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Immersive VR Enables Safe and Effective Control of Big Scary Robots

Industrial robots, as a rule, are not at all safe to be around. With a few exceptions, most of them live in safety cages, or depend on a sophisticated combination of hardware, software, and sensors to make sure that they don't accidentally, you know, purposefully disembowel whatever human is within immediate purposeful disembowelment range. This not only precludes humans working with robots directly, but it also means that whenever the robots screw something up, you have to power down all of that infrastructure before you can safely get in there to fix anything.

We can fix all of this, all of it, with immersive virtual reality.

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Video Friday: Ninja NAO, Robotic Refueling, and Too Many Legs

It's hard not to notice that that three of our four posts this week featured flying robots in one form or another. This isn't something that we do intentionally: our normal technique for coming up with subjects for articles is to just pick the absolute coolest thing that's happened in the last day or two, and sometimes, it's all about the flying robots.

What's worth pointing out, though, is that in general, it's true that there's been a heck of a lot of innovation in flying robots relatively recently. This week's mix of pure DIY goodness, a research project, and the (rumored) buyout of a UAV company provides a halfway decent summary of the aspects of this subfield of robotics that are being actively (and successfully) pursued. And then we had a dude with a cyborg arm playing drums, because we have to mix it up a little bit, right?

And we'll continue to mix it up with some awesome videos, because that's what Fridays are all about.

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Cyborg Drumming Arm Makes Amputee Into Superhuman Musician

Gil Weinberg at Georgia Tech designs robots that make music. Not robots that play music, but robots that can actually create music, creatively improvising new melodies based on analysis of existing ones, allowing them to have jam sessions either by themselves, or with human musicians. Weinberg's newest project also involves musical robots collaborating with musical humans, except in a much more direct way, with the design of a cybernetic upgrade that gives a drummer who's missing an arm a robotic arm with a musical mind of its own.

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Rumor: Facebook Eyeing Titan Aerospace's Atmospheric Satellite Drones

Last August, we got our first look at Titan Aerospace and their high altitude, long duration, solar powered atmospheric satellite drones on the AUVSI show floor. Titan told us that they were gearing up to sell their first three full-scale commercial systems this year, which we were excited about. But yesterday, TechCrunch reported on a rumor from someone "with access to information" that Titan is in talks with Facebook, which may spend $60 million to purchase the company.

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Every Quadrotor Needs This Amazing Failsafe Software

I apologize for the back-to-back quadcopter failure posts (what are the odds of that happening, right?), but this was just too cool to not immediately tell you about. ETH Zurich has taken that quadcopter fail recovery software that they've been working on that can completely shrug off the loss of an entire propeller, and pulled it out of any sort of controlled or motion capture environment to show that it works in that real world place that we're always going on about. And it's amazing.

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Quadcopter Free-Fall Testing From 4,000 Feet Is Destructive Fun

What happens when a quadrotor loses power a few thousand feet in the air and plummets back to Earth? I have no idea. You probably have no idea. But someone has a very, very good idea, because they've done some experimenting. RcTestFlight built a quadrotor, slapped a camera on it, sent it up to over 4,000 feet (1,220 meters), and then cut the motors just to see how it fared.

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Video Friday: Flocking Quadcopters, Hip Hop NAO, and Watson Gets Cooking

Let me apologize in advance for this, because it's self-promotional and boring: I'm going to to be moderating a panel for the Commonwealth Club of California on "The State of Personal Robotics," featuring Pieter Abbeel from UC Berkeley, Melonee Wise from Unbounded Robotics, and Joe Augenbraun, one of the founders of Neato Robotics. It's Monday, March 10, in downtown San Francisco, and you should totally come because it's going to be great and I will probably be really awkward the whole time. Oh, and if you can think of any questions that you want me to ask any of these people, let me know, and I'll put them on the spot. More info here.

Okay, enough of that, time for videos!

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Unmanned Cargo Ships Face Industry Resistance, Are a Good Idea Anyway

British engineering company Rolls-Royce has been working on hardware and software systems designed to turn the giant cargo ships that are responsible for 90 percent of intercontinental world trade into semi or fully autonomous robots. The company says that these drone ships would be safer and more efficient than manned ships, but the shipping industry isn't buying it.

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These Quadruped Robots Double as Japanese Garden Lamps

Do you know what your garden is missing right now? Of course you do, because whenever this blog asks you what X is missing right now, the correct answer is always always always ROBOTS. And your garden is absolutely missing robots. Specifically, the sort with lots of legs and big lights on their heads.

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No Tree Is Safe From This Chainsaw-Wielding Robot

Of all the things you should not give robots—lasersknives, swords—one of the worst is possibly chainsaws. I mean, chainsaws are noisy in a terrifying sort of way and awfully messy. They're especially dangerous if you're a tree, in that if you're a tree, there is a significantly increased likelihood that this pruning robot will climb up you and violently lop off as many of your limbs as it can reach.

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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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Tokyo, Japan
 

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