TIAGo to the rescue: how robots can help an ageing society

Cockpit

This May, for a period of three weeks, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting two fellow roboticists, Guido van der Hart and Nicky Mol, from one of our partner companies based in the Netherlands: Heemskerk Innovative Technology (HIT).

Helping maintain independence

Over at HIT, Guido and Nicky keep themselves busy by trying to anticipate some of the problems that will arise as a result of the aging of western societies. One of the issues they foresee is that as our populations age, there will be fewer health care workers to care for a larger group of patients.

Deploying service robots, like TIAGo, that can perform simple manipulation, cleaning or logistics tasks can alleviate the workload of care professionals, allowing them to focus on their primary task of care-giving. Importantly, this may also allow patients to maintain a greater degree of autonomy and independence in their day-to-day lives, leading to reduced frequency and duration of hospitalization.

Working towards semi-automation

Due to the nature of the environments the robots have to operate in, achieving full automation in the healthcare industry, is incredibly complex. In order to accelerate the deployment of robots in hospitals and homes, HIT is therefore working on the near-term implementation of semi-autonomous robots.

To be classed as semi-autonomous, robots have to be aware of their capabilities and, in particular, of the actions they’re not able to perform without assistance. When autonomous capabilities fall short, the robot would need to inform an operator located at a global control centre. It is envisioned that in such a control centre, multiple operators could be monitoring and assisting hundreds of robots all around the world.

Enabling remote control

In order to work towards this goal, an early prototype of TIAGo was shipped to the Netherlands, where a team of HIT engineers have been developing a cockpit interface to remotely control the robot online, from anywhere in the world. The recent addition of a screen and microphone to the prototype will enable an operator to communicate with patients at the remote location.

Because TIAGo is equipped with a force/torque sensor on its wrist, the forces that are encountered upon interaction with the remote environment can be presented to the operator through a joystick that is able to display forces. In this way, the operator can actually feel what he is doing, which is incredibly useful when performing tasks that require contact with the environment.

Navigating time delays

One of the main technological challenges the team encountered was keeping the system stable in the presence of time-delays that occur when controlling the robot online. When a robot encounters its environment, a chain reaction of delayed impact forces cause the operator to bounce off the environment. Not only does this make the robot very hard to control, but it can also cause damage both to the robot and the objects around it.

During the time they spent working with the prototype of TIAGo, the team at HIT managed to implement a clever control method to resolve these challenges. We will go into more detail in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned!

Success!

During their stay, Guido and Nicky were able to get their cockpit operational on the newest version of TIAGo. They also managed to perform a series of manipulation tasks while remotely operating the robot.

Having successfully demonstrated their work and traded knowledge with our software developers and engineers, they will now return to the Netherlands to continue developing their technology. Maybe, one day, there will be TIAGos helping people in need all around the world…

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ERL tournament: TIAGo Steel robots for loan

We’re incredibly excited to announce the call for loan of three TIAGo Steel robots to teams who want to enter the ERL Service Robots 2017 tournament. We will also give one additional robot for free to the team we believe shows exceptional quality of expertise and degree of innovation in their application paper and simulation test.

The deadline for applicaTIAGo Steeltions is 15 June, and the teams to be granted loan equipment will be announced on PAL Robotics’ website by the end of the month. The robots will be available for collection by mid-July 2017 and will cost €650 per month, plus tax.

If you have any questions about the application process, terms and conditions or capabilities of TIAGo, please email: tiago@pal-robotics.com

What is the ERL Service Robots tournament?

The ERL Service Robots tournament is one of three organized by the European Robotics League (ERL) to address the societal challenge of an aging population, strengthen the European robotics industry and push the ‘state of the art’ in autonomous systems for emergency response.

The tournament is made up of a series of competitions that take place across Europe. One competition will be organized by us, held in Barcelona during European Robotics Week, 20-26 November 2017. If any of the teams would like to compete in this tournament, we will provide a free TIAGo for them to use during the competition.

What is the application process?

