting.
  • Microscopic and Cheap: Think about drones the size of a housefly, sending you full-motion HD video. Think swarms of drones (hundreds) where losing half of your swarm won’t matter because another hundred are there to replace them. How much will they cost? I would be shocked if they price doesn’t plummet to less than $10 each… maybe $1.

Top Future Drone Applications?

  1. Pollination: Imagine bee-sized drones pollinating flowers (in fact, we’re actually doing this now);
  2. Personal security: In the future, your children will have a flotilla of micro-drones following them to school and to playgrounds at all times, scanning for danger;
  3. Action sports photography: Imagine 100 micro-drone-cameras following a downhill skier capturing video from every angle in real time;
  4. Asteroid prospecting and planetary science: On a cosmic scale, my company Planetary Resources is building the ARKYD 300 — effectively a space drone with 5km per second delta-V. PRI plans to send small flotillas of four to six A300 drones (with onboard sensors) to remote locations like the asteroids or the moons of Mars;
  5. Medical in-body drones: On the microscopic scale, each of us will have robotic drones traveling through our bodies monitoring and repairing;
  6. High Altitude “Atmospheric Satellite” Drones: Google recently announced Project Loon to provide a global network of stratospheric balloons, and then acquired Titan Aerospace to provide for solar powered aerial drones, both of which could blanket the entire planet to provide low-cost Internet connectivity, anytime, anywhere; and,
  7. Ubiquitous surveillance: Combined with facial recognition software and high-resolution cameras, drones will know where everybody and everything is at all times. Kiss privacy goodbye. Are you a retailer? Want to know how many people are wearing your product at any time? Future imaging drones will give you that knowledge.
  8. Military and Anti-terrorism: Expect a significant increase in defense-related applications of drones in war zones and in your local backyard, sensing and searching for dangers ranging from biological to radiation.

So, What are the Challenges?

Technical challenges aside, we’ll have to address many sociopolitical challenges before drones become disruptive.

There are concerns over privacy and spying, interference with planes/helicopters, drones aiding illegal activities, safety and potential crashes, noise and cluttering the skies, theft and commercial use.

I recommend looking at the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to get a glimpse of the legal landscape surrounding drones.

This bill expires in September of 2015.

In other words, pending major legislative changes, expect 2015 to be a big year for drones.

Why are drones going to be disruptive?

Besides all of the use cases outlined above, drones represent an interesting convergence of three exponential technology areas:

  1. The Internet of Everything: Drones will be a key part of our trillion-sensor future, transporting a variety of sensors (thermal imaging, pressure, audio, radiation, chemical, biologics, and imaging) and will be connected to the Internet. They will communicate with each other and with operators.
  2. Advanced Battery Technology: Increases in energy density (kilowatt-hours per kilogram) will allow drones to operate for longer periods of time. Additionally, solar battery technology is allowing high-altitude drones to fly for weeks at a time without landing.
  3. Automation Software and Artificial Intelligence: Hundreds of teams around the world are working on automation systems that a) make drones easier for untrained users to fly, but more importantly, b) allow drones to fly and operate autonomously.

This is just the start.

At my Abundance 360 Executive Summit in January 2015, we’ll discuss this in much more detail and talk about potential investment opportunities in this arena. If you’re interested in joining me, there are only a few slots left. Apply here.

Drone with legs can perch, watch and walk like a bird

Is that a bird or a drone watching you from the telephone wire? A drone with legs can perch just like a bird – or land and walk on flat surfaces. Bhargav Gajjar of Vishwa Robotics in Brighton, Massachusetts, designed the legs as an add-on for small US air force drones.

Small drones generally lack landing gear. Many rely on a controlled crash-landing, a somewhat crude approach compared with the elegant precision landing of a perching bird. Gajjar studied dozens of bird species and recorded their landings using a high-speed camera. His drone's legs are based on those of the American kestrel.

The drone perches in an upright position with a powerful gripping action from an electric motor. Its claws are extremely sharp so that its grip is difficult to break.

A remote computer uses footage from a camera fitted to the drone to control flight and get the drone into the correct position for landing. Just like a real bird, the drone has to brake sharply just above its landing site and perform a controlled stall in order to touch down. Birds' legs also act as shock absorbers, and the mechanical version mimics this.

Gajjar's perching legs can waddle short distances, so the drone can explore indoor spaces.

Women Walks Again with Exoskeleton

In 1992, Amanda Boxtel suffered a vicious skiing accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors said she would never walk again. This week, she proved them wrong, with the help of the world's first 3D printed exoskeleton that gives her the ability to climb out of her wheelchair and walk once again.

