Neuron Robotics has just launched an ad in Robot Magazine. We look forward to the next few months.Continue reading
The DyIO has been mentioned on hackaday, A website that features cool projects involving Robots, Electronics, and tinkering. Many of us here at neuron robotics visit hackaday often and having the DyIO featured has us all grinning. Thanks!Continue reading
On November 1st, NASA sent humanoid robot R2 (Robonaut) into space on board the space shuttle Discovery. R2 will be tasked with flipping switches, holding tools and cleaning air filters.
R2 is human-shaped so that it can use the exact same technologies that its fellow human crew members can use.
Once again, I was pleased and proud to attend Mass Innovation Nights on behalf of Neuron Robotics.
As always, many, many thanks to Bobbie Carlton and Dan Englander for putting on a great show -- this time, back at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation for the first time since March (when there was flooding which unfortunately caused a great deal of damage). The Museum is looking good (there's a Steam Punk exhibit!!!) but they still need donations to help do repairs. Please give generously.
A frosty night did not keep people away, although walking from the parking lot, on the little foot bridge over the Charles River, reminded me that, yes, I live in New England. And the winters can be brutal. So on behalf of chilly people everywhere: brr.
The presenters were:
- Cambridge Semantics - they provide self-service data collaboration/reporting
- TenMarks - they make an online supplemental math program. Their video was really compelling
- Coloci - share future locations and activities, discover friends and meet with them face to face and,
- Media Armor - they produce mobile display advertising analytics and reporting.
The companies with tables were:
- Fivi - they have an ASP wellness application
- iCandy - they make a temporary reading glass 'treat'
- iZUP - they produce a mobile app to help prevent distracted driving
- Monavie - they produce all-natural fruit-based sports and fitness drinks
- Rentabilities - they make renting things like tents and bouncy houses (and more!) easy (thanks, Andy Cook!)
- nuBound - they manufacture a sports recovery supplement and,
- Locker Notes - they make tactile UI erasable magnets. That company is run by my Open Coffee friends Christian and Steve! This is what UI Kits has evolved into.
The experts were:
- Blair Baldwin of High Start Group - they perform market research and prepare insights, even for smaller companies.
- Nathan Therrien of Business Insurance & Investment Services of MA - they help to implement employee retirement plans and benefits
- Matt Harris and Scott Leonard of Redpoint Studios - they assist with introducing new products to market
- Sarah McKinnon of the Massachusetts TurboPR - he provides PR for startups, and,
- Sandeep Kaujalgi of Collabor Inc - they are a mobile solutions company.
It was great to see these old friends:
- Ben Hron of VC Ready Law
- Chuck Tanowitz of Its Fresh Ground, one of my favorite blogs
- Mark Sprague
- Eleanor Howe of eHowe Project Management
- Janet Egan, writer extraordinaire
- Joe Lima, principal at Lima Advisors
- Rick Prats, and,
- Seth Lipkin
It was great to meet these new friends:
- Jeff Durso, who's responsible for a Destination Weddings site and is looking for a new startup gig
- Leah Graves, and,
- Eleanor Howe's very nice significant other, Magnus.
I also got a chance to chat with Tim Stansky, who told me that Mass Innovation is thinking of coming to Worcester! We would love to see them -- we are big supporters of Mass Inno!
The next one is January 12th, 2011, at the IBM Innovation Center. See you there! Happy New Year! Continue reading
A Georgia Tech professor is working on teaching a robot deception. This could, naturally, be useful if/when robots are used to wage war.
Another application could be in a search and rescue operation, where a victim could be confused or scared. Telling a little white lie (e. g. "we will be out of the water in five minutes" or "help will be here before you know it") could help someone to hang on. A panicky victim may just need to hear someone -- or something -- tell them that everything's going to be all right.
Interestingly enough, the experiment was performed by getting robots to deceive fellow robots. A game of hide and seek was played, and one robot essentially misdirected another when it came to where a hidden object was.
Naturally, when the stakes are higher than a child's game, ethical considerations abound. Do we really want to create a device that can deceive, which does not give off the standard social cues we depend upon from people to determine whether they are lying? If we know that a lying person becomes uncomfortable and fidgety, taps a table top or glances over to one side, how hard is it to program a robot to not do that? Or, even more chillingly, to program a robot to exude the social cues that we associate with trust, such as looking someone in the eye?
For more information, see the September 9, 2010 issue of EurekAlert.
Modularly designed, Carnegie Mellon's Uncle Sam (it's red, white and blue) robot looks, moves and seemingly acts like a snake.
