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Professor Einstein robot from Hanson Robotics

Professor Einstein Is a Fun, Wacky Robot That Loves to Talk About Science

When I tell my daughters, ages 6 and 9, that I have a new robot to show them, they perk up. I then take Professor Einstein out of the box.

“Ahhhh!” they both cry, wide-eyed.

My wife walks into the room: “Ahhh!”

Yep, Professor Einstein doesn’t look like your typical robot.

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A child touches Tega's face while playing a language learning game.

Robots for Kids: Designing Social Machines That Support Children's Learning

In this guest post, Jacqueline M. Kory Westlund, a researcher in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab describes her projects and explorations to understand children’s relationships with social robots.

“Hi, my name is Mox!”

This story begins in 2013, in a preschool in Boston, where I hide, with laptop, headphones, and microphone, in a little kitchenette. Ethernet cables trail across the hall to the classroom, where 17 children eagerly await their turn to talk to a small fluffy robot.

“Hi, my name is Mox! I’m very happy to meet you.”

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MIT Extra Robotic Limbs

How to Control Those Extra Robotic Limbs You've Always Wanted

I am personally very excited to adopt a few extra robotic limbs, because I have a desperate need to improve my ski-boxing. Other people are probably interested in extra robotic limbs for less exciting reasons, like helping them do their jobs without getting injured. We’ve seen a bunch of research into this area recently, along with a variety of prototypes, and many of them seem like they have the potential to be useful and practical for ski-boxing and whatever else. The difficult thing at this point is controlling those extra limbs, because if you’re using one of your real limbs to control a fake limb, it’s not clear that you’re really coming out ahead.

At the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) last month, researchers from MIT presented a paper on “Independent, Voluntary Control of Extra Robotic Limbs,” which seeks to develop a control system for an extra pair of robotic waist-appendages that’s easy and comfortable to use and doesn’t interfere with control of your real arms and legs.

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THOR Transformer Drone

THOR Transformer Drone Hovers and Cruises With No Compromises

Wings are great for crusing over long distances and carrying heavy loads, but they aren’t that great if your aircraft needs vertical agility. Rotors, on the other hand, are great for vertical agility, but they aren’t that great for long distances and heavy loads. Any aircraft that wants to fly efficiently can be designed for cruising or hovering, but not both.

Lots and lots of people have tried to figure out a way of making some sort of compromise work. Mostly, this involves stapling as many vertical rotors as you have a budget for to a fixed-wing aircraft and just calling it a day: When you want to go up or down, you use the vertical rotors, and the rest of the time, you use whatever other rotors you can afford to have mounted horizontally. If you’re very clever, maybe you come up with a design that uses one set of rotors for both vertical and horizontal flight, either with some kind of rotating wing or with a vehicle that can pitch over in flight; but the fact remains that your design is wasteful—either you have useless rotors when flying horizontally, or useless wings when flying vertically.

At ICRA this year, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology & Design introduced a new kind of flying robot called THOR: Transformable HOvering Rotorcraft. THOR manages to achieve very high structural efficiency by using all of its aerodynamic surfaces in both vertical and horizontal flight modes, transforming from a flying wing into a sort of whole-body spinning bicopter thing that you really need to see to believe.

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APIUM water drones

Video Friday: Water Drones, Sad Robot, and Self-Driving in Duckie Town

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

MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany
Living Machines Conference – July 25-28, 2017 – Stanford, Calif., USA
RoboCup 2017 – July 27-31, 2017 – Nagoya, Japan
IEEE CASE 2017 – August 20-23, 2017 – Xi’an, China
IEEE ICARM 2017 – August 27-31, 2017 – Hefei, China
IEEE RO-MAN – August 28-31, 2017 – Lisbon, Portugal
CLAWAR 2017 – September 11-13, 2017 – Porto, Portugal
FSR 2017 – September 12-15, 2017 – Zurich, Switzerland

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


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University of Tehran roboticists have recently unveiled a dancing, karate-chopping little humanoid called Surena Mini.