The Ekso-Suit Amanda wears is fully bespoke. 3D Systems used data from a full body scan to print custom-tailored pieces that fit exactly to Amanda's body. Mechanical components from EksoBionics provide the automation, allowing Amanda to safely use her legs and a pair of canes to walk around.

3D scanning and printing technologies were crucial to making Amanda's exoskeleton, which took roughly 3 months to complete. As Scott Summit, senior director for functional design at 3D Systems, told Cnet, "we had to be very specific with the design so we never had 3D-printed parts bumping into bony prominences, which can lead to abrasions." Since Amanda has no sensation in her legs, even tiny skin injuries can become dangerously infected before they're found. A comfortable fit isn't just a nicety, it's a safety necessity.

This exoskeleton is the first to use 3D printing for an individualized fit, but it's not Amanda's first time using such technology: in 2010, she helped test an earlier exoskeleton design to help paralyzed patients walk again. Since then, she's been active as one of ten EksoBionics test pilots involved in the design process. Keep reading at

The ‘Projector Drone’ is capable of beaming news, games, film and advertising onto the world around it. This proof of concept build is able to fly for 12 minutes at a time, features its own on-board data storage and a 500 lumens LED projector. We are already working on more sophisticated features including live streaming data, gimbal integration, ultrasonic sound capabilities and improved flight time. Source

New bionics that let us run, climb and dance. Hugh Herr is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature’s own designs. Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago; now, as the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, he shows his incredible technology in a talk that’s both technical and deeply personal — with the help of ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage. Source

Self-Designed Prosthetic Knee for Extreme Sports

The video is a bit too gimmicky, awesome and narcisstic. But it tells an incredible story. 

Edge Factor’s production Metal & Flesh features the incredibly inspiring story of snocross and motocross champion, Mike Schultz. After a tragic accident that claimed his left leg, Mike was faced with his biggest challenged yet: How could he continue to pursue his career in action sports and fulfill his dreams, when he couldn’t stand with 2 legs? Metal & Flesh tells how Mike turned his loss into victory, and through manufacturing, is powerfully impacting lives of other challenged athletes. Source

Scientists say frogs jumping mechanism could be used in robots. Some types of frogs can leap very long distances in relation to their size. Now, researchers say they have some answers explaining such extraordinary abilities.

Researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island recorded frog leaps with highly sensitive x-ray video cameras. They say a split second before jumping; the frogs shortened the muscles in their legs. That stretches the tendon connecting the muscle to the bone.

Loaded with energy, the tendon then recoils like a spring, propelling the frog forward and upwards. Scientists say their findings could lead to the development of elastic propulsion systems in robots. Source

Scientists Create 3D Printed Heart Membrane That Can Keep Heart Beating Perfectly Forever. This video shows a rabbit heart that has been kept beating outside of the body in a nutrient and oxygen-rich solution. The new cardiac device — a thin, stretchable membrane imprinted with a spider-web-like network of sensors and electrodes — is custom-designed to fit over the heart and contract and expand with it as it beats. Source

CUPID drone features an 80,000 volt stun gun. Tech company Chaotic Moon have shown their smartphone-controlled drone called CUPID, able to detain a subject by using an 80,000 volt stun gun. The power output is so strong, it creates an electromagnetic field large enough to ruin any electronics within a five foot range. The electronics in the drone itself are shielded in a Faraday cage. There’s a video up here of the drone ‘detaining’ an intern. Source

The Pentagon Basically Wants to Merge You With a Robot

From artificial mammal brains to prosthetics that feel like real limbs, the military’s blue-sky researchers are aiming to bring man and machine closer than ever before.

You’ve probably never looked at a mammal’s brain and thought “Gee, I wish I could yank that out of its skull and shrink it onto a chip.” Nor have you likely gazed upon a colony of ants and remarked “wouldn’t it be great if we could get spy drones to work together like that?”

That’s because you don’t work for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, the Pentagon’s way, way out science and technology arm. Their annual budget request, which they made public on Thursday, reads like something out of lost a Philip K. Dick notepad.

DARPA, for the uninitiated, acts as the Pentagon’s blue-sky research agency, always looking beyond the horizon for the technologies which will have the greatest impact in the future. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, Joker-style, where the U.S. military gets those wonderful toys—like the Internet, global positioning systems and stealth bombers—chances are it started out as idea on a drawing board at DARPA.

