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FAA Will Let Some Drones Fly Beyond Line of Sight

The U.S. government will finally allow a few operators to test the boundaries of rules governing unmanned aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration said today. It represents the latest in a long—even excruciatingly long—process of responding to Congressional directives to speed commercialization of the technology.

The point is to do things right the first time so that people won’t have to “take a step back because we do something too fast,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, at Unmanned Systems 2015, an annual convocation of UAV makers and users, this year held in Atlanta.

Three organizations will get to break two rules: that of staying within sight of the operator and that of staying out of inhabited areas. PrecisionHawk, a maker of unmanned aircraft, or UAVs, will use them to study farmland along an “extended line of sight,” farther than the naked eye can see but still along a straight line back to a control point. BNSF Railroads will use UAVs to inspect railbeds far from the launch point, balancing the lack of visual contact with another means of tracking the vehicle, perhaps radar.

The third operator, CNN, will use UAVs to take video in crowded urban areas, which the FAA normally puts out of bounds. The news network will, however, keep the devices in sight—indeed, it will have them tethered to a ground station.

Such use of betatesters is one way the FAA can prove to its critics in Congress and the aviation industry that it’s on the ball. Those critics have been darkly hinting that they’d start developing their commerce-oriented UAVs in Canada or other similarly hospitable countries. In 2013, for example, the agency allowed ConocoPhillips to use the ScanEagle fixed-wing UAV to explore for oil in waters off the Alaskan coast. 

World's Largest Swarm of Miniature Robot Submarines

Forty one tiny robot submarines is a lot of tiny robot submarines. It’s so many, in fact, that controlling them individually doesn’t make sense, and the only way to go is to give them levels of swarm intelligence, so that each individual robot can take care of itself while the swarm as a whole completes an objective.

The CoCoRo (Collective Cognitive Robotics) Project, sponsored by the European Commission, has been working with a heterogeneous swarm of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) since 2011, and the most important thing you need to know about these robots is that 20 of them are named Jeff.

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CyPhy Works Launches Drone That Makes Aerial Video Easy and Intuitive

CyPhy Works makes drones that are unique predominantly because they use a microfilament tether to carry power and data that allows for unlimited flight time and flawless high resolution video streaming. We would have expected that their next drone would have leveraged this technology somehow, but apparently, some engineers at CyPhy had a clever idea and decided to Kickstart a new drone that takes advantage of it with the ability to fly around while remaining completely level.

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Video Friday: Strong Microbots, Holographic Robots, and Extreme Drone Flying

Yeah, so, you know how Video Friday last week was lighter than normal, and I was all like, “We have a light week this week,” and everyone was sad and disappointed and sad? My bad. Turns out Google decided to kill YouTube user subscription RSS feeds as of last week and I may have, um, utterly failed to notice.

Oops.

So this week, we’re playing catch-up. And there’s a lot of catch-up, so let’s get going.

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Robot Arm Brings Humanity Back to the Stone Age

We usually associate robotics with tasks that are, if not high tech, at least modern in nature. That’s why it’s so cool to see a robot being adapted for a task that is explicitly ancient: scraping away at animal skins with replicas of stone tools found at archaeological sites.

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Fetch Robotics Introduces Fetch and Freight: Your Warehouse Is Now Automated

As of just a few months ago, all we knew about Fetch Robotics was that the core team from Unbounded Robotics, all of whom had been at Willow Garage before that, were working on not just one but two brand new robots designed to tackle the logistics market. Today, Fetch Robotics is announcing Fetch and Freight, a beefy mobile manipulator and zippy mobile base designed to automate logistics in places like warehouses. We have all the details, exclusive video of the robots in action, and an in-depth interview with Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise about why these robots are exactly what companies like Amazon and Google desperately need.

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Oculus Rift-Based System Brings True Immersion to Telepresence Robots

Remote presence robots, as the name implies, act as your stand-in at a distant location, letting you move around and see and hear through a robotic surrogate. Space agencies, researchers, and the military have developed high-end telepresence systems that offer an immersive experience, but these units can cost millions of dollars. Consumer telepresence robots (like the Double or Beam), on the other hand, cost much less but can’t create a sense of immersion—you’re staring at a video feed on a computer screen, after all.

Now a team of roboticists at the University of Pennsylvania is using affordable sensors and actuators and virtual reality technologies like Oculus Rift to build a platform that offers the same capabilities of a high-end telepresence system at a reasonable cost. DORA (Dexterous Observational Roving Automaton) attempts to bring true immersion to teleoperated robots, by precisely tracking the motion of your head in all six degrees of freedom and then duplicating those motions on a real robot moving around the real world. Their goal is making the experience so immersive that, while operating the robot at a remote place, you’ll forget that you’re not actually there.

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Video Friday: Sphero Droid, Drone Jogging, and Robot Feeds You Marshmallows

One month from now, ICRA 2015 kicks off in Seattle, Washington. Are you ready? Got your hotel room? Awesome! We don’t, so let us know if we can crash with you, okay? Okay. Cool.

As we all know, ICRA stands for IEEE Conference of Robotic Awesomeness (or it should, at any rate). To get you excited, as if you weren’t already excited, the IEEE Robotics & Automation Society has put together a video of some of the coolest research that will be presented this year, with versions available in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Arabic, French, and Italian. See what you have to look forward too, plus all the rest of the week’s videos, because that’s right, it’s Friday.

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PR2 Robot Figures Out How to Make a Latte

Want some coffee? Just ask PR2. Clever new research from Cornell means that you can show the robot a coffee maker, hand it a sheet of natural language instructions, and it’ll fix you a latte, completely autonomously. Here’s the kicker: it can do all this even if it’s never seen the coffee maker before.

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Unlucky Robot Gets Stranded Inside Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, Sends Back Critical Data

It’s a really, really bad day to be a radiation hardened, shape-changing disaster exploration robot. Last week, TEPCO sent a robot deep inside the radioactive hunk of slag that used to be the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor to try to find the fuel rods, which are, uh, missing (looks like they’ve fallen to the bottom of the reactor). Unfortunately for TEPCO, and for that poor little robot, it got stuck after approximately five hours, and will probably remain entombed where it lies until approximately forever.

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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.
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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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