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US Army Researchers test insect-inspired robots

Army researchers are finding they have much to learn from bees hovering near a picnic spread at a park.

Dr. Joseph Conroy, an electronics engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, part of the Research, Development and Engineering Command, works with robotic systems that can navigate by leveraging visual sensing inspired by insect neurophysiology.

A recently developed prototype that is capable of wide-field vision and high-update rate, hallmarks of insect vision, is something researchers hope to test at the manned and unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, exercise at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. This project will give us a chance to implement methods of perception such as 3-D mapping and motion estimation on a robotics platform, Conroy said.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence exercise will test whether ARL’s robotics platform is on track with the Army’s vision to team a robot with a Soldier. The tests will help to inform ARL researchers on how Soldiers might utilize information that can be provided by these platforms while attempting to clear a building from a safe distance in an urban environment, Conroy said.

The military’s goal of teaming autonomous systems with Soldiers requires collaboration among a variety of researchers from within ARL and outside, including Carnegie Mellon University researchers, who have been the primary collaborators for this project.

Carnegie Mellon is part of the Micro-Autonomous Systems Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, or MAST CTA, of ARL’s robotics enterprise, which explores ways to enhance Soldiers’ situational awareness on the battlefield through basic research on micro-scale robotic systems.

The MAST CTA is led by BAE Systems, with principal members — the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Maryland, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania, and 13 other university consortium members.

“The upcoming tests are a small example of a much larger effort,” said Brett Piekarski, Collaborative Alliance manager. “The university researchers across the consortium work with the Army researchers to come up with systems that can provide Soldier/robot teaming, and be transitioned to industry.”

The prototype is designed to help Soldiers have tactical awareness at the squad and personal level in urban and complex environments.

“If our prototype operates in the way it was designed to during these tests, it would be a technical win,” Conroy said. “But I would say the real goal of this exercise is to put the technology in the hands of Soldiers, gather their feedback, and gain understanding about what will make autonomous systems more useful.”

The components of the quad rotor are a mix of commercial and custom-designed parts to develop the navigation, exploration and mapping necessary for military applications, said Brendan Byrne, who manages the platform from the perspective of Computational and Information Sciences.

“Carnegie Mellon has previously demonstrated many of the capabilities that we will require for this project in a controlled environment, however, we are testing 3-D mapping and localization in a large, unstructured environment,” Byrne said.

ARL has been working with the Carnegie Mellon team for about two years, but only for the last nine months for the MUM-T exercise, Byrne said.

Issues can be uncovered when ARL engineers probe weaknesses in experimental setups that have been previously used to demonstrate capabilities in controlled environments. Further collaboration with university researchers can address these issues and produce a far more robust system.

The university researchers addressed the issues and came back with a far more robust algorithm, he added. “Just yesterday we were flying it through the building, zipping up and down stairwells.”

ARL is interested in stretching the boundaries of what will be feasible for Army unmanned system doctrine. The lab’s novel technology will be the least mature platform represented at MUM-T.

“We take a crack at unsolved problems,” Byrne said. “The technology may not completely work, but it directs where our attention should be focused.”

Today, human/robot teaming requires a lot of hands on participation from the Soldier but this platform is designed to navigate through a 3-D maze and avoid obstacles without help, he said.

MUM-T will be the first time ARL has demonstrated the technology in a more operational environment.

“It is exciting,” Byrne said. “On one hand, the technology offers the most cutting edge possibilities. On the other hand, the lack of maturity makes it the most prone to failure.”

Over the past few decades there has been much interest in this class of flying robotic platforms known as micro-air vehicles. The palm-sized vehicles operate relatively low to the ground, and are capable of navigating indoors or outdoors with stealth, low cost and low operator workload.

Engineers begin looking to insects because of the robust navigation in uncertain environments. In particular, Conroy became interested in the insect capability of detecting and tracking small targets and their capability for perceiving structure of the environment without stereo vision.

Conroy and his colleague J. Sean Humbert from the University of Maryland detailed their findings in “Structure from Motion in Computationally Constrained Systems.”

He said one of the things he is eager to test at MUM-T is the robotic mimicking of active vision in insects, which is their intentional use of motion to perceive structure.

The Research, Development and Engineering Command also has near-term focused organizations like the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and Natick Soldier Systems Center, which will demonstrate state-of-the-art equipment at MUM-T the Army is developing.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence conducts research, development and experimentation to ensure the future maneuver force is prepared and equipped to fight and win in a complex future environment.

