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Armored Exoskeletons Help Roachbots Go Anywhere, Handle Anything

Following along with the evolution of UC Berkeley’s RoACH robots has been absolutely fascinating. Since as far back as 2008Ron Fearing’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab has designed and redesigned their little robotic roaches with claws, wings, tails, any just about everything else that they could cram in there.

For a robot inspired by a roach, there’s been what seems like an obvious omission, and that's a shell. Robots have endoskeletons, rendering exoskeletons somewhat redundant, but do biologically constructed roaches have shells for reasons other than keeping their life goo inside? The answer is yes, and the Berkeley researchers have developed water and dust resistant armored shells that protect roachbots from impacts and elements while also allowing them to navigate through cluttered spaces.

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Video Friday: iCub Is Evolving, Mind-Controlled Robot, and ROS for Drones

Now that we’re well past the crazy couple of weeks of ICRA and DRC, what do we have to get excited about with robotics? Why, everything, of course! While these flagship events are always exciting, the great thing about robotics is that fascinating research and development continues all the time, non-stop, which is why we’re able to bring you these Friday posts full of robot videos every single week. So let’s do it.

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Self-Assembling Robotic Gun Will Shoot Through Tissue Inside Your Body

It’s way past time that everything that ever goes wrong inside our bodies should be fixed by tiny little robots. Way past time. There are still a lot of things that we have to figure out, though, like how to make robots that are small enough and remain controllable and practically useful.

One technique is to leverage the magnetic fields inside a clinical MRI machine to control swarms of small, “dumb” robots, using clever algorithms to move multiple robots in different directions even when you’re restricted to giving them all the same input signals. Plus, you can see on the MRI images where your robots are going and what they’re doing in realtime. Driving them around the body like this is pretty cool, and the next step is getting them to do stuff, such as clearing blockages or delivering drugs.

Research presented last month at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) by Aaron Becker, Ouajdi Felfoul, and Pierre E. Dupont from University of Houston and Boston Children’s Hospital shows how a small swarm of robots can turn themselves into a Gauss gun, firing projectiles that can penetrate tissue.

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NASA Wants Help Training Valkyrie Robots to Go to Mars

NASA’s Valkyrie robot didn’t have a very good time at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. There are a bunch of good reasons for this, but our concern has always been that NASA would see the DRC Trials as a failure of the robot and the program and just give up. We should have had more faith, because NASA is in this for the long game, and so is Valkyrie. And where does the long game end? Mars. And beyond.

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Video Friday: Small Bebionic Hand, RoboRaven at Night, and Pepper on Sale

For some reason, companies making robotic prosthetics have mostly focused on designing systems for men. This could be because they have to design them for someone, and men are a reasonable place to start.

But women need prosthetics too. As do children, and for that matter, dudes who aren’t built like linebackers. The Bebionic small hand has been downsized by 30 percent to the size of an average woman’s hand, without sacrificing any strength or functionality. See it in action, plus more videos because Friday.

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Here's How NASA Will Grab an Asteroid Using a Spiky Robot Gripper

Within the next five years, NASA is planning to launch a robotic spacecraft toward a small asteroid. Once there, the robot will find a small boulder lying on the surface of the asteroid, pick it up, and bring it back to Earth for us to have a look at. It’s an ambitious mission, and we’re only just starting to hear details about what’s going to be involved in getting all this to work.

Earlier this week, we stopped by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to check out some of the prototype hardware that’ll be grabbing a boulder off of an asteroid in the early 2020s.

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Fetch Robotics Secures Massive $20 Million Investment from SoftBank

Fetch Robotics, a robotics startup in Silicon Valley that didn’t exist a year ago, has just announced a staggering US $20 million Series A funding round led by SoftBank, along with additional funding from seed investors O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Shasta Ventures.

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DURUS: SRI's Ultra-Efficient Walking Humanoid Robot

While disaster robots were making their way through the DARPA Robotics Challenge courses, over in the exhibit area outside, there was another competition taking place: an endurance challenge, also sponsored by DARPA, where robots from Sandia National Labs and SRI International slowly walked on treadmills with the goal of demonstrating how ultra-efficient they could be.

What does ultra-efficient mean in the context of walking robots? Think humanoid walking that’s 20 to 30 times more efficient than than Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS. A full size humanoid robot with that level of efficiency would able to operate for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours on a single charge.

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Robotic Tools Understand What You Want to Do, Help You Do It

The idea of robots that are “collaborative” is usually about robots that are safe for humans to work next to. Sometimes, a collaborative robot might assist a human by performing one step of a task while a human performs another step of the same task. What’s a bit more unusual are robots that are collaborative in that they work directly with a human, augmenting the abilities of that human with intelligence, not just strength.

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Video Friday: PR2 With Nailgun, Snake Bot Tango, and Robot vs Sword Master

Over the past few weeks, between ICRA and the DRC Finals, we’ve had enough incredible and exciting and amazing and stupendous robots to last us the rest of the summer. But of course, while we were focused on Seattle and Pomona, other cool robotics stuff was happening. We’re going to get you caught up on some of it today, in a post that we promise will have zero DARPA Robotics Challenge content, because after more than a dozen posts in like five days, we all need just a little bit of a break.

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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

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

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