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NASA Testing Robots for Satellite Refueling Missions

The whole concept of servicing satellites in space is just so crazy that with the very rare exception of bajillion dollar pieces of hardware like Hubble, satellites just aren't designed to be repaired or refueled. They get put into orbit, they last until they run out of fuel or suffer some other sort of basic malfunction, and then they just get forgotten about, left to one of any number of depressing fates: orbiting the Earth until the end of time, de-orbiting whenever they feel like it onto hopefully not someone's head, or having a violently destructive close encounter with a fellow satellite resulting in a chain reaction of debris that will increase exponentially until low Earth orbit turns into a shell of pointy metallic confetti that's just as deadly as you'd expect pointy metallic confetti to be.

But what if we could service satellites, hmm? NASA's been taking small steps toward the giant leap of making that possible.

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Lockheed's Robotic Trucks Pass Real-World Military Convoy Test

A few weeks ago, we posted about the U.S. Army's plan to replace thousands of soldiers with robots as a way to increase efficiency by reducing the ratio of support personnel to combat troops. By cutting the size of a brigade by a quarter and filling the gap with robots specialized in logistics, the Army hopes to become safer, more versatile, and cheaper all at the same time. To be clear, this isn't about replacing front line soldiers with armed robots: it's about, say, replacing humans who drive supply trucks with robotic supply trucks that drive themselves, and Lockheed Martin has successfully demonstrated a working system that can retrofit human-driven military vehicles for autonomous operation.

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Myo Armband Provides Effortless Gesture Control of Robots, Anything Else

At ICRA last year, JPL presented a robotic control system called the BioSleeve, which is a sensor-packed bandage that wraps around your arm and lets you control robots with movements and gestures. It's essentially a gesture recognition system that works independently of any external sensors (like cameras or motion capture systems), meaning that you can use it in a variety of positions and in just about any location that you happen to be, like outside, or in space.

The problem with hardware like this is we all know that it's going to be a long long long long looong time before something that works in a lab at JPL finds its way onto our arms as consumers. But you know what? That's perfectly fine, because a Canadian startup called Thalmic Labs has its own wearable gesture sensing peripheral that's about to hit the consumer market, and we got to check it out last month at CES.

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Dyson Commits $8 Million to Robotics Lab, We Still Want a Vacuum

To quote an article that we wrote back in 2012, "Dyson has been working on a robot vacuum, for, like, ever." It's been a solid decade at the very least. The crazy part is that they already have a robotic vacuum: the DC06. In 2001 (one year before the very first Roomba), the $6,000 DC06 featured three onboard computers, 2,000 electronic components, 27 separate circuit boards, and 70 sensory devices. It was nuts. But James Dyson himself shut it down before a commercial release because of the cost (and weight), leaving us all wondering what they've been working on since then. We don't have an answer for you on that one, but it's gotta be a good sign that Dyson has just committed to investing $8 million in a robotics vision lab at Imperial College, London.

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Video Friday: Death Defying Vacuums, Tate After Dark, and Taranis Takes Flight

What's the craziest thing you've ever done with a robot vacuum? Personally, it's this, but LG gets some points for upping the risk beyond a few scratches from a taped-on butter knife. If that's not dangerous enough for you, we've also got a new robotic drone from Britain, and a quadcopter competition where you have to sign a waiver acknowledging the potential for death. Your death. Happy Video Friday!

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Who Is SCHAFT, the Robot Company Bought by Google and Winner of the DRC?

The DARPA Robotics Challenge held its inaugural competition last December, and by most accounts (including ours), it was a success. The DRC Trials drew huge public interest, and the teams and their robots performed surprisingly well. Overall, it was a big win for DARPA and for robotics as a whole, but without question, the biggest winner of all was SCHAFT, the Japanese company that utterly dominated the competition and that had been acquired by Google just months earlier. SCHAFT put on a nearly flawless performance, ending at the top spot with the most points and, we guess, leaving Andy Rubin (the Google executive leading its robotics program) with a big smile on his face. It also left many observers curious to learn more about the company, its origins, and its robot. So who is SCHAFT?

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Marsupial Robot Team Monitors Rivers From Water and Air

I know what you're thinking right now, because I was thinking it too as soon as I saw the phrase "marsupial robot team:" you're thinking about robot koalas. Or robot kangaroos. Or maybe robot wombats. As awesome as that would be, today you're going to have to make do with something only slightly less awesome, which is this duo of a robotic boat and a hexacopter that cooperate to collect data on rivers and lakes.

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Robot Creates Beautiful Light Paintings

I don't know exactly who was the first person to figure out that robots could be used for long-exposure light painting (although it may have been the guy linked to from here), but it's something that I've dabbled in for science, as have many others. It's a great way of making art, too, and it's relatively easy to do with a minimal amount of hardware and programming knowledge. Thymio II shows us how.

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Video Friday: Hacked Anki Drive, Cereal Arms, and Rocket Launching Drones

Mmm, Friday. The day that you get to enjoy all of these robot videos that we spent all of Thursday night (and often much of very early Friday morning) digging up. Not that you should feel guilty about that or anything: it's our job, and we love it, even if (on occasion) we to get a little bit grumpy roundabout 3 a.m. or so. If you do feel like making our lives easier, though, you should absolutely feel free to send us any robot videos that you run across that you think are new and cool, although we will most definitely make fun of you if you send us something that we've written about before.

Having said that, here are a bunch of videos that we're reasonably confident (reasonably) that we haven't written about before: it's Video Friday.

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Concept Art Hints at the Awesome Future of Drones

Robotics, in the present, is a little bit frustrating. Heck, it's been frustrating for years, as the promise of robotics in the future is always incredibly awesome, while the present state of robotics (being constrained by inconvenient things like, you know, reality) is, well, not quite as incredibly awesome. This awesome of which we speak seems to be perpetually about five years away, and in order to not be depressed about this all the time, it's nice to stretch our imaginations once in a while through the unabashed reality-independence of artistic concepts, like these.

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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.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
 
Contributor
Jason Falconer
Canada
Contributor
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan
 

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