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Smarter ground robots partnering with Soldiers

“In the Army, we always say, ‘never send our Soldier into a fair fight.’ Each of you here,” from the robotics community, are “helping to make that happen,” said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology.

Shyu, who provided the keynote address at National Defense Industrial Association’s Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference & Exhibition here, Aug. 13, emphasized common architecture, open-source software and open standards for robotics development to further competition that will benefit the Army, taxpayers and industry.

The Army is working with industry partners to develop a standard architecture which will enable us to incorporate future (robotics) capabilities rapidly, keeping pace with dramatic commercial improvements, she said.

Getting the development of ground robotics right is important because the systems have become such an essential partner to warfighters, Shyu explained.

In 2004, 162 robotic systems were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with a primary focus on explosive ordnance disposal, known as EOD, removal.

The use of ground robotics in combat since then has grown exponentially, with more than 7,000 systems currently deployed overseas, she pointed out. Besides helping EOD, ground robots now carry weapons, cameras and sensors for such things as detecting chemical, nuclear and biological material.

‘PROPRIETARY’ A DIRTY WORD
“Propriety is the worst word out there today,” said Rich Ernst, interoperability lead, Office of the Secretary of Defense, referring to the opposite of open architecture, bolstering what Shyu had said earlier.

Ernst was part of an Open Architecture panel that followed Shyu’s remarks.

While everyone knows the wisdom of having an open system, habits are hard to break, especially in the Defense Department, he said.

“Primes love open systems,” Ernst said, “but then they’ll tell you: ‘just don’t mess with my existing system.’”

That existing system, he said, is “a legacy environment. They want to go back to that for the next 30 years.

However, primes know they have to change because there are less programs going forward due to fiscal constraints, he added.

Besides an open architecture, Ernst said each system needs to be broken apart, made transparent and competed to the most innovative vendor, which in many cases might likely be small businesses or start-ups.

A typical system might be broken apart into 50 sub-components, he continued. The only problem is the government now has trouble managing “just one chunk.” It will take a while for government to embrace this concept.

Once open standards are implemented and components are competed in the marketplace, the ground robotics systems that emerge will provide the warfighters and the taxpayers their biggest return on investments, he predicted.

Ernst also had a few choice words about “lawyers in the Pentagon who lock things down in contracts” so changes to the platforms that make sense become hard to initiate.

“I found out quickly that no matter how well we come up with the standard or specification, the lawyers undo whatever the engineers do,” he said.

Ernst said he now works with the lawyers and the primes as hard as he works with the software folks to ensure things get done.

Brian Gerkey, CEO of Open Source Robotics Foundation and another panel member, agreed with Ernst’s assessment. He said Robot Operating System, or ROS, builds on open architecture.

ROS is an open-source set of powerful software libraries and tools that helps anyone — from businesses to school kids — build robot applications and share solutions and algorithms “so you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel.”

ROS has about a million users worldwide, he added, including NASA, which is about to install a ROS-developed robotics application on the International Space Station.

IOP vs. ROS
Mark Mazzara, Robotics Interoperability lead for Department of the Army Systems Coordinator for Robotics, was the third panel member. He said the Army’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle Interoperability Profile, or IOP, is setting the architecture standard and he hopes to see it accepted DOD-wide because “it’s shown to reduce lifecycle costs.”

Addressing Gerkey’s earlier remarks, Mazzara said “ROS is a great thing. The difference between ROS and IOP is IOP is more focused on interoperability between subsystems — which messages flow between them — not the components in the black box,” which can be created using ROS tools and libraries.

Studies have been conducted showing that both ROS and IOP can coexist, and both can be used to ensure the architecture stays open, he added.

A caveat to that, he said, is that IOP is being developed within the U.S. government and is being shared with allies, including NATO. Industries that want to build components for Army robots need them to be IOP-certified.

Mazzara said he can’t predict the future of IOP, and whether or not the government will turn it over to industry, or to a non-profit robotics association that implements standards down the road.

“We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out,” he said.

SMARTER ROBOTS?
Mazzara added more to his thoughts on what the future holds for ground robots.

He thinks that an industry like agriculture could benefit from using some of the same or similar platforms the Army uses. Although the payloads would obviously be very different, a common mobility platform would make a better business case for internal investments, meaning quantity would drive down the cost of production.

