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The 10 Best Universities For Robotics In The US

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:55

Those looking to get in on the robotics game have a number of choices in where they might go to learn about robo-topics like mobility, manipulation, and artificial intelligence.
A number of top-notch universities around the country (as well as some less-than-obvious names) offer robotics education programs befitting plenty of people looking to build the next great robot.
Whether you want to build a better Roomba or a new best friend, here are ten colleges that will give you the tools you need.

UC Berkeley

Wikimedia Commons

The Robotics and Intelligent Machines Lab at UC Berkeley has an entire department devoted to replicating animal movement for the sake of improving robotic mobility. The school's Laboratory for Automation Science and Engineering gets into more general robotics work, designing solutions for things like robot-assisted surgery and automated manufacturing. There's even an entire Computer Vision Group so that students might learn how to help robots make sense of what they "see."

It's an incredibly robust college for robotics that will likely meet your interests no matter what they are.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University

The goal of the Johns Hopkins University's Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robots (a not-for-profit division of the school) is straightforward: to "create knowledge and foster innovation to further the field of robotics science and engineering."

This is accomplished by exposing students to a wide variety of robotics topics. Consider its LIMBS Laboratory, which examines the principles of sensory guidance in animals and sees how they might be applied to robots. Consider its Computational Interaction and Robotics Laboratory, which examines the many hard problems encountered in human-robot interaction and robotic spatial awareness.

Check out this fact sheet on the school's robotics facilities. You can tell they're taking this stuff seriously.

Colorado School Of Mines

Colorado School Of Mines

Mining is an incredibly complex pursuit, and robots can step in to do dangerous work to save lives. Someone needs to build them, and the Colorado School of Mines has its Center for Automation, Robotics, and Distributed Intelligence (CARDI) to equip people with the tools to do so.

Because it's a mining-centric school, curriculum runs the gamut from communication protocols to environmental considerations. CARDI students meet once a month over lunch to keep each other apprised of their research — one person will give a presentation on what they're up to, and the meetings frequently feature a guest to speak on topics relevant to the industry.

If you want to check out a cool project to come out of the school, we recommend "Intelligent Geosystems."

Stanford University

Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Since its founding in 1962, Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has been facilitating robotics education for 52 years. Students gather for weekly reading groups to dissect robotics papers and discuss the latest developments in their fields.

Its faculty's list of interests is loaded with fun robo-buzzwords: informatics, logic, machine learning, natural language processing, and so on.

University of Southern California

Via Wikimedia Commons

USC's Robotics Research Lab encourages undergrads to get their hands dirty by taking directed research credits from faculty. Graduate students are invited to do research and build things in the university's robotics labs.

A dedicated page exists just to showcase videos of USC robotic creations in action. One of them is a robot for children that blows bubbles!

Columbia University

Mario Tama / Getty Images

The projects described on the website for Columbia University's Robotics Group are impressive to say the least. Students have built autonomous vehicles for navigating urban environments, 3-D simulation tools to teach robots how to interact with the real world, and even a system for facilitate aspects of surgery-by-robot.

The program is headed up by Professor Peter Allen, who was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation.

Washington University in St. Louis

Via Wikimedia Commons

Often referred to as the "Harvard of the Midwest," WashU offers a masters of engineering in robotics. The program is built around giving students the necessary experience to find professional robotics work upon graduation, and the curriculum is built upon making sense of robotic components like sensors and actuators, then finding new ways to use them to solve problems.

Students enrolled in the program will go hands-on with mobile robotics, robot-human interaction, and brain-computer interfaces.

Georgia Tech

Via Wikimedia Commons

Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines is led by Henrik Christensen, a noted roboticist and thinker who recently speculated that children born today will never have to drive a conventional car. He's constantly cited as a source for where robotics is heading in the future, even speculating here as to what Google will do with all its recent robotics acquisitions.

The program aims to give students an understanding of a diversity of robotics topics, such as mechanics, interactions, perceptions, and artificial intelligence and cognition.

Carnegie Mellon University

Via Flickr

The Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute consists of 76 faculty members, 94 Ph.D. students and 132 master’s students. The university only offers a minor in robotics or a second major in robotics — students have to have already been accepted into another undergraduate major — but despite this, CMU has turned out a number of impressive robotics thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Alumni include Chris Urmson, who heads up Google’s self-driving car program. Boris Sofman, Mark Palatucci, and Hanns Tappeiner are the founders of Anki, the company that builds artificially intelligent car racing sets. Mark Maimone pilots NASA's Curiosity on Mars!

A Carnegie Mellon team led by Professor William “Red” Whittaker won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge robot vehicle race, which functions as something of a robot Olympics.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Via Flickr

MIT is nearly synonymous with developing cool, cutting-edge technology.