What are such things good for? Surveillance seems an obvious application, as would, perhaps, placing a camera into the rainforest in order to check up on rare species.
No word yet on how they do on planes.
For more information, please see the September 2nd, 2010 edition of Singularity Hub.
How do we make the decision to trust someone?
Is it the firmness of their handshake? The look in their eyes? Their smile (or lack thereof)? Something even more subtle, such as their aroma, even?
Nexi aims to help us find out.
Because humans can often, consciously or unconsciously, mirror each others' behaviors (and, if you've ever studied Neuro-Linguistic Programming, then you've been explicitly taught to do this), Nexi's gestures and expressions are controlled behind the scenes.
Researchers had people interact with Nexi in standard conversational forms, such as discussing the Celtics and the Lakers. Nexi's head and arm movemnents, its eye motions and behaviors, were then manipulated by the researchers. Researchers randomly chose half of the conversations for behaviors that are believed to signal untrustworthiness. The other half of the conversations were laced with random conversational gestures.
The people were then tested on whether they trusted Nexi by using an economic task wherein the humans were given the choice of how many tokens to exchange with Nexi and to predict how many tokens Nexi itself would provide.
The results aren't in yet but, once they are, not only will Nexi's trustworthiness be better understood, but there is the hope that Nexi can be taught the basics of understanding when humans are worthy of its trust.
Regardless of gestures, would you trust a robot like Nexi?
For more information, check out the July 5th, 2010 edition of The Boston Globe.
Harvard and MIT researchers have made a self-folding origami robot.
While that may seem to be an odd kind of a novelty, consider the possibilities. What about a self-creating tool kit or Swiss Army Knife? What about every peeler and basic kitchen gadget, all in one tidy little package? How about a box full of toys, all together in one place? That could be mighty useful for entertaining a child (or, heck, an adult) on a long flight.
Currently, the origami robot only makes a plane and a boat, but there's really no reason why it cannot be programmed to slide itself into other shapes.
For more information, check out the June 29, 2010 edition of Discover Magazine. Continue reading
Can a robot elicit love? Or, at least nurturing? Paro aims to do just that, in nursing home settings.
Paro is modeled after a baby harp seal. The seal was chosen because it's furry and cuddly but also doesn't come with the same set of expectations that kittens and puppies have. We all expect baby cats to meow, purr and stretch, and possibly scratch and bite if provoked. We expect baby dogs to bark and yip, chew and nip. But a baby seal comes with no such expectations. Do you know what sounds they make, if any? What behaviors they engage in, other than nursing and swimming?
The unfamiliarity creates a kind of novelty, while the familiarity of white fur, big eyes and black eyelashes evokes sympathy and caring. Like a teddy bear, you want a stroke it. But unlike a teddy bear, you can interact with it.
Nursing home managers report that Paro works better than a teddy bear -- even a similarly colored and be-furred one that moves. The Paro just seems to be more compelling, even to nursing home residents who are not suffering from dementia. Knowing darned well that Paro isn't really an animal, residents like it anyway.
But what, philosophically, does Paro mean to a nursing home? Does it mean that even allergic residents can get visits from the equivalent of a therapy dog? Or does it mean that therapy dogs -- which can shed and mark territory like other dogs (they are trained to not mark, but a sick or frightened dog could potentially have an accident) -- are out of business? Do we throw the therapy dog out with the bath water?
And what about what it means to relegate someone to a robot's care (or, at least, to its artificial sympathy)? Is it better to ply a resident with a robot or leave the resident alone? Don't nursing home residents deserve real companionship from real people and animals?
And what of the future of therapy dogs? There are how many thousands of dogs euthanized every year -- does replacing some of them with artificial counterparts condemn some of them?
The elderly are the largest-growing segment of the population. Nursing homes are going to be filled to capacity, and soon. The need for therapy animals is going to go through the roof. So why not provide some robotic companions to pick up some of the slack?
There is a very real possibility that our grandparents, and parents, and eventually we, will be comforted by robots. Whether we see this as being in good company -- or not -- is up to us.
For more information, check out the July 4, 2010 edition of The New York Times.
On Wednesday, November 10th, I attended the 20th Mass Innovation Night.
As always, many thanks to our hosts, Bobbie Carlton and Dan Englander. For a change of pace, the event was held at Clock Tower Place in Maynard. I now have a new appreciation for my GPS Unit. Maynard is close but it's a lot of back roads.
