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4 Robotics Trends from the International Robot Exhibition 2013

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.

Last month, I attended the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo. It was a mesmerizing display of robots—a gigantic hall filled with thousands of them. Robotics companies bring their latest and greatest robots to this exhibition. As you walk through the show floor, you can see a wide variety of amazing advances in the field of robotics.

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Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

A few months ago, we heard rumors that Google was planning something big in robotics. We also heard that Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, was leading this new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, we were told, is personally interested in robots, and now he wants Google to have a major role in making robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual robots. Today, an article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans: according to the article, the company is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups, quite a few of which we're familiar with.

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2013 Robot Gift Guide

It's that time of year again, when you go out on a huge shopping spree buying all kinds of cool robot gifts for your family, friends, and Secret Santa coworkers. Or maybe you just go out and get something robotic for, you know, yourself. Because you sure deserve an awesome US $12,000 advanced humanoid robot, right? If, however, that's a bit above your budget (it certainly is way above ours!), we have lots of other options for you. And note that we're trying to bring you different stuff (slightly different, at least) than what we featured on our 2012 Robot Gift Guide. So check out our list, and if you think we missed something good, let everyone know in the comments.

On to the gifts!

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Amazon Promises Package Delivery By Drone: Is It for Real?

Okay, look. I know that the idea of having drones deliver stuff sounds like the future. And there are a lot of companies making promises about it, including, this weekend, Amazon. "We'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place [in 2015]," Amazon says. The reason that Amazon can say this, and that it sounds so exciting, is that it is technically possible to put together a demo like the one they've just unveiled, where you have a drone autonomously transport an object from one place to another.

However, once you get past the wow factor and start thinking critically about what it would take to make something like this work in practice, it starts to look a lot less realistic very, very quickly. 

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Seiko Epson Shows Off Its Dual-Arm Robot

Often equipped with two arms, strange hands, and even stranger-looking heads, a new breed of jack-of-all-trades industrial robot could change the face of automation. And the place to see the latest examples of these dual-arm manufacturing machines was the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo earlier this month.

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Interview: iRobot CTO Paolo Pirjanian Talks Present and Future of Robotics

When iRobot acquired Evolution Robotics (the company behind the Mint cleaning bot) just over a year ago, Evolution CEO Paolo Pirjanian was brought on as iRobot's new CTO. Basically, this means that Paolo's job is to come up with cool new stuff for robots to do, and cool new ways for them to do it.

We got a chance to ask Paolo a few questions at RoboBusiness last month, and we sat down with him and Matthew Lloyd (iRobot's director of communications) to talk about the future of robotics and where he sees iRobot going from here.

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Highlights From the International Robot Exhibition 2013

The theme for this year's International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo was "Making a Future with Robot." We're not exactly sure what that means, but we're definitely in favor of it, and here are some of the coolest things that we saw.

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Video Friday: Everything That Happened For the Last Two Weeks, and More

We had a fantastic time at IROS; hopefully you kept up with all of the latest research news, and if not, here's a link to everything we've written so far, and there's still more to come. And as for IREX (the International Robot Exhibition, a trade show taking place at the same venue), we've got a video compilation and a gallery of pics coming to you next week.

However...

Being in Japan for two weeks and focusing on just the conference and trade show, it was a teeny tiny bit inevitable that we'd fall just slightly behind on our typical robot video coverage. Juuust slightly. And so, we're going to make up for that today, with this much more massive than normal Video Friday. So hold on to your browsers: this thing has 23 videos.

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IROS 2013: UAVs Get a Grip With Full-Size Robot Arms

As amazing as flying robots are, there's a limited amount of useful stuff that they can do today. Oh, they're great for surveillance and inspection, there's potential to use them to deliver stuff, and in some specialized circumstances we've seen them cooperatively building structures. But to really be useful in the way that we've come to expect from robots, they're going to need to be able to move a variety of objects at will, picking them up and putting them down whenever and wherever they need to. We saw some of the first examples of this at IROS, giving a whole new meaning to the term “mobile manipulator.”

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