By Heather Kelly, CNN
For a tiny bug-shaped robot made of cardboard and plastic, Dash is surprisingly advanced.
The new $65 DIY programmable robot is built for tinkering. It comes with a gyroscope, visible light and infrared sensors, and an iOS app for controlling it over Bluetooth 4. The Arduino-compatible bots also have LED lights and additional ports for expanding and hacking the Dash.
You can program in your own behaviors, making the robots move in patterns or follow walls. They can operate as a swarm and cooperate, or set off on individual tasks. Add in touch sensors and turn two peace-loving Dash robots into battlebots that fight each other and keep score on their multi-colored LEDs.
"Our goal is to get a robot into everyone's hands because we think they're great educational tools," said Nick Kohut, one of the founders of Dash Robotics.
Conveniently, Dash will fit right into in the palms of those hands. It has six legs, weighs about half an ounce, and its killer feature is being able to move quickly over various kinds of terrain. It can cover five to six feet a second and is able to cross sand, concrete and other surfaces.
By Heather Kelly, CNN
There's only so much you can fit inside one of those cute woven baskets found on the common bicycle: a small bag of groceries, fresh-cut flowers and a baguette, maybe a puppy.
But the new 2X4 cargo bike from NTS Works is built to haul up to 100 pounds of goods and, with the help of its electrical-assist engine, go as fast as 20 miles an hour.
The bike, a cross between a bicycle, motorcycle and beast of burden, is the brainchild of California bike designer Neal Saiki. He hopes the $4,800 2X4 will catch on with regular people running errands, as well as companies that deliver packages, fruit boxes, pizzas and other goods in urban areas.
Enterprising riders around the world have used the humble bicycle to haul freight for more than 100 years. They creatively balance large loads or small families on two wheels, often modifying a bike's design to accommodate specific hefty cargo.
These "cargo" or "freight" bikes are still in use in many places where cars and gas remain too expensive, or where the roads are so small or congested that a bike is a more efficient way to get around. They're especially popular in Europe, where some manufacturers have added electrical engines to boost the bikes' hauling power and assist riders up hills. FULL POST
By Doug Gross, CNN
If you watch two? Send us the other one.
RHex is a creation of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who hope it could one day climb rubble in emergency rescue situations or zoom across scorching desert sands with its six whirling, springy legs.
"What we want is a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven," said graduate student Aaron Johnson, one of those researchers. "These latest jumps greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is."
RHex (short for "robot hexapod" and pronounced "Rex") is actually more than a decade old, the brainchild of a multiuniversity project. But Penn researchers recently created a new version - called X-RHex Lite - that, as its name suggests, is lighter and more agile than previous versions.
The result: a moving rectangle that has, in effect, been taught robot parkour.
In the video posted late last month, RHex charges across Penn's campus (with an appropriately epic soundtrack) before showing off an impressive vertical leap, doing several back flips and propelling itself up steps.
Its most impressive moments, though, might be jumping from one picnic table to another over a gap greater than its own length and flipping up on a tall stone block, grabbing on with its curved front legs and pulling itself upward.
On robots, legs are more effective than wheels when it comes to rough terrain. But it can be complicated to teach the human-like legs on walking robots how to respond to unpredictable conditions. RHex's simple, one-jointed legs are better suited to getting around obstacles in creative ways, the Penn team says.
By Rebecca Bluitt, Special to CNN
Off the Hawaiian coast, the humpback whale is thrilling spectators and scientists alike with its acrobatic jumps, complex songs – and its spectacular recovery.
“When we started there was talk of whales in the hundreds out here,” says Jim Darling, renowned whale researcher and co-founder of Whale Trust Maui, a nonprofit devoted to studying whales in the waters of the Hawaiian island. “Now in the North Pacific the best estimates are about 20,000 whales.”
“They become part of the local culture a little bit. And that’s sort of seeping into the national culture,” says Darling, referring to the booming whale-watching industry. Whale tourism added an estimated $2 billion to the global economy last year, a number that is expected to increase by 10% each year.
About the size of a school bus and weighing an average of 45 tons, the humpback whale is an impressive creature. But they weren't always such a visible part of the Hawaiian seascape. Their recent comeback from near extinction at the hand of whale hunters is as remarkable as the animals themselves, and has wildlife experts in awe of their recovery capabilities.
“The fact that they’ve been able to come back like this proves that it is possible, if we give them half a chance,” Darling says.
Strict international restrictions on whaling, implemented in 1966, gave the humpback population its chance to rebound. But is 20,000 humpbacks in the entire North Pacific really that many?
“When you think about it, it’s not,” Darling says. “I mean, think about how many people attend a football game, you know? It’s a little chunk of a stadium. But ... it’s so many more than were here."
It’s enough of a recovery, some argue, that the North Pacific humpback whale should be taken off of the federal list of endangered species altogether. The Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition recently petitioned for removing the North Pacific humpback from the list, claiming that the whales' population increase warrants a reexamination of the current restrictions on fishing practices.