Its Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has spawned a number of robotic creations, and its long list of notable alumni includes folks like Colin Angle and Helen Greiner, co-founders of iRobot; Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics; and Matt Mason, who is now director of The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

There's something to be said for a school whose alumni make up the majority of the country's computer science professors.

Full text of this article in the Business Insider.






Hitchhiking robot will charm its way across Canada

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:46

A "hitchhiking, tweeting, and trivia-loving robot" named hitchBOT will soon embark on a coast-to-coast, 3871-mile trek across Canada. It was initially conceived by Dr. David Harris Smith and Dr. Frauke Zeller as a collaborative art project. Armed with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, hitchBOT will be capable of accessing Wikipedia, interacting with social media, and both recognizing and processing speech. One thing it can't do is move: hitchBOT is largely incapable of independent motion, and must rely on charm to secure rides from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia.
The intrepid machine is currently under construction, but Smith expects the finished product to look like it was cobbled from "odds and ends" such as pool noodles and Wellington boots. The hitchBOT team is hoping its creation can answer a question about human kindness. "Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots, " says Zeller in a statement. "But this project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?" HitchBOT's journey begins on July 27th.
Full text of the article in The Verge.

Here’s Why Robots Could Humanize War

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 14:18

As the Pentagon expands its use of robots on the battlefield and its investments in developing robot technology, a movement to ban the use of autonomous robots on the battlefield is growing. Those who decry the use of robots argue that removing the human element from warfare would remove all moral judgment; robot soldiers would be unfeeling killing machines.
One researcher, however, believes just the opposite. He argues that robot soldiers would make warfare more ethical, not less.
Ronald Arkin, an artificial intelligence expert from Georgia Tech and author of the book, Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, argues in a series of papers that robots can be taught to act morally. He’s presenting his ideas at a United Nations meeting in Geneva this week and sent a 2013 paper, “Lethal Autonomous Systems and the Plight of the Non-combatant,” to outline his views.

Arkin says, “It may be possible to ultimately create intelligent autonomous robotic military systems that are capable of reducing civilian casualties and property damage when compared to the performance of human warfighters.”

In the paper, Arkin argues that it’s the very inhumanity of robots that allow them to make more humane decisions than their human counterparts. For instance, robots could reduce friendly fire incidents and lower civilian casualties. They could also be programmed to act in what humans would consider a moral way in situations where a human soldier might be tempted to violate the laws of war or ethical and moral codes. He argues that history proves that it’s impossible to prevent soldiers from violating these laws and codes.

“While I have the utmost respect for our young men and women warfighters, they are placed into conditions in modern warfare under which no human being was ever designed to function,” he writes. “In such a context, expecting a strict adherence to the Laws of War … seems unreasonable and unattainable by a significant number of soldiers.”

Advantages Over Humans
Arkin claims that robots provide an advantage over humans for a host of reasons, including:

  • They do not have to worry about self-preservation, and therefore would not have to fire upon targets they simply suspect pose a threat. “There is no need for a ‘shoot first, ask-questions later’ approach, but rather a ‘first-do-no-harm’ strategy can be utilized instead. They can truly assume risk on behalf of the noncombatant,” he writes. 
  • They have sensors that are better equipped than a human being to survey the battlefield that allow them to see through the so-called fog of war.
  • They could be designed in a way that prevents them from acting out of anger or frustration.
  • Physical and mental damage from actions of the battlefield would have no impact on a robot.
  • They can process more information than a human before having to use deadly force.
  • They could independently monitor the ethical behavior of humans that fight along side it. “This presence alone might possibly lead to a reduction in human ethical infractions,” Arkin argues.

Arkin’s thesis comes at a time when the military is expanding its use of robots on all fronts. They are already used on the battlefield to detect roadside bombs. Private companies and laboratories are also developing robots that can fight fires, haul gear and drag soldiers to safety. It’s only a matter of time before one is weaponized.
And it appears as if the military is buying into Arkin’s argument. The Office of Naval Research will give a $7.5 million grant to Tufts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Yale, Georgetown and Brown researchers to develop a robotic system that can determine right and wrong.
In his research, Arkin deals only with the moral questions surrounding the use of robots. He does not address the financial issues connected to the job losses that would follow the use of robot soldiers. In theory, they could make human infantry redundant, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs for traditional soldiers.

Obligation to Use Them?
rkin argues that if science can create weaponized robots that are programmed to always do the right thing under rules of war and recognized moral code, there is an obligation for war planners to use them.
“If achievable, this would result in a reduction in collateral damage, i.e., noncombatant casualties and damage to civilian property, which translates into saving innocent lives. If achievable this could result in a moral requirement necessitating the use of these systems,” he writes.