Iran's Newest Robot Is an Adorable Dancing Humanoid

Over the last several years, a team of roboticists at the University of Tehran has been working on increasingly large and complex life-size humanoids. For their latest project, however, the Iranian researchers decided to build something smaller—and cuter.

Surena Mini is a knee-high robot with a sleek 3D-printed body, articulated limbs, and a round head with two camera-eyes. Twenty small servomotors power its arms, legs, and neck, allowing the little robot to walk, gesture, and dance:

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In NASA's Space Robotics Challenge, participants had to command a virtual Valkyrie robot to perform a series of repair tasks in a simulated Mars base hit by a dust storm.

How a One-Man Team From California Won NASA's Space Robotics Challenge

NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) took place last month, full of virtual Valkyries wandering around a virtual Mars base trying to fix virtual stuff. Anyone was allowed to participate, and since the virtual nature of the competition means there was no need for big expensive robots that mostly didn’t fall over, anyone actually could (and did) participate. Of the 93 teams initially signed up to compete, NASA selected 20 finalist teams based on their performance completing some tasks in the Gazebo 3D robot simulator, and each of those finalists had to program a Valkyrie humanoid to complete a repair mission on a simulated Mars base.

The winner of the SRC was team Coordinated Robotics, which also was the only team to manage a perfect run with 100 percent task completion, taking home the US $125,000 top prize plus a $50,000 “perfect run” bonus. “Team” may be a little bit of a misnomer, though, since Coordinated Robotics consists entirely of one dude: Kevin Knoedler. We spoke with Kevin about his epic win, and also checked in with Nate Koenig from Open Robotics, which leads the development of Gazebo and helped organize the SRC, to get more info on the competition, along with footage of all the best outtakes.

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Robots are going to become invisible in our homes

Roomba Inventor Joe Jones: Why I Think Home Robots Will Become Invisible

How many computers do you own?

If you picked a number close to three (say, laptop, tablet, and smartphone) you’re way off. The answer is probably dozens. There are computers in your car, in your appliances, in your thermostat, and maybe even in your light bulbs. Every year the number goes up.

Today, visible computers are just the slimmest tip of the iceberg. Most computers are hidden away, quietly performing their jobs without you even being aware of the work they do for you. That’s as it should be. You have no interest in the computers themselves, you just want certain tasks done.

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DARPA's LUKE Arm

Video Friday: DARPA's LUKE Arm, Human Support Robot, and Starting a Robotics Company

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

ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong
RSS 2017 – July 12-16, 2017 – Cambridge, Mass., USA
MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany
Living Machines Conference – July 25-28, 2017 – Stanford, Calif., USA
RoboCup 2017 – July 27-31, 2017 – Nagoya, Japan
IEEE CASE 2017 – August 20-23, 2017 – Xi’an, China
IEEE ICARM 2017 – August 27-31, 2017 – Hefei, China

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


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Franklin Robotics' Tertill weed-killing robot

Roomba Inventor Joe Jones on His New Weed-Killing Robot, and What's So Hard About Consumer Robotics

iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum is, arguably, the most successful robot ever made. Some 15 million of them are cleaning floors all over the planet, and they’re doing so reliably and affordably and autonomously enough that people keep on buying them, which is something no other consumer robot has ever been able to replicate.

Providing the vision for the small team that designed the Roomba was Joe Jones. What started out as his personal side project at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1988 became a commercial product at iRobot in 2002, and while iRobot is still doing its best to make the Roomba better than ever, Jones left to found his own agricultural robotics company, Harvest Automation, in 2006.

Now Jones has started his second robotics company, Franklin Robotics, which is funding its latest project through Kickstarter: Tertill is a solar-powered, weed-destroying, fully autonomous and completely self-contained robot designed for your garden. Put it out there, forget about it (mostly), and it will brutally exterminate any weeds that it can find, as long as they’re short. 

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

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Erico Guizzo
New York City
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Washington, D.C.
 

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