The Army is now focused on modularity, ensuring components can be installed and removed in the “plug-and-play” mode that Shyu mentioned earlier, he said. The next phase, which will happen very soon, will focus on interoperability protocols between robots and manned ground vehicles, ground robots to ground robots and ground robots to unmanned aerial systems.

Besides those interoperability requirements, the Army will soon turn its attention to interfacing geospatial data, databases and even cloud computing with the ground robots so they can become smarter and more autonomous.

A key to all this, he said, is to surf the wave, keeping abreast of developments or emerging technologies in the automotive, mobile phone, software, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and robotics industries. These are overlapping technologies that have applicability.

COMBAT PATCHES EARNED
While the panel sees a bright future ahead once a few clouds move away, Shyu pointed to two examples where robots are being used successfully today on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

The Mini-EOD, referred to as “Devil Pup,” can locate, identify and disarm explosives, she said. It’s so small and light that a Soldier can carry it in his or her rucksack on a long foot patrol.

Some 300 of them have been in theater over the last few years, at a cost of $35 million.

“It’s truly saving Soldiers’ lives,” she said. “That’s the power of robotics.”

The other is the six-ton, M160 Anti-personnel Mine Clearance system, which can clear minefields in urban areas and practically any field condition. The M160 has “rendered previously unusable roads functional again,” she said.

Near-term Army plans for robots include replacing the Talon Family of Robots with the Man Transportable Robotics System, or MTRS, a process that will take at least seven years, she said, noting that more than 2, 200 Talons have seen combat service over the past decade, and they’re now past their service life.

Both the Talon and MTRS are tracked vehicles, with the Talon weighing 115 to 140 pounds and the MTRS 164. They can carry a number of payloads used for missions ranging from EOD to surveillance, with MTRS having planned chemical detection capability as well.

Between now and 2021, the existing Talons will get upgraded sensors and payload capacity, as a “bridging strategy” until MTRS can come online, Shyu explained.

Returning to her theme of common architecture, Shyu said MTRS will definitely have a capability so that if a camera, sensor, arm or other component becomes obsolete, a new device can be fitted to its common chassis in a “plug-and-play” fashion.

As it stands now, the MTRS Increment II program will soon conduct an analysis of alternatives, “which will determine the best acquisition strategy to gain cost and performance efficiencies across multiple Army formations,” according to the Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems.

ROBOTS ON THE PROWL
“The future of ground robots depends on their ability to operate in a very diverse and constrained environment,” Shyu said. “Commercial autonomous vehicles today maneuver very well on well-defined roadways, where GPS maps are available.”

However, formations have to navigate through challenging terrain like deserts, unpaved roads, rocky hillsides, jungles, and urban areas, often in adverse weather like snow, ice and sandy deserts with temperatures in the triple digits.

Add to that contested environments where jamming and possible capture are possible.

“Efforts to overcoming these challenges are essential,” Shyu said.

Despite tough fiscal environments, “our robotics industry continues to innovate,” she concluded. “The future for ground robots has absolutely unlimited potential. Opportunities for invention and innovation are limited only by our own creativity and our willingness to take risks and take on new challenges.”

The Army recognizes the value of science and technology efforts going into robotics, she added.

Despite fiscal challenges, the service is “working very hard to protect its S&T portfolio,” she explained. “It used to be the Army’s fourth biggest portfolio behind aviation, mission command and ground combat systems. It’s now the Army’s third biggest portfolio.

“I’m excited to see what academia and industry can bring in terms of innovative solutions to solve some of our most difficult challenges,” Shyu said.

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3D Google smartphones to help NASA robots navigate in space

NASA plans to send Google smartphones with state of the art 3D sensing technology into orbit to use them as eyes and brains for its newest sci-fi inspired machinery. The gadgets will be installed into hovering robots and boost the agency’s Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, otherwise known as SPHERES, on the International Space Station.

NASA hopes that this will allow SPHERES to relieve astronauts of their daily chores and, perhaps, even handle the tricky duties in outer space. New Google smartphones being part of the company’s futuristic Project Tango AD mapping service with the new augmented reality technology are scheduled to be transported on July 11 via a cargo spacecraft.

There, the gadgets will be connected to another visionary technology, SPHERES, inspired by none other than the legendary movie Star Wars where a hovering football-sized robot helps Luke Skywalker practice his Jedi lightsaber skills.

