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Damage Recovery Algorithm Could Make All Robots Unstoppable

For the last three years, we’ve been watching as the hexapods created by Antoine Cully and Jean-Baptiste Mouret have been getting increasingly difficult to put out of action. Using an exceptionally clever algorithm, the robots have demonstrated that they can shrug off absurd amounts of damage, adapting within minutes to recover their mobility even if you chop a third of their legs off. 

Today, this research has made the cover of Nature, which is a Very Big Deal (at least if you’re a scholar), and it brings along with it some updates and even more potential for the future.

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Clearpath Puts Baxter on Wheels, Announces Ridgeback Mobile Base

As capable and adaptable as Baxter is, it’s not a robot that’s well known for its mobility. You can get some wheels for it, but you’re still stuck pushing it around when you want it to move anywhere. Sensing an opportunity in the forthcoming age of mobile manipulators, Clearpath Robotics is announcing Ridgeback, an “omnidirectional development platform” designed to give Baxter, or any other research robot, some much-needed mobility.

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Robotic Cockroach Launches Robotic Bird Off of Its Back

We’ve written before about the advantages of multi-modal robots: by combining two different forms of locomotion in one platform, you can take advantage of (say) the efficiency and endurance of a ground robot with the range and versatility of a flying robot. However, designing one robot that can walk and fly tends to be both complicated and inefficient, which is why hetergeneous robot teams are often more appealing. Instead of trying to cram every capability into one robot, you just use several different robots with different specializations and find some way of getting them to work together. Like this robotic cockroach that can serve as an aircraft carrier for a robotic bird.

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Video Friday: Deep-Learning Robots, DRC Practice, and Drone Pilot Competition

Apologies for the light posting this week: the entire IEEE Spectrum team (both digital and print) was closeted away in meetings working on ways to better serve you, dear reader. Did we come up with some? Sure we did, but for now, they’re secret until we get them to work.

Leading the video news for today is research from UC Berkeley focused on teaching robots to learn tasks in ways that can be adapted to new situations, using a deep learning approach based on neural nets. The upshot is that it enables robots (like Berkeley’s PR2, named BRETT) to learn new tasks in a matter of hours and perform those tasks generally independently of their environment, all with a minimal amount of sensors.

This is stupendously important in two ways: first, it means that robots get significantly easier to teach, as opposed to requiring programming. And second, it means that robots are able to do useful stuff in useful environments, like your house as opposed to a robotics lab. Watch BRETT do his thing, and all the rest of our videos, starting right now.

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Open Source Robotics Foundation Prepares for DRC Finals and Beyond

The Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) spun out of Willow Garage three years ago this month, after having been awarded a contract from DARPA to develop the Gazebo simulation environment for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. With the DRC about to conclude, OSRF will no longer have the support of DARPA to keep itself up and running, so earlier this month we stopped by the OSRF World Headquarters and Volcano Lair in Mountain View, Calif., to talk with CEO Brian Gerkey about the future of Gazebo, ROS, and the OSRF, and to get an early look at a few cool demos that the visitors to the DRC Finals will be back to check out.

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Video Friday: New Quadruped, Drone UFO, and Bricklaying Robot

It’s shaping up to be a very exciting few weeks in robotics. At the end of this month is ICRA, the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, from May 26 to 30 in Seattle, Wash. Right after that, the very next week in fact, comes the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, June 5 and 6 in Pomona, Calif. We’re going to be at both events, of course, and we’ll be super busy trying to bring you news of everything that’s going on. It’d be great if this week and next week, nothing was happening in robotics so that we could rest up and get all prepared and stuff, but nope: there’s just as much cool new stuff as usual, starting with a brand new hydraulic quadruped robot from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).

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DRC Finals Update: What to Expect Next Month

Yesterday, DARPA held a media briefing detailing what we have to look forward to at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next month at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., on June 5 and 6. We’re absolutely convinced that this is going to be one of the most exciting robotics events of the decade, so let’s take a look at what’s going to happen.

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Robots Might Be the Necessary Future of Urban Pet Ownership

We all love our pets. We love them a crazy, ridiculous amount that is often entirely out of proportion to reality: you don’t want to know how much I spent on medical care for my $5 pet store gerbil. As the world population grows and more people move into cities, it’s going to get increasingly difficult to afford to give larger pets (like cats and especially dogs) the life that they deserve in urban environments. Pets will be a luxury that wealthy people will be able to afford, but what about the rest of us? The answer is, as always, robots.

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Your Finger on a Tablet Can Control Entire Swarms of Robots

As robots get smaller, cheaper, and more capable, it often makes sense to rely on swarms of little bots instead of one big one, and as swarms grow in size and complexity, intuitive methods of real-time control become critical. Georgia Tech’s GRITS Lab has developed a way to dynamically control large swarms of robots using just a tablet and a finger (or two).

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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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