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PlatformBot: Willow Garage's Secret Robot Prototype

Yesterday, Melonee Wise (co-founder and CEO of Unbounded Robotics) gave a talk at Xconomy's Robo Madness event. We were expecting to hear about how things were going with the UBR-1, and maybe some hints as to when it'll be available, but she surprised us by instead talking about PlatformBot, a prototype service robot that was apparently developed at Willow Garage in early 2012 but never released.

This was a surprise mostly because we only had a vague idea that anything like this even existed: it was certainly never public, but Wise's presentation made it clear that a huge amount of time and effort had gone in to deciding what PlatformBot was going to be, and then making it a reality.

We have no idea what happened to these robots, except that UBR-1 looks a lot like some of the concepts, which is probably not a coincidence, because the entire Unbounded Team seems to have been closely involved in the PlatformBot project before they spun out of Willow. We're actively following up on this and will have a lot more information for you in the near future, but for today, we have images and details from Wise's presentation at Xconomy.

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'Wearable Eyes' Make You Appear Friendly, Social Even When You're Not

Have you ever had trouble concentrating in the office as people walk by and glance at you? Do you come off as unfriendly or aloof, when you're really just focusing on your work?

Dr. Hirotaka Osawa from Tsukuba University, in Japan, has developed a new wearable device to help us with something called "emotional labor." His idea is that people could adopt cyborg technology to increase the emotional comfort of those around us. In this case, the device is a crazy pair of glasses that display eyeballs on their lenses.

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Savioke Scores $2 Million in Seed Funding From Google Ventures and Others

After leaving Willow Garage, Willow's CEO Steve Cousins founded a new robotics company called Savioke. It's been very much in stealth mode; in fact, even the exact pronunciation of the name is a closely-guarded secret.* Today, Savioke is announcing a substantial amount of seed funding from the likes of Google Ventures to develop a robot focused on the service industry, which leads us into some serious speculation about what Savioke might be up to.

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Drones Helping to Map Fukushima Cleanup and Reconstruction

Drone Adventures was founded a year ago, and they've been busy conducting post-disaster autonomous UAV mapping missions in places like Haiti, where updated maps can be critical to aid distribution (in the short term) and infrastructure management and repair (in the long term). Their most recent adventure (that they're willing to tell us about, at least) happened last November in Japan, where they partnered with the Center for Spatial Information Science at the University of Tokyo to explore how the area devastated by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has been recovering.

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New Da Vinci Xi Surgical Robot Is Optimized for Complex Procedures

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci series of surgical robots have been conducting FDA-approved minimally invasive surgery on humans for well over a decade now, and the company is continually trying to make its robots better at performing operations with the absolute minimum of cuttingyouopenness. Last week, Intuitive released a fancy new version of the da Vinci robot, the Xi, which it says has more capabilities than previous models and is optimized for complex procedures.

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Video Friday: April Fool's, Festo Flying Spheres, and Giant Crab Robot

As you may have noticed, it was April Fool's Day on Tuesday. We journalists absolutely dread this day, because all of the news is fake, and not only does it drive us nuts, but it makes us suspicious of anything that gets announced immediately before or after. So, for the record, Carol Reiley and Andrew Ng are engaged, and there is a bionic robot kangaroo, but the first few videos below are definitely jokes.

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What Robot Behavior Makes People Feel Uncomfortable?

A few years ago, I met one of the previous versions of the REEM robot. REEM was taller and broader than me, and its big, black eyes tracked me as I moved. When I shifted, its stare followed. It watched me with target-locked precision, like a laser into my soul. 

I've been working with robots for over eight years now, and REEM was certainly beautifully designed. But something was bugging me about its behavior, and now researchers know what it is.

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Festo's Newest Robot Is a Hopping Bionic Kangaroo

Every year, Festo comes up with innovative and fantastical new robot designs as part of its "Bionic Learning Network," which seeks to use "principles from nature to provide inspiration for technical applications." In practice, this means developing all kinds of spectacular robotic animals, including this absolutely amazing flying seagull.

For the last few years, Festo has been secretly working in their sprawling German laboratory lair on their most ambitious bioinspired robot yet: an unstoppable (we assume) hopping robotic kangaroo.

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Disney Research Pixelbots Tell the Story of the Universe


Disclaimer: today is April 1. This post is not an April Fool's joke, because we're curmudgeonly old-school journalists who don't go in for those kinds of shenanigans, and robotics news is interesting enough all by itself. Thank you for your attention.


Three years ago at ICRA in Shanghai, Disney Research presented a prototype for an artistic robot swarm. The swarm was made up of lots of little wheeled robots with LEDs, each of which acted as an individual mobile pixel in a dynamic image made entirely of robots. Disney and ETH Zurich have been refining this idea, developing both software and hardware and adding more robots to the mix. At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction earlier this month, the latest version of this Display Swarm, now called Pixelbots, reenacted the story of the Universe.

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