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Video Friday: 3D-Printing Drones, Telepresence Robots at Home, and Baxter Does Magic

This week's Video Friday is going to be a little bit light, probably because a lot of the people who normally post cool stuff (students and research labs) are feverishly working on their PowerPoint presentations ahead of ICRA 2014, which kicks off in just a few Fridays from now.

This lull usually happens before a major conference, although we always get caught up (and then some) with videos as soon as the conference opens. Our preliminary schedule has just over 150 talks on it, and that's not including workshops, plenary talks, lunch talks, and a special "Pecha Kucha Night of Robotics" that looks like a lot of fun. So for a taste of what's to come, today's first video is a preview of an ICRA talk.

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Cartwheeling Spider Robots Conquer Sand Dunes

In Morocco, there are spiders that know how to do cartwheels. They can cartwheel down sand dunes, and also up sand dunes, which is more than a little bit remarkable. The scientist who found them, Ingo Rechenberg (a professor at the Technical University of Berlin), does what you do when you find an animal with a unique and ingenious mode of locomotion: you make a robot that does the same sort of thing.

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Researchers Want to Build Swarm of 1000 Droplet Robots

As electronic components plummet in price thanks to the insane consumer-driven pace of mobile device development, it's becoming more and more realistic to talk about building robots that are cheap enough to be disposable. The appeal of doing this is that you can build lots of them, and then throw them all together into a giant swarm that has capabilities that individual robots (even very complex and expensive ones) don't. And by "lots," we're talking hundreds. Or thousands.

The last time we heard about swarm robots on this scale was with Kilobots (which are for sale, by the way), but now a group at University of Colorado Boulder is looking for some help to crowdfund a huge swarm of their own little robots, called Droplets.

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Emergency Response Teams Combine Mobile Robots, Drones, and Dogs

No matter how much time and energy and money we put into a robot, it's going to be a very very very long time before we come up with anything that's anywhere close to as capable as a dog. From a robotics perspective, dogs are utterly amazing: they're fast, efficient, able to cover all sorts of terrain, can understand both verbal and gestural commands, and they run on dog food.

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Older Adults Don't Entirely Trust Robots With Kids

Sigh. Kids these days. Video games, smartphones, and social media are ruining an entire generation. If we weren't unapologetic geeks ourselves, we'd be upset about this, and worried that technology is actively corrupting our youth. But even though we aren't too worried about this issue, here's something we (and anyone who cares about robots) should worry about: according to a study published by researchers at Penn State, adults over age 60 are concerned that the next thing to negatively affect young people is going to be...robots.

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Video Friday: Justin Cleans Windows, Robot Recycling, and Sneaky Snakebots

One month from now, we'll be in Hong Kong, bringing you all the latest robotics research from ICRA 2014, the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. I bring this up now because we're starting to put together our schedule, and it's going to be a spectacular conference, in that there are literally hundreds of presentations that we're excited to attend, and most of them are all happening at the exact same time. But that's okay, because our specialty is being in two (or five) places at the same time.

If you have any specific interests, definitely let us know and we'll do our best to bring you all of the stuff you want to see. And until then, we'll just have to make due with Video Friday.

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Thumbles: a Touchscreen Interface Based on Little Mobile Robots

Touchscreens are the physical interface of choice right now. This is fine, because touchscreens are versatile and portable, and we like them. Sometimes, however, we feel that they lack that satisfying tactile feedback we get from physical controls like buttons and knobs and joysticks.

Now an experimental interface called Thumbles wants to bring more tactile capability to the touchscreen. It features tiny little omnidirectional robots that live on top of a projected screen. By grabbing them and dragging them around as they try to drive around, you can experience a completely new type of physical interactivity.

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Avidbots Wants to Automate Commercial Cleaning With Robots

Vacuuming is one of the few markets where robots have proven that they can be consistently commercially successful. There's a good reason for this: vacuuming is a repetitive, time-intensive task that has to be performed over and over again in environments that are relatively constrained. Despite the success of several companies in the home robot vacuum space, we haven't seen many low cost platforms designed for commercial areas, but a startup called Avidbots is tackling this idea, and they've got operational prototypes.

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First FAA-Approved Drone Test Site Goes Live Next Week in North Dakota

Whether or not the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to approve or regulate or monitor or oversee or whatever they want to do about unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the fact is more and more people are flying these systems everywhere.

Technically, you're not supposed to fly drones out of visual range, more than 400 feet in the air, or closer than five miles to any sort of controlled airspace (including the Class B airspace that's in place over most urban areas), without getting an an experimental airworthiness certificate (which specifically precludes carrying cargo) and applying for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA).

Most people, of course, do not pay any attention to any of this whatsoever, because flying drones is cheap, easy, and fun, and everybody is doing it, so why worry?

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Video Friday: Obama vs. ASIMO, 3D Printed Hands, and Drone Delivery Fail

This week, President Obama is in Japan. We assume he's got some business to take care of, doing whatever it is a president does (we have no idea what this would be), but we're gratified to see that he made some time for robots, which (as far as we're concerned) is the reason that one goes to Japan.

In the past, Obama has had generally positive experiences with robots, although HRP-4C creeped him out a little bit. We're with ya on that, Chief. This time, Obama met ASIMO, which showed off its soccer skills. Video of that, and plenty more, after the break. It's Video Friday!

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Automaton

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

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

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