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DARPA's Newest X-Plane Concepts Are All Robots

Yesterday, DARPA announced the four companies that'll be competing to develop a new experimental aircraft that combines the efficiency of an airplane with the versatility of a helicopter. It'll be something like a V-22 Osprey, except that DARPA is hoping for "radical improvements in vertical and cruise flight capabilities." Three of the companies provided concept art to DARPA; Boeing's Phantom Swift is pictured above. And the thing that every proposal has in common? They're all robots.

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Study Suggests That You Will Obey Your Future Robot Boss

If you're lucky, you may not lose your job to a robot in the future. That doesn't, however, mean that your boss won't lose his or her job to a robot in the future. And if (when) that happens, what's it going to be like working for a robot? A study from the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, suggests that you'll probably obey them nearly as predictably as you would a human.

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Video Friday: More Fake Ping Pong, Elastic Snakebots, and Watson Serves SXSW

Well, the whole Kuka thing was a bit of a letdown this week. Sigh. But the nice thing about having a ton of robot videos to post is that we can just get past that, right? Ordinarily, yeah, but we're kind of obligated to start off with the other fake robot ping pong video. Double sigh.

The problem with videos like these about robots that seem real, that pretend to be real, but aren't real, is that they make real robots look bad. It's easy (relatively easy) to CGI up robots being awesome, and then people get used to robots being awesome. But then, when you have to explain to them that no, real robots aren't quite that awesome, they can't help but be disappointed.

Real robots are awesome though. Very awesome. And here are some videos of them that are 100 percent real.

Except for the first one.

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Robots Playing Ping Pong: What's Real, and What's Not?

Really, Kuka? You got us all excited for this match between one of your cool new robots and a world champion table tennis player. We were thinking to ourselves, "Wow, Kuka wouldn't have set this whole thing up unless it was actually going to be a good match! Maybe we'll see some amazing feats of high speed robot arms, vision systems, and motion tracking!"

But no. Looks like there wasn't really a match at all. Kuka's robot (which the company says is the "fastest robot on earth") did seem capable of performing some ping pong moves, and world champion Timo Boll did seem to have exchanged some shots with the machine. But the encounter wasn't the "robot vs. human duel" we were promised. What Kuka gave us instead is an overproduced, highly edited commercial that, in our view, will puzzle (rather than amaze) those of us who follow robotics technology closely. Is this real, or is this hype? See for yourself.

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Immersive VR Enables Safe and Effective Control of Big Scary Robots

Industrial robots, as a rule, are not at all safe to be around. With a few exceptions, most of them live in safety cages, or depend on a sophisticated combination of hardware, software, and sensors to make sure that they don't accidentally, you know, purposefully disembowel whatever human is within immediate purposeful disembowelment range. This not only precludes humans working with robots directly, but it also means that whenever the robots screw something up, you have to power down all of that infrastructure before you can safely get in there to fix anything.

We can fix all of this, all of it, with immersive virtual reality.

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Video Friday: Ninja NAO, Robotic Refueling, and Too Many Legs

It's hard not to notice that that three of our four posts this week featured flying robots in one form or another. This isn't something that we do intentionally: our normal technique for coming up with subjects for articles is to just pick the absolute coolest thing that's happened in the last day or two, and sometimes, it's all about the flying robots.

What's worth pointing out, though, is that in general, it's true that there's been a heck of a lot of innovation in flying robots relatively recently. This week's mix of pure DIY goodness, a research project, and the (rumored) buyout of a UAV company provides a halfway decent summary of the aspects of this subfield of robotics that are being actively (and successfully) pursued. And then we had a dude with a cyborg arm playing drums, because we have to mix it up a little bit, right?

And we'll continue to mix it up with some awesome videos, because that's what Fridays are all about.

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Cyborg Drumming Arm Makes Amputee Into Superhuman Musician

Gil Weinberg at Georgia Tech designs robots that make music. Not robots that play music, but robots that can actually create music, creatively improvising new melodies based on analysis of existing ones, allowing them to have jam sessions either by themselves, or with human musicians. Weinberg's newest project also involves musical robots collaborating with musical humans, except in a much more direct way, with the design of a cybernetic upgrade that gives a drummer who's missing an arm a robotic arm with a musical mind of its own.

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Rumor: Facebook Eyeing Titan Aerospace's Atmospheric Satellite Drones

Last August, we got our first look at Titan Aerospace and their high altitude, long duration, solar powered atmospheric satellite drones on the AUVSI show floor. Titan told us that they were gearing up to sell their first three full-scale commercial systems this year, which we were excited about. But yesterday, TechCrunch reported on a rumor from someone "with access to information" that Titan is in talks with Facebook, which may spend $60 million to purchase the company.

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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

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Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
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Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
 
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Jason Falconer
Canada
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Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan
 

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