NASA’s SPHERES can navigate because of microgravity in the space station’s interior and microscopic blasts of CO2 that propel the globes around two and a half centimeters per second.

When just sent into orbit in 2006, SPHERES’ functions were limited to slowly moving around the space station, so in 2010 NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View based in California set its engineers with a task to smarten up the robots.

Smart SPHERES project manager Chris Provencher told reporters in an interview that the company “wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors.”

“As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands,” Provencher said. “Let’s just use smartphones.”

As a test drive, the engineers then purchased phones at Best Buy, added extra batteries, built in shatter-proof displays and sent the gadgets to the space station, where astronauts attached the altered phones to SPHERES. This simple manipulation allowed the robots to be more like their sci-fi prototypes, propelling them to the next level of sense and visual capabilities.

However, off-the-rack smartphones were still not enough to allow SPHERES the kind of independence engineers envisioned. This is where NASA turned to Google which just recently developed experimental smartphones that can give “a human-scale understanding of space and motion.”

The phones include batteries tested in space and plastic connectors and were opened in such a way that the sensors and touchscreen face outwards when attached to the SPHERES.

The futuristic Project Tango handsets have an infrared depth sensor and a motion-tracking camera, which will allow to create a 3D map of the station that should help the SPHERES navigate.

“This type of capability is exactly what we need for a robot that’s going to do tasks anywhere inside the space station,” Provencher commented, adding that it “has to have a very robust navigation system.”

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Rights group launches campaign to ban ‘killer robots’

By on Friday, April 26th, 2013

A global rights group launched a campaign on Tuesday to ban Terminator-style “killer robots” amid fears the rise of drone warfare could lead to machines with the power to make their own decisions about killing humans.

Human Rights Watch said it was creating an international coalition to call for a global treaty that would impose a “pre-emptive and comprehensive ban” on artificially intelligent weapons before they are developed.

The New York-based group also warned of a possible “robotic arms race” if even one country took the step to allow such machines to enter service.

“Lethal armed robots that could target and kill without any human intervention should never be built,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, said at the launch in London of the “Campaign To Stop Killer Robots”.

“A human should always be ‘in-the-loop’ when decisions are made on the battlefield.

“Killer robots would cross moral and legal boundaries, and should be rejected as repugnant to the public conscience.”

The campaign includes several non-governmental organisations involved in previous successful efforts to ban anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, and blinding lasers.

Activists wheeled out a home-made robot outside the Houses of Parliament in London for the launch of the campaign.

The United States has led the way in military robots such as the unmanned drone aircraft that carry out attacks and surveillance in countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

According to Britain’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan have killed up to 3,587 people since 2004, up to 884 of them civilians.

But these are controlled by human operators in ground bases and are not able to kill without authorisation.

Recent technical advances will soon allow not only the United States but also countries including China, Israel, Russia, and Britain to move towards fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch warned.

“If one or more country chooses to deploy fully autonomous weapons, others may feel compelled to abandon policies of restraint, leading to a robotic arms race,” it said.

Fully autonomous robots that decide for themselves when to fire could be developed within 20 to 30 years, or “even sooner,” Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School said in a report in November on the same subject.

Raytheon’s Phalanx gun system, deployed on US Navy ships, can search for enemy fire and destroy incoming projectiles all by itself. The X47B is a plane-sized drone able to take off and land on aircraft carriers without a pilot and even refuel in the air.

Perhaps closest to the Terminator-type killing machine portrayed in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action films is a Samsung sentry robot already being used in South Korea, with the ability to spot unusual activity, talk to intruders and, when authorised by a human controller, shoot them.

“Many militaries are pursuing ever-greater autonomy for weaponry, but the line needs to be drawn now on fully autonomous weapons,” Goose said.

“These weapons would take technology a step too far, and a ban is needed urgently before investments, technological momentum, and new military doctrine make it impossible to stop.”

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Army Researchers Link Ground Robots Wirelessly

By on Monday, November 12th, 2012

Four U.S. Army Research Laboratory researchers have developed an algorithm that will make it easier for the Department of Defense to maintain wirelessly networked Army PackBots and other military assets using radio communications.

The team recently demonstrated they could map the region of good connectivity to a radio base station using received signal strength, or RSS.

“We are working on fundamental techniques that employ autonomous agents to maintain connectivity, and continuously provide situational awareness to Soldiers,” said Brian Sadler, Ph.D., of Army Research Laboratory’s Computational and Information Sciences Directorate, in a recent article about the research.

