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Robot With Tummy Full of Microbes Can Swim in Dirty Water Forever

Robots are better than animals in almost every way. Well, they’re better in some ways, I guess. I mean, robots are occasionally okay at some things. A few things. None of those things are energetic autonomy: the ability to operate continuously and indefinitely without dependence on humans for refueling. There certainly are robots that operate autonomously for long durations, and they’re either feeding off of radioactivity, or they’re relying on solar panels that don’t work half the time. A better option (at least in some situations) might be robots that forage for food like animals do, taking care of their own energy needs all by themselves.

This is only a slightly crazy idea (although at one point it was briefly the craziest idea ever), and fuel cells that are full of living microbes are a real thing. At the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, in the United Kingdom, they’ve been developing a robot called Row-bot that can swim around, harvesting energy directly from the water using a microbial fuel cell as an artificial stomach.

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Tensegrity Robot Could Be Creeping Through Your Ducts Right Now

According to the World Health Organization, there’s a 30 percent chance that the air you’re breathing right this second is terrible, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that terrible indoor air costs businesses $60 billion annually. This is an enormous amount of money: to put it in perspective, it’s something like half of what I assume the annual budget of IEEE Spectrum is.

You can blame this bad air on your heating and air conditioning system, and the fact that you probably have no idea if it’s ever been cleaned. Getting all up in them ducts by hand is an enormous and very dirty hassle which probably involves partial uninstallation of your ceiling and/or roof, or, you could design a cleverly tetrahedral tensegrity robot to do it for you.

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Dash Robotics Launches a New Toy That You Desperately Need

We love Dash Robotics because they’ve managed to take serious research robots and turn them into serious toy robots that you can actually buy and play with, which is remarkable and kind of awesome. Two years ago, Dash comfortably surpassed its crowdfunding goal to bring you one skittery little robot, and now they’ve got a brand new one that’s easier to build and program and faster than ever.

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U.S. Government Plans Mandatory Drone Registration Program

During a press conference this afternoon, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the creation of a task force to develop recommendations for a registration process for drones that operate in U.S. airspace. By 20 November, the task force will decide which drones will have to be registered and which drones will be exempt, whether you have to register drones that you already own, and how to deal with drones that you build yourself, among other things. The idea is that some sort of system will be in place by mid-December to deal with the million or so new drones that consumers will be getting over the holidays.

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Video Friday: PlantBots, Real Martians, and Drone Comms Jammer

You know what special and exciting thing we have going on today? Not a one. We’re hosting a perfectly normal, reasonable, non-crazy Video Friday, because it seems like we haven’t had one of those in a while. Besides, there are, of course, things happening soon, like the 2015 Bay Area Robotics Symposium next week, followed by AUVSI Unmanned Systems Defense 2015 the week after that. But this week, you don’t have to worry about that. All you have to do is enjoy this delicious selection of soothingly straightforward robot videos.

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Pneumatic Generator Could Make Soft Robots Useful

The adaptability and inherent safety offered by soft robots is pretty great, and we’ve seen lots of examples of all the crazy things that you can do when you don’t have to worry about giving your robot bones. Getting these boneless robots to move is tricky, but turning water into gas and then back into water again may offer a compact, efficient, and clever solution.

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Robots Learning Judo Techniques to Fall Down Without Exploding

The best and worst part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals was watching all of those huge expensive humanoids topple over in a series of epic faceplants. Faceplants are called faceplants because you’re planting your face into the ground as a means of breaking your fall, which usually also breaks your face, among other things. This tends to happen when you’re unprepared for falling, which with most robots, is 100 percent of the time. Now researchers at Georgia Tech want to teach humanoid robots to fall more safely with techniques adapted from judo, which might protect them enough to actually be able to get up again.

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Throwable Robot Ball Unfolds Legs to Walk

Anyone who has much in the way of experience with robots is painfully aware of their fragility. Robots like Flyability’s Gimball deal with this through the creative use of roll cages, which have a useful side effect of allowing the robot to dynamically navigate through direct surface contact. Roll cages can protect ground robots too, although it’s a bit more problematic because using a full roll cage makes it difficult for the robot to do anything but roll. At IROS, Japanese researchers presented a design for a robot that can be tossed, roll along the ground, and then pop out four legs when it needs to scramble around.

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Video Friday: Robot Phone, Cardboard Karts, and The Long Road to Everywhere

We’ve made it back from IROS 2015 in Germany mostly in once piece, and we still have all kinds of other stuff to bring you from the conference as soon as we recover from a potentially lethal combination of jet lag, curry sausages, weird cheese, and pretzels that are full of butter for no reason. So now that IROS is over, you know what that means: time to get ready for ICRA 2016 in Stockholm!

But we’re not there yet, and we have some catching up to do on robot videos, so here’s a couple dozen from the last two weeks to help you make it to the end of your Friday.

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Watch Flyability's Flashy Drones Dance Around a Forest at Night

Seems like everybody wants to sell you a drone these days. And since not everyone can sell the same drone, each one is slightly (usually incrementally) different, while simultaneously each one promises to be the best drone ever. It’s exhausting, really. Being terrible pilots, we’re mostly in favor of drones that we can fly without crashing them, and no matter how fancy your autopilot purports to be, the best drone for flying without crashing has to be Flyability’s Gimball, which is basically indestructible. The company, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, just posted a video of two Gimball drones tricked out with LEDs bouncing around a forest at night: it’s beautiful, and not something that any other drone would be able to do.

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