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Researchers Teaching Robots to Feel and React to Pain

One of the most useful things about robots is that they don’t feel pain. Because of this, we have no problem putting them to work in dangerous environments or having them perform tasks that range between slightly unpleasant and definitely fatal to a human. And yet, a pair of German researchers believes that, in some cases, feeling and reacting to pain might be a good capability for robots to have.

The researchers, from Leibniz University of Hannover, are developing an “artificial robot nervous system to teach robots how to feel pain” and quickly respond in order to avoid potential damage to their motors, gears, and electronics. They described the project last week at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Stockholm, Sweden, and we were there to ask them what in the name of Asimov they were thinking when they came up with this concept.

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Video Friday: Whiskered Robot, Haptic Jamming, and Humorous Humanoid

ICRA is almost over, and we hope you’ve been enjoying our coverage, which so far has featured robot mothszipper actuators, machine learning, and duckies. We’ll have lots more from the conference over the next few weeks, but for you impatient types, we’re cramming Video Friday this week with a painstakingly curated selection of ICRA videos—emphasis on pain: there were over 400 videos!

We tried to include videos from many different areas of robotics: control, sensing, humanoids, actuators, exoskeletons, manipulators, prosthetics, aerial vehicles, grasping, AI, VR, haptics, vision, and microrobots. There’s even a cybernetic living tree that drives around on a mobile robotic base! We’re posting the abstracts along with the videos, but if you have any questions about these projects, let us know and we’ll get more details from the authors.

We’ll return to normal Video Friday next week. Have a great weekend everyone!

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This Robot Uses Machine Learning to Take Care of Absent-Minded Humans

There are all kinds of apps that will remind you to do things, which is great, if you remember to ask them to remind you to do things. At ICRA yesterday, researchers from Cornell and Stanford presented a project called Watch-Bot, which can independently learn your household activity patterns to provide you with helpful reminders. If you leave the milk out, or forget to turn a monitor off, or leave food in the microwave, the robot will figure out on its own that you forgot to do something and then gently remind you.

With lasers.

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Harvard Launches Robot Moth

Harvard researchers have been working on their robot bee for a really, really long time (in robot years). It’s impressively small, being bee-sized, but it turns out that it’s so small that it’s not realistic to expect it to fly with onboard power and computing in the near future. Plus, the flight dynamics of tiny insects like bees is significantly different from larger insects like butterflies and moths, which exhibit combinations of flapping, gliding, and soaring flight. To explore this, Harvard researchers have developed FWMAV, a novel insect-scale flapping-wing micro-air vehicle that’s just small enough to be called “micro” and just big enough to operate completely untethered.

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SoftBank Prepares Humanoid Robot Pepper's U.S. Debut, Releases Android SDK

Pepper is finally coming to America. Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank said today that its chatty humanoid robot, unveiled with great fanfare by the company’s founder and CEO Masayoshi Son two years ago, is expected to debut in the North American market later this year. SoftBank also announced that a new developer portal is now available to anyone interested in creating applications for the robot. And tomorrow at Google I/O, SoftBank engineers will take the stage, along with Pepper, to introduce a tool that they hope will entice more developers to build apps for the robot: an SDK for the Android mobile operating system.

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Spiral Zipper Creates Robot Arm Out of a Strip of Plastic

As useful as robot arms are, they tend to be heavy, bulky things that need a bunch of support and structure to get them to work properly. If you need precision and speed, this may be unavoidable, but if all you’re looking for is long reach, a high-strength to weight ratio, and very low cost (which, admittedly, are a lot of things to be looking for), another option was presented at ICRA today by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania: an arm made out of a strip of plastic that zips together with itself, creating an extendable cylinder that can be paired with winches and cables and used for manipulation.

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We're at ICRA in Sweden to Bring You the Latest in Robots, and Duckies

Tomorrow, the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) opens in Stockholm, Sweden. Over the next three days, more than 1,200 robotics research papers will be presented through a bunch of concurrent interactive conference sessions, and we’ll be running around doing our best to check out every single one of them.

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Video Friday: Soft Robot Challenge, Marshmallow Automation, and Dancing Hubo

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your dance-challenged Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain
RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
Dynamic Walking 2016 – June 4-7, 2016 – Holland, Mich., USA
IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 – June 6-10, 2016 – Singapore
CR-HRI – June 6-10, 2016 – Orlando, Fla., USA
NASA SRRC Level 1 – June 6-11, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
Field Robot Event – June 14-18, 2016 – Haßfurt, Germany
RSS 2016 – June 18-22, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Mich., USA
European Land Robot Trial – June 20-24, 2016 – Eggendorf, Austria
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ISR 2016 – June 21-22, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ICROM 2016 – June 23-25, 2016 – Singapore
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdon
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany


Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.


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Microspines Make It Easy for Drones to Perch on Walls and Ceilings

Morgan Pope is a PhD student investigating robots that live at the boundary of airborne and surface locomotion at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab. He wrote about SCAMP, a flying and perching robot, for Automaton earlier this year.

A disaster site. A rainforest. A battlefield. These places have something in common: we have a need to understand what’s going on where established infrastructure can’t give us good data. Advances in computation, fabrication, and materials over the last half-century have resulted in small, cheap, and lightweight sensors that can provide us with these data; now the task is to find ways to deploy such sensors rapidly and effectively.  

One way to do this is with small, agile aerial vehicles like quadrotors. Quadrotors are becoming affordable, ubiquitous platforms that can fly quickly over rugged terrain to collect critical data. There’s a catch, though: most small (less than 1 meter in diameter) quadrotors can only stay in the air for tens of minutes at a time, and this limited endurance makes some missions unachievable. However, if the goal is to collect data from a fixed vantage point, there is an alternative to hovering in place that might extend mission life from minutes to days or even  longer: perching.

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Why You Should Be Glad That Quadrotors Have Learned to Dodge Swords

When that quadrotor fencing video showed up everywhere last month, we asked Ross Allen, the Stanford PhD candidate (and fencer) responsible for the research, if he’d be willing to talk to us about it. He said sure, except his thesis defense was that Friday, so would we mind waiting a bit? It’s been a bit, and after a successful defense, Dr. Allen is somehow not sick and tired of robots and answered a bunch of our questions about quadrotors, swords, and why mixing them is such a great idea.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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