The team has been focused on radio connectivity between robots for nearly two years, he said.

“We can find and explore areas that have high RSS and then map these areas as having the strongest connectivity to the radio base station,” said Jeffrey Twigg, a contract employee with Army Research Laboratory’s Computational and Information Sciences Directorate who was instrumental in this research. “This brings us a step closer to operating autonomous systems in complex and unstructured situations like those Soldiers encounter on the battlefield.”

When the environment is open, communication between autonomous robots is well understood. Indoors however, walls and other sources of interference cause radio propagation to be more complex. This requires the communication strategies used by robotic systems to be more complex, Twigg said.

“Ultimately we want to form building blocks that increase the effectiveness of a networked team of robots in an unknown environment,” Twigg said. “If robots can be programmed to map where there is the potential to communicate inside a building, then Soldiers and other assets can know where in the building they will be able to communicate with a radio base station.”

Efficient Base Station Connectivity Region Discovery by Jeffrey Twigg, Jonathan Fink, Ph.D., Paul Yu, Ph.D., and Brian Sadler, Ph.D., is a project that takes a second step toward a broad understanding of solutions for Army robotics. The study has been submitted for publication by the International Journal of Robotics Research.

The researchers took their findings from earlier research conducted this year to the next level. They combined region decomposition and RSS sampling to form an efficient graph search. The nominal RSS in a sampling region is obtained by averaging local RSS samples to reduce the small scale fading variation.

At this point, the system has been tested in the lab as well as at the urban operations training site at Fort Indiantown Gap.

The algorithm can be used for sensing and collaborative autonomy within the region of base station connectivity, Twigg said.

The Army Research Laboratory researchers first presented the development: RSS Gradient-Assisted Frontier Exploration and Radio Source Localization at the 2012 International Conference on Robotics and Automation in St. Paul, Mn.

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Liquid Robotics Offer Wave Glider Robots to the Military

Liquid Robotics, developer of the Wave Glider autonomous robotic surface platform for ocean surveying is broadening its activity to offer government and military solutions by establishing the new Federal Business unit. The new unit is expected to double the number of employees over the next months, in anticipation to the growing potential and interest from Government agencies. The new unit will also oversee sales to foreign governments, commencing in 2013. The export of the Wave Glider vehicle is not restricted by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), although specific sensors may be limited by the regulation.

Based on positive results from over 130 Wave Gliders already deployed in the oceans, and backed by $22 investment raised in 2011, Liquid Robotics is anticipating a steady growth in the demand for Wave Gliders from the commercial, scientific, military and government sectors. “We are expecting to have a thousand Wave Gliders at sea soon” Grant Palnier, Senior VP at the company’s new Federal Business Unit told Defense Update. The military is part of this vision. Naval applications could utilize constellations of Wave Glider based sensors that could deploy into an area of operation on their own power, by motherships or submarines. Future versions could also be air-dropped from aircraft for quick reaction. Typical missions could range from anti-submarine and counter-mine operations, to persistent surveillance of strategic hotspots in littoral areas.

Wave Glider autonomous sensor platforms can deploy in constellations, moving on on their own power to their assigned area of operation or delivered by motherships. Photo: Liquid Robotics

The military variant will be based on the same propulsion principle of the Wave Glider, with specific customization for the military. Liquid Robotics is designing a modular version dubbed ‘Integrator’ which will be customized for such uses. An application currently under evaluation is the replacement or augmentation of smart buoys dropped by surveillance aircraft or vessels. The new robot offers a cost effective alternative to high end sonobuoys dropped by aircraft, or survey ships that cost tens of thousands a day to operate*. Communications gateway is another likely application, with the floating robot providing a covert link to and from submerged submarines, employing the Wave Glider’s integral acoustic/satellite relay.

“The system already has very low radar reflection, and can be designed to further reduce its reflective and electromagnetic signature, or even be submerged for short periods to mask its presence” said Grant Palnier, Other applications could be customized for littoral and homeland security missions, providing persistent surveillance at sea, supporting port, coastal or offshore installation security, as well as anti-mine and anti-torpedo defense. On such missions Wave Glider robots could carry radar, RF, visual and acoustic sensing integrated with Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) to perform target detection, identification and tracking. According to Palnier, these ‘Picket Fencing’ Wave Gliders are already tasked with such missions, operating as an integral part of the San Diego harbor security.