This year the Obama administration requests nearly $3 billion DARPA for the research outfit—a nearly $136 million increase over the agency’s last budget year. Tucked away inside that $3 billion are a number of new and fascinating projects: ones to make faster, more cooperative unmanned systems, to mimic parts of the human body for smarter computers, and to even build prosthetics that feel like real hands.

For instance, the $10 million Human and Computer Symbiosis program will teach computers to recognize when it encounters a bit of question that only a trained, flesh-and-blood expert would know—and then ask one of us meatbags for the answer. The computers will shoot a text to a predefined list of experts, learning more about the subject over time. Eventually, the plan is for the computers to become experts themselves and able to provide answers when asked a question.

DARPA’s Cortical Processor, however, takes the human-machine interface a step further by looking to mimic the mammalian neocortex. As it turns out, the cortex in mammals’ brains is pretty darn good at processing large amounts of data in real time and controlling multiple motor functions. Computing power like that can come in handy. So the Cortical Processor program will spend $2.3 million trying to develop a chip that behaves like a neocortex and equip it with a series of algorithms known as Hierarchical Temporal Memory (which are themselves based on the neocortex) to effectively create a cortex on a chip. The resulting chips could be used in battlefield systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles to more quickly make sense of the gobs of data hovered up by the military’s various surveillance sensors. The Cortical Processor builds off the research from a previous DARPA project “SyNAPSE,” which sought to make a chip which could imitate the function of a cat’s cortex. The program managed to produce a chip with “1 million neurons performing behavioral tests in the virtual environment,” according to DARPA.

You’ve probably never looked at a mammal’s brain and thought “Gee, I wish I could yank that out of its skull and shrink it onto a chip.” That’s because you don’t work for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency.

But DARPA doesn’t just want machines to get smarter; it wants them to work better, together. We’re talking about drones, which have already changed how the U.S. wages war. But the potential of drones is far from untapped and this year’s DARPA budget is brimming with research for new ways to leverage advances in robotics. The $5 million “Swarm Challenge” looks to see if a flock of small drones can all play well together. It involves the development of algorithms that would allow a number of small unmanned systems to work in unison and solve problems. Darpa envisions the drone hive-mind could be useful supporting troops in air, ground and maritime operations and could even help out in obstacle-clearing and search and rescue operations.

Drones in the skies get most of the attention these days, but they’re far from the only flavor of unmanned systems the U.S. military is interested in. Undersea unmanned vehicles have been getting increased attention from defense researchers these days but they come with a handful of technological hurdles their airborne colleagues lack. Among them, getting a vehicle to move fast underwater—and developing the energy systems to support it—is particularly tricky. So DARPA’s turning to the action movie-titled “Blue Wolf” program to develop technology that can create a super-fast underwater drone. At a price tag of nearly $14 million, the program looks to leverage the lessons learned from an earlier project, the “underwater express,” which reduces the water’s drag on a vehicle by surrounding it with a bubble of air.

Not all of DARPA’s work is focused on making new gadgets for far-off battlefields. Some of the most important projects in this year’s budget submission have to do with taking care of wounded warriors right here at home. Towards that end, the Prosthetic Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces program (shortened as HaPTIx) aims to make better prosthetics for troops and veterans with amputated limbs. Here DARPA is looking to spend $7 million create nerve implants which could offer amputees not just greater motor control and sensory awareness of their prosthetics. It’s a tall order, one involving the development of new nerve interface technologies as well as new surgical techniques. If it’s successful, though, it could provide an important advances in prosthetics for both military and civilian amputees alike.

Of course, just because these projects exist on paper, doesn’t mean they’ll pan out in practice. Part of DARPA’s raison d’etre is to work at the edges of possibility to see what works—and what doesn’t. And feasible or not, it’s a fiscally-constrained Congress which has the final say on funding levels and whether these projects will end up as science fiction or science fact. 


Robotic fitting rooms and magic augmented reality mirrors

Brick and mortar retail businesses are under immense pressure to innovate now that ecommerce has become a normal part of consumer behavior. Thankfully for retailers, technology can be just as disruptive in a physical store as it can be online.

At the recent DX3 digital marketing conference, self-described ‘Retail Prophet’ Doug Stephens set up an installation to show off the various technologies that can help retail compete with online. Dubbed the ‘Retail Collective,’ the effort aimed to move beyond homogeneous single-brand demonstrations with a collaborative approach.

