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Video Friday: Deep-Learning Robots, DRC Practice, and Drone Pilot Competition

Apologies for the light posting this week: the entire IEEE Spectrum team (both digital and print) was closeted away in meetings working on ways to better serve you, dear reader. Did we come up with some? Sure we did, but for now, they’re secret until we get them to work.

Leading the video news for today is research from UC Berkeley focused on teaching robots to learn tasks in ways that can be adapted to new situations, using a deep learning approach based on neural nets. The upshot is that it enables robots (like Berkeley’s PR2, named BRETT) to learn new tasks in a matter of hours and perform those tasks generally independently of their environment, all with a minimal amount of sensors.

This is stupendously important in two ways: first, it means that robots get significantly easier to teach, as opposed to requiring programming. And second, it means that robots are able to do useful stuff in useful environments, like your house as opposed to a robotics lab. Watch BRETT do his thing, and all the rest of our videos, starting right now.

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Open Source Robotics Foundation Prepares for DRC Finals and Beyond

The Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) spun out of Willow Garage three years ago this month, after having been awarded a contract from DARPA to develop the Gazebo simulation environment for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. With the DRC about to conclude, OSRF will no longer have the support of DARPA to keep itself up and running, so earlier this month we stopped by the OSRF World Headquarters and Volcano Lair in Mountain View, Calif., to talk with CEO Brian Gerkey about the future of Gazebo, ROS, and the OSRF, and to get an early look at a few cool demos that the visitors to the DRC Finals will be back to check out.

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Video Friday: New Quadruped, Drone UFO, and Bricklaying Robot

It’s shaping up to be a very exciting few weeks in robotics. At the end of this month is ICRA, the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, from May 26 to 30 in Seattle, Wash. Right after that, the very next week in fact, comes the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, June 5 and 6 in Pomona, Calif. We’re going to be at both events, of course, and we’ll be super busy trying to bring you news of everything that’s going on. It’d be great if this week and next week, nothing was happening in robotics so that we could rest up and get all prepared and stuff, but nope: there’s just as much cool new stuff as usual, starting with a brand new hydraulic quadruped robot from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).

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DRC Finals Update: What to Expect Next Month

Yesterday, DARPA held a media briefing detailing what we have to look forward to at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next month at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., on June 5 and 6. We’re absolutely convinced that this is going to be one of the most exciting robotics events of the decade, so let’s take a look at what’s going to happen.

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Robots Might Be the Necessary Future of Urban Pet Ownership

We all love our pets. We love them a crazy, ridiculous amount that is often entirely out of proportion to reality: you don’t want to know how much I spent on medical care for my $5 pet store gerbil. As the world population grows and more people move into cities, it’s going to get increasingly difficult to afford to give larger pets (like cats and especially dogs) the life that they deserve in urban environments. Pets will be a luxury that wealthy people will be able to afford, but what about the rest of us? The answer is, as always, robots.

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Your Finger on a Tablet Can Control Entire Swarms of Robots

As robots get smaller, cheaper, and more capable, it often makes sense to rely on swarms of little bots instead of one big one, and as swarms grow in size and complexity, intuitive methods of real-time control become critical. Georgia Tech’s GRITS Lab has developed a way to dynamically control large swarms of robots using just a tablet and a finger (or two).

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NASA Funds Electricity-Harvesting Robotic Space Eel With Explosive Jet Thrusters and Electroluminescent Skin

Sometimes, headlines just write themselves. And in this particular case, there’s so much cool stuff going on with this NASA-funded robotic project that we couldn’t even stuff it all in to a single line. It’s a concept for a soft robotic eel designed to explore the oceans of Europa (a moon of Jupiter), which is able to scavenge electrical energy from magnetic fields, use it to generate oxygen and hydrogen, and then light it off to create an explosion to propel itself. Oh, and it’ll have a soft flexible skin that doubles as “a stretchable, electroluminescent display,” because it’s awesome. And why not.

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Video Friday: Robotic Hummingbird, Baxter Treats Ebola, and Dexterous Bomb-Squad Robot

We spent most of this week out in Las Vegas checking out Daimler’s new Freightliner autonomous truck. If you haven’t seen it yet (and if you’re not following our Cars That Think blog), click here: it’s very cool. The rest of the week’s robotics news may pale (ever so slightly) in comparison with an event that included a light show projected onto the Hoover Dam, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our usual messy heap of Friday robot videos for you.

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Quadcopters Tied to a Pole Do Cooperative Acrobatics

Tying a quadcopter to a pole with a piece of rope seems like it defeats the entire point of having a quadcopter in the first place, since you’re preventing it from flying anywhere except in circles around the pole, which sounds boring.

It’s not boring.

You’ll want to watch this.

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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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