Potential teams must send an application paper to tiago@pal-robotics.com (PDF preferred) by 15 June 2017. The paper must contain the following:

  • Team leader’s contact information. For university teams, contact information of an academic supervisor should also be provided.
  • CVs (max. 1 page) for each team member.
  • Financial Summary (max. 1 page on income and expenditure).
  • Executive Summary (max. 1 page).
  • Description of the motivations leading the team to ask for the loan.
  • Max 2 page description of the team’s specialties and expertise (past achievements, research projects, etc.), and/or videos of the team’s achievements (using real robots or simulators).
  • Details of which scenarios the team plans to participate in, how they will complete the different tasks and the intended algorithms that will be used.

What is the judging criteria?

The teams will be selected based on the quality of their application paper (quality and degree of innovation of the proposed algorithms, expertise of the teams, etc.). Teams must demonstrate a minimum experience with ROS middleware, and might also be asked to complete a simple simulation test with TIAGo.

We especially encourages teams with previous experience in robotics to apply. These teams will have to prove their capabilities in autonomous navigation and control.

Why TIAGo?

TIAGo Steel

TIAGo Steel is a mobile-manipulator with a 54 cm footprint, 3kg payload arm and 14 degrees of freedom (DoF). The platform uses standard open interfaces (ROS), has one day endurance, a high degree of modular flexibility and can be programmed remotely.

We’re offering this platform because its autonomous navigation, manipulation and perception abilities make it perfect for research into new robotic applications in the service sector. As it is a robust and reliable platform, we hope teams will be able to focus on the robot’s cognition, intelligence and autonomy, rather than engineering issues.

For full specifications, please email tiago@pal-robotics.com.

What are the conditions of the loan?

Rent will be €650 euros a month, excluding taxes, and the rental fee will be taken off the cost of a new TIAGo Steel (€49.900) if the teams wish to buy the platform at the end of the project. PAL Robotics will also provide a TIAGo to the four competing teams at the local Barcelona ERL Service Robots tournament, to prevent expenses and issues that might arise during transportation.  

Once the team has been selected, a loan contract will be signed stipulating that the end-user will accept full responsibility for returning the items in good condition at the end of the competition, or upon the request of PAL Robotics. As a result, it is mandatory that the end-user obtains insurance to cover damage or loss of the equipment.

Furthermore, the end-user commits to rent the robot for at least three months and to participate in the ERL Service Robots tournament in Barcelona.

All that’s left to say is… good luck!

If you have any questions, just shoot us an email – tiago@pal-robotics.com.

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Five minutes with NASA Space Robotics Challenge finalists, Team Olympus Mons

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In a galaxy far, far away (PAL Robotics’ office), a team of engineers have been dealing with the aftermath of a dust storm on Mars… There’s never a dull moment here at PAL, and now aligning the orientation of a communications dish, deploying a new solar panel and fixing a leak in a Martian habitat can be added to the team’s ever growing list of skills.

A team of current and former PAL Robotics’ employees have somehow found the time to enter NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge – and after undertaking a series of challenging preliminary rounds, they’re now one of the 20 finalists. With little experience of NASA’s software, and up against 91 other teams comprised of some of the brightest minds in academia, industry and government from around the world, reaching the finals in January was a huge achievement in itself.

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The final competition will be held in a virtual environment that’s built to represent life on Mars, and teams must program a virtual robot, modeled after NASA’s humanoid Robonaut 5 (R5), to complete a series of tasks in a simulation. With only a month left to go, the team are working nights and weekends to complete the three challenges ahead of June 11.

You can follow their progress on Twitter.

We managed to grab five minutes with team lead, Victor Lopez, who filled us in on some of the highlights and challenges of the team’s foray into space.

  1. Why did you decide to get involved?

We’re all hugely passionate about robotics, so any chance to try new skills and use new software is massively exciting. The competition has also been a great learning experience because it has given team members a chance to work on issues (ie navigation, walking or grasping) that’s outside of their usual remit. We’re all geeks! So in many ways, this is the challenge of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want to enter a competition run by NASA?

