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RoboSimian Beats Out Surrogate for JPL's DRC Finals Spot

We were very impressed with the creative design and solid performance that JPL’s RoboSimian demonstrated last year at the DRC Trials. But although RoboSimian was able to swing from trees and topple human society much more effectively than previous models, it seems that JPL itself wasn’t entirely sold on the optimalness (is that a word?) of its own design: immediately after the trials ended, they started building a new (and slightly more traditional) robot called Surrogate. Now, after six months of testing, the results are in.

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Play With a Swarm of Robots at NYC's Museum of Mathematics

Self-organizing robot swarms can be found in research laboratories around the world. Biologists like them because they can give insight into the group activities of animals, such as flocking, while roboticists like them because they open the door to accomplishing tasks without the need to program the exact individual behavior of dozens—or even hundreds or thousands—of robots.

Now anyone visiting New York City can interact with a robot swarm. MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics (which bills itself as “the coolest thing that ever happened to math”) unveiled its new Robot Swarm exhibit yesterday morning. While getting journalists to attend an 8:30 a.m. briefing without the promise of a copious supply of free coffee (and maybe some of those mini Danish pastries) is a feat in itself, creating a multirobot exhibit that is appealing to visitors—and tough enough to withstand them walking all over it—is the real achievement.

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iRobot Announces Create 2: An Updated, Hackable Roomba

Building and maintaining robots is one of the biggest obstacles in robotics research: when you’re spending all of your time just figuring out how to get a robot to work and then keeping it working, you end up spending none of your time teaching that robot to do anything useful. In 2007, iRobot came out with the Create, a vacuumless 400-series Roomba specifically designed to be used as a hackable mobile base. At a base price of US $129, it was rugged and reliable and relatively easy to program, and we still see iRobot Creates being used in robotics research.

However, 2007 is a long, long time ago, especially at the pace of robot development, and the original Create was a more or less obsolete platform half a decade past. It’s not like iRobot wasn’t aware of this, and today, they’ve stepped up by announcing a brand new version of the Create, along with a renewed commitment to STEM and robotics education.

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Flying Inventory Assistants Are a Good Use for Drones

It’s starting to seem like “throw a drone at it” is the solution that everyone wants to somehow solve every single problem everywhere, ever. And in most cases, it’s not going to work anytime soon, for reasons that we continue to belabor. This is not to say that drones aren’t valuable tools that can solve many problems: the key is to find a problem that needs a drone, as opposed to having a drone and then desperately looking for some problem for it to solve.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, in Dortmund, Germany, may have found one of these problems: taking inventory in a warehouse. To do this efficiently, you need a mobile antenna that can navigate in three dimensions, and autonomous flying robots certainly fit the bill.

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2014 Robot Gift Guide

It’s December! You’ve been saving money all year by eating uncooked bricks of ramen noodles and drinking off-brand sodas because they’re cheaper than water. It’s all about to pay off, since you can buy yourself all these robots. All. Of. Them.

This guide includes new products released in 2014, as well as robots from previous years that we still like. And if you need even more ideas, our guides from 2013 and 2012 are still definitely worth a look, as they contain many robots that are still incredibly awesome, just not incredibly new.

The 2014 guide is by no means exhaustive: we write about a lot of robots around here. But we’re limiting ourselves to things that you can plausibly purchase right now (or soon), which means that things like Kickstarter are out of the running. And while we provide links to places where you can get these robots, we’re not endorsing any in particular, and a little bit of searching may result in better deals. (All prices in US 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: Terrible Robots, Dash vs. Dog, and the Age of Machine Consciousness

Dear reader. This is your editor. This morning I found a note from Evan saying that, after working on this Video Friday post until 5 a.m., writing up an insane number of videos, he was too exhausted and unable to finish the post. Evan collapsed. Conked out. Shut down. I know, I was very worried too. This was serious. What a terrible thing to happen. A Friday without Video Friday?! So I am going to finish this post for you. You will not be let down. You will have Video Friday today!

How’s Evan? Oh, dude is fine. He just needed some sleep and will be back next week. 

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Toshiba Android Will Take You for a Trip Down the Uncanny Valley

All aboard for another trip down the Uncanny Valley!

At the CEATEC Japan electronics trade show in October, Toshiba trotted out what it calls a “lifelike communication android,” though perhaps the term lifelike is a bit generous. The android, named Aiko Chihiro, is similar to others we’ve seen at labs and trade events. While certain parts of the robot look quite good, such as the hair, I found that, as I watched Aiko move, it didn’t take long for my Uncanny Valley instincts to kick in.

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Thymio Robots Turn Barcodes Into Light Paintings

We may have taken some time off last week to be thankful for the fact that birds are edible, but the rest of the world had better things to do. Over in Switzerland, Thymio has been spending some quality time learning how to do light paintings. We covered this before, when Mariane Brodier got the little mobile robots to make art, but now they can produce top-quality 8-bit video game characters, among other things. And it’s easy enough that even you (and your robot) could do it.

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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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