Obligation to Use Them?
Arkin argues that if science can create weaponized robots that are programmed to always do the right thing under rules of war and recognized moral code, there is an obligation for war planners to use them.
“If achievable, this would result in a reduction in collateral damage, i.e., noncombatant casualties and damage to civilian property, which translates into saving innocent lives. If achievable this could result in a moral requirement necessitating the use of these systems,” he writes.
Full text of the article in The Fiscal Times.


2014 NRI PI Meeting

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 13:43

Please mark your calendars for the second National Robotics Initiative Principal Investigators (NRI PI) meeting on November 19-20, 2014. The event, which will be held in Arlington, Virginia at the the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel, will bring together the community of researchers, companies, and program managers who are actively engaged in the National Robotics Initiative, launched in 2011. This meeting will include presentations on cutting-edge research and will provide a forum for community sharing of best practices in research, as well as the dissemination and translation of research.
We will provide more information on this page at the later time about the agenda, meeting registration, and hotel room reservations.

Wearable Robot: How the Ekso Bionic Suit Works

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:01

In this Bloomberg TV video Nathan Harding, co-founder and CEO of Ekso Bionics, discusses the company's wearable bionic suit that helps people with paralysis learn how to be mobile and even walk again. He speaks with Pimm Fox on Bloomberg Television's "Taking Stock." (Source: Bloomberg)

Google, Facebook and Amazon race to invest into robotics & AI.

Mon, 04/28/2014 - 10:32

"The amount of money that Google and other commercial companies will pour into robotics and artificial intelligence could at last take it truly into the commercial world where we actually do have smart robots roaming our streets," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield.
Turning the classic industrial investment model on its head, consumer technology groups are using their cash mountains to superfund areas of research that were until now the preserve of governments, defence companies and academics. Over the past year, Google has bought seven robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, whose previous work building humanoid machines was largely paid for by the US military. It has bought firms that specialise in natural language processing, gesture recognition, and more recently in machine learning, highlighted by the acquisition of British startup Deepmind – bought in January for $400m (£238m).
"Silicon Valley's involvement is creating right now an enormous acceleration," says Per Roman, a founding partner at technology investment bank GPBullhound. "It is turning into a real talent magnet. It is often small teams that come up with breakthrough inventions and you are much more willing to take the risk if there is a chance you could get bought rather than ending up in a dark room in some military agency."
And it is not just AI that is persuading Google to open its chequebook. Like Facebook, it is also investing in beaming the internet from the sky. Google has acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace, while Facebook now owns Somerset based Ascenta. Facebook has also splashed out $2bn on Oculus, a maker of virtual reality headsets. Amazon, meanwhile, has held up the prospect that one day its goods could be delivered by air to our doorstep before we have even realised we need to order them.
Last year's $3.2bn purchase of Nest, a designer of internet connected smoke alarms and thermostats, suggest Google's ambitions are domestic. "It looks to me like they want to take the internet out of the desktop and put it into our everyday lives," says Sharkey. "Their acquisition of Nest was very telling. Add to that robotics and AI companies and you have the internet walking around in the world alongside us."
For those struggling to understand why Google or Amazon should want to invest in self driving cars, internet drones and robotics, the answer is data. Masses of it. The parking meter in your street, the collar on your cat, the thermostat in your home will emit signals that can be picked up from anywhere, and Google will be listening.
Full story in The Guardian.

President Obama played soccer with a Japanese robot

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 14:04

TOKYO -- President Obama played soccer Thursday with a Japanese robot.  Obama's visit to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, or Mirikan, aimed to highlight both Japan's technological  prowess and the renewal of a 10-year scientific collaboration agreement between the two countries. While the event had plenty of examples of how the two countries are working together -- including a pre-recorded message from the International Space Station's Japanese commander and two American flight engineers serving alongside him -- the real stars of the show were a couple of robots.
Honda's humanoid robot ASIMO, which was dressed in an astronaut suit and is about the height of a 10 year-old child, went through a series of exercises for the president (video).
"It's nice to meet you," it said in a metallic voice, before approaching a soccer ball and telling Obama, "I can kick a soccer ball too."
"Okay, come on," the president replied.
The robot then took a couple of steps back and then then ran up to the ball to deliver a hefty punt.
The president trapped the ball with his foot, later telling an audience of roughly 30 students he was slightly intimidated by ASIMO and the other robot he observed at the museum.
"I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike," Obama declared. "They were amazing."
Full story in The Washington Post.

