Around the world in eighty drones: #3 – Shanghai, China

One of China’s biggest and most high-profile cities, Shanghai is a sprawling metropolis that is home to 24 million people.

This video by photographer and digital media artist Rob Antill shows an array of drone-shot aerial views of the city, from the famous skyline to the more unknown residential areas.

Shot on a DJI Phantom 1, Zenmuse H3-3D and GoPro3, the video makes use of come cool editing techniques and an awesome soundtrack to create an almost ethereal view of the city.

Better booze with bots: Vineyard-managing robot to boost wine production

Vineyards aren’t traditionally the most high-tech of places, but that may soon change with the development of VineRobot, a robot designed to roll around vineyards keeping tabs on grape quality.

The brainchild of a European research consortium made up of universities in wine-producing regions of Italy, Spain, France and Germany, VineRobot is intended not as a replacement for humans, but as a form of mobile analytics.

The robot, which resembles an off-road trailer, is armed with an array of non-invasive sensors and programmed with artificial intelligence to capture and process insightful data about the vineyard and its produce.

It is designed to autonomously move around the vineyard, collecting data for analysis at the grower’s leisure.

Among the information the robot can glean is data about the vines’ vegetative growth, production, water status and grape composition.

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However, the true value for vineyard owners and winemakers is how simply the data can be interpreted.

The vast amounts of information captured are represented in simple map form and can be wirelessly transmitted for further analysis – options that are designed to make the robot easy to start using.

However, there is some way to go before robot-managed Rioja hits our shelves. The project, which has received €2m in funding, has a scheduled completion date in 2016, before which there is much work to do.

The VineRobot prototype has been working for the last year, during which the researchers have ironed out mobility issues and improved its ability to scale slopes covered in weeds.

Now the researchers are working to perfect navigation in between rows of vines – a challenge particular to vineyards – using stereoscopic vision. While the robot can move fairly well at present, an accidental collision with premium grapes could be pretty costly, so it is imperative that researchers get this right.

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Robots are one of a number of technologies finding their way into farming, with fertiliser-monitoring drones among the others.

The industry has been keen to embrace new technology, partly because of its ability to improve production and therefore business.

Writing in Spanish, VineRobot creators Javier Tardáguila, project coordinator and researcher at the University of La Rioja, and Francisco Rovira, researcher Agricultural Robotics Laboratory of the UPV explained: “Robotics and precision agriculture provide producers with powerful tools for improving the competitiveness of their farms.

“Robots like the one developed in this project will not replace the grower, but what they will do is make your job easier, avoiding the hardest part in the field.”

However, the use of technology is also proving to be an excellent tool to attract younger people to the field.

Farming has long had an old-fashioned image, resulting in a lack of younger farmers in many industrialised countries.

But the job description has now changed, as farming is becoming a role where you can work with drones and robots, and keep track of your herd with a smartphone app.


 Images courtesy of RUVID.


 

Company interest in open sourcing is on the up, thanks in part to Tesla Motors. We speak to Wevolver to learn more about the mission to make hardware easy to download and make

More companies than ever before are likely to open themselves, their technologies and their patents up to the public in the next 10 years.

The trend, which was popularised by Tesla Motors, is set to be embraced by companies due to the potential benefits for research and development.

“I definitely think companies are going to open up parts, and even big companies who have thousands of patents on the shelf which they don’t use, they will slowly sometimes open them up so people can start doing stuff with them and they just stay involved with it,” said Richard Hulskes, an entrepreneur from Amsterdam, who is trying to open up technology to as many people as possible.

Hulskes runs Wevolver, a project that’s trying to open source technology so that it is more accessible to everyone.

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In just a few clicks you can download the files to create a Segway, a drone, Ultimaker’s 3D printer and 3D printing files for more than one robot.

The site is currently in its beta stage, but has had more than 200 open source projects submitted to it so far. Not all are available for download yet, however, as Hulskes and his growing team are keen to ensure that the proper documentation is available for every project.

While the projects that are being submitted to Wevolver are mostly created by individuals, Hulskes said the open source movement will encourage established companies to make their products available.

“You’re going to have this clash, probably,” he said.

“There are companies who will be closed for a long time to come; probably the best example will probably be Apple, but there will be companies and you’re already see it that will start opening up parts of their product.”

It’s not a fruitless prediction either, as last year Elon Musk opened up all of Tesla’s patents “in the spirit of the open source movement”.

In a blog post in June the PayPal creator said that patenting technology has become dated: “maybe they were god long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”

This is the attitude that led Hulskes to create the platform for those to share open source technology.

Wevolver is focusing on the open sourcing of hardware rather than software, but the latter is growing at equally fast rates with giants such a Microsoft, and even Apple, working with open source software.

There are companies who will be closed for a long time to come; the best example will probably be Apple

For hardware, he said that the feedback of others is a big part of the development process and Wevolver allows the creators to re-upload the projects they have worked on and made changes to.

So, if you download and 3D print a robotic hand but find a problem with it, you can fix it and re-upload it. Or, if you want to change the hand to be able to perform a different task you can also do this.

There’s also no reason why this can’t work with companies who want to develop their own creations and use the hivemind of those who are experts but not employed to work for the company.

As Hulskes puts it, “you will get this whole research and development department for free around your product”.

Musk also reflected this sentiment when he said “applying the open source philosophy to our patents” would increase the quality of engineers Tesla could attract.

While it is important to make as much technology available to as many people as possible, the open source movement becomes truly exciting when it makes visible the impact it can have on people’s lives.

Wevolver’s most prolific project to date shows how those in the open source movement combine technologies and ideas to advance learning and also help individuals.

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Images courtesy of Wevolver.

The Inmoov robot, which can be 3D printed but has no legs (yet), has been combined with the open source Segway to create a movable robot.

Under the banner of ‘Robots for Good’ a fully assembled robot, combined with an Oculus Rift, is going to be used to allow children in London’s Great Ormond Street hospital to explore the city’s zoo without having to leave their hospital room.

What makes it more innovative is that other school children from London will be creating the robot after downloading the files and instructions from Wevolver.

Since the project was announced Hulskes said there has been interest to replicate the robot from Brazil, the US and more.

“It will be really cool if we get these robots across he globe as the kids in London can log in in New York, or they can login in Brazil and see the zoo there.”

The robot also has potential for bigger steps and achievements. “The next step would be connecting the whole project to disabled people so they can they can even go and walk on the streets. So that is the long-term vision.”

As leaders of big corporations sitting on thousands of patents see what individuals and makers can do with their technology, the willingness to open up will increase.

For this realisation to happen, however, there need to be more projects like Robots for Good, and more options to download and create technology.