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Robots Reveal How Water Striders Jump on Water

Water striders are little insects that spend their existence skating around on the surface of lakes, ponds, and streams, relying on surface tension to keep them dry and happy. Watching them zip around is very cool, and its equally cool to think about the physics going on between the water and their toes to allow them to do what they do. Water striders are also able to jump, which substantially ups the difficulty on the whole not-sinking thing, since they have to somehow exert a substantial amount of force on the surface of the water without breaking through. How do they do it? South Korean researchers built a robotic water strider to find out.

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We Should Not Ban ‘Killer Robots,’ and Here’s Why

Yesterday, an open letter was presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, calling for a “ban on offensive autonomous weapons.” A bunch of people signed it, including “more than 1,000 experts and leading robotics researchers.” And I mean, of course they’d sign it, because who would seriously be for “killer robots?”

I am.

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Video Friday: Atlas Kicked, Tea-Brewing Robot, and Rodney Brooks's Giant Brains

We love robot competitions, and the only bad thing about them is that we don’t have the time (and, er, travel budget) to cover them all. The biggest robotics event happening this week was RoboCup, in Hefei, China, and we have some videos of that for you. But first, let’s watch a 150-kilogram robot getting kicked, shall we?


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Windbot Could Float Through the Clouds of Jupiter

Sending a robotic lander to Jupiter is probably not a good idea. There’s a rocky core down there somewhere, encased by metallic hydrogen and covered by an ocean of supercritical hydrogen, so technically, there is somewhere to land. But even if your lander made it all the way down there (which it probably wouldn’t for a variety of reasons), you’d be squished and fried and not even able to see anything while it was happening.

So let’s not do that.

Instead of thinking of Jupiter as totally inhospitable, let’s take a page from this Venus playbook, and aim for exploration of the atmosphere instead, with a robot that floats in the clouds and harvests energy from the wind.

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NASA Tests New Robotic Refueling Hardware on International Space Station

Sending up one satellite is expensive. Sending up another satellite to replace the first satellite when it breaks is even more expensive. It would be crazy to junk your car every time it needs a new tank of gas, but that’s basically what we do with satellites right now, and it’s incredibly wasteful. NASA has an entire office dedicated to fixing this problem, called the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO), and last week, they tested out some new robotic hardware for on-orbit satellite repair up on the International Space Station.

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Mother Robots Build Children Robots to Experiment With Artificial Evolution

When designing a brand new robot, it’s usually a good idea to design and test it in simulation first, to get a sense of how well your design is going to work. But even a successful simulated robot will only provide you limited insight into how it’s going to do when you actually build it: as we’ve seen, even sophisticated simulations don’t necessarily reveal how robots will perform in the real world.

This fundamental disconnect between simulation and reality becomes especially problematic when you’re dealing with an area of robotics where it’s impractical to build physical versions of everything. Evolutionary robotics is a very good example of this, where robot designs are tested and iterated over hundreds (or thousands) of generations: it works great in simulation (if you have a fast computer), but is much harder to do in practice. However, with something like evolutionary robotics, we come back to the original issue, which is that a robot that has evolved to work well in simulation may not work well at all out of simulation, which throws into question the value of iterating on the fitness of a robot through simulation at all.

In a paper published last month in PLOS ONE, Luzius Brodbeck, Simon Hauser, and Fumiya Iida from the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zurich took things one step further by teaching a “mother robot” to autonomously build children robots out of component parts to see how well they move, doing all of the hard work of robot evolution without any simulation compromises at all.

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First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Is a Success, but Does It Matter?

Flirtey is a company that’s working to commercialize the consumer delivery drone, which is something that we’ve been very, very skeptical about. On Friday, Flirtey partnered with Virginia Tech and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to conduct the very first officially-approved drone delivery in the United States. Flirtey called it a “Kitty Hawk moment” for the entire delivery drone industry, but we’re not so sure.

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Video Friday: Bacteria Driving Robot, Drone With Gun, and Freaky Snakebot

It is the height of summer (at least in my hemisphere), and many of you are enjoying a nice and relaxing vacation. But don’t get too relaxed, people: it’s not too early to start looking forward to fall robotics events. IROS 2015 will be in Hamburg, Germany this year, and it will be followed immediately by ROSCon right next door. Come the end of September, Hamburg is going to be the most exciting place in robotics. Right now, though, the most exciting place in robotics is right here, for Video Friday.

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Robotic Construction Gets Fancy at ETH Zurich's Digital Fabrication Lab

Last week, we wrote about some robots that are making construction more efficient by automating work with bricks and concrete. At ETH Zurich, the Swiss National Science Foundation (through the National Centres of Competence in Research) has just opened a Digital Fabrication lab that’s exploring what else is possible with construction autonomy, and they’ve come up with some very cool ideas.

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ReWalk Robotics's New Exoskeleton Lets Paraplegic Stroll the Streets of NYC

Yesterday, a paralyzed man strapped on a pair of robotic legs and stepped out a hotel door, joining the flow of rushing pedestrians on a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan.

The user, Robert Woo, was demonstrating a new exoskeleton unveiled this week, the ReWalk Personal 6.0 from Israel’s ReWalk Robotics. He got a few curious looks as he strode forward in his sleek black gear, but the fast-walking New Yorkers didn’t slow down or clear space for him.

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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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Canada
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Tokyo, Japan
 

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