Video Friday: Marvin Minsky, Submersible Drone, and SLAM on a SnakeBot

Photo: Erico Guizzo/IEEE Spectrum
The June 1980 issue of Omni featured an essay by Marvin Minsky titled "Telepresence".

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by a society of mindful bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
The Future of Rescue Simulation Workshop – February 29-4, 2016 – Leiden, Netherlands
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Marvin Minsky, the AI pioneer and MIT professor, died on Sunday in Boston. He was 88. Dr. Minsky, an IEEE Life Fellow, made numerous seminal contributions to the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics, exploring, among other things, how a better understanding of human cognition could lead to advances in machine intelligence, and vice versa. He founded the MIT AI lab in 1959 with fellow AI pioneer John McCarthy, and among Dr. Minsky’s students is a long list of notable technologists. He’s a recipient of many honors, including the A.M. Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society.

One of the countless topics that interested Dr. Minsky was teleoperated robots, and he wrote about it in the science and science fiction magazine Omni in 1980. It was a compelling and provocative essay in which Dr. Minsky envisioned a “remote-controlled economy” and coined the term “telepresence”. With Dr. Minsky’s permission, IEEE Spectrum reproduced that essay in 2010, as part of a special report on robotic telepresence.

On that occasion, I asked Dr. Minsky about his views on existing remote presence robots, and he seemed disappointed at their limitations, especially in terms of mobility. “One problem is that all those robots move on wheels, which means that they don’t have much ‘access’ to most of the world,” he said. Robots with legs would be a better approach, but he added that “their software is still far from good enough.” He explained that he wanted to see robots capable of navigating the world—as well as transporting people with mobility limitations—without requiring modifications to our existing environments. “I’d like to see a major project to develop suitable ‘leg-vehicles’ instead, and provide them to everyone who needs them—so that those people could go almost everywhere.”

Dr. Minsky was happy to find out that we had located a copy of Omni’s June 1980 issue at the New York Public Library’s main branch in Manhattan. It was stored deep in their underground vault, and I had to peruse the item under supervision. They allowed me to take photos (including the one above), and I sent a few to Dr. Minsky, who still remembered that photo shoot, when he posed with a massive robot arm built in his lab.

For more on Dr. Minsky’s life and work, read this extensive 1981 profile in the New Yorker, and obituaries in the New York Times and the MIT News website. And below, watch him speak at a MIT Media Lab 30th anniversary event last October, when Dr. Minsky received a gift in honor of “his lifetime commitment to research and to mentoring generations of MIT students.”

—Erico Guizzo

[ MIT Media Lab ]

Is professional drone racing going to be the Next Big Thing? The Drone Racing League certainly seems to think so:

I’m a bit concerned about what appears to be a substantial amount of realityshowification here, but it could be fun anyway. Also, I’d like to see if these guys (and gal) are designing their own robots (kind of looks like not, from the pics), and hear from whoever is in charge of the Wi-Fi.

That’s the feed from the GoPro, right? Not what the pilots are seeing? Hmm.

Look, can’t this stuff just be cool enough as is? Do you really have to turn the production up to 11?

[ Drone Racing League ]

Watch this giant orange Cheeto slowly undulate through a huge vat of blue Skittles while making the most satisfying noise I’ve ever heard and also I want junk food now:

What I know about this video is that the title is “Shape Basis - Chao Waves,” and that it was posted by CMU Biorobotics. And that is it.

[ CMU Biorobotics ]

Here are a couple videos about Loon Copter, a submersible quadrotor developed at Oakland University. This particular Oakland is in Rochester, which is confusing, and this particular Rochester is in Michigan, which is even more confusing. Excellent robot, though:

[ Loon Copter ]

Drone launchers are a lot like medieval weaponry, if you think about it: there’s the drones thrown by hand, drones fired by modern ballistas, and now, we’ve got drones launched by an honest-to-goodness catapult:

Not a bad idea, right? Also great for very, very expensively besieging castles.

