Robot uses XBOX Kinect to see the world in 3D

A PhD student at MIT's Personal Robotics Group, has combined the Kinect motion controller with an iRobot Create platform to create a battery powered robot that can see its environment and obey your gestured commands. He used simultaneous localization and mapping code from, some visualization packets from the Mobile Robot Programming Toolkit, and his own interaction, human detection, and gesture code.
The robot can generate detailed 3D maps of its surroundings and wirelessly send them to a host computer. It can also detect nearby humans and track their movements to understand where they want it to go.
Kinect has grabbed the attention of hackers trying to enable its motion-sensing capabilities in environments that don't include an Xbox. The result has been open source Kinect drivers, multitouch capabilities, interaction with Windows 7 and Mac OS X, and 3D camera applications.

Impressive HRP-4 robot will make you bow in deference

Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) is back with the mighty impressive HRP-4 humanoid. Created in partnership with Kawada Industries, this 151-centimeter (5-feet) tall, 39-kilo (86-pound) walking followup to the HRP-4C, HRP-3 and HRP-2 robots (pictured in the background) was developed to help take over manufacturing duties from a rapidly aging Japanese work force. The highly mobile HRP-4 features 34-degrees of movement with AIST proprietary control software running on a Linux core. Things get weird at the 5:30 mark of the video embedded after the break when a human enters the stage for a good ol' fashioned stare down. Probably has something to do with his hot wife.

Self-driving taxi picks you up at the press of a button

Who needs safety drivers? Not Germany's Freie University, that's for sure, which has just demonstrated a self-driving taxi to rival Google's efforts without a soul at the wheel. This laser, radar and sensor-equipped VW Passat, dubbed "Made in Germany," has a companion iPad app from Appirion to do all the hard work, too -- you just start the program, punch in coordinates and wait for the car to extract itself from a nearby parking lot and pick you up from school. Ladies and gents, the future is now. Watch it right after the break.

Da Vinci robot-surgeon - First all robot surgery performed

A team of surgeons at McGill University, including the da Vinci robo-surgeon and a robot anesthesiologist named, of all things, McSleepy, recently removed some dude's prostate during what is being billed as the world's first all-robotic surgery. The device transmits hi-def 3D images to a nearby workstation, where it is controlled by surgeons "with a precision that cannot be provided by humans alone," according to MUHC urologist-in-chief Dr. A. Aprikian. Of course, the robots are being kept on a tight leash by their human operators, with McGill's Dr. Thomas Hemmerling pointing out that "[r]obots will not replace doctors but help them to perform to the highest standards." Just tell that to all the other medical robots we've seen in this space, eh, doc? We've heard they have plans.

BeBionic teases advanced bionic hand, Terminator 5 now has a prop supplier

It won't officially launch until May, but we're already guessing that the folks over at DaVinci are casting quizzical glances towards BeBionic. The UK-based outfit is teasing what it calls the "next generation of fully articulated myo-electric hands," which are said to provide "a range of naturally compliant grip patterns that provide repeatable accuracy" to those who have lost their own hand(s). Better still, the functions (speed, grip force, grip patterns, etc.) can be customized to suit each individual user, and the integrated wireless chip means that said tweaking can take place sans any troubling USB cables. The company's also planning to reveal the planet's first powered wrist with rotation capabilities as well as flexion / extension, and the range just wouldn't be complete without silicone skin available in 19 tones. Hop on past the break for a couple of promo videos -- we get the feeling the world of prosthetics is about to take a huge leap forward.

NASA and GM's humanoid Robonaut2 blasting into space this September

Remember Robonaut2, the gold-headed robot that first flexed its biceps back in February? He's been called up -- way up. NASA has given him a one-way ticket to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on a departure that's currently scheduled for September. It's not entirely clear what he'll be doing up there beyond making awe-inspiring poses like the one shown above, but he is slated to help during spacewalks and will be the first humanoid robot to leave the atmosphere. We just want to know whose shirts he'll wear.

AILA bot can recognize objects' weight and fragility, render shelf stackers obsolete

Now, this isn't quite the height of innovation, but it's a pretty cool compilation of existing technologies nonetheless. The femme-themed AILA robot has an RFID reader in its left palm, which allows it to obtain non-visual information about the objects put in front of it. Based on that input, as well as data collected from its 3D camera and two laser scanners, AILA can intelligently deal with and transport all sorts of items, without the pesky need for a fleshy human to come along and give it further instructions. The good news is that it's a really slow mover for now, so if you do your cardio you should be able to run away from one in case of any instruction set malfunctions. See it on video after the break.

The future of robots

New material could make robot muscles better, faster, stronger

There's already been countless advances in the always exciting field of robot muscles, but a team of researchers from the University of Texas have now made what appears to be a considerable leap forward, which they say could allow for "performance characteristics that have not previously been obtained." The key to that is an entirely new material comprised of ribbons of tangled “nanotubes”, which can expand its width by 220% when a voltage is applied and return to its original shape in just milliseconds when the voltage is removed. What's more, the material is not only "stronger than steel and stiffer than diamond," but it's able to withstand an extreme range of temperatures from -196 °C to 1538 °C, which could allow robots equipped with the muscles to operate with ease in a wide variety of off-world colonies, or, "harsh environments." Head on past the break for a demonstration of the material in its non-robot form.

Robotic hand controlled by compressed air grasps the concept of delicacy

The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (AKA the RoMeLa Project) at the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech has designed and built a prototype robotic hand that is controlled and operated by compressed air. Called RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments), the robot can hold heavier, solid objects, as well as light or delicate ones such as a light bulb or an egg. The hand is powered by a compressor air tank at 60 psi and an accordion style tube actuator, with microcontroller commands operating and coordinating the movements of its fingers. It uses no other motors, and the strength of the grasp is controlled by a change in air pressure, making the hand quite dextrous. RAPHaEL -- which is part of a larger RoMeLa robot project named CHARLI -- has already won several awards, including grabbing first prize at the 2008-2009 Compressed Air and Gas Institute Innovation Award Contest. RoMeLa researchers envision CHARLI one day roaming the VT campus making friends with students and visitors. We look forward to that day, but until then, check out RAPHaEL holding some stuff after the break.

Dustbot takes out the Eurotrash

Push up those Armani shades and tighten your white trousers, the Dustbot is coming to wash the scum off the streets like a Segway riding Travis Bickle. Give him a call from your mobile and the Dustbot will come to your house and dispose of the rubbish. At least that's the plan for this Italian disposal-bot fitted with GPS navigation, gyroscope, and a bevy of sensors meant to keep it from crushing the innocents. Look, we get that it's a prototype and is meant to traverse the narrow streets of ancient cities, but a trash collecting robot with the capacity of just two kitchen cans seems like a serious limitation. Watch the long slow ride after the break.

Aldebaran Robotics' Nao

Last we heard from Aldebaran Robotics' Nao robot it didn't exactly have all that many skills to show off, simply waving to the camera and uttering a few words to prove that it was more than just an illustration. It looks like it's been spending the last few months learning some new tricks though, with it now able to stand on its own two feet and walk across the room. As you can see in the video linked below, however, it isn't all that graceful, and it certainly doesn't look like it'll be challenging PLEN to a skateboarding competition anytime soon.