Robotic invasion coming to St. Louis from across the world

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 15:04

It’s the fourth year in a row that U.S. FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — has held its top competition here, drawing competitors from 38 countries.
The matches will be timed and intense. The crowds thick. The stands loud.Through it, thousands of students will demonstrate their knowledge of programming, and electrical and mechanical engineering.
For self-proclaimed geeks, it’s a little like March Madness.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Alex Roberds, a senior at Eureka High School and member of Oddly Charged Particles, an independent team bound for the Dome. “We’re just excited to have this one last shot. You’re always playing with the best teams, and it’s great to meet people from all over the world.”
The team is among thousands across the country that compete in FIRST robotics. Students must design, program and build remote-controlled robots from a kit of metal rods, gears, cogs and other widgets including motors and computer chips. Teams have six weeks to build their robots using those parts, plus whatever else they choose to buy within their budget.
This year, larger robots on fields half the size of basketball courts will battle it out by maneuvering exercise balls into goal areas. Smaller robots will compete by putting as many blocks as possible into plastic crates on top of pendulums.
Full story in

New Datalink Toolkit ROS Package

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 11:15
The ARC Lab at WPI is releasing the Datalink Toolkit ROS package, designed to for remote operation of a robot over a high-latency and low-bandwidth datalink. The package was developed and extensively tested as part of the DARPA robotics challenge, though it is not specific to a type of robot.The package allows the user to easily set up relays and compression methods for a single-master system. These relays avoid duplicating data sent over the datalink while compressing common datatypes (i.e. point-clouds and images) to minimize bandwidth usage.The toolkit includes both message-based and service-based relays so that data can be sent on-demand or at a specified frequency. The service-based relays are more robust in low-bandwidth conditions, guaranteeing the synchronization of camera images and camera info messages, and allow more reconfiguration while running.The key features of the package are:- Generic relays with integrated rate throttling for all message types- Dedicated relays with rate throttling for images and pointclouds- Generic service-based relays with integrated rate throttling for all message types- Dedicated service-based relays with integrated rate throttling for images and pointclouds- Image resizing and compression using methods from OpenCV and image_transport- Pointcloud voxel filtering and compression using methods from PCL, Zlib, and other algorithms. (Note: pointcloud compression is provided in a separate library that can be easily integrated with other projects)- Launch files for easy use of the datalink software with RGBD cameras- Works with ROS HydroFull story at

National Robotics Week 2014

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:36

The fifth annual National Robotics Week event was held April 5-13, 2014.
The Purpose of National Robotics Week is to:

  • Celebrate the US as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
  • Inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related fields

Robot Trading Cards
For 2014, we have something special for you: iRobot  teamed up with IEEE Spectrum and Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics & Intelligent Machines (IRIM) to create a set of robot trading cards!
This national deck features ten famous robots developed by companies and researchers in the U.S. If your favorite robot is not included, don’t worry—we plan to make more cards next year. In the meantime, don’t forget about IEEE Spectrum’s award winning, internationally acclaimed Robots for iPad app, which you can get for FREE on iTunes.
Just click on the link to see the coaches, stats, and fun facts for the hottest robot teams around. All that’s missing in these dynamic decks is gum!


Rise of the Robots: Special Report in The Economist

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 15:05

ROBOTS came into the world as a literary device whereby the writers and film-makers of the early 20th century could explore their hopes and fears about technology, as the era of the automobile, telephone and aeroplane picked up its reckless jazz-age speed. From Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” to “WALL-E” and the “Terminator” films, and in countless iterations in between, they have succeeded admirably in their task.
Since moving from the page and screen to real life, robots have been a mild disappointment. They do some things that humans cannot do themselves, like exploring Mars, and a host of things people do not much want to do, like dealing with unexploded bombs or vacuuming floors (there are around 10m robot vacuum cleaners wandering the carpets of the world). And they are very useful in bits of manufacturing. But reliable robots—especially ones required to work beyond the safety cages of a factory floor—have proved hard to make, and robots are still pretty stupid. So although they fascinate people, they have not yet made much of a mark on the world.
That seems about to change. The exponential growth in the power of silicon chips, digital sensors and high-bandwidth communications improves robots just as it improves all sorts of other products. And, as the special report in The Economist explains, three other factors are at play.

2014 CPS Solicitation

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 16:25

The Cyber Physical Systems Program at the National Science Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2014 CPS Solicitation has been released.  This year’s solicitation has several notable changes from previous rounds. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate along with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration have joined the program to support basic research in CPS foci applicable to various sectors. In addition, this year’s funding will include support for a Transition to Practice (TTP) option for all proposals. The optional TTP supplement should outline how proposed research could be scaled and matured for broader applications. Consideration of DHS and DOT specific applications can be included in TTP proposals.
The submission window is from May 19, 2014 - June 2, 2014 (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time). Solicitation  NSF 14-542 replaces NSF 13-502.
The Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) program solicitation has been revised for the FY 2014 competition, and prospective Principal Investigators are encouraged to read the solicitation carefully. Among the changes are the following:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland (DHS) Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and, through FHWA, U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) have joined the program.
  • A new supplemental option on "Transition to Practice" (TTP) is being offered.
  • A new emphasis on the potential utilization of testbeds for CPS research has been added.
  • New requirements for Supplementary Documents for Breakthrough and Frontier proposals have been introduced.
  • A requirement for a list of collaborators for all members of the project team, to be submitted as a Supplementary Document, has been added.

