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The Way to Make Delivery Drones Work Is Using...Trucks?

Amp Holdings is a company that’s making a hybrid electric delivery truck that costs delivery companies 30 cents per mile to operate, as opposed to the dollar per mile that diesel trucks cost. That sounds like it’s a thing that’s worth buying all by itself, but Amp also wants to integrate a delivery drone (called a HorseFly) into each truck to make short deliveries semi-autonomously.

So, is using a truck as a base the way to make delivery drones work?

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Aldebaran Robotics Founder and CEO Steps Down, SoftBank Appoints New Leader

Aldebaran Robotics has just announced that its founder and CEO Bruno Maisonnier is stepping down. We had heard rumors of leadership changes several weeks ago but now the Paris-based company has officially confirmed that SoftBank, which had acquired a majority stake in Aldebaran, will purchase all of the shares held by Maisonnier and appoint a new CEO.

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Video Friday: Robotic Garden, Drone With Parachute, and Chocolate Robot Competition

How on earth do you make an algorithm exciting and visual? As journalists, we struggle with this all the time. MIT students, to the surprise of nobody, are way cleverer than we are, and they’ve developed a garden full of robotic flowers that can be programmed to physically illustrate the effects of algorithms on a set of data by opening, closing, and changing colors.

Watch them do their flowery thing, and then watch all the rest of Video Friday, because… uh, because it’s Video Friday. Yeah, that.

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Facebook AI Director Yann LeCun on His Quest to Unleash Deep Learning and Make Machines Smarter

Artificial intelligence has gone through some dismal periods, which those in the field gloomily refer to as “AI winters.” This is not one of those times; in fact, AI is so hot right now that tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, Baidu, and Microsoft are battling for the leading minds in the field. The current excitement about AI stems, in great part, from groundbreaking advances involving what are known as “convolutional neural networks.” This machine learning technique promises dramatic improvements in things like computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. You probably have heard of it by its more layperson-friendly name: “Deep Learning.”

Few people have been more closely associated with Deep Learning than Yann LeCun, 54. Working as a Bell Labs researcher during the late 1980s, LeCun developed the convolutional network technique and showed how it could be used to significantly improve handwriting recognition; many of the checks written in the United States are now processed with his approach. Between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s, when neural networks had fallen out of favor, LeCun was one of a handful of scientists who persevered with them. He became a professor at New York University in 2003, and has since spearheaded many other Deep Learning advances.

More recently, Deep Learning and its related fields grew to become one of the most active areas in computer research. Which is one reason that at the end of 2013, LeCun was appointed head of the newly-created Artificial Intelligence Research Lab at Facebook, though he continues with his NYU duties.

LeCun was born in France, and retains from his native country a sense of the importance of the role of the “public intellectual.” He writes and speaks frequently in his technical areas, of course, but is also not afraid to opine outside his field, including about current events.

IEEE Spectrum contributor Lee Gomes spoke with LeCun at his Facebook office in New York City. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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FAA Unveils Drone Rules: Autonomy Is In, Drone Delivery Is Out

Yesterday, on a Sunday, right after Valentine’s Day, in the middle of a holiday weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration decided to announce the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), governing the operation of drones under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). We’ve been watching the FAA take swings at commercial UAS rules for a while, usually cringing as they do, even as commercial drone operators desperately plead for reasonable procedures under which they can legally run their businesses.

The worry has always been that the FAA would attempt to over-regulate, requiring things like airworthiness certificates for drones and pilot’s licenses for drone operators and all manner of other restrictions that would make it a lot harder for people to use UAS. It seems that the FAA has been listening, though, and the agency’s proposed rules for UAS show a level of openness, restraint, and general not-that-bad-ness that’s a pleasant surprise.

Having said that, there’s still a lot of important stuff to understand whether you fly big-ish or small-ish drones. We have all the proposed rules, along with some analysis of the sticking points of the current proposal, after the jump.

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Video Friday: RoboCore, Anki Overdrive, Valkyrie's New Moves

RoboCore is a dedicated controller board that’s been designed from the ground up for robots. It’s sort of like an Arduino, except that instead of being a DIY generalist, it’s optimized for building and programming your own robots from scratch. You can plug all kinds of stuff into it, and it’s easy to program while also providing wireless and cloud connectivity without you having to muddle through all kinds of frustrating setup and configuration and customization. Video of how it works, plus more, ’cause it’s Friday Friday Friday.

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DARPA and OSRF Developing Next-Gen Prosthetic Limbs in Simulation and Reality

One of the most direct, tangible ways that robotics can help humanity is by restoring independence to people who don’t have it. This is especially true for robotic prosthetics, as they transition from systems with a mind of their own to systems that are leveraging your mind instead.

Earlier this week, DARPA announced contract awards for HAPTIX (“Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces”), a program that “seeks to create a prosthetic hand system that moves and provides sensation like a natural hand.”

It sounds cool, but what really drove the importance of this home for us were two videos that DARPA posted today: one showing amputees eating and drinking with DEKA arms—created by Dean Kamen’s DEKA R&D firm for DARPA—and another showing a U.S. Army volunteer using one to climb up a rock wall.

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This Invincible Flying Robot Just Won a $1 Million Drone Competition

We started writing about AirBurr, the robot that would become Gimball, in October of 2009. Over the last five or so years, we’ve watched it change and evolve through what by now has to be more than a dozen unique versions until we were introduced to Gimball at ICRA 2014 in Japan. This is a robot with quite an academic development history, and that makes us particularly excited to see it win US $1 million in the first Drones for Good competition (an event organized by the United Arab Emirates government), not as a research project, but as a commercial one.  

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Spot Is Boston Dynamics' Nimble New Quadruped Robot

Boston Dynamics is infuriatingly cool. They have to be the only robotics company out there that can just post a YouTube video of an incredibly agile autonomous quadruped named “Spot” with a four sentence description, and that’s that—no info on their site, no press release, no interviews. Because they know that everybody is going to watch it and think it’s awesome anyway. Grr.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

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

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