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NASA Space Robotics Challenge R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot

NASA's Space Robotics Challenge: The Tasks, the Prizes, and How to Participate

Last year at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, NASA announced a new challenge for humanoid robots: the Space Robotics Challenge (SRC), which will “prepare robots for the journey to Mars.” Just like the DRC, the first stage of the SRC will consist of a virtual challenge, run in the Gazebo simulator, followed up by a physical challenge using NASA’s R5 Valkyrie robots.

As of yesterday, NASA has opened registration for the SRC, and we’ll take a look at the format of the competition, the challenges that teams will need to complete, and what they can take home for winning.

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GOAT robot leg

GOAT Robot Leg Demonstrates Explosive Jumping

Most legged robots are easily identifiable as such, because we all know what legs look like: they look like legs. Maybe human legs, maybe mammal legs, maybe bird legs, but legs are legs. Where things start to get interesting is when legged robots manifest designs that aren’t (usually) found in nature, like with RHex, which has six springy wheely leggy things that allow it to do some incredible acrobatics.

At Carnegie Mellon University, Simon Kalouche just wrapped up his masters thesis in which he describes the development of a brand new design for “legs capable of dexterous walking, running, and most significantly, explosive omni-directional jumping and actively compliant landing.” That’s the kind of thing we like to hear.

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Abundant Robotics demonstrates a prototype of its autonomous apple picker, which uses machine vision and a vacuum robot arm.

SRI Spin-off Abundant Robotics Developing Autonomous Apple Vacuum

As an apple fan (the delicious fruit, not the horrible-tasting technology company), I take it for granted that apples will be available to me at affordable prices whenever and wherever I want them. This is because I’m a clueless consumer, who had no idea that in 2012, 4.2 million apples were picked in the United States. By hand.

Apple picking is a task that seems like it should be easy to automate: The environment is semistructured, and you’re dealing with objects that are nearly homogenous. At the same time, though, those nearly homogenous objects are often occluded by leaves and branches, and grasping them quickly and delicately enough to compete with humans workers isn’t easy. Robot vision and manipulation have recently advanced just enough to start making autonomous apple harvesting a commercial success, and there are few companies (including FFRobotics) already working in the space.

Last week, SRI International announced a new Silicon Valley spin-off company, Abundant Robotics, which is trying to automate orchard harvests with robotics. From what we can tell, they’re using a sort of horizontally mounted delta robot with a vacuum attachment for gentle high-speed fruit picking, resulting in the cleanest, shiniest apples you’ve ever experienced.

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Upper body mechanism of the child android Affetto developed at Osaka University's Asada Lab.

Video Friday: The Omnicopter, Diving Drones, and Skinless Robot Babies

Editor’s note: Our very first Video Friday post was published on 12 August 2011. This means that today Video Friday is five years old! We’d like to thank you, our loyal readers, for spending your Fridays watching robot videos with us (what could be more important?). And for those of you developing the next-generation of robots at companies, startups, and research labs everywhere, please continue writing us about your projects so we can keep Video Friday going for another half decade.

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your baby-loving 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!):

RO-MAN 2016 – August 26-31, 2016 – New York, N.Y., USA
ECAI 2016 – August 29-2, 2016 – The Hague, Holland
NASA SRRC Level 2 – September 2-5, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
ISyCoR 2016 – September 7-9, 2016 – Ostrava, Czech Republic
European Rover Challenge – September 10-13, 2016 – Podkarpackie, Poland
Gigaom Change – September 21-23, 2016 – Austin, Texas, USA
RoboBusiness – September 28-29, 2016 – San Jose, Calif., USA
ISER 2016 – October 3-6, 2016 – Tokyo, Japan
Cybathlon Symposium – October 07, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
Cybathalon 2016 – October 08, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
Robotica 2016 Brazil – October 8-12, 2016 – Recife, Brazil
ROSCon 2016 – October 8-9, 2016 – Seoul, Korea
IROS 2016 – October 9-14, 2016 – Daejon, South Korea


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


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Locus Robotics warehouse robot

How Locus Robotics Plans to Build a Successor to Amazon's Kiva Robots

In 2012, Amazon bought Kiva Systems for just over three quarters of a billion dollars, securing for itself virtually the entire large-scale robotic logistics market all at once. This was a particular problem for existing Kiva customers, including Quiet Logistics, who used Kiva robots to support centralized warehouse operations for a variety of clients. Once Quiet Logistics’ contract with Kiva ran out, they’d need to find some new robots.