Three types of research and education projects -- differing in scope and goals -- will be considered through this solicitation:

  • Breakthrough projects must offer a significant advance in fundamental CPS science, engineering and/or technology that has the potential to change the field. This category focuses on new approaches to bridge computing, communication, and control. Funding for Breakthrough projects may be requested for a total of up to $500,000 for a period of up to 3 years.
  • Synergy projects must demonstrate innovation at the intersection of multiple disciplines, to accomplish a clear goal that requires an integrated perspective spanning the disciplines. Funding for Synergy projects may be requested for a total of $500,001 to $1,000,000 for a period of 3 to 4 years.
  • Frontier projects must address clearly identified critical CPS challenges that cannot be achieved by a set of smaller projects. Funding may be requested for a total of $1,000,001 to $7,000,000 for a period of 4 to 5 years.

Full Proposal Window:  May 19, 2014 - June 2, 2014 
Full Proposal Window:  December 1, 2014 - December 15, 2014 
December 1 - December 15, Annually Thereafter
Program synopsis at the NSF web site.

Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:33

A few months ago, we heard rumors that Google was planning something big in robotics. We also heard that Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, was leading this new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, we were told, is personally interested in robots, and now he wants Google to have a major role in making robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual robots. Today, an article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans: according to the article, the company is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups, quite a few of which we're familiar with.

You'll definitely want to read the entire New York Times story, where Rubin talks a little bit too vaguely about what Google is actually planning on doing with these as-yet hypothetical robots that they're apparently working on over there, but here's the bit about the acquisitions:

Mr. Rubin has secretly acquired an array of robotics and artificial intelligence start-up companies in the United States and Japan.

Among the companies are Schaft, a small team of Japanese roboticists who recently left Tokyo University to develop a humanoid robot, and Industrial Perception, a start-up here that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks. Also acquired were Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms in San Francisco, and Bot & Dolly, a maker of robotic camera systems that were recently used to create special effects in the movie “Gravity.” A related firm, Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design, and Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels, were acquired as well.

The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions.

Some brief highlights:

Obviously, we're curious about what other acquisitions Rubin is pursuing, and more generally, just what Google is actually working on. Fortunately for us, the Google robotics group will at least initially be based right here in Palo Alto, meaning that I'll get a chance to put my spy drones and ninja outfit to good use.

This article by Evan Ackerman was published in IEEE Spectrum on December 4, 2013.

Robot Rings the NASDAQ Bell for the First Time

Tue, 11/12/2013 - 17:03

A robotic arm has rung the NASDAQ closing bell to honor the launch of ROBO-STOX™ Global Robotics and Automation Index (Bloomberg: ROBO/ROBOTR), the first benchmark index dedicated to this burgeoning industry. "The growing affordability of robotic productivity gains, coupled with expanding technological capabilities, have moved this sector beyond the 'tipping point,' and the adoption of related technologies across multiple industries should continue to accelerate," said Rob Wilson, CEO of ROBO-STOX. "By introducing the first comprehensive and focused measure of the value of robotics, automation and related technologies, we are giving investors the world's first benchmark by which to track the growing field of robotics."
NASDAQ:ROBO is a new Exchange Traded Fund ETF, launched on October 23 at a price of $25. First day volume was over 225,000 shares. The new ETF uses a specially formulated index which attempts to reflect the global robotics industry. The index is comprised of 77 companies - 38% domestic; 62% international - in the rapidly developing global robotics and automation industry, with operations in over 15 different countries around the world and listings on multiple foreign and domestic exchanges.
Since pure-play robotics companies are extremely rare, ROBO-STOX evaluates companies across industries, objectives, geographic locations and market capitalizations to find innovative firms that can fuel productivity and economic growth for years to come. The composite includes a mixture of “bellwether” stocks (securities of companies that the ROBO-STOX Index Committee believes reflect the performance of robotics and automation firms as a whole) and “non-bellwether” stocks (securities of robotics- and automation-related companies the Index Committee believes will generate higher revenue as their products and services grow). The Index is rebalanced on a quarterly basis, and is usually weighted 40 percent toward bellwether stocks and 60 percent toward non-bellwether stocks. Companies can be deleted from the Index at any time at ROBO-STOX’s discretion.


National Robotics Initiative invests $38 million in next-generation robotics

Fri, 10/25/2013 - 14:36

The National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NASA, today announced new investments totaling approximately $38 million for the development and use of robots that cooperatively work with people to enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety.

These mark the second round of funding awards made through the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) launched with NSF as the lead federal agency just over two years ago as part of President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Initiative.