“I’ve been in the industry a long time, I’ve been to a lot of technology and retail shows, and I’ve never seen anyone put together a tech-agnostic, a brand-agnostic view of the future of retail from a technology standpoint,” Stephens told TNW in an interview. “We put together this elite team of technology companies with the mandate that they had to play nicely together and create an experience that was consistent and immersive.”

hointer2 220x251 This is the future of retail: Robotic fitting rooms and magic augmented reality mirrors

The individual pieces of the concept store run the gambit of augmented reality mirrors, metrics and analytics, robotic inventory management, mobile payment and beacons.

The Retail Collective’s experiment approaches the shopping experience from both the consumer and the merchant perspective. Opt-in mobileID tracking, for instance, offers retailers a chance to see the types of data they can look forward to, while demonstrating to consumers the benefits of personalized shopping.

You can imagine having intelligent notifications about products you might like as you wander through a store. When you’re ready to try something on, you can head to the Magic Mirror to have it show you how the clothes will fit. When you enter the fitting room, a robotic compartment whisks the items over. When you’re ready to pay, you can just use your phone to accept the charges and walk out with your new stuff.

“We’re not trying to put together something that’s just cool for the sake of it,” Stephens continued. “We’re trying to put something together that an executive can walk through and say, ‘Okay, I think I get this now.’”

Stephens created his Retail Prophet consultancy after noticing a lack of foresight in the retail industry. Five years later, many of his initial predictions are beginning to come true. For instance, Stephens projected the unraveling of the big box model of retailing.

“That idea of the whole retail market shifting and the balance of power moving back to the smaller niche and speciality retailers and the internet of course has unfolded and will continue to unfold,” he said.

iqmetrix2 730x485 This is the future of retail: Robotic fitting rooms and magic augmented reality mirrors

IQMetrix’s virtual XQ Shelf

The end of big box may seem obvious now, but Stephens said that many observers called the idea rubbish when he posed it in 2009.

Looking ahead to the future, Stephens believes retail stores are turning into media outlets. As more consumers browse goods at shops and then go online to buy them, it’s becoming more difficult for stores to directly measure their sales impact.

“We’re going to have to start treating the store experience as a media experience and measure it on the basis of the impressions it generates and how engaging and compelling those experiences were,” he noted.

Stephens believes stores could transition to charging brands an ad rate for displaying their items. Rather than just taking a cut of sales, retailers will serve as ambassadors that participate in a sale even if takes place when the customer gets online back at home. Convincing customers to buy a product in store is no longer just about coupons and foot traffic.

While some have predicted the downfall of retail in general, Stephens remains positive about the industry.

“Software eats retail? I don’t believe that. Software hunts for average experiences in the marketplace and annihilates them,” he said. “It’s a matter of retailers ramping up that experience so that it becomes valuable.”

To get an outside view of the collective’s endeavors, we spoke to FK Funderburke, Senior Director of Omnichannel Experiences at Acquity Group, a part of Accenture Interactive.

Funderburke agreed that, based on what he’s seen, the installation is “right at the front” of where the future of retail is heading.

“Look at things like the Magic Mirror…You’re giving them a concierge like experience,” he said. “What you’ve done is you’ve taken something that used to be routinized and mundane. You’ve brought the power of a digital online experience right into the dressing room.”

Funderburke said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about retail’s future.

“Most people say this is a hard time to figure out what to do. I look at it where this is a place where the future is so wide open that there are a tons of things to do,” he said. “It’s much more of a fun place to be than it is a scary place.”

Similar to Stephens, Funderburke asserted that retailers that don’t innovate and embrace changing consumer behavior will go out of business. However, retailers that can bring together the online and home components in-store will thrive.

“The new reality is customers are always connected. The barrier between physical and digital is gone. With the new innovations coming, you have mass customization. I only have to build one Magic Mirror but it is a unique, personalized experience for every single person that walks in there.”

As merchants achieve a seamlessness between the physical and digital worlds, they’ll be able to create a more powerful relationship with their customers by using data to make content and offers more relevant.

For retailers who balk at the hardware and software costs of integrating new technology into their stores, Funderburke believes “the cost of not doing these things is much higher than the cost of doing these sorts of in-store experiences.”

Considering some of the poor shopping experiences I’ve had at big-box retailers lately – mismanaged inventory, apathetic employees, long  lines and unkept shelves, to name a few – it’s tempting to declare retail as doomed to die at the hands of Amazon’s coming drone army. Still, I fully expect to be walking into stores and buying stuff for many years to come, especially if retailers can see fit to incorporate some of these new technologies.