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2015 Robot Gift Guide

With the holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to step back and reflect on the things that really matter: family, friends, what robots you’d like to get this year. This guide, with 17 suggestions for all ages, interests, and pockets, is by no means exhaustive. There are lots of great robots out there. But we’re limiting ourselves to products that you can purchase right now, which means that things like Kickstarter are out of the running. With this year’s selection, we tried to cover three main categories: DRONES, ROBOT TOYS & KITS, and HOME ROBOTS. Our list includes new products released in 2015 but also robots from previous years that we still like (check out more ideas from our 2014 and 2013 guides). We tested many of these bots ourselves, and we plan to post in-depth reviews sometime soon. And while we provide links to places where you can buy these items, we’re not endorsing any in particular, and a little bit of searching may result in better deals (all prices are in U.S. dollars). Lastly, if you think we missed the best robot thing (or things) of the year, let us know in the comments.

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Video Friday: Cyborg Athletes, Drone Drop Test, and Robot Makes Sandwiches

Tons of videos this week, and lots of super long ones down at the end. Since we have a bit of time off next week, consider pacing yourself on the videos so that you have something to distract yourself from family time next Friday. Or, you know, just go ahead and binge, we don’t judge. Anyway, moving on...

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your thankful Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

World Robotics Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.
IREX 2015 – December 2-5, 2015 – Toyko, Japan
RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
Portuguese Robotics Festival – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Advanced Robotics Systems and Competitions – May 06, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany


Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

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Researchers Teaching Robots How to Best Reject Orders from Humans

The Three Laws of Robotics, from the 56th edition of the “Handbook of Robotics” (published in 2058), are as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Pretty straightforward, right? And it’s nice that obeying humans is in there at number two. Problem is, humans often act like idiots, and sometimes, obeying the second law without question is really not the best thing for a robot to do. Gordon Briggs and Matthias Scheutz, from Tufts University’s Human-Robot Interaction Lab, are trying to figure out how to develop mechanisms for robots to reject orders that it receives from humans, as long as the robots have a good enough excuse for doing so.

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NASA Awards R5 Valkyrie Robots to MIT and Northeastern

At the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals this summer, we heard from NASA that they were preparing to send two Valkyrie robots to U.S. universities “for active research of high-level humanoid behaviors” through a competitive selection process. Yesterday, NASA announced the winners: Russ Tedrake’s lab at MIT, and a group led by Taskin Padir, who just moved to Northeastern University from WPI.

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Iran Demonstrates New Humanoid Robot Surena III

Iranian researchers at the University of Tehran unveiled yesterday the latest generation of their humanoid robot, named Surena III. In a demonstration, the adult-sized robot walked across a stage, imitated a person’s arm gestures, and stood on one foot while bending backwards.

Dr. Aghil Yousefi-Koma, a professor of mechanical engineering who leads the Surena project, tells IEEE Spectrum that the robot is designed as a research platform to explore bipedal locomotion, human-robot interaction, and other challenges in robotics. He also hopes Surena can help show the importance of engineering careers to students and the public, adding that he views the robot as a symbol of technology advancement “in the direction of peace and humanity.”

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Video Friday: Shape-Changing Interface, Robot Pro-Wrestling, and 3D-Printed Humanoid

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

SF Bay Area Robotics Group Meetup – November 18, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
ROBOT 2015 - Iberian Robotics Conference – November 19-21, 2015 – Lisbon, Portugal
Robotics Expo – November 20-22, 2015 – Moscow, Russia
100 Years of Robot Art and Science in the Bay Area – November 20, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
World Robotics Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.
IREX 2015 – December 2-5, 2015 – Toyko, Japan
RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
Portugese Robotics Open – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Advanced Robotics Systems and Competitions – May 06, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

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Bosch's Giant Robot Can Punch Weeds to Death

At IROS last month, researchers from a Bosch startup called Deepfield Robotics presented a paper on “Vision-Based High-Speed Manipulation for Robotic Ultra-Precise Weed Control,” which has like four distinct exciting-sounding phrases in it. We wanted to write about it immediately, but Deepfield asked us to hold off a bit until their fancy new website went live, which it now has. This means that we can show you video of their enormous agricultural robot that can autonomously detect and physically obliterate individual weeds in a tenth of a second.

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Alpha 2, a Humanoid Robot With Social Skills, Is Now on Indiegogo

Today, UBTECH Robotics, a company headquartered in Shenzhen, China, is launching a crowdfunding campaign for Alpha 2, a small humanoid robot “designed for practical household service and companionship.” Alpha 2 has a similar design to many other hobby-class humanoids, but two things stand out: its potential for social interaction, and its extremely low cost.

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Disney Software Makes It Easy to Design and Print Custom Walking Robots

For most hobbyists, building a robot mostly involves buying a robot and assembling it and then (if that first part doesn’t make you hate robots) programming it to do stuff. Designing your own robot from scratch is much more difficult, especially if it’s a robot that has legs that are supposed to do something practical. ETH Zurich, in collaboration with Disney Research and CMU, has developed “an interactive design system that allows casual users to quickly create 3D-printable robotic creatures.” From walking bipeds to salamanders with actuated spines to quintapeds (that’s a thing, right?), the software does all of the hard work for you, and with just a 3D printer and some servos, you can design robots that are exactly as bizarre as you want them to be.

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Video Friday: Breakfast Robot, Programmable Matter, and Exploding Ping Pong Balls

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

2015 Robot Film Fest – November 07, 2015 – Pittsburgh, Pa., USA
Asian Robotics Week – November 12-13, 2015 – Singapore
AAAI Fall Symposia – November 12-14, 2015 – Arlington, Va., USA
SF Bay Area Robotics Group Meetup – November 18, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
ROBOT 2015 - Iberian Robotics Conference – November 19-21, 2015 – Lisbon, Portugal
Robotics Expo – November 20-22, 2015 – Moscow, Russia
World Robotics Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.
IREX 2015 – December 2-5, 2015 – Toyko, Japan
RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

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Automaton

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

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Evan Ackerman
 
 
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