  1. Why is your team called OlympusMons?

Although we’re all current and former PAL Robotics employees, we’re now working in a wide variety of companies and backgrounds, so we wanted something neutral – and space related, of course! Olympus Mons is the highest volcano on Mars and the largest in the solar system. It is two and a half times the size of Everest (above sea level), which we felt was a very appropriate name as it often feels like a mountain of a challenge!

  1. What’s been your favourite moment so far?

Every time we reach a key milestone on a task it’s an exciting moment, as we’re one step closer to being able to successfully complete all three. But the moment we found out we’d qualified for the finals was particularly special – we hadn’t used R5’s software before, so we’re really proud to have got through to this stage. Our team is split into small groups, each working on a specific task or element, and it’s also been great to catch up with old friends and continue collaborating together.

  1. And the biggest challenge?

In order to simulate a realistic environment, NASA have added a 20 second delay to all communications – both to the robot and back to us – which makes everything harder to control. If the robot falls or performs an unexpected action, we won’t know until 20 seconds later. As a result, we’ve had to give the robot a great deal of autonomy and plan for all eventualities!

Because we’re not allowed to run our own ROS controllers on the robot, another big challenge has been to adapt the software we run on TALOS and REEM-C to go through the R5’s controllers. Learning how to use different tools and systems has definitely pushed us outside our comfort zones.

  1. What are the next milestones?

During the first week of June, we’ll have the opportunity to practice on the simulation. The final competition is the following week, so hopefully everything goes to plan or you will see some very tired, coffee-fueled PAL employees at the beginning of June! We have our own Twitter account, so keep an eye on our feed for OlympusMons’ news over the next few weeks.

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Letting TIAGo loose in The Hague for RoboBusiness

From kilts to clogs, TIAGo certainly seems to be living it large in 2017! We had a great time at RoboBusiness (thank you RoboValley for the kind invitation), and we’re very excited to see what lies in store over the coming months and years for the newly merged RoboBusiness and TUS Expo.

Factory in a Day

TIAGo wasted no time collecting Factory in a Day’s lego bag and proudly parading it around the RoboBusiness conference hall! A lively lego competition later ensued in the PAL Robotics office (winners still to be announced).

Part funded by RoboBusinessthe EU, Factory in a Day aims to improve the competitiveness of European manufacturing SMEs by removing the primary obstacle for robot automation: installation time and cost. The project, which finishes in September 2017, has been making huge strides towards its aim of reducing system integration time to just one day over the last four years, and we are proud to be a partner.

Robotics and healthcare

Robotics is starting to play an increasingly important role in the healthcare industry, and several of the European projects we’re involved in are rooted in healthcare.

EnrichMe is hoping to improve the quality of life for older people by means of technologies that enable independent health monitoring, complementary care and social support.

GrowmeUp is looking at ways to provide an affordable robotic system that can learn older peoples’ needs and habits over time – as their abilities and capabilities degenerate – so they’re able to maintain active, independent lives for longer.

RooboBusiness

Our CEO, Francesco Ferro, spoke in a panel on the subject with some of the most prominent roboticists in Europe: Maja Rudinac from Robotic Care Systems, Joris Jaspers from UMC Utrecht, Ivo Broeders from the Meander Medical Centrum at the University of Twente and Marcelo Ang, National University of Singapore. The discussion was well attended and thought provoking.

 

Making new friends (and catching up with old ones)

TIAGo never fails to make new friends at events, and RoboBusiness could well be the robot’s new personal record.

RoboBusiness

First up was local Dutch politician Thierry Baudet. Newly elected to the House of Representatives in The Hague, Baudet took a brief break from political duties to visit RoboBusiness – and particularly enjoyed learning about our robots’ capabilities and potential use cases. (Photo: Hucopix.com)

 

 

RoboBusinessAlthough TIAGo managed to acquire lego from Factory in a Day and even persuaded the nice humans at Droneland to practice their drone landing skills, the robot was unable to convince Tesla to lend PAL Robotics a new car – not even for a test drive around the World Forum conference centre!

