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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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Fetch Robotics: Unbounded Core Team Developing New Robots for Logistics

Today, Fetch Robotics is announcing its existence, a big chunk of funding, and the fact that it’s working on not one, but two robots, one of which is a mobile manipulator targeting the logistics market. What is Fetch Robotics? In short, it’s the core team from Unbounded Robotics, now bigger, better, well funded, and (apparently) with less of a predilection for making things orange. We talk to Fetch’s founders (and funders) and Fetch CEO Melonee Wise, and speculate about exactly what’s going on over there, after the break.

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Video Friday: Teleoperated Balloon Animals, Zipperbots, and Indiana Darwin

Robots are getting much, much better at sensing and manipulation. It may not always feel like they’re making progress, but they are. Still, asking them to do anything autonomously, especially in unfamiliar or unstructured environments where things need to happen in real time, is usually only going to lead to disappointment, frustration, tears, and sometimes screaming.

For now, the reliable way of getting a robot to do what you want (when it involves perception and fine motor skills) is teleoperation. RE2 Robotics builds Highly Dexterous Manipulation System (HDMS) that are half the weight of a humanoid torso with twice the strength of a human, intuitively controlled by a sort of Waldo system. It’s primarily designed for military operations, but RE2 has a far more critical task: making balloon animals. See how they do it, plus lots more videos. It’s Friday!

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Yet Another Drone Delivery Trial, This Time in Asia

For the next few days, Alibaba’s major online marketplace Taobao will be delivering small packages of ginger tea to 450 paying customers in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, by drone. What makes this different than other drone delivery trials we’ve seen before is that supposedly there will be real customers in the loop on this one.

Alibaba released a video showing how things will supposedly work from the moment a user orders an item and a drone is loaded and sent out to the moment when the item is delivered:

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PAL Robotics Introduces Tiago Mobile Manipulator

Spanish robot maker PAL Robotics, best known for their REEM humanoid robots, has just introduced a new mobile manipulator called Tiago (Take It And Go). Want to pick stuff up and move it around in a research environment? This could be the robot for you.

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Can We Detect Small Drones Like the One That Crashed at White House? Yes, We Can

Last week, a small drone belonging to a federal worker crashed on the White House grounds. Just what caused the little flyer to head off to one of the most security-sensitive sites in the world is not certain, but in any event the results were pretty harmless. Still, the incident sparked much interest in the White House’s aerial defenses should someone want to use a small drone of this kind to do real mischief.

The New York Times reported that the ill-fated drone, a DJI Phantom, was “too small and flying too low to be detected by radar,” according to government officials. So how might the U.S. Secret Service—or others worried about drone incursions to the properties they oversee—detect them? I contacted T. Adam Kelly, the CTO of DeTect, a specialty radar company based in Panama City, Fla., to discuss this issue.

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Robots Learning to Cook by Watching YouTube Videos

In the hierarchy of things that I want robots to do for me, cooking dinner is right up there with doing the laundry and driving my car. And writing all my articles. For now, the best we can do is just watch progress being made toward getting all of these things to work reliably (and affordably). We’ve seen plenty of examples of robots that can cook, but generally, they’re all following some level of pre-programmed instructions. Telling robots what to do and how to do it is one of the trickiest things about robotics, especially for end users, so it’s a good thing we can all just sit back and let them learn things by watching videos on YouTube.

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A Smartphone Is the Brain for This Autonomous Quadcopter

At CES 2015, we stopped by the Qualcomm booth to check out a collaborative project with University of Pennsylvania researchers led by Vijay Kumar: it’s a quadrotor that uses a smartphone for a brain for autonomous flight, using only on-board hardware and vision algorithms, no GPS. Impressive.

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Video Friday: Robot Skiing, Cow Art by Drone, and 11 Years Roving on Mars

I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of writing articles about how the Opportunity rover is still doing amazing and awesome science on the surface of Mars. Oppy has now been operational for 11 years, which works out to just under 4,000 Martian days. The rover’s warranty expired after 100. I could throw even more cool numbers at you, but it’d be better if I just shut up and let JPL do it.

That, and more, as Video Friday starts now.

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Care-O-bot 4 Is the Robot Servant We All Want but Probably Can't Afford

Mobile manipulators are the robots we want, because they’re the robots that have the most potential to do the things that we care about: working in our homes and businesses, making things better and faster and easier. Robots have a long way to go before better and faster and easier become a thing that consumers get to experience directly, but with each new and updated platform, we get a little closer. Today, that little bit closer is the new and improved Care-O-bot 4, from Fraunhofer IPA.

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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.
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Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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