Ever since we taught them how to play, the machines have been trying to beat us at chess -- and succeeding. But where it took a closet-sized computer running a complicated computer program to beat Garry Kasparov and claim chess dominance for the machines, child's toys are now aligning to make you wish you hadn't ever moved your queen's bishop. "Monster Chess" was built from 100,000 Lego pieces and plays an autonomous game of chess on a 156-square-foot board, with each massive robotic piece gliding around the board autonomously.
Technology developed by Virginia Tech for DARPA's Urban Challengein 2006 and 2007 is heading off to war, joining the U.S. Marines and troops from 13 other nations at in Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games next month. Aiding platoons of marines as they participate in the Naval Laboratory's experimentation that accompanes RIMPAC, VT's Ground Unmanned Support Surrogates (GUSS) will autonomously help grunts haul supplies, transport wounded, and carry out other platoon support tasks.
Proving that robots really do have a place at the pub -- time to change your archaic anti-droid policies, Mos Eisley Cantina -- the team over at Willow Garage has programmed one of its PR2 robots to play a pretty impressive game of pool. More impressively, they did it in just under one week.
It can be very difficult to coax every individual on a soccer squad into stepping up the level of play all at the same time (just ask Australia's World Cup team). But at the RoboCup, the American team is doing just that, using a new physics-based algorithm that helps their footballing 'bots not only execute plays but to anticipate where the action on the field is likely to unfold next.
Call it job creation: this week a handful of sea lions and dolphins trained to locate undersea mines earned their jobs back, jobs that were supposed to be turned over to undersea mine-sweeping robots. And why were these seafaring mammals brought back into service? To find the very robots that were supposed to replace them, four of which have gone AWOL somewhere off the coast of Virginia. You can't make this stuff up.
Two rotors are better than one, and if our recent excitement over UPenn’s quadcopter is any indication, four rotors is better than two. Sometimes. Researchers at the ETH Zurich recognize that different tasks call for different aircraft, and with that in mind they’ve designed the Distributed Flight Array, a flying platform consisting of multiple small autonomous single rotor aircraft that can dock with one another to create a larger, more powerful aircraft.
Fully embracing the notion that there’s no point in building a UAV if it doesn’t make other UAVs look completely lame by comparison, UPenn’s GRASP Lab has developed an autonomous quadcopter that does a lot more than hover. It flips, dives, twists and otherwise dazzles, executing aggressive aerial maneuvers like dashing through tight windows with just three inches clearance and zipping in between other hovering quadcopters with graceful ease. All by itself.
America may have eighty-sixed its moon base ambitions, but the Japanese have no plans to let perfectly good lunar real estate go to waste. An ambitious $2.2 billion project in the works at JAXA, the Japanese space agency, plans to put humanoid robots on the moon by 2015, and now official backing from the Prime Minister's office says the Japanese could have an unmanned lunar base up and running by 2020.
So-called keyhole surgery techniques have come a long way in recent decades, but a lack of dexterity and freedom of movement means sometimes surgeons can't get the job done, and that means they have to go in the old fashioned way: Straight through the breastbone.
Boston Dynamics' BigDog quadruped bot gets a lot of time in the spotlight it seems, but a new video shows its little brother has been making some serious strides in four-legged locomotion as well. LittleDog, a DARPA-funded project under development at USC, has learned how to evaluate seriously challenging terrain, negotiating gaps, unstable terrain, and difficult grades with ease and, dare we say, a little bit of grace.