Recognizing the enormous value that Kiva robots provided and the potential of the void that suddenly existed, a bunch of companies began to target the robotic warehouse fulfillment space. There’s Adept, Fetch, Clearpath, IAM Robotics, and Magazino, to name just a few. Rather than rely on a new platform from someone else, Quiet Logistics decided to develop its own fulfillment robot. Quiet’s internal robotics project was spun out into Locus Robotics in 2014, with $8 million in Series A funding announced this May. Bruce Welty is the chairman of Quiet Logistics, as well as the founder and chairman of Locus Robotics. We spoke to him about the problems he saw with Kiva’s robots, how to develop a robot from scratch, and why warehouse robotics is predominantly a software problem.

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Near Earth Autonomy drone

Video Friday: Drone With Lidar, Robot Tai Chi, and Strange Android

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your laser-focused 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!):

RO-MAN 2016 – August 26-31, 2016 – New York, N.Y., USA
ECAI 2016 – August 29-2, 2016 – The Hague, Holland
NASA SRRC Level 2 – September 2-5, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
ISyCoR 2016 – September 7-9, 2016 – Ostrava, Czech Republic
European Rover Challenge – September 10-13, 2016 – Podkarpackie, Poland
Gigaom Change – September 21-23, 2016 – Austin, Texas, USA
RoboBusiness – September 28-29, 2016 – San Jose, Calif., USA
ISER 2016 – October 3-6, 2016 – Tokyo, Japan


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


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MARLO, University of Michigan's bipedal robot

The Adventures of a Blissfully Unaware Bipedal Robot at the Grassy Wave Field

Every chance we get, we post videos highlighting the adventures of MARLO, the University of Michigan’s blissfully unaware bipedal robot. MARLO is totally “blind,” without cameras, lidar, or anything else to show it where it’s going. But the robot is still able to walk dynamically over a range of terrain that I think would be appropriate to call staggering. Varied terrain does indeed stagger MARLO on a regular basis, and it’s probably fallen over more times on video than any robot we’ve ever seen.

Professor Jessy Grizzle and his students have been challenging MARLO with increasingly difficult terrain, most recently at a location on the beautiful Ann Arbor campus called the “Wave Field,” an “earth sculpture” created by artist Maya Lin. A new video posted today shows off MARLO’s latest exploits, and we talked with Grizzle about why a robot that falls over all the time is the key to efficient dynamic humanoid walking.

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Luvozo's SAM robot is designed to assist staff at senior living facilities

SAM Brings Much-Needed Robotic Assistance to Senior Living Facilities

Creating a successful robot company based around providing commercial services is not easy, although as of just the last few years, advances in robotics technology has at least made it possible. Companies like Savioke have shown that robotics has reached a point where autonomous platforms can operate in semi-structured environments, doing useful tasks reliably and cost effectively enough to make a compelling business case.

Luvozo, a startup founded in 2013 and based in College Park, Md., is bringing autonomous robots to semi-structured environments with an enormous amount of potential: skilled nursing facilities for seniors. They’re introducing a “robot concierge” called SAM, designed to “provide frequent check-ins and non-medical care for residents in long-term care settings” through autonomous navigation, telepresence, and an innovative fall hazard detection system. The potential market here is enormous, and to find out more, we stopped by Luvozo and spoke with CEO and co-founder David Pietrocola.

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Lockheed Martin SPIDER airship repair robot

How Lockheed Martin's SPIDER Blimp-Fixing Robot Works

Airships, which are distinct from blimps by being much more rigid and sounding much less silly, are one of those unusual technologies that has been undergoing a resurgence recently after falling out of favor half a century ago. Airships have potential to be a very practical and cost effective way to move massive amounts of stuff from one place to another place, especially if the another place is low on infrastructure and has a reasonable amount of patience.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has been developing a particular kind of airship called a hybrid airship, which uses a combination of aerodynamics and lifting gas to get airborne, for the last decade or so. The P-791 technology demonstrator first flew in 2006, and a company called Hybrid Enterprises is taking Lockheed’s airship technology to commercialization. Their LMH-1 will be able to carry over 20,000 kilograms of whatever you want, along with 19 passengers, up to 2,500 kilometers, and it’s going to be a real thing: Hybrid Airships recently closed a US $480 million contract to built 12 of them for cargo delivery.

As part of the construction and ongoing maintenance of an airship, it’s important to inspect the envelope (the chubby bit that holds all the helium) for tiny holes that, over time, can have a significant impact on the airship’s ability to fly. The traditional way to do this involves humans, and like most things involving humans, it’s an expensive and time consuming process. To help out, Lockheed Martin has developed “Self-Propelled Instruments for Damage Evaluation and Repair,” or SPIDERs, which are teams of robots that can inspect airship skins for holes as well as representing one of the less ludicrous robot acronyms that we’ve seen recently.

For details on SPIDER, we spoke with hybrid airship engineer Ben Szpak about where the idea came from, how the robot works, and what their plans are for the future.

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Automaton

IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

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Erico Guizzo
 
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Evan Ackerman
 
 
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Jason Falconer
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Angelica Lim
 

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