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Robot round-up

Butlers and housekeepers were in vogue at the world’s largest robot show in Japan last week, according to a report on NewScientist.com.

Among the hundreds of humanoid robots walkin’ the walk at the 2005 International Robot Exhibition were several designed to relieve people of those annoying daily chores.

Hitachi’s EMIEW is a two-wheeled bot that keeps balance using internal gyroscopes and can carry out simple tasks around the house such as fetching objects from another room.

The 1.3m (4.2ft) robot, which Hitachi claims is the world’s quickest-moving robot yet at 6km/h (3.7 miles per hour), uses voice recognition to locate its owner.

Tmsuk of Japan have built another domestic robot which cleans and dusts, but in case you think all work and no play makes RIDC-01 a dull boy, the bot can also project DVD films on to the wall.

In fact a few of the robots on show know how to enjoy themselves including PaPeRo from NEC, designed to be a pint-sized playmate for children or the elderly, responding to calls and playing games with humans.

Then there’s R Daneel, the rocking robot named after a mechanical cop dreamt up by Isaac Asimov, which has been developed by the University of Tokyo to give robots a bit of slack to explore more flexible, even graceful, ways for them to move and interact.

Unlike most humanoid bots, R Daneel is designed not to move purely in a controlled manner. It can let its hair down, following the trajectory determined by the weight and shape of its body during the rocking motion, until it lands back on its feet.

This means the 60kg bot tends to fall down quite a bit but it knows how to keep its cool, and in a move that would put John Travolta to shame, kicks up its legs and rolls back on to its shoulders to gain enough momentum to rock up on to its feet and into a crouching position.

R Daneel’s blend of control and flexibility is assisted by an array of sensors including gyroscopes, accelerometers and torque sensors. The developers hope to apply their technology to a whole host of moves including jumping, rolling and swinging.

Meanwhile, another University of Tokyo project has been working on flexibility of a different kind - developing robot skin.

E-skin can sense when things are too hot to handle or how hard a hand shake is and yet is flexible enough to wrap around an egg. The skin consists of a net-like matrix of thin plastic film embedded with electronic circuit sensors.

One layer of transistors measures pressure while a separate semiconductor layer monitors temperature. Now the researchers want to develop a technology that will allow robot bodies to be covered by e-skins.

New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/home.ns

Fifa mulls chipped football

England’s journey to Germany for the World Cup finals next year is sure to reignite the perennial debate over whether Geoff Hurst’s goal for England during the 1966 final was really over the line.

Now Fifa, football’s governing body, are debating whether to employ technology to help referees make those tricky goal-line decisions by using an electronically chipped football in time for the next tournament.

Cairos Technologies, a German company set up by a group of football fans fed up with referee blunders, has developed a tiny radio chip that fits inside a football and determines whether the ball has crossed the line by pinpointing its exact location on the pitch.

In development since 2000, in partnership with scientists at Nuremberg’s Fraunhofer Institute and sporting goods group Adidas, Cairos flirted with different technologies like lasers and light barriers before settling on a chip.

The chip, which with the battery that powers it weighs 12g, transmits 2,000 signals a second to a receiver of 12 antennas placed around the pitch, some on flood lights. The receivers send information about the ball’s location to a central computer and, working in real time it can instantly tell the referee whether a goal has been scored. The ball can even be detected when it crosses the line in the air. The information is communicated to the referee using a method similar to the “vibrating sleeve” currently used by linesmen to attract the attention of the referee.

Referees, traditionally difficult to impress on the pitch, have been generally favourable to the technology, which has already been tested at September’s Under-17 World Championships in Peru and will get another outing at the World Club Championship in December.

Cairos Technologies: http://www.cairos.com/

Non-scratch paint for cars

A visit to the the car wash can sometimes leave your car feeling more stripped than clean, as over-zealous car-washing machines leave abrasions and scratches.

These, and other wear and tear caused by everything from fingernails to roadside objects could be a thing of the past if a new car paint developed by Nissan lives up to claims.

The Japanese carmaker says its “scratch guard coat” paint contains a new high elastic resin that repairs scratches on its own, restoring a car’s surface to normal within a week.

The speed of recovery depends on temperature and the seriousness of the scratch.

The paint will also protect against scratches happening - for a three year period - and the company intends to debut the paint on a sports utility vehicle set for a revamp soon.

Nissan: http://www.nissanusa.com/0,,,00.html

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