 

We also buRoboBusinessmped into old friends Harmonic Drive, manufacturers of robotic reducers, who we’ve collaborated with over the years to make some of the most advanced robotic arms in the world (including TIAGo’s!). 

 

All in all, it was another great event for TIAGo and the PAL team. Thank you to everyone who came to visit our stand, and particularly to RoboValley for hosting us.

Next stop: Singapore.

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Ethics in robotics: an interview with Dr. Michael Anderson

Dr. Michael Anderson, from the University of Hartford, researches the principles and practices that inform the ethical behavior of autonomous systems. He is using our mobile manipulator TIAGo to undertake research involving machine ethics, and to develop and test some of his ethical theories.

Learning to trust Artificial Intelligence

“Artificial Intelligence might serve as a backup of human intelligence when Earth comes to its ultimate demise,” Dr. Anderson argues.

Technology might help us preserve something that has taken billions of years of natural design to achieve and may even turn out to be unique in the universe.

To garner trust in Artificial Intelligence, and thus permit its continued development, ethical values must be incorporated within artificially intelligent agents.

Incorporating ethical principles in limited domains

“We build principles, ethical principles that drive a robot’s behavior.”

Dr. Anderson says that incorporation of such principles in fully autonomous robots functioning within an unconstrained world present a very complicated problem, and suggests that we begin our efforts in simpler domains.

Currently, robots are being constructed to take part in limited domains, such as taking care of the elderly or taking inventory inside stores. These contexts are composed of a limited collection of actions and ethical duties, making it easier for the robot to take decisions.

The role of machine learning

“When ethicists discuss certain specific cases there’s often agreement. We use those cases to learn what the principles are underneath that agreement.”

Dr. Anderson gives an example: “Imagine that a robot has to charge, and at the same time someone asks it to play ball, or deliver a medicine that would prevent a great deal of harm to a person.

Every action that the robot takes satisfies or violates a collection of ethical duties. The robot would need to consider: what are the duties involved?”

Dr. Anderson and his team use machine learning to take the cases in which ethicists agree, analyze how these duties are balanced and then use the resulting abstractions to decide the ethically correct action to take in each situation.

The prima facie duty approach to ethics

Dr Anderson’s method is far from Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”.

“Although the Asimov’s Laws themselves may hold some validity, they are represented as a hierarchy where the first law is always the most important. Furthermore, it is not clear that the duties represented by these laws are complete.

We use instead what is called the prima facie duty approach to ethics, where there is no one duty that always overtakes any other, since there are situations in which another duty might take precedence. Any number of duties can be equally taken into consideration.”

Setting ethical limits

Where should ethical limits lie for robots? Dr. Anderson asserts that robots should only appear in situations where there is agreement on the ethics involved.

“You should not put a robot in a situation in which the ethics are not yet clear. If we don’t understand the ethics involved, a robot should not be there – the ethics should come first.”

More details of Dr. Anderson’s research can be found on his website.

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#ERF2017: Scottish sightseeing, an exciting announcement and TIAGo in a kilt…

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From 22nd – 24th March, over 800 researchers, engineers and robots descended on Edinburgh for the European Robotics Forum (ERF). One of the most exciting events in our robots’ calendars, this year TIAGo and REEM-C, along with some of the PAL Robotics team, were lucky enough to attend.

European collaboration

ERF is an important meeting point for universities and industrial partners involved in ongoing European projects, as well as future proposals, and this year saw a record number of attendees. The number of participants from industry has increased year-on-year, highlighting the growing importance of robotics in providing efficient, successful and innovative commercial and public services.

Here at PAL Robotics, we’re involved in a number of exciting European projects, including Enrichme, Co4Robots, RobMoSys, and GrowMeUp, and ERF was the perfect opportunity to catch-up with our collaborators and share the latest developments and insights.

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Mainly work, a little play

The team wasted no time getting into the Scottish spirit. While the humans spent their free time taking in the sights (the weather was perfect!), TIAGo took the opportunity to wizz around the venue in a traditional Scottish kilt… Not normally one to dress up, everyone agreed TIAGo suited tartan.

