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FlipBot Is Why Your Car Needs a Tail

Cars are almost, but not quite, entirely incapable of acrobatics. We need to solve this. I'm not sure why we need to solve this, but we do, and the good news is roboticists are on it.

Following up on some work from last year on putting actuated tails on ground vehicles (inspired by other tailed robots like UC Berkeley's Tailbot), researchers from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, have put a tail on a small RC car and gotten it to do a barrel roll.*

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NASA Training 'Swarmie' Robots for Space Mining

The absolute least efficient way to get air, water, and fuel into space is the way that we currently do it: by packing as much of it as we can into rockets on Earth, and then firing it off into orbit. If this is how we have to get supplies to the moon, or Mars, it's going to be ludicrously expensive and time consuming.

A much better solution is to extract everything that we need from wherever we are: where there's ice (the moon, Mars, and asteroids all have it), there's water, air with a bit of work, and with a bit more work, rocket fuel. Plus, there are likely other valuable resources scattered around all over the place, like minerals and metals. So, great, let's get on it! But first, we've got to find the stuff. And how is NASA going to do that? Robots.

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VertiKUL UAV Explores Practicalities of Delivery Drones

We’ve been skeptical about delivery drones ever since Amazon made it sound like delivery drones were 1.) easy and 2.) right around the corner. Realistically, there’s a huge amount of stuff that has to happen before delivery drones can work in practice; a lot of it is regulatory, but there are technical problems to be solved as well. Researchers at KU Leuven, in Belgium, have been working on some of these, including landing pads, cargo compartments, and range extension.

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Video Friday: George Takei Meets Baxter, Jibo Origins, and Underwater Cake

What with Savioke's secret project now out in the open, we're in desperate need of new mystery robots to obsess over. It's just not any fun being a robot journalist if there isn't something going on that nobody will tell you anything about, besides telling you that they can't tell you anything about it. It gives us a reason to live.

So please, please, please, for our sanity, send us anonymous emails, blurry cell phone pictures, anything we can fret and lust over. It would make us so happy.

Thank you.

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A Thousand Kilobots Self-Assemble Into Complex Shapes

When Harvard roboticists first introduced their Kilobots in 2011, they'd only made 25 of them. When we next saw the robots in 2013, they'd made 100. Now the researchers have built one thousand of them. That's a whole kilo of Kilobots, and probably the most robots that have ever been in the same place at the same time, ever [UPDATE: Some readers wrote in to say they disagree that this is the most robots in the same place at the same time ever. Rod Brooks says he was once in a warehouse in China with more than a thousand Roombas in storage. “Admittedly, they are in boxes rather than out running around and cooperating,” he says, “but it was a lot of robots!” Another reader claims that SRI has more than 1024 microrobots operating simultaneously. If you know of other massive robot swarms like that, let us know.]

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NASA Funds Robotic Tumbling Cubes for Space Exploration

NASA wants to go to an asteroid. Great! And once NASA gets there, then what? Exploration, of course, since that's what NASA does. But the microgravity (or minigravity?) environment is a challenging one to get around in. There's likely not enough gravity to use wheels or treads to drive across an asteroid, and moving from place to place using thrusters would be complicated and dangerous and suck up a lot of fuel. If you've taken the time to glance at the picture at the top of this article, you know one potential solution: robotic tumbling cubes that can move by themselves, as if by magic. That's because their motion is driven entirely from the inside.

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SaviOne: Savioke Unveils Its Delivery Robot

Well, we can stop speculating about what Savioke has been working on, because it's the robot in the picture above: SaviOne is a delivery robot that's operating as we speak at a hotel in Silicon Valley. It's designed to provide door-to-door delivery of whatever you desire (and can fit in its cargo bin), and it drives around autonomously while emitting adorable R2-D2-ish beeps.

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AI Video Competition Features Robots Plotting Against Humans, More

We thought about throwing all of these fantastic videos from the 2014 AAAI Video Competition into last week's Video Friday, but then decided that they deserved their own post. AAAI is the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, which held its annual conference late last month in Canada. According to the AAAI website, "the goal of the competition is to show the world how much fun AI is by documenting exciting artificial intelligence advances in research, education, and application." Fun? We like fun! SHOW US THE FUN.

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Video Friday: MIT DragonBots, Bot & Dolly Behind the Scenes, and RoboSub

You know what's special about today's Video Friday? No drones. No UAVs. No flying robots at all. Some weeks, it's all flying robots. Most weeks, there's at least a few. But not this week. Zero. This probably means that I've somehow missed out on something cool (and there is one thing, but I'm saving it for a proper article next week). So if you only bother to show up to Video Fridays for the fliers, you can take the week off. For the rest of us, let's get to it.

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Self-Folding Origami Robot Goes From Flat to Walking in Four Minutes

At the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) last year, Harvard's Sam Felton introduced us to his printed, self-folding inchworm robot. With some external infrastructure and the addition of a motor, the inchworm could autonomously transform from a flat sheet to a crawling robot by folding itself into a 3D structure with flexible joints.

Today, Felton and colleagues from Harvard and MIT are publishing a new paper in Science featuring a much more complex self-folding robot that can go from flat to folded and walking in four minutes without any human intervention at all.

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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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Berkeley, Calif.
 
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Canada
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