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SCHAFT Staying in DARPA Robotics Challenge, More Teams Joining DRC Finals

After the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials ended last December and Team SCHAFT emerged victorious, there was a rumor going around that Google, which had acquired SCHAFT just months earlier, wasn't going to allow the team to remain in the competition. Some observers speculated that Google was apparently reluctant to accept funding from DARPA and establish ties with the U.S. military (DARPA is an agency of the Department of Defense). Today, DARPA announced that, contrary to the rumor, SCHAFT is staying in the DRC.

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Video Friday: Morphing Hexapod, Swarming Roboroaches, and Suitable Snowden

According to my (mind-bendingly sophisticated) calculations, in just two weeks from now, it'll officially be National Robotics Week in the United States. I'm mentioning this now because I'm assuming that you're very busy and important, and that you'll need that much lead time to make it to all of the activities. All of them. Road trip!

To get you pumped up, here's the week's worth of robot vids.

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New BeetleCam Adds Video, Gyros for More Death-Defying Animal Spying

Robots that tackle the third "D" of things that robots are good at (that would be, Dangerous, as opposed to Dull or Dirty) are best known for dealing with things like bombs. Or radiation. In other words, they're sent after things that a human would ordinarily have to deal with if we didn't have robots. There is a separate category of dangerous, though, that consists of things that humans don't have to deal with, and don't want to deal with, because they're absolutely nuts. Like, getting within a few feet of a wild leopard or a lion with a camera and saying "meat!"

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DARPA's Newest X-Plane Concepts Are All Robots

Yesterday, DARPA announced the four companies that'll be competing to develop a new experimental aircraft that combines the efficiency of an airplane with the versatility of a helicopter. It'll be something like a V-22 Osprey, except that DARPA is hoping for "radical improvements in vertical and cruise flight capabilities." Three of the companies provided concept art to DARPA; Boeing's Phantom Swift is pictured above. And the thing that every proposal has in common? They're all robots.

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Study Suggests That You Will Obey Your Future Robot Boss

If you're lucky, you may not lose your job to a robot in the future. That doesn't, however, mean that your boss won't lose his or her job to a robot in the future. And if (when) that happens, what's it going to be like working for a robot? A study from the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, suggests that you'll probably obey them nearly as predictably as you would a human.

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Video Friday: More Fake Ping Pong, Elastic Snakebots, and Watson Serves SXSW

Well, the whole Kuka thing was a bit of a letdown this week. Sigh. But the nice thing about having a ton of robot videos to post is that we can just get past that, right? Ordinarily, yeah, but we're kind of obligated to start off with the other fake robot ping pong video. Double sigh.

The problem with videos like these about robots that seem real, that pretend to be real, but aren't real, is that they make real robots look bad. It's easy (relatively easy) to CGI up robots being awesome, and then people get used to robots being awesome. But then, when you have to explain to them that no, real robots aren't quite that awesome, they can't help but be disappointed.

Real robots are awesome though. Very awesome. And here are some videos of them that are 100 percent real.

Except for the first one.

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Robots Playing Ping Pong: What's Real, and What's Not?

Really, Kuka? You got us all excited for this match between one of your cool new robots and a world champion table tennis player. We were thinking to ourselves, "Wow, Kuka wouldn't have set this whole thing up unless it was actually going to be a good match! Maybe we'll see some amazing feats of high speed robot arms, vision systems, and motion tracking!"

But no. Looks like there wasn't really a match at all. Kuka's robot (which the company says is the "fastest robot on earth") did seem capable of performing some ping pong moves, and world champion Timo Boll did seem to have exchanged some shots with the machine. But the encounter wasn't the "robot vs. human duel" we were promised. What Kuka gave us instead is an overproduced, highly edited commercial that, in our view, will puzzle (rather than amaze) those of us who follow robotics technology closely. Is this real, or is this hype? See for yourself.

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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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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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