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Video Thursday: Giant Robot Duel, Snake Monster on Stairs, and How Driverless Cars See the Road

We’re assuming that many of you are taking Friday off to prepare for celebrating the 4th of July. We are too, hence Video Thursday this week. If you don’t live in the United States, you should take Friday off anyway, because a celebration that involves grilling and fireworks is pretty great, whether or not you happen to observe the fact that a handful of annoyed colonies started a bit of a tiff with Britain a while back. And if you’re from Britain, well, you should just be glad that you managed to get rid of us when you did.

Anyway, let’s watch some robot videos and then get out of here and enjoy the long weekend, shall we?

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Novel Wings and Jet Thrusters for Swimming, Flying Robots

Multimodal robots are robots that are designed to be able to get around on different types of terrain. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to pretend that the word “terrain” doesn’t explicitly refer to land, because we’ll be looking at some concepts for robots that can handle both aerial and aquatic environments using flapping wings and water jets.

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Parrot Unveils a Hydrofoil Drone

Parrot, a leader in consumer drone tech, came to a New York City hotel last week to show off it’s latest products. Most of what was on offer were upgrades to Parrot’s existing rolling and flying drones, such as the Jumping Race drone that has widened wheels and can reach almost 13 kilometers per hour and jump over 75 centimeters through the air. A nice addition on the flying side is the Airborne Cargo, which has a small patch on top that allows owners to attach what are officially referred to as “toy bricks” by Parrot (read “Lego blocks”) and enhance their drone with their own creations. 

But the big draw was the drone zigzagging back and forth in a rooftop pool, and not just because it was a melting-the-tarmac-hot day in New York. This was the Hydrofoil, which as its name indicates, is a boat fitted with plastic hydrofoils projecting beneath its foam hull. As the boat increases its speed, eventually enough lift is generated from water passing over the hydrofoils to lift the hull out of the water. The result is a dramatic reduction in the drag that must be overcome when a hull normally cuts through water, producing  a corresponding jump in the speed of the boat (and the drone’s battery life). The Hydrofoil can reach over 9.5 km/h, and, based on my repeated collisions with the narrow walls of this particular pool, is pretty robust.

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Armored Exoskeletons Help Roachbots Go Anywhere, Handle Anything

Following along with the evolution of UC Berkeley’s RoACH robots has been absolutely fascinating. Since as far back as 2008Ron Fearing’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab has designed and redesigned their little robotic roaches with claws, wings, tails, any just about everything else that they could cram in there.

For a robot inspired by a roach, there’s been what seems like an obvious omission, and that's a shell. Robots have endoskeletons, rendering exoskeletons somewhat redundant, but do biologically constructed roaches have shells for reasons other than keeping their life goo inside? The answer is yes, and the Berkeley researchers have developed water and dust resistant armored shells that protect roachbots from impacts and elements while also allowing them to navigate through cluttered spaces.

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Video Friday: iCub Is Evolving, Mind-Controlled Robot, and ROS for Drones

Now that we’re well past the crazy couple of weeks of ICRA and DRC, what do we have to get excited about with robotics? Why, everything, of course! While these flagship events are always exciting, the great thing about robotics is that fascinating research and development continues all the time, non-stop, which is why we’re able to bring you these Friday posts full of robot videos every single week. So let’s do it.

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Self-Assembling Robotic Gun Will Shoot Through Tissue Inside Your Body

It’s way past time that everything that ever goes wrong inside our bodies should be fixed by tiny little robots. Way past time. There are still a lot of things that we have to figure out, though, like how to make robots that are small enough and remain controllable and practically useful.

One technique is to leverage the magnetic fields inside a clinical MRI machine to control swarms of small, “dumb” robots, using clever algorithms to move multiple robots in different directions even when you’re restricted to giving them all the same input signals. Plus, you can see on the MRI images where your robots are going and what they’re doing in realtime. Driving them around the body like this is pretty cool, and the next step is getting them to do stuff, such as clearing blockages or delivering drugs.

Research presented last month at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) by Aaron Becker, Ouajdi Felfoul, and Pierre E. Dupont from University of Houston and Boston Children’s Hospital shows how a small swarm of robots can turn themselves into a Gauss gun, firing projectiles that can penetrate tissue.

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NASA Wants Help Training Valkyrie Robots to Go to Mars

NASA’s Valkyrie robot didn’t have a very good time at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials. There are a bunch of good reasons for this, but our concern has always been that NASA would see the DRC Trials as a failure of the robot and the program and just give up. We should have had more faith, because NASA is in this for the long game, and so is Valkyrie. And where does the long game end? Mars. And beyond.

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Video Friday: Small Bebionic Hand, RoboRaven at Night, and Pepper on Sale

For some reason, companies making robotic prosthetics have mostly focused on designing systems for men. This could be because they have to design them for someone, and men are a reasonable place to start.

But women need prosthetics too. As do children, and for that matter, dudes who aren’t built like linebackers. The Bebionic small hand has been downsized by 30 percent to the size of an average woman’s hand, without sacrificing any strength or functionality. See it in action, plus more videos because Friday.

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Here's How NASA Will Grab an Asteroid Using a Spiky Robot Gripper

Within the next five years, NASA is planning to launch a robotic spacecraft toward a small asteroid. Once there, the robot will find a small boulder lying on the surface of the asteroid, pick it up, and bring it back to Earth for us to have a look at. It’s an ambitious mission, and we’re only just starting to hear details about what’s going to be involved in getting all this to work.

Earlier this week, we stopped by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to check out some of the prototype hardware that’ll be grabbing a boulder off of an asteroid in the early 2020s.

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Fetch Robotics Secures Massive $20 Million Investment from SoftBank

Fetch Robotics, a robotics startup in Silicon Valley that didn’t exist a year ago, has just announced a staggering US $20 million Series A funding round led by SoftBank, along with additional funding from seed investors O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Shasta Ventures.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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