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Video Friday: Death Defying Vacuums, Tate After Dark, and Taranis Takes Flight

What's the craziest thing you've ever done with a robot vacuum? Personally, it's this, but LG gets some points for upping the risk beyond a few scratches from a taped-on butter knife. If that's not dangerous enough for you, we've also got a new robotic drone from Britain, and a quadcopter competition where you have to sign a waiver acknowledging the potential for death. Your death. Happy Video Friday!

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Who Is SCHAFT, the Robot Company Bought by Google and Winner of the DRC?

The DARPA Robotics Challenge held its inaugural competition last December, and by most accounts (including ours), it was a success. The DRC Trials drew huge public interest, and the teams and their robots performed surprisingly well. Overall, it was a big win for DARPA and for robotics as a whole, but without question, the biggest winner of all was SCHAFT, the Japanese company that utterly dominated the competition and that had been acquired by Google just months earlier. SCHAFT put on a nearly flawless performance, ending at the top spot with the most points and, we guess, leaving Andy Rubin (the Google executive leading its robotics program) with a big smile on his face. It also left many observers curious to learn more about the company, its origins, and its robot. So who is SCHAFT?

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Marsupial Robot Team Monitors Rivers From Water and Air

I know what you're thinking right now, because I was thinking it too as soon as I saw the phrase "marsupial robot team:" you're thinking about robot koalas. Or robot kangaroos. Or maybe robot wombats. As awesome as that would be, today you're going to have to make do with something only slightly less awesome, which is this duo of a robotic boat and a hexacopter that cooperate to collect data on rivers and lakes.

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Robot Creates Beautiful Light Paintings

I don't know exactly who was the first person to figure out that robots could be used for long-exposure light painting (although it may have been the guy linked to from here), but it's something that I've dabbled in for science, as have many others. It's a great way of making art, too, and it's relatively easy to do with a minimal amount of hardware and programming knowledge. Thymio II shows us how.

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Video Friday: Hacked Anki Drive, Cereal Arms, and Rocket Launching Drones

Mmm, Friday. The day that you get to enjoy all of these robot videos that we spent all of Thursday night (and often much of very early Friday morning) digging up. Not that you should feel guilty about that or anything: it's our job, and we love it, even if (on occasion) we to get a little bit grumpy roundabout 3 a.m. or so. If you do feel like making our lives easier, though, you should absolutely feel free to send us any robot videos that you run across that you think are new and cool, although we will most definitely make fun of you if you send us something that we've written about before.

Having said that, here are a bunch of videos that we're reasonably confident (reasonably) that we haven't written about before: it's Video Friday.

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Concept Art Hints at the Awesome Future of Drones

Robotics, in the present, is a little bit frustrating. Heck, it's been frustrating for years, as the promise of robotics in the future is always incredibly awesome, while the present state of robotics (being constrained by inconvenient things like, you know, reality) is, well, not quite as incredibly awesome. This awesome of which we speak seems to be perpetually about five years away, and in order to not be depressed about this all the time, it's nice to stretch our imaginations once in a while through the unabashed reality-independence of artistic concepts, like these.

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Modular Robotics' MOSS Kit Makes Building Robots a Snap

Building robots is hard. Seriously hard. Not only do you have to construct them physically, but even after you've got them all wired up with motors and sensors and batteries and whatnot, they won't actually DO anything until you've spent most of the rest of your life writing code. It's kind of depressing, when it comes down to it, because for those of us who aren't already professional roboticists, we have to deal with a learning curve like that really steep bit on the north face of the Matterhorn.

Back in 2010, a company called Modular Robotics introduced Cubelets, a system of robotic modules that could be magnetically snapped together. By themselves, the modules didn't do much, but by connecting them, you could build and program a robot at the same time, without any experience whatsoever. Last December, Modular Robotics came out with a slightly different take on this idea with MOSS. MOSS was successfully funded more than three times over on Kickstarter, and earlier this month at CES, we got a hands-on demo of the new kits.

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Perching AR Drone Can Watch You Forever

There's a reason that birds perch: flying is a lot of work, and until we teach our drones to survive off of hopes and dreams, we're (nearly, and nearly again) always going to have to deal with severe restrictions on flight time, especially when hovering. Drones have been working on perching for years as a method to extend their usefulness for stationary surveillance, and this modified AR Drone takes inspiration from falcons with some custom legs, claws, and feet. 

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Next Generation Robotic Whiskers Promise New Capabilities, More Cuteness

Robots have been relying on whiskers, of a sort, for a very long time. In a general sense, a whisker is simply a switch attached to some sort of sticky-outy thing, such that when the sticky-outy thing encounters an obstacle, it transmits that encounter to the switch, warning the robot that it's about to run into said obstacle. These sorts of primitive whiskers are like infrared or sonar obstacle detectors, except cheaper, simpler, and (depending on the application) more robust.

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Video Friday: NASA's Opportunity Rover Celebrates 10 Years on Mars

A decade ago, it was 2004. In 2004, I had long hair, was convinced I was going to be a geologist, and I didn't care a jot about robots. Also in 2004, a pair of NASA robotic rovers landed on Mars to begin an ambitious three months worth of exploration and scientific discovery. Three months! That's how long NASA engineers expected the rovers would survive. But as of today, one of those rovers is still alive and well, roving around and doing science.

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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.
Jason Falconer
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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