And Japan, the largest whaling country in the world, is already utilizing a loophole in anti-whaling laws to kill some species of whales. Hunters claim the carcasses are used for scientific research – gathering information on the animals’ age, diet, and birthing rate – before the meat is packaged and sold.
In 2007, Japanese whalers insisted that the humpback’s comeback justified adding the whales to their list of prospective prey. But outcry from the international community has forced them to back down, at least for now.
Darling believes this long-term conflict between humans and humpbacks is the greatest threat to the whales' future.
“As far as entanglements and vessel collisions, we can slow boats down, or we can warn vessels when there are whales in the area, or we can come up with different kinds of fishing gear which maybe reduces the entanglements. There are ways to sort of tackle those issues," he says.
"The bigger ones of how we’re all going to survive in the long run are going to be a little more challenging.”
It's a challenge, Darling says, that Whale Trust Maui is ready to tackle.
By Elissa Weldon, CNN
There’s nowhere quite like the beach in summer. But between the sun, scenery and a relaxed vacation mindset, many beachgoers don't think much about their safety in the ocean.
Ask anyone who has ever had a close call in the water - been caught in a rip current or struggled against powerful tides to make it to shore. Often, there's only one person standing between them and death: a lifeguard.
Meet Archie Kalepa, chief of ocean safety for the Hawaiian island of Maui. Kalepa has a team of 64 lifeguards under his command and is responsible for the safety of about 2 million beach visitors every year.
"It only takes 5 minutes for a person to go brain-dead, or to drown," Kalepa says. "For us, a lot of times the surf is way offshore. And so it's all about the response time. How quickly can we respond from Point A to Point B?"
His commitment to public safety has deep roots. Kalepa pioneered the use of Jet Skis for water rescues nearly 25 years ago. After Hurricane Iniki struck Hawaii in 1992, he became a local hero by using a Jet Ski to save 12 people from drowning. Those rescues proved to be a turning point in Kalepa’s drive to adopt the Jet Ski for widespread water-safety use.
“We were the ones with the idea,” says Kalepa, “but we needed everybody’s support to get the officials to realize that this (watercraft) is a tool, not a toy.”
Today, Kalepa is still working on improving his lifesaving techniques while developing innovative rescue equipment. He has devised an inflatable rescue board that the head of the United States Lifeguard Association calls a “real, significant innovation” with “enormous promise.” Kalepa is working with partners to commercialize the product.
Kalepa also is an elite athlete who relishes the chance to surf some of the biggest waves in the world. He's drawn to “the excitement, the thrill, dabbling in danger," he says. "I really, really enjoy being in that kind of environment.”
Kalepa uses his knowledge of the ocean to help others - even rescuing big-wave surfers in dangerous conditions.
“I’ve seen him in action. He will rush in without question and try to help anyone in peril,” says tow partner Buzzy Kerbox.
As a fifth-generation Hawaiian, Kalepa is probably proudest of his Hawaiian heritage and his honorary title of Waterman.
He was recently inducted into the Duke Kahanamoku Hawaiian Waterman’s Hall of Fame, a prestigious honor reserved only for those with vast knowledge of the ocean and experience in all aspects of water. Watermen can swim, surf, dive, paddle, fish and canoe with skill, strength, agility and instinct.
“Archie to me exemplifies exactly what a Hawaiian Waterman is, which is connected,” says Kaino Horcajo, an expert in Hawaiian culture. “We say the words fearless, courageous, brave, crazy. But what we really mean to say is connected - in tune, down to earth, and without filters.”
For Kalepa, being a Waterman and a Hawaiian means sharing his knowledge of the ocean with others. He trains some of the world’s most elite military units in water safety and Jet Ski rescues.
“Out of pure respect for what they do to keep America safe, it was an honor to train these people and work with them,” Kalepa says.
As a public-safety expert, a big-wave surfer and a Hawaiian Waterman, Archie Kalepa is driven to help others and spread what he calls the spirit of "aloha," the Hawaiian greeting.
“Sharing the spirit of aloha is always giving somebody a helping hand, always giving somebody a kiss. Always when somebody needs help, you help them, show them how to be good people," he says. "That's what the aloha spirit is, showing people love. It's what people from Hawaii do. It's how we live our life."
By Heather Kelly, CNN
Personal 3-D printers may sound like a pricey luxury or a niche product for geeks, but soon they could become a household appliance that saves people thousands of dollars a year.
Researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a family might save by printing common objects, such as simple replacement parts or toys, at home instead of buying them in stores or online.
"It was relatively shocking what the return on investment was," said associate professor Joshua Pearce, who led the study. "Realistically, it's in the thousands."
Much of the recent 3-D printer hype has focused on how the technology is going to revolutionize the manufacturing industry or what cool things it can create - human organs, duck feet, see-through hermit crab shells shaped like cities. But it's the small, mundane objects that could have the most immediate impact on wallets. (Especially if you print your own wallet.) FULL POST
By Jason Paur, Wired
There’s an open-source airplane being developed in Canada, and now its designers are looking to double down on the digital trends, turning to crowdsourced funding to finish the project.