"NSF is proud to work with other government agencies to fund research that furthers technological advances in robotics," said NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett. "Co-robots work alongside humans and make Americans more effective and efficient in many vital areas related to safety, productivity and health. This research continually expands what robots can do to enhance human capabilities."

Funded projects target the creation of next-generation collaborative robots, or co-robots, for advanced manufacturing; civil and environmental infrastructure; health care and rehabilitation; military and homeland security; space and undersea exploration; food production, processing and distribution; independence and quality of life improvement and driver safety.

NSF funded 30 new projects, an investment of approximately $31 million during the next three years to advance the science of robotics across multiple sectors. This year's projects include research to improve robotic motion--advancing bipedal movement, dexterity and manipulation of robots and prostheses--and robotic sensing--advancing theories, models and algorithms to share and analyze data for robots to perform collective behaviors with humans and with other robots.

The projects also aim to enhance 3-D printing, develop co-robot mediators, improve the training of robots, advance the capabilities of surgical robotics and provide assistive robots for people with disabilities. In addition, the projects will improve the capability of robots for lifting and transporting heavy objects and for dangerous and complex tasks like search and rescue during disaster response.

A few of the projects are highlighted below:

Don't read my face: Tackling the challenges of facial masking in parkinson's disease rehabilitation through co-robot mediators

Matthias Scheutz, Linda Tickle-Degnen, Tufts University; Ronald Arkin, Georgia Institute of Technology

This research will assist people with Parkinson's Disease (PD). Those afflicted with PD often experience facial masking, a reduced ability to signal emotion, pain, personality and intentions to caregivers and health care providers who often misinterpret the lack of emotional expressions as disinterest and an inability to adhere to treatment regimen, resulting in stigmatization. This project will develop a robotic architecture endowed with moral emotional control mechanisms, abstract moral reasoning and a theory of mind to allow co-robots to be sensitive to human affective and ethical demands. The long-term goal of this work is to develop co-robot mediators for people with facial masking due to PD.

Learning from demonstration for cloud robotics

Sonia Chernova, Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Andrea Thomaz, Georgia Institute of Technology

This work seeks to leverage cloud computing to enable robots to efficiently learn from remote human domain experts. This project builds on RobotsFor.Me, a remote robotics research lab and will unite learning from demonstration and cloud robotics to enable anyone with Internet access to teach a robot household tasks.

Collaborative planning for human-robot science teams

Gaurav Sukhatme, University of Southern California

Combining scientists' specialized knowledge and experience with the efficiency of autonomous systems capable of processing and evaluating large quantities of data is a powerful method for scientific discovery. This research leverages these complementary strengths to develop a collaborative system capable of guiding scientific exploration and data collection by integrating input from scientists into an autonomous learning and planning framework. The project team is validating the approach in the challenging domain of autonomous underwater ocean monitoring, particularly well suited for the testing of human-robot collaboration due to the limited communication available under water and the necessary supervised capabilities.

A full listing of the NRI investments made by NSF is available on NSF's NRI Program Page.

NIH announced investments in three projects totaling approximately $2.4 million during the next five years. These include: the development of a co-robotic cane that could help individuals with visual impairments more easily navigate their environments; an MRI compatible robotic catheter that could enhance the safety and efficacy of catheter ablation for treatment of atrial fibrillation; and a novel way for engineers to systematically determine the optimal design for an assistive ankle device. For more details, please see the announcement, NIH funds development of novel robots to assist people with disabilities, aid doctors.

USDA announced five grants totaling $4.5 million to spur the development and use of robots in American agriculture production. These awards include research projects to develop robotics for fruit harvesting, early disease and stress detection in fruits and vegetables and water sampling in remote areas. For more details, see USDA's press release.

This year, NASA has continued to support all projects it awarded in 2012. NASA has awarded grants to eight American universities to advance the state of the art in America's robotics capabilities. Research topics range from avatar robots for co-exploration of hazardous environments to active skin for simplified tactile feedback in robotics. These projects will help enable NASA's future missions while benefiting future co-robotic technology applications here on Earth.

A new solicitation for proposals has recently been announced.

NSF Press Release 13-179, October 23, 2013 (published in NSF News).

New Revision of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) Program Solicitation

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 12:08

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):
     January 21, 2014
     November 13, 2014
     Second Thursday in November, Annually Thereafter


This is a revision of NSF 12-607, the solicitation for the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). Only one submission category is available this year as the distinction between smalls and larges has been eliminated. Note, the limitation on USDA and NIH funding remains. The maximum budget size and duration of projects has been reduced. New human subjects documentation requirements have been extended across all agencies. Additional NIH Institutes have joined the Joint Solicitation.