The presenting companies were:
- Active Interview – Web-based video interviewing
- Novell Pulse — Real-time enterprise collaboration technology
- iCreate to Educate — Innovation in K-12 STEM learning, and,
- Spreadable — Powerful word-of-mouth tool
The companies with tables were:
- WaySavvy, a travel app, which was apparently a last-minute replacement for Caveman Case Co., which makes handmade iPad cases
- Mtiks — Anti-piracy solution for iOS apps
- Webiva — A CMS for web professionals, and,
- Weed lance — The best weeder ever
The experts were:
- Clock Tower Law Group - they help inventors, entrepreneurs, and established businesses acquire and maintain patents, trademarks, and domain names for their products and services. And! I knew of their principal, who is Erik J. Heels -- I recall reading his technology columns in the ABA Journal, lo these many years ago, back when I used to wear a lawyer hat
- Schneider Associates - they are a full-service marketing communications agency
- Springboards - they are a provider of professional communications coaching and English language training to both the talented entrepreneur and the talent-driven enterprise.
- Structured Information - articles, white papers and Wikipedia entries for technology companies.
- Joel Foner and Ellie St. George Godfrey - they run a program called "Leading Teams Beyond Fear and Panic", and,
- Evarts Coaching - they help professionals to achieve clarity and attain influence.
It was great to see these familiar faces:
- Barb Finer of Quivivity
- Ben Hron of VC Ready Law
- David Lopez of Sales Training for Start Ups
- Heinz Bachmann of CustomRF
- Writer Janet Egan
- Kelley Kassa of Midnight Oil Writing
- Mark Sprague
- Masoud Shadravan
- Rich Sands, and
- Tara Greco.
I had a great time as always and am looking forward to December, when this event will be back in Waltham and again at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation. Continue reading
On November 9th, we competed in the finals of the WPI Venture Forum Business Plan Competition.
We would like to thank the Distinguished Panel of Judges:
We congratulate our competition and think they are really going places, too. Our competition was:
- OsComp Systems - they make patent-pending technology that reduces operating and capital costs of natural gas compression by over 30% (they won the competition), and,
- Axena Technologies - they make a patent-pending nano-scale coating kills bacteria and prevents biofilm formation, in order to help prevent healthcare-associated infections
We always seem to make new friends at these kinds of events, including:
- David Comeau
- Philip Cyr
- Soussan Djamasbi
- Mark Fellenz
- David Hamacher
- Lisa Hamaker
- Scott Hopkinson
- Amar Kapur
- David Lopez of Sales Training for Start Ups
- Christopher Lutz
- Joel MacAuslan
- Craig Milner
- Steven Munevar
- Justin Nesbit
- Kevin O'Sullivan
- Otto Prohaska
- Kim Ramsdell
- John Redding
- Peter Rock
- Deirdre Sanders
- Lawrence Staub
- Neil Tischler
- Bob Waite
We also saw these great familiar faces:
- Gina Betti
- Barb Finer of Quivivity
- Professor Gregory Fischer
- David Fogel
- Mitch Sanders, the World's Best Business Plan Advisor and Landlord, and,
- Professor Jerry Schaufeld
The competition was fierce and the criticism was constructive and very, very helpful. We have a lot of takeaways from the event, and will use them to improve our plan and, presumably, conquer future competitions. Every part of the process is good, and this was no exception. Plus, any event where we can show off the hexapod is a joy for us.
We'd also like to thank the sponsors of the competition, including:
- The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center
- ECI Biotech (they are also our landlord in the incubator space)
- Mirick O'Connell, LLP
- Gesmer Updegrove
- Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds
- Vortex Advisory Group
- Goloboy CPA LLC
- WPI Bioengineering Institute
- Greenberg, Rosenblatt, Kull & Bitsoli
- Long River Ventures
- Burns & Levinson
- Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple
- Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation
- QuiVivity Marketing Partners
- Vital Now!
We are considering the entire experience to be an excellent learning opportunity. Thank you all for your kind support. We really feel this is the start of something very big. Come on along for the ride. Continue reading
Robotics is hard. Really hard.
So platforms are the way to go. And that is a part of what we at Neuron Robotics are trying to do. The DyIO is envisioned as being an interoperable framework for robotics development. But it's not the only framework out there.
Robotic frameworks are currently in a state of flux, and no one framework has yet achieved dominance. Plus there are robotic projects like the QB telepresence robot by Anybot, which is constructed with an internally developed framework.
