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Rethink Robotics' Sawyer Goes on Sale, Rodney Brooks Says 'There May Be More Robots'

“Everything is a mess,” Rodney Brooks says, as we make our way through a brick-walled room filled with robots in various states of assembly here at Rethink Robotics’ headquarters in Boston, Mass. The mess, we should point out, makes Brooks, the company’s founder and CTO, very happy. It means things are busy. The past few weeks, he says, have been particularly hectic. That’s because today Rethink is making its collaborative factory robot Sawyer available for purchase.

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Robot Shows How Babies Are Actively Plotting to Make You Smile

Sometimes, babies like to smile. Perhaps you’ve noticed this. Sometimes, they smile because they’re happy, but a lot of the time, they’re smiling primarily because they want you to smile, and they’re doing it using “sophisticated timing” to manipulate you into obeying them. 

Researchers from Olin College, the University of Miami, and UC San Diego have been studying baby smile schemes, and to test their hypotheses, they’ve used a slightly uncanny robot baby to smile at undergrads who probably had no idea what they were signing up for.

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Clearpath's OTTO Robot Can Autonomously Haul a Ton of Stuff

Today, Clearpath Robotics (best known for its rugged, ROS-friendly, and infallibly black and yellow robotic platforms) is announcing OTTO, a “heavy-load material transporter” that can carry a ton of stuff around warehouses, fully autonomously. Actually, “a ton of stuff” is underselling OTTO’s capabilities, since it can happily roll away with one metric ton and a half of payload: that’s a staggering 1500 kilograms (3300 pounds), or more than 22 robotics bloggers. Oof.

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Trash Hauling Robots Are Cool, But Do We Really Need Them?

Volvo Group is partnering with Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University in Sweden, Penn State University, and Renova (a Swedish waste recycling company) to “develop a robot that interacts with the refuse truck and its driver to accomplish the work.” The concept image above shows some mobile manipulators capable of lifting heavy loads and dynamically navigating (and balancing) in an unstructured environment. 

If Volvo can pull this off, it would be pretty amazing. But at this point, we’ve got two questions: is it something we need, and is it realistic?

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Video Friday: Quadcopter With Quadruped, Magnetic Microbots, and Baxter Flips Pancakes

This time next week, we’ll be on our way to Hamburg, Germany, to attend IROS, one of IEEE’s mega robotics conference. We’re pretty excited about it, and although I don’t speak German, Google Translate tells me that “zeigen sie mir ihr roboter” is how you say “show me your robot,” which is really all I need to know.

It’s worth mentioning that the few days right before IROS is RoboBusiness out in Silicon Valley, which is going to make a handful of people extraordinarily jetlagged. We’re expecting at least a few announcements from RoboBusiness next week, and we’ll have our customary tons of cool stuff from IROS the week after. And then we’ll probably keel over and die, but it’ll have been worth it.

We’re not there yet, though, so here’s your weekly injection of steaming hot robot videos.

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Astronaut Aboard the ISS Controls a Robot on Earth Using Haptic Feedback

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the TU Delft Robotics Institute have been running some tests with astronaut Andreas Mogensen (currently a non-Earth resident up on the International Space Station) remotely controlling some fairly imposing robots from orbit. What’s new is using multiple robots collaboratively, and trying out a new haptic feedback system that lets Mogensen feel what the robot feels. From space.

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iRobot Brings Visual Mapping and Navigation to the Roomba 980

We’ve known for a while now that iRobot has been developing robots with wireless integration along with intelligent navigation capability based on VSLAM (Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping). We’ve know this for enough of a while that it’s been a little bit frustrating to see iRobot’s most recent Roomba upgrades come out without those neat features. Today, iRobot is announcing the Roomba 980, which manages to cram everything new and amazing that we’ve been hoping for into one round little robot: Wi-Fi communication, remote control with a smartphone app, and (most importantly) VSLAM that allows the robot to navigate and vacuum larger spaces than before in satisfyingly straight lines.

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Europe Gears Up for Land, Air, and Sea Robotics Competition

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Piombino, a small, scenic port town in Tuscany, Italy, is preparing for a robot invasion this week. More than 40 robots and 150 scientists and engineers are gathering here to compete in the euRathlon 2015 Grand Challenge. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima accident, the euRathlon is a unique multi-domain (land, air, and sea) robotics competition that will feature teams from 21 countries and test their cooperative robotic systems in complex, realistic tasks as part of a simulated emergency-response operation.

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We Need Robots That Are Smart Enough to Ask for Help

Most robots spend a lot of their time not doing what we want them to do. After a little while, this ceases to be charming and quirky, and starts to get frustrating. The frustration is compounded by the fact that when a robot fails, it will either (best case) come to a halt and beep irritantingly or (worst case) explode or break stuff. Some robots (like Baxter from Rethink Robotics) have enough adaptability in their programming to be able to deal with minor issues that would otherwise confound most manufacturing robots, but there are still plenty of situations where robots need help. And rather than just failing, wouldn’t it be nice if they could preemptively ask for assistance?

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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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