National Robotics Initiative (NRI) Program Solicitation 14-500



Special Issue on “Robotic Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies”

Thu, 09/19/2013 - 10:29

International Journal of Intelligent Computing and Cybernetics
Submission Deadline: October 10, 2013
Guest Editors: Dr. Gui DeSouza, University of Missouri, United States

Millions of individuals experience impaired mobility usually accompanied by limited to no manual dexterity. The “cost” associated with these disabilities includes not only those incurred through medical and support services, but also less tangible costs, such as those due lost wages and non-productivity. The goals of rehabilitation are to ameliorate life-limiting disabilities and facilitate community re-entry. While restoration of function is the most positive outcome of rehabilitation, compensatory strategies are also employed when natural function cannot be restored. A particularly promising approach is the use of assistive technologies to extend an individual’s functionality and substitute for compromised functions. This special issue will highlight the latest results from world leading research labs and industry in the field of robotic rehabilitation and assistive technologies.

Possible topics for the issue include but are not limited to:

  • Technologies for Improving Quality of Daily Living
  • Rehabilitation Robotics and Telemanipulation
  • Assisting Recovery from Stroke
  • Technologies to Enhance Mobility and Function for Individuals with Severe Disability (e.g. Spinal Cord Injury, ASL, Muscle Dystrophy, etc.)
  • Telerehabilitation
  • Wheelchair Transportation Safety
  • Wheeled Mobility
  • School and Workplace Accommodations
  • Communication enhancement
  • Hearing enhancement
  • Assistance to the blind
  • Robotic Prosthesis and Orthotics
  • Recreational Technologies and Exercise Physiology Benefiting Persons with Disabilities

This special issue on “Robotic Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies” will be published in the “International Journal of Intelligent Computing and Cybernetics" (ISSN: 1756-378X).

Important Dates:
  Submission of Manuscripts: October 10, 2013
  Notification of Acceptance: January 10, 2014
  Submission of Final Papers: February 15, 2014

All submissions should include a title page containing the title of the paper, full names and affiliation, complete postal and electronic address, phone and fax numbers, an abstract and a list of keywords, followed by the main text, references, list of figures and tables. The corresponding author should be clearly identified.
The preferred file format for accepted papers is Word, including figures, tables and signed copyright form. Other acceptable formats are WordPerfect or Tex/Latex, and the Latex submission must be accompanied with the PDF version. The templates are given at Manuscript submissions must be submitted to IJICC Manuscript Central.
All manuscripts will undergo a normal review process. Only manuscripts with minor modification will be accepted for publication in the Special Issue. Those manuscripts that need a major revision will be forwarded to the journal office for possible publication in regular issues. Original artwork and a signed copy of the copyright release form will be required for all accepted papers
Any further inquiries can be made to the guest editor via email:
 Dr. Gui DeSouza
 Vision-Guided and Intelligent Robotics Lab
 Department of Electrical and Computer Eng.
 University of Missouri
 Columbia, MO 65211

X-47B UCAS Completes First Carrier-based Arrested Landing

Thu, 07/11/2013 - 19:01

ABOARD USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH — It worked so smoothly, it was hard to tell it was so ... well, hard.
The Northrop Grumman X-47B, an aircraft designed to prove that unmanned jets could operate from aircraft carriers, completed its primary mission Wednesday when it successfully landed on board a carrier at sea.
“You saw the future today,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said after the landing — or “trap” — which took place along the Atlantic seaboard about a hundred miles off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula. “This is the first of the next generation of naval aircraft.”
“The biggest piece of news is that there was no news,” he declared. “On the whole, you saw sailors do what sailors do on a carrier at sea.”
Those, at least, were reactions after the first two landings. A planned third landing, however, was waved off after a technical problem was discovered, perhaps emphasizing the special nature of the event.
The X-47B, which had taken off from the Navy’s air test center at Patuxent River, Md., flew to the Bush flanked by a pair of Super Hornet chase planes. After one programmed pass over the ship, the aircraft circled around in the traditional race track carrier approach pattern — although seemingly a bit wider than usual — then came straight in to catch the carrier’s No. 3 wire, just as engineers had planned.
Other than the absence of a cockpit, pilots and aircrew, it all seemed rather routine, but the engineering to get to this point was anything but.
“What you saw today was a miraculous, technological feat,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, told a group of reporters flown out to the Bush. “It was astounding.”
After landing, the aircraft was positioned on a catapult, launched and came around again to repeat the feat. It was a more extensive routine than when the little tailless plane — similar to a baby B-2 stealth bomber but about the size of an F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter — was launched for the first time at sea on May 14.
The second landing was also successful, if just a tad off the optimum — catching the No. 2, or middle wire.
After another launch, engineers from the Naval Air Systems Command planned a third landing, but it was not to be.
“On the third approach to Bush, the X-47B aircraft self-detected a navigation computer anomaly that required the air vehicle to transit to the assigned shore based divert landing site, Wallops Island Air Field,” Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said in an e-mail Wednesday evening. “X-47B navigated to and landed without incident.”
Only two X-47B aircraft have been built, and there are no plans to acquire any more. The concept and engineering demonstrator program will likely finish its flight program and be closed down in a few months, as the Navy transitions to a new program to develop an operational unmanned carrier-based jet.
That program, the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike effort, is expected to lead an operational squadron by 2019, Mabus said.
Full text of this article written by Christopher P. Cavaz in NavyTimes.