Gostai's Urbi has a range of robotic development tools and platforms. Access to Urbi and the Object Management Group's (OMG) Robot Technology components is accomplished via Gostai's urbiscript. Urbiscript is a programming language that handles parallel and event-based programming. The Urbi platform is Open Source, although not all of Gostai's tools are.
ROS is an Open Source framework that runs on robots like the Beagle Board and Willow Garage's Texai and PR2.
The iRobot Aware 2 uses an open architecture and is built upon an Open Source framework. However, its higher level tools (the robotics and Operator Control Unit, AKA the OCU) are proprietary. iRobot is able to add security features that may not be present in other platforms.
Frameworks are going to develop and diverge. At some point, there may be a VHS to many Betamaxes. Neuron Robotics hopes to be at the forefront of interoperability as frameworks continue to evolve.
For more information, check out the September 9, 2010 edition of Electronics Design magazine.
Nashua-based Vgo Communications has put together a telepresence robot to help remote employees virtually attend meetings instead of just log into a videoconferencing application or website, or dial into a conference call.
In addition to being able to see and hear what's going on, the Vgo is almost a presence in the room which, psychologically, feels like something more.
After all, the intention is not only to attend meetings but also to virtually "go to lunch" and also engage in ad hoc water cooler and hallway conversations -- the kinds of things that we all take for granted when we work in an actual office building together -- and which we often don't have here at Neuron, seeing as Bob and I are in Cambridge/Boston, Kevin and Alex are in Worcester (which is where the incubator space is) and Greg is in Baltimore to work on his PhD. Getting together is not easy, and you miss something rather tangible when you're apart.
So imagine an employee on maternity leave putting her baby down for a nap, and having a virtual lunch with her coworkers. Or the new Vice President for International Operations "walking around" the Singapore plant before ever getting on a plane and seeing it in person.
Telepresence seems to make economic sense as well, for why add a passel of cubicles when one could be enough to store and charge a half a dozen employees' avatar-like surrogates?
For more on the Vgo, check out The Boston Globe.
Death and the Powers is a one-act opera featuring a chorus of singing robots. The opera centers on an obscenely rich man transferring what is essentially his personality and experiences into a computer-style system after his demise.
This is a person converting himself into software. It's the ultimate personal reboot.
The libretto is written by three-time U. S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and the story is cowritten by him and writer-director Randy Weiner, whose works include The Donkey Show.
The American premiere will be in March of 2011, in Boston with the American Repertory Theater and Opera Boston as a tie-in to the MIT 150th Anniversary celebration.
Would you go to see an opera starring robots?
There's more to the ethics of the use of robots and other technology in warfare, of course.
According to Bryan DeLuca, the LS3 from Boston Dynamics is designed to the solve the very real military problem of soldiers having to carry just too much gear. As a kind of robotic sherpa or pack mule, the LS3 could conceivably help make soldiers safer by bringing more gear into closer proximity, no matter where the soldier went. We have probably all seen films where some poor soldier or another dies on the battlefield, either during an improvised operation ("Give me your knife, Corporal!") or because something was lacking (e. g. no antibiotics).
Imagine a world where everything, including the kitchen sink, could be brought along to battle. No more waiting for a prosthesis or clean bandages! No more begging for O negative blood to save a young Marine. No more tactical disadvantages due to there not being up to date maps or enough ammunition or spare ordnance parts.
And, perhaps, no more triage.
But, on the other hand, wouldn't the LS3 be a big, fat target for one's enemies? It would be Job One to either steal it or disable it. Isn't its development just asking for the nuclear arms race to be supplanted (most likely not out and out replaced) by a robotics arms race?
DeLuca believes that the possibility of a Terminator-style robot, capable of logical decision-making, graceful, fluid motions and lethal ferocity, only has a 0.99% probability today. But an Avatar-style suit, whereby a human would occupy (and personally control) a mechanical kind of skin, has a 90% possibility with today's technology.
The sherpa might be a kind of temporary hybrid, part human and part machine, capable of carrying along hundreds of pounds of supplies and heading into the fire of battle on a quick march. Perhaps, as this futuristic lethal sherpa progresses, he or she would leave a human part of his or her emotional being back at the base. Put on the robotic suit, put on the game face. Become a killing machine, a threat to all hostiles. Subsume emotions and fears. Feel invincible within the suit's confines. Keep the other side at more than an arm's length away.
For the hybrid soldier-sherpa in the robotic suit, the hardest part may very well not be learning how to use the suit or getting psyched up to go into battle. The most difficult part may turn out to be, as the suit is removed for the night, removing the invincible killer mind set as well.
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