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Watch SRI's Nimble Microrobots Cooperate to Build Structures

Over the past year or two, we've seen all kinds of creative robots and robot teams that are learning how to build things. Recently, we've highlighted Harvard's TERMES Project, and we're particular fans of this robot that builds ramps by tossing thousands of toothpicks and glue into a giant random pile.

SRI International has also been developing construction robots, but on a much smaller scale, with swarms of magnetically actuated microrobots that can work together to build macro-scale structures.

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Repurposed Military Drones Create Mobile Wireless Hotspots

The military is pouring a huge amount of resources into unmanned systems like UAVs. Every year, drones get fancier and more capable, which means that there's an increasing number of slightly less fancy and slightly less capable drones gathering dust and feeling lonely in a hangar somewhere. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an idea of what these drones might be good for: not delivering weapons, not surveillance, but instead providing mobile high-speed network connectivity for deployed troops.

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Patent Suggests Sony Still Sees Future for Household Robots

When Sony shuttered its entertainment robotics division back in 2006, and after its Rolly (an egg-shaped robotic music player) was met with consumer apathy the following year, we thought it was safe to say the Japanese electronics giant was finished with robots for good. However, a recently published patent application suggests the company might be considering a come back of sorts.

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Why Are Search-and-Rescue Drones Grounded?

Gene Robinson of Wimberly, Texas, is a licensed pilot and also flies radio-controlled model airplanes—not an unusual combination. About a decade ago, he realized that a model aircraft outfitted to take aerial photos could be enormously useful in locating people who have gone missing—perhaps because they’ve been abducted or maybe just because they are very young and have wandered off into the woods alone. His efforts have paid valuable dividends over the years—helping find the remains of nearly a dozen people. But since late February his search-and-rescue model airplanes have been grounded: That’s when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified him in writing that what he has been doing is illegal.

Since 2007, the FAA has maintained that model airplanes, no matter how small, cannot be flown for commercial purposes until the agency puts regulations in place to accommodate them. But thousands of people fly radio-controlled (RC) model airplanes as a hobby, and what Robinson has been doing with his 2-kilogram, electrically powered, foam-and-plastic planes is really no different. “This is a double standard we’ve had to deal with for almost seven years,” says Robinson.

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PlatformBot: Willow Garage's Secret Robot Prototype

Yesterday, Melonee Wise (co-founder and CEO of Unbounded Robotics) gave a talk at Xconomy's Robo Madness event. We were expecting to hear about how things were going with the UBR-1, and maybe some hints as to when it'll be available, but she surprised us by instead talking about PlatformBot, a prototype service robot that was apparently developed at Willow Garage in early 2012 but never released.

This was a surprise mostly because we only had a vague idea that anything like this even existed: it was certainly never public, but Wise's presentation made it clear that a huge amount of time and effort had gone in to deciding what PlatformBot was going to be, and then making it a reality.

We have no idea what happened to these robots, except that UBR-1 looks a lot like some of the concepts, which is probably not a coincidence, because the entire Unbounded Team seems to have been closely involved in the PlatformBot project before they spun out of Willow. We're actively following up on this and will have a lot more information for you in the near future, but for today, we have images and details from Wise's presentation at Xconomy.

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'Wearable Eyes' Make You Appear Friendly, Social Even When You're Not

Have you ever had trouble concentrating in the office as people walk by and glance at you? Do you come off as unfriendly or aloof, when you're really just focusing on your work?

Dr. Hirotaka Osawa from Tsukuba University, in Japan, has developed a new wearable device to help us with something called "emotional labor." His idea is that people could adopt cyborg technology to increase the emotional comfort of those around us. In this case, the device is a crazy pair of glasses that display eyeballs on their lenses.

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Savioke Scores $2 Million in Seed Funding From Google Ventures and Others

After leaving Willow Garage, Willow's CEO Steve Cousins founded a new robotics company called Savioke. It's been very much in stealth mode; in fact, even the exact pronunciation of the name is a closely-guarded secret.* Today, Savioke is announcing a substantial amount of seed funding from the likes of Google Ventures to develop a robot focused on the service industry, which leads us into some serious speculation about what Savioke might be up to.

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Drones Helping to Map Fukushima Cleanup and Reconstruction

Drone Adventures was founded a year ago, and they've been busy conducting post-disaster autonomous UAV mapping missions in places like Haiti, where updated maps can be critical to aid distribution (in the short term) and infrastructure management and repair (in the long term). Their most recent adventure (that they're willing to tell us about, at least) happened last November in Japan, where they partnered with the Center for Spatial Information Science at the University of Tokyo to explore how the area devastated by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has been recovering.

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New Da Vinci Xi Surgical Robot Is Optimized for Complex Procedures

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci series of surgical robots have been conducting FDA-approved minimally invasive surgery on humans for well over a decade now, and the company is continually trying to make its robots better at performing operations with the absolute minimum of cuttingyouopenness. Last week, Intuitive released a fancy new version of the da Vinci robot, the Xi, which it says has more capabilities than previous models and is optimized for complex procedures.

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