Members of Top Nine Software Teams Move Forward from DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge

Fri, 06/28/2013 - 12:54

June 27, 2013. DARPA press release.
After Several Mergers, Seven Teams to Receive DARPA Support to Compete with an ATLAS Robot in 2013 DARPA Robotic Challenge Trials
The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) was created with a clear vision: spur development of advanced robots that can assist humans in mitigating and recovering from future natural and man-made disasters. Disasters evoke powerful, physical images of destruction, yet the first event of the DRC was a software competition carried out in a virtual environment that looked like an obstacle course set in a suburban area. That setting was the first proving ground for testing software that might control successful disaster response robots, and it was the world’s first view into the DARPA Robotics Challenge Simulator, an open-source platform that could revolutionize robotics development.

Disaster response robots require multiple layers of software to explore and interact with their environments, use tools, maintain balance and communicate with human operators. In the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), competing teams applied software of their own design to a simulated robot in an attempt to complete a series of tasks that are prerequisites for more complex activities.

Twenty-six teams from eight countries qualified to compete in the VRC, which ran from June 17-21, 2013. DARPA had allocated resources for the six teams that did best, but in an interesting twist, good sportsmanship and generosity will allow members of the top nine teams, listed below, to move forward:

  1. Team IHMC, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Pensacola, Fla. (52 points)
  2. WPI Robotics Engineering C Squad (WRECS), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass. (39 points)
  3. MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. (34 points)
  4. Team TRACLabs, TRACLabs, Inc., Webster, Texas (30 points)
  5. JPL / UCSB / Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. (29 points)
  6. TORC, TORC / TU Darmstadt / Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. (27 points)
  7. Team K, Japan (25 points)
  8. TROOPER, Lockheed Martin, Cherry Hill, N.J. (24 points)
  9. Case Western University, Cleveland, Ohio (23 points)  

The top six teams earned funding and an ATLAS robot from DARPA to compete in the DRC Trials in December 2013 (DARPA is also funding several other “Track A” teams to construct their own robot and compete in the Trials). The Trials are the second of three DRC events, and the first physical competition.

In a demonstration of good sportsmanship, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which also has a DARPA-funded Track A effort with its own robot, decided to merge its two efforts and offer the bulk of the resources it earned in the VRC to other teams. DARPA split the freed resources between the next two teams:

  • The robot associated with the JPL win and some funding now goes to TROOPER (Lockheed Martin).
  • Additional funds are being allocated to a newly formed team of Team K and Case Western. That team, now known as HKU, will use an ATLAS robot generously donated to it by Hong Kong University to participate in the DRC Trials in December.

Thus, in total, seven teams with ATLAS robots and DARPA support will be going to the DRC Trials, where they will compete with other teams with their own robots.

VRC teams were evaluated based on task completion and effective operator control of the robots in five simulated runs for each of three tasks (15 total timed runs) that addressed robot perception, manipulation and locomotion. The tasks included: entering, driving and exiting a utility vehicle; walking across muddy, uneven and rubble-strewn terrain; and attaching a hose connector to a spigot, then turning a nearby valve. To simulate communications limitations in a disaster zone, the VRC imposed a round trip latency of 500 milliseconds on data transmission, and varied the total number of communications bits available in each run, from a high of 900 megabits down to 60 megabits.

To conduct the VRC, DARPA funded the Open Source Robotics Foundation to develop a cloud-based simulator that calculates and displays the physical and sensory behaviors of robots in a three-dimensional virtual space, in real time. The simulator allowed teams to send commands and receive data over the Internet to and from a simulated ATLAS robot—information very similar to what would be sent between a physical robot and its operator in the real world.

“The VRC and the DARPA Simulator allowed us to open the field for the DARPA Robotics Challenge beyond hardware to include experts in robotic software. Integrating both skill sets is vital to the long-term feasibility of robots for disaster response,” said Gill Pratt, DRC program manager. “The Virtual Robotics Challenge itself was also a great technical accomplishment, as we have now tested and provided an open-source simulation platform that has the potential to catalyze the robotics and electro-mechanical systems industries by lowering costs to create low-volume, highly complex systems.”


Additional video and images of the simulation and teams’ runs are available at: and on