Throughout the three days, workshops were held on a wide range of topics, including AI, regulation, Human-Robot Interaction and use of robotics in industries ranging from logistics and healthcare to disaster response and agriculture. Discussions were dynamic and collaborative, and they certainly got the PAL Robotics team thinking!

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The European Robotics League

Without a doubt, the team’s personal highlight was the opportunity to announce our sponsorship of the European Robotics League (ERL) - Service Robotics over dinner at the National Museum of Scotland. As a sponsor, we’re offering a limited amount of TIAGo robots at a reduced price under a rental scheme for those who want to compete. PAL Robotics will also hold one of the local tournaments for the ERL – Service Robotics in Barcelona, Spain.  We will make the full details publicly available within the next weeks.

Fully customizable and adaptable, the platform’s perception, navigation and manipulation skills make it perfect for use in the ERL Service Robots tournament. If you’d like more information on TIAGo’s capabilities and uses, please do get in touch.

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Did you miss us at ERF?

Having just got back from a very busy few days, TIAGo, REEM-C and the PAL Robotics team are taking a well-earned break back at our office in Barcelona. There’s no rest for the wicked, however! We’ve got a whole host of events coming up in the next few weeks, including Advanced Factories in Barcelona and ICRA 2017 in Singapore.

If you’d like to know when and where you can meet and interact with our robots, just send an email to marketing@pal-robotics.com. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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The humanoid robot TALOS has been officially presented at LAAS-CNRS (Toulouse, France)

This Thursday TALOS robot made the first steps towards the future! The high-performance humanoid robot developed by PAL Robotics has been officially presented at the LAAS-CNRS in Toulouse (France). A first demonstration of capabilities such as walking, grasping advanced control took place at the leading French research institution.

This is the first platform of the TALOS robot series from PAL Robotics, and is named PYRENE. It will be used by the LAAS-CNRS’ Gepetto team to perform research about navigation, anthropomorphic movements and interaction with the environment. The mission is to put TALOS in a new concept of factory, in which can take part in tasks that are physically demanding or performed in hostile conditions for humans.

The following developments that Gepetto team will make with PYRENE consist on making the robot walk in accidented surfaces, lift heavy weights and improve its interactions to be safe and efficient. PAL Robotics designed TALOS to become the next generation of humanoid robots by integrating advanced electronics and sensors on the inside.

TALOS is fully torque control, which is enabled by torque sensors in all its joints and, in the end, makes the robot suitable for safe Human-Robot Interactions. This is also enhanced with EtherCAT communications, a system that makes its data network faster (its control loop running at least at 1KHz) and facilitates fast reactions to any external force.

TALOs Robot

The PAL Robotics’ humanoid robot can also walk dynamically at a maximum speed of 3Km/h. Its 7-DoF arms have a 6Kg payload each with the arm stretched, being able to nimbly use heavy industrial tools. TALOS’ software is 100% ROS capable, like all the other robots of the PAL Robotics’ family.

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Merry Robotic Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Robotic Christmas and a Happy New Year 2017 from PAL Robotics’ robots and team!

Robotic merry Christmas

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TIAGo ROS Simulation Tutorial 2 – Autonomous robot navigation

The second pack of open-source ROS tutorials for TIAGo’s simulation in Gazebo enables the robot to navigate autonomously in indoor spaces. Learn how to create a map with gmapping, localize itself in the space and do path planning avoiding obstacles in real time with the TIAGo Tutorials. PAL Robotics team puts available tutorials in TIAGo robot navigation among other tasks that TIAGo can perform in its public simulation to make it accessible for everyone interested.

Creating a map with gmapping

TIAGo can create a map of the environment around it by using the laser range-finder on the base. The map is required to use afterward AMCL based localization to match laser scans with the map to provide reliable estimates of TIAGo’s pose in the map. All steps are detailed on the Tutorial in order to map the area commanding TIAGo with the keyboard. After completing the map, it can be saved and can be used to perform autonomous localization and path planning. This is an example on how the map is created by TIAGo:

ROS Tutorial: TIAGo gmapping in simulation.

