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Help Kickstart This Quadrotor So That We Can All Have Hoverbikes

Early this year we wrote about Aerofex, a California company developing a personal hover vehicle and planning to begin selling a commercial model in 2017. Now a second company, based in the U.K., has unveiled its own plans to build a full-scale hoverbike.

In addition to raising money from private investors, Malloy Aeronautics is taking to Kickstarter to fund its hoverbike project. The project is still getting off the ground, so to speak, so Kickstarter backers won't be getting an actual hoverbike as reward but are promised a cool quadrotor with impressive payload capability and an unusual design (overlapping rotors and a foldable frame).

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Here's That Extra Pair of Robot Fingers You've Always Wanted

Humans are tired of being constrained to the number of limbs and digits that we were genetically coded for, which is why we were so excited to hear about the pending availability of that extra pair of robotic arms we've always wanted.

But there's absolutely no reason that we should stop at arms. We want extra everything, because more is always always always better, and an extra pair of robotic fingers is definitely something that we've always wanted. Why? Because with seven fingers on each hand, we have the potential to be 40 percent more efficient at typing, and you would get seven articles on robots per week instead of the usual five!

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Video Friday: RHex Pronking, LS3 Goes to Hawaii, and RoboBoat 2014

Video Friday is almost always a nice refreshing dash of randomness. We collect videos all week, and then jam 'em in here for you to check out, without much in the way of foresight (or afterthought). Some weeks, all we can find are drones, drones, drones. Other weeks, like this week, it's more about the ground robots, and we've got some fantastic vids to share today, including new tricks from RHex and LS3 out exploring Hawaii.

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Prototype Platform Perceives Pristine Peppers, Precisely Picks a Perfect Peck

Fruit and vegetable harvesting is a task that's ripe for automation. But harnessing the fruits of robotic labor requires more than a succession of terrible puns: there are reasons why we don't have industrial scale robotic harvesting systems yet, especially for high value crops with strict ripeness requirements that are easily damaged by handling.

While several robotics companies have taken intermittent stabs at getting robot harvesters to work on both specific and generalized crops with mixed results, a huge (and well funded) research project from the European Union has recently come to fruition (I'm done now, I swear!) with Clever Robots for Crops: "a highly configurable, modular and clever carrier platform that includes modular parallel manipulators and intelligent tools" to efficiently and reliably harvest fruits and veggies.

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Cynthia Breazeal Unveils Jibo, a Social Robot for the Home

Cynthia Breazeal, the famed roboticist at MIT’s Media Lab and a pioneer of social robotics, is unveiling her latest creation today. Unlike her previous robots, created for research and used in settings like classrooms and hospitals, her newest robotic device is designed for people to use at home. Breazeal hopes users will find the robot, called Jibo, so fun and friendly that it will become "part of the family."

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How Squishy Would You Like Your Robot?

Most robots are rigid. Rigid is easy to design, easy to construct, easy to calibrate, and more reliable for all of those dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks that robots excel at. When robots make fundamental structural compromises to rigidity, they do it in complicated ways, like with series elastic actuators or hydraulics. It's worth it, though, because adding squishiness can make robots both more capable and safer to be around through passive compliance.

Taking this concept to the extreme has resulted in some incredibly squishy robots, including soft robots that can walk, and other soft robots that can roll. But in both of these cases, embracing squishy properties means giving up rigidity. MIT has been working on a structure for a robot that offers both: squishy when you want it, and rigidity when you don't.

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NASA Testing New Robots in Microgravity Before Sending Them to Space

At ICRA in 2012, researchers from JPL presented a paper on a new type of robotic gripper that uses microspines to adhere to rough surfaces in microgravity. In a follow-up paper at IROS 2013, the gripper made an appearance on a JPL robot, which was really cool to see. And now that it's 2014, it's time for the next step: seeing how a gripper designed for microgravity actually works in microgravity. To do that, NASA is sending it up on some parabolic test flights, along with several other robotic systems destined for space.

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'Gobble Hawk' Wins NASA High-Altitude UAV Design Competition

NASA is very proud of the Global Hawk UAVs that it uses for environmental monitoring missions like keeping track of hurricanes, among other things. We should know: we visited them last year. But Global Hawks are super expensive (between $130 and $220 million each, depending on whether or not you factor R&D cost into the mix), and while they have relatively long range and endurance, they can only stay up for about a day (28 hours) at a stretch.

So NASA wants more options, and it has turned to students for ideas. In a press release today, they've announced the winners of a competition to design high endurance uncrewed aerial systems for hurricane tracking. Coming out on top: Virginia Tech's "Gobble Hawk." Heh.

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Automaton

IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
 
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Jason Falconer
Canada
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Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan
 

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