[ Amores Robotics ] via [ DIY Drones ]

In a follow-up to some research from last year, UMD’s Julia Baxter can watch a human to learn how to make a duck-flavored juice smoothie:

Whoa, I think I’ve just been hypnotized. Yes, of course I will post another video showing a similar process performed through YouTube videos, whatever you say:

[ UMD ]

I love that this is the present of semi-autonomous cars, and not the future:

[ Tesla ]

“In an experiment at ETH Zurich’s Autonomous Systems Lab, a multicopter is employed to autonomously explore a given space. In a second flight the identified structures in the middle of the space are visually inspected using the onboard camera. Both flight paths are planned online with the same planner, but with different objectives.”

[ ASL ]

I didn’t realize that pre-ordering at airport Duty Free shops was a thing: I thought that people just bought stuff there when they were trying to blow through leftover foreign currency. But maybe having a robot deliver your stuff is reason enough to give it a try, next time you’re in Auckland?

Very satisfying the way those drawers fit into their slots. Very satisfying.

[ ABB ]

Robots that don’t run into themselves or other things are my favorite kind of robots:

[ Tech United Eindhoven ]

UAE Drones for Good Finalist:

“From Canada, the Navig8 unmanned aerial vehicle can be useful for operations in highly confined, structured or unstructured, environments. This innovation can save lives by locating people in danger in cases such as fire, mines, collapsing building and other emergencies.”

You may have noticed it’s not flying, but here’s a video that shows an operational prototype: 

[ 4Front Robotics ] via [ Drones For Good ]

Look who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos this year: DRC-Hubo!

[ DRC-Hubo ]

Stanford researchers are testing out sensors for robotic legs that will let them classify the terrain they’re on, and adapt their gait accordingly:

The paper on this will be in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, but it doesn’t look like it’s out quite yet.

[ BDML Stanford ]

Here’s an updated video on Alpha2, still very much in development:

Not bad, but at this rate, they’re going to have a hard time living up to the expectations set by the Indiegogo video (especially with a February 2016 ship date). Let’s hope they get there.

[ Alpha2 ]

“The video shows Heitor Savino’s research on formation control of multiple mobile manipulators. The control of each robot is decentralized, and the coordination is given by the information exchange between the agents, in a consensus-based approach. This framework is applied in cooperative manipulation, where two robots have to: 1) pick-up a box; 2) carry the box to the loading zone, in which the box is loaded with the duckies; 3) deliver the box in the delivery zone.”


[ MIT ]

Laser snakebot can seeeeee youuuuuu:

[ CMU ]

“Join the Powered Leg Prosthesis Race at the first International Cybathlon in October 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. Organised by ETH Zurich, Cybathlon 2016 is a competition where cutting edge robotic assistive technologies will help people with disabilities to compete in a series of races. We proudly present the Powered Leg Prosthesis Race in a video filmed at the Cybathlon rehearsal event in summer 2015. This video features the team Ossur who come from Iceland.”

[ Cybathlon ]

I don’t know what all of these NAOs are doing, but it looks fun! And maybe even educational!

It doesn’t look like there’s a link to the 2016 competition yet, but you can get a sense of what it’s all about at the link below.

[ NAO Challenge ]

Somehow I feel like this video needs explosions or something:

[ Kuka ]

“Roboticist Auke Ijspeert designs biorobots, machines modeled after real animals that are capable of handling complex terrain and would appear at home in the pages of a sci-fi novel. The process of creating these robots leads to better automata that can be used for fieldwork, service, and search and rescue. But these robots don’t just mimic the natural world — they help us understand our own biology better, unlocking previously unknown secrets of the spinal cord.”

[ TED ]

Congratulations to the whole team at Robots Podcast for their 200th episode!

“In this episode, we celebrate our 200th episode! That’s over 6000 minutes of robot goodness and nearly 8 years releasing interviews with your favorite roboticists. The podcast is all volunteer run, a special thanks to everyone on the team who’s made this possible! And thanks to all of you for listening in all these years. To celebrate, our president Audrow Nash has invited a team of old-timers from the podcast team, and one of our favorite recurring guests, Rodney Brooks from Rethink Robotics. The panel is composed of Sabine Hauert, Markus Waibel, and Peter Dürr, all co-founders of the podcast, and Per Sjöborg who’s been part of the team for many years now. They discuss their favorite episodes, what area in robotics is most interesting, their best memories, and lessons learned.”

[ Robots Podcast ]



IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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