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Japan has endured a major economic slump in recent years, but the country's robotics industry is rebounding as new research funds are becoming available. The Japanese government reportedly wants to utilize more than 30 million SoftBank "Pepper" humanoid robots able to help greet customers in stores, direct guests in hotels, and other unique interactions with regular people.
Robots, especially humanoids, have a unique ability to not only serve a role in factories and production facilities, but interact with the general public.
"The companies that want to use these kinds of robots are increasing rapidly, so these humanoid robots will keep evolving, become faster and even more efficient," said Toshifum Tsuji, manager of Nextage, which is using robots in its factory outside of Tokyo. "The robots have cameras and they can find defects which are hard to find for humans. I think they are helping us make better products."
The Microsoft Silicon Valley campus located in Mountain View, California, is now being patrolled by Knightscope's K5 security guard robot. The 5-foot-tall, 300-pound robots are designed to keep company property and visitors safe, while helping augment security personnel.
The K5 is an "autonomous data machine" that has a "commanding but friendly physical presence," including multiple HD cameras, license plate reader, multiple microphones, alarms, weather sensors, Wi-Fi, sirens and GPS - and they can alert human security guards if an incident is occurring.
It's unknown what other companies are interested in leasing K5 to patrol their campuses, malls, and parking lots - but should garner interest in the future.
The use of military attack drones were pitched to US citizens as a way to launch organized airstrikes against specific targets, while also keeping US military personnel out of harm's way. However, the collateral damage - and accidental bombing due to poor military intelligence - has killed 1,147 people while the military targeted just 41 men, according to human rights groups.
Drone strikes against 24 targets in Pakistan, for example, have led to 874 deaths, with multiple unsuccessful strikes only lead to even more strikes. US Secretary of State John Kerry previously said the CIA and military only launch drone strikes against targets that have been vetted over a period of time, though cases of mistaken identity appear to be increasing as well.
"Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they're 'precise,'" but they are only as precise at the intelligence that feeds them," according to Jennifer Gibson, US attorney and Reprieve staff member. "There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every 'bad guy' the US goes after."
The use of mini-drones has captured the attention of military contractors, but have great potential in the private world and commercial industry.
It wasn't too long ago when drones in the private sector were extremely expensive, but as technological advances develop, the overall price is continuing to drop. In addition, there is a booming private sector dedicated to the design and sale of drones that can be easily flown by citizens. In the future, drones will continue to expand away outside of military and government use, and will develop even further among private citizens.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently drafting guidelines that will outline private drone use - but until then - the market is still essentially a new-age version of the wild west.
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is trying to attract new customers willing to launch commercial flights from Spaceport America, but those efforts hit a bump in the road when Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suffered a "serious anomaly" that left one test pilot dead. With the Virgin Galactic flights delayed, New Mexico could lose up to $1.7 million per year, as authority officials try to find new temporary revenue streams.
Leasing the facility for outside functions such as photo and video shoots, fashion shows and similar activities will help ease the financial bleeding - but the true benefit could be from UP Aerospace and other future rocket launches. SpaceX's tests of a reusable rocket is expected to begin in spring 2015, which will add much-needed revenue.
The State of New Mexico has invested almost $220 million into space tourism, but lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the state's investment.
Kohler, a well-known manufacturer of bathroom and kitchen products, has introduced the new Purefresh deodorizing toilet seat that can kill certain bathroom smells that most people want to hide. The battery-operated toilet seat has a $90 price tag and is able to intake air and pass it through an odor-eating carbon filter - and an optional scent pack.
The toilet seats were launched on Nov. 10, just in time to put under the Christmas tree, with carbon filters available for $6.99. The carbon filters and two D batteries required to operate the toilet seat should be able to last up to six months.
Not surprisingly, trying to develop an appealing odor-eating toilet seat isn't anything new, and it has been done before. Brondell launched a similar no-odor toilet seat, but it was pulled from the market after about five years.
The University of California at Berkeley demonstrated the PR2 robot in 2010, a robot designed to help take care of laundry -and the research is advancing nicely. During the demonstration four years ago, it took the robot around 20 minutes per towel, but it continues to speed up as research developments mature.
A large portion of the overlooked and mundane steps that can be easily done by humans, however, has proven to be difficult to assign for PR2. Steps ranging from locating dirty laundry and picking it up to transporting the laundry to the washer, putting in detergent and then placing the clothes into the dryer are difficult.
In Japan, where an aging population needs assistance as the age gap widens, Japanese researchers are developing robots designed to aid in daily chores and activities.
The US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) is working on a pocket-sized drone that can fly for 20 minutes, giving ground troops real-time video of the surrounding area. Soldiers would be able to easily carry the drone as part of the Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CP-ISR) program.
Soldiers in the UK have tested the PD-100 Black Hornet palm-sized helicopter, manufactured by Prox Dynamics, and similar drone technologies would be able to benefit US soldiers. Besides the extremely small size of the drone, being able to transmit footage directly to ground soldiers would be extremely beneficial.
"The Cargo Pocket ISR is a true example of an applied systems approach for developing new Soldier capabilities," said Dr. Laurel Allender, NSRDEC acting technical director recently said. "It provides an integrated capability for the Soldier and small unit for increased situational awareness and understanding with negligible impact on Soldier load and agility."
Using 3D printing technology to create replicas of the human heart presents the opportunity to save babies' lives, according to a new study submitted to the American Heart Association. Surgeons have the ability to better treat congenital heart defects, while also being able to strategize where they cut tissue and make other improvements.
The ability to 3D print hearts gives surgeons the opportunity to prepare prior to surgery, but it's unsure if heart replicas will help increase success from surgical outcomes. A clinical trial would give medical experts the chance to work on enough cases to see how 3D-printed hearts could help, especially among young children with complicated heart defects.
"From the first two cases straight out of the gate, we've had this dramatic impact," said Dr. Matthew Bramlet, pediatric cardiologist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Children's Hospital of Illinois and study co-author.
Lockheed Martin is promoting its helicopter drone, the K-MAX, as a potential asset to help fight wildfires, helping protect firefighters and pilots. The K-MAX can fly in tandem with the four-pound Indago drone that is used as a fire scout, while the firefighting drone dropped 12 tons of water in one hour.
The K-MAX has the ability to lift and transport up to 6,000 lbs. of cargo while at sea level, or more than 4,000 lbs. while flying at 15,000 ft. density altitude. The helicopter has more than 750 hours of autonomous flight since live testing began in 2007, Lockheed Martin reported.
"The FAA would designate the airspace in the vicinity of the fire area as restricted airspace," said Keith Little, Lockheed spokesman. "We would coordinate with the FAA prior to any actual usage regarding obtaining COA (Certificates of Waiver or Authorization) approval for K-MAX that would allow a quick approval for use of K-Max in support of firefighting operations in the designated restricted area."