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NTSB Decision Defining "Aircraft" as Anything That Flies Lacks Common Sense

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board, a U.S. agency better known for investigating aircraft accidents, overturned an early decision in a much-publicized case involving drone operator Raphael Pirker. The previous ruling threw out the US $10,000 fine the Federal Aviation Administration imposed on Pirker for operating his camera-equipped drone in what the FAA considered a careless and reckless manner. In its recent deliberations, the NTSB didn’t weigh whether Pirker had been careless or reckless. But it affirmed that the operator of a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—or indeed of any aerial device used carelessly or recklessly—was subject to FAA fines.

Wait. Any device?

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SpaceX Planning to Land Autonomous Reusable Rockets on Drone Ships

In a relentless effort to make orbital deliveries safer and cheaper, SpaceX has been working towards a rocket system that’s completely reusable. The vision is to create a version of the Falcon 9 that can be launched into space, and then return to Earth, landing itself vertically with pinpoint accuracy. SpaceX has been making steady, incremental progress, with the addition of landing legs, guidance wings, and several tentatively successful landings out in the ocean. The next step is to try to get a Falcon 9 to land itself on something solid, and there’s no safer place to do this than a drone ship out in the ocean.

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Video Friday: Robots at Sea, Humanoids at RoboCup, and D-RHex on Sand

Next week is Thanksgiving—a U.S. holiday—which means that Video Friday may take a little bit of a break. And taking a break means that the next Video Friday will inevitably be twice as large, so it’s not like you’ll be missing anything. But in the meantime, let’s give thanks for (among many other things) the fact that robots exist, and that they're awesome, and that nearly another year has gone by without them somehow managing to destroy us all.


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YES! PR2 Very Close to Completing Laundry Cycle

PR2 is famous for (among many other things) folding laundry. Specifically, UC Berkeley’s PR2 demonstrated back in 2010 that it could take a pile of towels fresh out of the dryer and neatly fold and stack them. This took something like 20 minutes per towel, but the important thing was that it was completely autonomous: as a human, you could leave the robot by itself with a jumble of towels and washcloths, and then come back a few hours later and everything would be taken care of.

Since 2010, we’ve seen a few more isolated examples of PR2s folding things, but what we’ve been waiting for is a demonstration of a complete laundry cycle. And it looks like we’re now almost, almost there.

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Drone News: FAA Drone Ruling, Bebop Priced, and K-MAX Demo

Yesterday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) overruled a federal judge, deciding that remote-controlled aircraft (whether or not they’re autonomous enough to be called “drones”) fall under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). News on that, plus an update on Parrot’s Bebop drone and some new firefighting skills from Lockheed Martin and KMAX, after the jump.

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3D Printed Robots Teach Themselves to Move

We humans are continuing to send robots farther and farther away from Earth, even as we ask them to deal with more and more complex situations here at home, and both of these things mean that autonomy is getting increasingly critical. Robots encounter all kinds of unexpected complications if they’re operating in unfamiliar environments, and we want them to minimize their reliance on active human involvement. Autonomy is just the start: the goal is the ability to learn and evolve, and researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway are developing a system that can print out customized robots to tackle any situation it faces.

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Is It a Lamp? Is It a Vase? No, It's Patin the Robot

Flower Robotics, a Tokyo-based design studio, is envisioning a future where common household objects like lamps and flower pots spring to life and move around our homes. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a concept device called Patin, a service robot platform that can use special attachments to perform a variety of functions.

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Video Friday: Comet Landing, DJI Inspire Drone, and Giant Fighting Robots

All other robotics news this week pales in comparison to the Philae robotic lander making a successful(ish) landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after more than 10 years travelling through space. Last we heard, though, due to misbehaving harpoons, Philae bounced a few times off the surface and ended up in some shade at the base of a cliff. The lander needs to change its position in order to try to get enough sunlight onto its solar panels. The European Space Agency (ESA) isn’t quite sure how they’re going to make that happen, at least not yet, but we have their most recent video update and the rest of the videos of the week for you right here.

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Robots vs. Ebola: What Makes Sense, and What Doesn't

Last month, we previewed a workshop on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers that was being held by the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology. The goal was to try to figure out how (or if) robots might be able to help out in the current Ebola crisis, and how we might prepare for robots to be useful in future medical situations. The workshop was held early this month, and yesterday, CRASAR director Dr. Robin Murphy posted her assessment of how things went.

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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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