Wave Glider is an autonomous robotic surface platform propelled by wave power and powered by solar energy. “The robot can operate on extended, continuous missions at sea lasting for years, it has demonstrated station keeping over 21 day period, maintaining position within 40 meters of the designated point at sea” said Graham Hine, VP Product management at Liquid Robotics. The robot comprises two parts interconnected through an umbilical cable. The upper floating board is the surface segment, providing connectivity, and navigation (GPS) support. The submerged glider is tethered about seven meters below the platform. Its keel structure carries a rudder and a set of wings, converting the vertical movement generated by the waves into forward thrust.

The Wave Glider comprises two separate platforms, floating and submerged, coupled by an umbilical cable. The photo shows the submerged element with keel and wave-propulsive wings. Photo: Liquid Robotics

Sensors and payloads can be mounted on both sections, below and above water. According to Hine, the system has 100 lbs of reserve buoyancy for additional payloads, which can use the 5-10 watts/day available to sensors (depending on the geographical location, season and weather conditions). The floating board is covered by two redundant solar powers recharging a battery storing 660 watts, sustaining power sustaining the vehicle for up to 10 days of continuous operations under degraded lighting conditions (such as heavy storms).

Hine said the platform can be scaled up or down to support different applications beyond the current dimensions. Wave Glider has also demonstrated it can withstand high storms or flat sea, maintaining position as planned. In fact, by autumn 2012 it is expected to deploy in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, monitoring hurricanes at sea.

The platform carries an array of surface, underwater sensors and communications systems. The upper side mounts the solar panels, weather sensor mast and camera, wave sensor, GPS receiver, Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Iridium satellite communications link. Other sensors are mounted underneath the platform, including an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) sonar, acoustic modem and video camera. Sensors mounted on the submerged keel measure conductivity (water salinity), temperature and fluorescence. A towed hydrophone is also connected to the keel, picking signals remotely from the vessel to minimize parasitic noise.

The Wave Glider idea was launched in 2005 as a sensor designed to listen and record the songs of humpback wales off the Hawaiian coast. In 2009 the system was first tested in marine mammals tracking, using towed High Frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP). A year later, Wave Gliders were first used by the Navy Research Laboratory (NRL) monitoring environmental compliance in and around coastal test ranges along Hawaii and the California coastline. Naval evaluations have also determined the performance of the Wave Glider’s HARP were comparable to fixed bottom sensors used for similar applications. Few months later Wave Glider was recruited again, this time by oil giant BP, to monitor the recovery of ocean wildlife and around its oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico following the disastrous oil spill there. In 2011 the company received an investment of $22 million and, as part of its expansion into strategic markets, the company joined with Schlumberger, a major technology supplier to the oil & gas market and an early investor in Liquid Robotics, to form a Joint Venture company to focus on offshore oil & gas applications it already offers BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the pioneers of Wave Glider users is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL). The lab became the first government customer for the new robot, recognizing the cost efficiency derived by the robot, as an alternative to survey ships deploying buoys. For its oceanographic survey missions PMEL was required to spend up to $40,000 per day for research vessels, the new robot offered an attractive alternative for an investment of less than $250,000 per unit, for practically an unlimited operational use, independent on season or sea condition. Further deployments are expected soon in Europe and Australia, as part of the company’s international expansion. Four robots are currently crossing the Pacific Ocean on a year-long voyage from San Francisco to Japan. (http://liquidr.com/pacx/).

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Home Robots Help iRobot Offset Declining Sales of Military Robots

The steadily increasing sales and global reach of iRobot’s Home Robot business enables the company to “substantially offset the continuing impact of U.S. government funding on our Defense & Security business”  Colin Angle, chairman and chief executive officer of iRobot said, adding this civil/military balance enables his company to remain on track to meet its revenue and increase profit expectations for fiscal year 2012.

He said the company has been awarded recently three new contracts totaling approximately $27 million for SUGV and PackBot robots, spares and software upgrades. However, U.S. government funding and program delays, continue to negatively impact the company’s Defense & Security business unit. “We have reflected that impact in our lower full-year expectations for this business unit” Colin added.

iRobot reported today its revenue for the second quarter of 2012 was $111.4 million, compared with $108.1 million for the same quarter one year ago. Net income in this period was $7.4 million, compared with $8.0 million a year ago.

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