ROS Tutorial 2: TIAGo gmapping in simulation.

Localization and path planning

Make TIAGo locate itself and plan a path between two points of interest with the second part of the ROS Navigation Tutorials for TIAGo. This tutorial shows how to make TIAGo navigate autonomously provided a map. The collaborative robot is able to detect and avoid obstacles using the base laser and the RGB-D camera on its pan-tilt head.

ROS Tutorial: TIAGo localization in simulation.

ROS Tutorial 2: TIAGo localization in simulation.

First, the built up of laser scans map should be created using the previous mapping Tutorial. Second, the map created in the previous tutorial should be opened following the steps here, which will show it in rviz as a result. Different kinds of information will be overlaid on top of the map, amongst other:

  • Particle cloud: a cloud of small red arrows representing the amcl filter particles, which spreads around the robot. A concentration of the particles indicates a growing confidence on its position estimate.
  • Global costmap: regions around obstacles which are used by the global planner in order to compute paths to navigate from one point of the map to another without getting too close to the static obstacles registered during mapping. More details can be found here.
  • Local costmap: similar to the global costmap, but it is smaller and moves with the robot, it is used to take into account new features that were not present in the original map. It is used by the local planner to avoid obstacles, both static and dynamic, while trying to follow the global path computed by the global planner. More details can be found here.
  • Laser scan: lines in dark blue represent the points measured with the laser of the mobile base. This scan is used to add/remove obstacles both in the global and local costmaps.
  • RGBD scan: lines in magenta represent the projection of the point cloud reconstructed by the RGBD camera of the head onto the floor. This artificial scan is also used to add/remove obstacles to the global and local costmaps. This scan is useful to obtain a 3D information of the environment, detecting obstacles that are higher or lower than the laser scanner plan.
Autonomous TIAGo robot navigation path.

ROS Tutorial 2: Autonomous TIAGo robot navigation path.

All this information is used as described in the Tutorial to enable TIAGo locate itself correctly in the given space. Besides, this enables as well the TIAGo autonomous navigation with rviz, that sends the robot to a desired point that it needs to reach. The action should be completed through the shortest path and avoiding obstacles as well.

We want to see your developments!

Find other tutorials on Control, MoveIt!, Open CV and PCL at TIAGo’s ROS Wiki, which will be detailed soon in our blog as well. Share your awesome results with us by sending them to: marketing@pal-robotics.com.

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#ERW2016: PAL Robotics’ Open Day, Robots at Your Service & HispaRob Day!

This year’s European Robotics Week broke all records in terms of organized events and participation. At PAL Robotics we also broke records of the assistance at our Open Day, last Friday 25th of November. Two tours were held at our offices, gathering together more than 150 people that were interested in robotics and wanted to know more about PAL Robotics’ projects and platforms.

Attendees could discover our mission, origins, robots and the projects we are involved in. The most exciting part came with the live demonstrations of the humanoids REEM-C and REEM, TIAGo and StockBot, where people could control the robots, play with their applications and ask any doubt to their Product Managers.

At the end of the tour the visitors and the PAL Robotics’ team shared a catering where they could exchange opinions and ask more questions about the company. We hope you enjoyed the visit as much as us. Looking forward to receiving you next year at PAL Robotics!

PAL Robotics at Robots at your Service and HispaRob Day

PAL Robotics also attended to the EU Robotics Week central event in Amsterdam, the Robots at your Service conference about assistive robotics, where TIAGo was presented as one useful platform for Ambient-Assisted Living environments, and the EU Project GrowMeUp was introduced too. Very interesting debates took place at the Maritime Museum. You can find some of the panel discussions ideas given by robotics experts on this RoboHub article.

The first HispaRob Day was also celebrated in Madrid, bringing together the main robotics universities, companies and institutions. HispaRob Day analyzed the robotics sector in Spain and debated on how robots are going to transform our lives in both domestic and industrial environments.

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