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BALLU Humanoid Blimp Robot

Meet BALLU, UCLA's Humanoid Blimp Robot

The 2016 IEEE International Conference on Humanoid Robots kicks off today. It’s taking place at the Westin Resort & Spa Cancun, which sounds awful, but at least there are some cool new robots, and one of the coolest has to be BALLU, from Dennis Hong at UCLA’s Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa). BALLU, or Buoyancy Assisted Lightweight Legged Unit (Professor Hong loves a good acronym), is a humanoid-ish robot with a body made of helium balloons and a pair of thin articulated legs. Since it weighs next to nothing, it never falls over, and can walk, hop, and perform a variety of other useful bipedal motions as long as you don’t take it outside on a windy day. 

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Researchers are developing robot-plant biohybrids

Robot-Plant Biohybrids Growing in European Laboratories

Flora Robotica is a project funded by the European Union whose goal is “to develop and investigate closely linked symbiotic relationships between robots and natural plants and to explore the potentials of a plant-robot society able to produce architectural artifacts and living spaces.” The overall idea seems to be that it would be cool to enhance the capabilities of plants by mixing in some robotics, and vice versa, combining plant growth with the structure and mobility of robots. Sure, why not?

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DLR Humanoid Robot Toro

Video Friday: Robot Dance Contest, 500 Drones Flying, and Steady Humanoid

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!):

HRI 2016 – November 15-17, 2016 – Cancun, Mexico
AI-HRI – November 17-19, 2016 – Arlington, Va., USA
Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work – December 5, 2016 – Houston, Texas, USA
RiTA 2016 – December 11-14, 2016 – Beijing, China
WAFR 2016 – December 18-20, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA

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


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Cyclocopter designed at Texas A&M

World's Smallest Cyclocopter Brings Unique Design to Microdrones

A cyclocopter is a weird sort of aircraft that uses airfoils rotating around a horizontal axis to generate lift and thrust. The concept was developed about a century ago, but these things are tricky to build and fly, so they haven’t, er, taken off as much as helicopters have. In fact, there’s only a small handful of research groups working on cyclocopters at all, and at the moment, they’re focusing on small scales. Professor Moble Benedict and graduate students Carl Runco and David Coleman at Texas A&M’s Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory has been testing the smallest cyclocopter ever developed: It’s just 29 grams in mass, and could be a tiny step towards replacing helicopters and multirotors with something better.

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Echodyne's metamaterial-based detect and avoid radar sensor

Metamaterial Radar Is Exactly What Delivery Drones Need

As we’ve pointed out over the last few years, there are some issues with the idea of urban or suburban delivery drones. Besides the fact that they’re illegal right now, the biggest technological problem is that none of the delivery drones that we’ve seen so far seem to have any kind of sense-and-avoid capability that could realistically deal with the challenges of urban airspace, including everything from other drones to light aircraft to birds to trees to overhead wiring.

There are some drones that try to use cameras for this, and at least one that relies on lidar, but for reliable all-weather sensing with the kind of range and resolution that you’d need for safe autonomous flight, the best answer might be to just do what aircraft have been doing for decades: use radar.

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Robot Drone Man

Behind the Music: How "Robot Drone Man" Built His Flying Avatar

The most entertaining video we posted on Video Friday a couple weeks ago was almost certainly Robot Drone Man, a parody of this PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen) video, which for some reason has 150 million views on YouTube. Parody or not, Robot Drone Man actually exists, and it’s a project of Ilhan Bae, a researcher and futurist at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), who wrote in to tell us about it.

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Gesture-controlled robot arm with Myo armband

Video Friday: Rescue Robot, Gesture Control, and 1986 Self-Driving Van

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!):

Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, England
HRI 2016 – November 15-17, 2016 – Cancun, Mexico
AI-HRI – November 17-19, 2016 – Arlington, Va., USA
Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work – December 05, 2016 – Houston, Texas, USA
RiTA 2016 – December 11-14, 2016 – Beijing, China
WAFR 2016 – December 18-20, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA

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


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Georgia Tech warm robot skin for tactile sensing

Robots With Warm Skin Know What They're Touching

Usually, if your robot is warm to the touch, it’s symptomatic of some sort of horrific failure of its cooling system. Robots aren’t supposed to be warm— they’re supposed to be steely and cold. Or at least, steely and ambient temperature. Heat is almost always a byproduct that needs to be somehow accounted for and dealt with. Humans and many other non-reptiles expend a lot of energy keeping at a near-constant temperature, and as it turns out, being warmish all the time provides a lot of fringe benefits, including the ability to gather useful information about things that we touch. Now robots can have this ability, too.

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GRASP Lab pico drone can fly through obstacles

The Secret to Small Drone Obstacle Avoidance Is to Just Crash Into Stuff

Roboticists are putting a tremendous amount of time and effort into finding the right combination of sensors and algorithms that will keep their drones from smashing into things. It’s a very difficult problem: With a few exceptions, you’ve got small platforms that move fast and don’t have the payload capability for the kind of sensors or computers that you really need to do real-time avoidance of things like trees or power lines. And without obstacle avoidance, how will we ever have drones that can deliver new athletic socks to our doorstep in 30 minutes or less?

At the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab, where they’ve been working very, very hard at getting quadrotors to fly through windows without running into them, Yash Mulgaonkar, Luis Guerrero-Bonilla, Anurag Makineni, and Professor Vijay Kumar have come up with what seems to be a much simpler solution for navigation and obstacle avoidance with swarms of small aerial robots: Give them a roll cage, and just let them run into whatever is in their way. Seriously, it’ll be fine!

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Russia's humanoid robot Fedor

Video Friday: Russian Android, Swarm User Interface, and Robot Drone Man

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. After two weeks of amazing videos from IROS, we’re back with our regular Video Friday edition.

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!):

ICSR 2016 – November 1-3, 2016 – Kansas City, Kan., USA
Social Robots in Therapy and Education – November 2-4, 2016 – Barcelona, Spain
Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, England
HRI 2016 – November 15-17, 2016 – Cancun, Mexico
AI-HRI – November 17-19, 2016 – Arlington, Va., USA
Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work – December 05, 2016 – Houston, Texas, USA
RiTA 2016 – December 11-14, 2016 – Beijing, China
WAFR 2016 – December 18-20, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA

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

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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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