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For the First Time in 40 Years, a Robot Is Wandering the Moon

The last rover to be operational on the Moon was the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2, in January of 1973. Since then, we humans have focused most of our robotic exploration efforts on more, well, exotic locations, like Venus and Mars. This should by no means be taken to imply that we know everything there is to know about the Moon, or that it's all boring and no fun up there. Realistically, it could be the closest spot for long-term habitation, but we still have a lot more to learn, so it's about time that we went back there to do some exploring. And the "we," in this case, is China.

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Anybots' New Monolithic Telepresence Robot: Q(X)

Last we heard from Anybots was back in February of last year, when they were offering a robotic receptionist service called AnyLobby. Since then, it's been fairly quiet over there, but apparently, this is why: they've been working on a new telepresence robot called Q(X), which made its first appearance at a party last week.

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Video Friday: REEM-C, Bots of the Past, and Drones Hear Your Screams

Next Wednesday night, we'll be taking a redeye out to Florida for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. There'll be a media briefing on Thursday afternoon, and the trials themselves will run all day Friday and Saturday, with a robotics expo and demos running at the same time. Saturday night is the closing ceremony, with a media briefing to follow. As we mentioned last week, there will be extensive live coverage (including streaming video) provided by DARPA itself, and we'll be getting you all the details on that after the Thursday media briefing.

As far as our coverage goes, we understand that there's going to be a lot of media at this event, so what we're going to try and do is bring you the sorts of stories that you're not likely to find anywhere else, with the level of detail that (we hope) you know and love. And if there are specific things that you'd like to see, make sure and let us know. Meanwhile, here's one or two videos to tide you over until the action starts next week.

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Navy Launches Slightly Less Cool Drone from Submarine

Drones require infrastructure to function. You've got to launch them from somewhere, and if you want them back, you have to land them somewhere, too. And infrastructure, as a general rule, is not secretive or stealthy, which can cause problems for the military, since they like being stealthy. As far as the U.S. Navy goes, nothing is stealthier than a submarine, so turning one of those into a mobile drone launcher like the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) just did makes perfect sense.

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NASA JSC Unveils Valkyrie DRC Robot

When teams participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) were announced last year, almost all of them provided reasonably detailed renderings that gave us a good idea of the robots that they were working on.

The notable exception was NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), which only released a piece of concept art that appeared to show a Robonaut-like humanoid, but didn't give much detail. And since then, NASA JSC has been extraordinarily secretive about what they've been working on. Naturally, we got a little bit curious, and back in October, IEEE Spectrum went to Houston for a preview of NASA JSC's DRC robot, Valkyrie.

Today, NASA is ready to share it with the world.

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Robonaut Wiggles Its Fancy New Legs

Robonaut 2's space legs have been a not-secret since astronaut Rick Mastracchio posted a picture of them to Twitter back in January. Or at least, that's the first time we saw 'em. Since then, pictures have popped up all over the place, since anyone taking the Level 9 Tour at NASA's Johnson Space Center had a halfway decent chance of getting a peek. What we haven't seen, though, is much in the way of footage of Robonaut legging itself around. Finally, we've got some video* of that, which we can summarize in one word: wiggly.

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IROS 2013: Aqua Hexapod Gets New Amphibious 'Ninja Legs'

RHex-type legged robots are great at getting around. Like, really, really, really great. They can walk and run on land, and a RHex-based hexapod called Aqua can swim in water as well, with just a simple change of legs from something rigid for walking to something flexible for swimming. Technically, this makes RHex amphibious, but in practice, it's more like the robot is amphibious if you've got a human around to swap its legs out. The problem is that it's impossible to make legs that are flexible enough for efficient swimming and simultaneously rigid enough for efficient walking. And when we say "impossible," we mean "impossible until someone figured out how to do it," which happened at IROS last month.

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Video Friday: DRC Tasks, Quadrotor Failsafes, and Autopsy Robots

Well, we've made it to December. And that means we're just a few weeks away from the DARPA Robotics Challenge. It's kind of amazing to think that the DRC was announced a year and a half ago now; it doesn't seem like it's been nearly that long, probably because robotics in general just never stops. It's enough to drive you crazy, especially when it's Thursday night and you're trying to put together an awesome Video Friday and there are just too many videos and...

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Okay, I'm good now.

Anyway, the DRC runs the weekend of December 20-21 down in Homestead, near Miami, in Florida, and it's open to the public if you happen to be in the neighborhood. There'll be an expo, with demos of Boston Dynamics LS3 and WildCat (among other robots), and you'll get to sit in some grandstands just 20 meters away from the robots competing in the DRC itself, live. Or as live as robots get, anyway.

If you can't make it down there, we'll be there of course to bring you the cool stuff, but DARPA is putting some serious effort into webcasting as much as they possibly can, with multiple live streams in addition to live commentary and daily highlights from a bunch of dedicated camera crews, so there's no need to feel left out. We'll have all the details on that before the event starts.

Moving on now: videos!

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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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