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World's Cleverest Jumping Robot Gets Faster, More Agile

I have absolutely no foundation for calling this the "world's cleverest" jumping robot, except that we've covered a whole bunch of jumping robots, and this one is easily one of the most brilliant designs that we've seen. We first met this little guy at ICRA, where it showed off its ability to jump, land without smashing itself to pieces, stand up again, turn, and then make another jump. Cool, and now it's just gotten some serious upgrades.

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How NASA's Curiosity Rover Will Land on Mars

UPDATED 5:26 p.m.: Latest updates from NASA:

- NASA's Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover have blasted off on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

- NASA's Mars Science Laboratory has separated from the rocket that boosted it toward Mars and has sent a signal to Earth.

- Engineers have received data from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory showing that all systems are operating normally. The approximately eight-month journey to Mars is underway.

mars, robotic exploration, space robots, rover, mars rover, curiosity, jpl, jet propulsion laboratory, mars science laboratory, msl, entry descent and landing, edl, landing, skycrane

This week, NASA gave its launch team the go-ahead to continue working towards liftoff of the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover, tomorrow, Saturday, November 26. So if things go according to plan, an Atlas V rocket will blast into space carrying NASA's bigger and more capable new rover, the beginning of a 570-million-kilometer journey to the Red Planet.

The trip will take nearly nine months and likely involve lots of challenges. But today I want to bring your attention to one part of the mission that I find fascinating, and a bit scary: getting the rover on the surface of Mars. Or as the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers call it, "entry, descent, and landing," or EDL.

Curiosity's predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, the size of golf carts, landed on "air bags" dropped from a descent craft. The new rover, however, is too big and heavy for that -- it's the size of a small car, weighing in at 900 kilograms, and equipped with a nuclear power supply and 10 scientific instruments.

So the JPL team came up with a new approach that involves lowering the rover on cables -- the "skycrane maneuver." Picture a commando rappelling from a helicopter and you get the idea. JPL has prepared a computer animation depicting the EDL sequence, and we got Steve Lee, the guidance, navigation, and control manager for the mission, to narrate the action:

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Robot Video Thursday: Nothing Related to Thanksgiving at All

In some parts of the world, today is Thanksgiving. That's why I'm going to Canada: I'm a friend of the turkey, man. That doesn't mean I'm not busy stuffing my face with Canada food, though... Maple syrup-cured moose meat, probably. That's a staple up there, yeah?

Anyhoo, we're kinda taking the day off around here, but to keep you from figuring that out, we're going to toss you a bunch of random robot vids from the last week or two as a distraction. Ready? GO!

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Inflatable Ant-Roach Robot is Big Enough to Ride

This robot is called Ant-Roach. Ant-Roach is called Ant-Roach because to those with a fanciful imagination it looks a bit like a cross between an anteater and a cockroach, although it'll take an even more fanciful imagination to figure out a way that that could ever naturally come to pass. Imagination or no imagination, this thing exists, it moves, and you can ride it (AWESOME).

And, it's completely inflatable, muscles and all.

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Kinect-Powered Robot Lets You Clean Up Your House Remotely

Yaskawa's SmartPal VII is perhaps not the friendliest looking (or most modern looking) mobile manipulation robot. It may also not be the smartest, but that's okay, since it's designed to be teleoperated, relying entirely on you to provide the brains.

No pressure.

Using a Kinect gesture interface and motion-tracking system, the SmartPal VII is perfectly suited to wander around your mom's house, "cleaning up" for her by snapping the necks of her stuffed animals like twigs at your command.

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Meet the New World's Fastest Micromouse Robot

One year ago, we got super excited when a micromouse managed to negotiate a maze in under five seconds. At the 2011 All Japan Micromouse Robot Competition in Tsukuba, the micromouse pictured above shaved an entire second off of that time, completing the maze in a scant 3.921 seconds. That's fast.

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Senseless Drawing Robot Should Probably Be Arrested

I'm a big fan of robots that are purpose-built to do something wonderful and useless, especially when that thing is against the law. Designed by So Kanno and Takahiro Yamaguchi, the "Senseless Drawing Robot" (that's them calling it senseless, not me) combines random programming with even more random motion to spray paint randomness2 along whatever wall you park it next to. One thing's for sure: humans aren't allowed to be doing this.

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Robotic Pillow Pokes Snoring Humans in the Face

This robotic pillow bear sure looks comfy. And he is comfy. So comfy, in fact, that you're supposed to fall asleep on him. But you'd better not start snoring, because if you do, the robot will gently reach over and smack you in the face:

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Harvest Automation Beta Testing Robot Farmers

We've been following Harvest Automation for a couple years now, since they've got a bunch of ex-iRobot people on board and they started out in stealth mode, which is a combination that's just inviting wild speculation. The plant has been out of the pot for a while, though, since Harvest Automation was revealed in 2008 to be primarily interested in, um, the automation of harvesting. Surprise?

In searching for ways to leverage Roomba-style (simple, specific, and reliable) technology in a new market, Harvest decided to give agriculture a try. Specifically, they've come up with a little robot whose only purpose in non-life is to pick up potted plants and move them from place to place. Potted plants are heavy and need to be moved frequently to optimize their spacing, and if you've got a big enough ornamental plant farm, that's a lot of people with a lot of sore backs.

The robots, not having backs, are much better suited for this, and using a variety of simple but accurate and reliable local sensors, they can either completely take over from humans, or work alongside them if the robots happen to be feeling magnanimous.

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