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Crowdsourced UAV Rescue Squad Gets Put to the Test

You'd think that nobody really wants to be spied on by drones. In fact, there is one group of people who desperately want to be seen by drones. Or, really, seen by anybody, human or robot or whatever. And those are the people who are hopelessly lost.

Even in our relentlessly connected world, it's still alarmingly easy to end up in a situation where you have no idea where you are, and more importantly, even less of an idea how to get somewhere where you would know where you are. And it's not like realizing that you're lost does you any good: the key is for someone else to realize the same thing, and then do something useful about it. This is where the drones can help, but humans need to pitch in as well.

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RHex Does Parkour All Over UPenn

One of the most vertically exciting papers presented at ICRA this year was "Toward a Vocabulary of Legged Leaping," by Aaron M. Johnson and D. E. Koditschek from the University of Pennsylvania's Kod*lab. Once we made it past the word "vocabulary" in the paper title, we knew it was going to be something good, and it totally was, even taking home a nomination for Best Student Paper. RHex has been practicing its jumping skills, and UPenn has a tremendous new video of the robot doing Parkour across campus rooftops.

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Robot Puts Box On Head

Robots have a tendency to move rather a lot like, um, robots. How dare they. The smooth and natural motions that we humans are so proud of comes from a combination of many different motions all at once: if you pick something up, you're generally not just using your arm like a robot does, but rather, subtly moving your arms, wrists, hands, torso, and even your head. With a new movement algorithm, iCub is learning to move in a much more human-like manner, even with complex motions.

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Disney Rapid Design Tool Creates Mechatronic Characters

The typical approach to adding actuated joints and additional degrees of freedom to a robot is slapping additional servos and motors on there. And that's fine, except that it adds weight and cost and complexity. A little bit of cleverness with gears can go a very long way, and Disney Research has developed a new rapid design tool that can create sophisticated mechatronics that operate with just one motor.

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Video Friday: KAIRO Can Rescue You, Remote Control Humans, and Roboboat 2013

Robots are serious business. Very serious. They're expensive. They're complex. They're expensive. They're hard to build and hard to program. They're expensive.

For all of these reasons, they make really, really great toys, and the more expensive they are, the more fun they are to play around with. I'm sure that most of the videos of serious business robots being played with by the people who are responsible for them never see the light of day (serious business, remember?), but we love it when every once in a while, a video of some roboticist saying (metaphorically, of course) "hold my beer while I try this" shows up on the Internet for us to enjoy. Like, hey, we've got a robot snake with wheels, let's harness it up and see if it can pull us around! YEAH!

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Startup Spotlight: Prensilia Developing Robot Hands for Research, Prosthetics

This is the fifth post in our Startup Spotlight series featuring new robotics companies from around the world. We're inviting representatives from these startups to describe their technologies and how they see the marketplace. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Researchers have long been trying to build robotic hands that mimic the extraordinary capabilities of the human hand. The goal has been a device with size and weight similar to our own hands, capable of performing multiple grasping motions, and powered by advanced controllers. Such robot hands could help to advance important research areas, such as prosthetics, neural engineering, rehabilitation, humanoid robotics, and human-machine interfaces.

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Video: Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Revealed

Last Thursday, I went to see the unveiling of Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot. This imposing humanoid machine will be used in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), which aims to develop robotics hardware and software that can be used to handle extreme emergencies, such as an accident at a nuclear power plant. Last week we brought you some photos and specs: today we have video for you, including interviews with some of the key figures and team members involved in the DRC.

Video: Stephen Cass & Celia Gorman

Robot Frogs Trick Females in 'Bizarre' Example of Evolution

In my admittedly limited experience, no species (especially not humans) is particularly clever when it comes to properly interpreting mating calls. Let’s take the túngara frog as an example, because someone made a robotic one, so we can talk about it. The female túngara frog (they can be found hopping around most of Central America) relies on vocal and visual displays from male frogs to find a suitable mate, but researchers have made a “rather bizarre” discovery that a robotic version of the frog can attract females by hacking into their evolutionary aptitude for filtering out white noise.

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CMU Snakebots Infest Nuclear Power Plant

At some point, to be sustainable, research has to make a jump from "do it because it’s cool" to "do it because it’s actually useful and has some sort of practical application that people need and/or will pay for." That’s a big, big jump to make, and many robots don’t successfully cross the gap. We've been hearing for years that Carnegie Mellon’s snakebots are just the thing to undertake inspection tasks in places like nuclear power plants, but now, CMU has put its robots where its papers are, and have stuffed these things into an actual nuclear power reactor. As you can see above, they've even got the snakes operating the controls. Nope, no reason to worry about that, none at all.

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