The goal of Maker Plane is to develop a small, two-seat airplane that qualifies as a light sport aircraft and is affordable, safe, and easy to fly. But unlike other home-built aircraft, where companies or individuals charge for their plans or kits, Maker Plane will give its design away for free.
The group behind the project consists of pilots and engineers who are designing the airplane, allowing it to be built using the kind of personal manufacturing equipment somebody in the maker community might already have at home or can easily purchase. The idea of a home-built airplane is nothing new. It dates back to the earliest days of flight, after Orville and Wilbur made and flew their own airplanes (and engine), the homemade plane movement — literally — took off.
Today, the home-built movement continues, and this week tens of thousands of pilots and fans of home-built airplanes are descending on the annual Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
This cross-section shows the wing's design.
In the spirit of the open source and maker movements, the Maker Plane group is including components from many designers and builders outside their circle. As they focus on the design of the airplane (fuselage, wings, etc.), the Maker Plane team helps connect those interested in building their own with other open source components such as an air data computer and radios. They even show you where you can get plans to build your own traffic and collision avoidance system.
The structural parts of the airplane, including the fuselage, will be built from composites. There are many home-built composite airplanes already taking to the skies, so the techniques are well proven. Smaller pieces such as knobs and handles will be made using 3-D printing. And after a year and a half of design, the Maker Plane team has started to build the first prototype. That’s why they’re turning tocrowdsourced funding to help the project along.
The basic specifications of the airplane follow the guidelines of the light sport aircraft regulations. The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration created the LSA category to encourage more people to fly. The airplanes are limited to two seats, a maximum weight of 1,320 pounds, and a top speed of 120 knots (138 mph).
Maker Plane says they expect their design will fall within these requirements and have a range of 400 miles. More ambitious: They hope the cost to build the airplane will be under $15,000, including the engine.
The aviation world is filled with optimistic ideas that don’t always get off the ground, but the Maker Plane is the first attempt at sourcing the entire airplane from the open-source community, which should help keep costs down, assuming you have the skills to build the various components. And if they succeed, Maker Plane hopes to fly the first prototype in 2015.
By Heather Kelly, CNN
Would you let a robot take over as a live-in nurse for your aging parent or grandparent?
In 2050, the elderly will account for 16 percent of the global population. That's 1.5 billion people over the age of 65, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Caring for those seniors - physically, emotionally and mentally - will be an enormous undertaking, and experts say there will be a shortage of professionals trained and willing to take on the job.
"We have to find more resources and have to get new ways of delivering those resources and delivering the quality of care," says Antonio Espingardeiro, an expert in robotics and automation at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, and a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.
Enter the elder-care robot.
Robots have the potential to meet many of the needs of an aging population, according to Espingardeiro. A software engineer, Espingardeiro is finishing his PhD on new types of human and robotic interaction. He has developed a model of elder-care robot, P37 S65, which can monitor senior patients and communicate with doctors while providing basic care and companionship. FULL POST
By Heather Kelly, CNN
At six-foot-two and 330 pounds, this hulking first responder has all the qualities you'd want in the field after a disaster: strength, endurance and calm under pressure. Better yet, it has two sets of hands, 28 hydraulic joints, stereo cameras in its head and an onboard computer.
The ATLAS humanoid robot, which looks vaguely like something from the "Terminator" movies, was created by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition that invites engineers to create a remotely controlled robot that can respond to natural or man-made disasters.
The winning robot could be used in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, like the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The DRC is broken up into three challenges. The first was the Virtual Robotics Challenge, in which 26 teams controlled simulated, 3-D robots. Only seven of those teams - including participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - were chosen to go on to the next stage. They will each get their very own ATLAS for the Robotics Challenge Trials, a real-life obstacle course competition between robots that will take place this December in Florida.
As part of the challenge, the teams will program their humanoid robot to accomplish a range of tasks. ATLAS will need to drive a car, navigate complicated terrain on foot and move rubble in order to enter a building. It will also have to climb stairs and use various tools to do things like turn off valves or break through concrete walls.
ATLAS has modular wrists so that it can swap out hands and attach third-party mitts to better handle specific tasks. The robot's head also has LIDAR to better gather information about the surrounding area.
The robots will need to be able to complete tasks on their own without constant human control, which will be a key feature if they are in situations where communications are spotty. DARPA also wants the final robots to be easily controlled by people who have had minimal amounts of training, so that the technology is accessible to more people on short notice.
The teams whose robots perform the best at the trials later this year will continue to receive funding and compete in the competition's final stage in December 2014. The Robotics Challenge Finals will put the robots through a full disaster scenario that will include eight tasks each robot must complete.
In addition to improving future disaster response, winners of the 27-month competition will receive a $2 million prize.
The ATLAS robots are the result of a $10 million contract with Boston Dynamics, the Massachusetts engineering and robotics-design company. That amount covers eight robots, in-field support and any necessary maintenance.