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Robotic Systems Blog

The Robotic Systems Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about industrial robots, programming and controls, sensors & tooling, and robotic safety. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Robots to Disinfect Hospital Rooms

Posted January 31, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

A research team will put germ-zapping robots to the test at Detroit hospitals. The $2 million effort, supported by the National Institute of Health's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is one of the first of its kind to study no-touch room disinfection.


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Evaluating Optical Trackers' Ability to Follow Objects

Posted January 05, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

A new test method evaluates how well an optical tracking system defines an object's position and orientation with six degrees of freedom: up/down, right/left, forward/backward, pitch, yaw, and roll.


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Writing Robots: A Threat to Creativity?

Posted December 28, 2016 3:00 PM by MaggieMc

As you may have noticed, I’m a writer (and not a robot), so today I’m here to talk about a technology that may keep me up at night in a few years: Narrative Science and Quill, their “patented artificial intelligence authoring platform.” This program was patented in 2013, and not only is it still around, it’s thriving.

One of the things you frequently hear alongside automation is that as humans we’ll adapt to increased automation by using our freed up time to do bigger and better things. Now, thanks to the potential of Quill, those things might not include writing.

Narrative Science’s co-founder and chief scientist Kris Hammond, who swears up and down that Quill will not be stealing jobs any time soon, recently spoke at EmTech Digital 2016 and the Real Machine Summit.

Quill, which pulls from spreadsheets and other collected data to create narratives, appears to be primarily marketed toward Financial Institutions and other businesses looking to get big data out to their customers, but that wasn’t always the case. Narrative Science began in Northwestern’s Intelligent Information Laboratory, where it made news for writing sports news better than the journalists. The story, which you can hear on NPR, goes like this:

Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website Deadspin, publicly suggested “an especially bad account” of a baseball game “had been written by one of [their] favorite robot bloggers” because it had almost completely ignored the fact that the game was a no-hitter. According to NPR, the creators of Narrative Science were so offended they “set out to prove that their program could produce a better story,” and it did because, in the words of Kris Hammond, “how could you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no-hitter? I mean, what kind of writer or machine would you be?”

In this case, Hammond presented the technology as a way of covering the little league games or middle-school games that don’t ordinarily get very much press. Still, having a computer outperform a human is always intimidating.

Once you get past the shock factor of this technology, it’s incredibly interesting, and it has amazing potential. Hammond is right, big data is huge, and sometimes it’s just too big for us to handle, but at the same time, we rely on what it tells us every day. Narrative Science’s ability to make inferences and create language from all of that data can be unbelievably useful. Hammond would like to highlight the fact that it also, “frees up real humans to do real work” or write the stories they really care about.

One part of a writer’s job that has always been near and dear to my heart is the necessity of “translating” information for their reader—Pulling information from different sources and bringing it together, drawing conclusions, and making it applicable to readers—and the scary part of all of this is that Quill can do a lot of that. As of now, Quill mostly pulls from databases, but its parent algorithm pulled from a series of content searches… just like I do.

Image credits: Jack Fitzgerald and ZDNet.

20 comments; last comment on 12/30/2016
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Will a Robot Replace Your Snow Shovel This Year?

Posted December 16, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Snow removal can be a daunting and difficult task. Why not let a $4,000 autonomous robot do the job for you? Users actually sync the robot to their phone with an accompanying app, and this robot can also mow the lawn and clean up leaves when there's no snow.


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8 comments; last comment on 12/17/2016
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Can You Jump Higher Than Salto?

Posted December 15, 2016 2:00 PM by MaggieMc

Recently, two Engineering360 articles have focused on the new jumping robot, Salto. The robot, which resembles a cricket, seems to have captured our attention, but what makes this particular robot so special?

Salto can “leap into the air and then spring off a wall, or perform multiple vertical jumps in a row, resulting in the highest robotic vertical jumping agility ever recorded.” For comparison, Salto has a higher “jumping agility” than a bullfrog, but a lower one than the Galago, which has the title of “the animal kingdom’s most vertically agile creature,” according to the roboticists at UC Berkley.

Not only does Salto set the vertical jumping record, engineers hope the robot will eventually be able to aid in search and rescue missions because it has the ability to “leap across uneven terrain and cover a large amount of height and area in a short amount of time.”

Beyond creating jumping robots, recent years have brought a wide range of innovations to the robotic world, from softening a robot’s touch, giving them the ability to sense and react to people around them, or improving surgical precision. Robots are becoming more and more human—or in Salto’s case, better than us at some things. Researchers even believe “children learn new words using the same method as robots.”

What do you think this means for us? How do you feel about skilled robots?

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