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This Is How Close We Are to a Baseball-Playing Robot

We’ve been writing about robots from the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory at the University of Tokyo for years. They’ve always had very cool demos, like robots throwing balls, robots tracking balls, robots catching balls, robots hitting balls, and robots running really really fast

I’d just sort of figured that these demos were simply fun and interesting ways of highlighting the capabilities of high-speed actuators and vision systems.

Evidently, I don’t know anything, because it’s now totally obvious that they’re working on a humanoid robot that plays baseball.

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DARPA Wants to Turn Military Planes Into Flying Drone Aircraft Carriers

Drones. Everybody loves them, and everybody wants more of them, even if (in many cases) it’s entirely unreasonable. But let’s not get into that. No, instead we’re going to stick with something very reasonable today, and talk about how the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants someone to build a system with the “ability to launch and recover multiple small unmanned air systems from one or more types of existing large manned aircraft.” Coooool!

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IHMC's Atlas Learning Crane Kick, Will Destroy Competition at DRC Finals

Nobody is quite sure yet what robots are going to have to do in the DRC Finals next year. But if part of the disaster scenario involves robots getting their legs swept by evil ninja robots (totally possible), IHMC’s Atlas will be ready for that and more, at least judging by a new video IHMC released titled “Atlas Karate Kid.”

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Video Friday: Real Big Hero, Robots 3D, and Chappie Trailer

Robots are the stars in a new Disney animated movie, a National Geographic 3D film, and a sci-fi action thriller with Hugh Jackman. Turn off your cellphone and enjoy the show—it’s Video Friday.

Today is the premiere of Big Hero 6, a new movie from Disney featuring a big, soft, huggable robot named Baymax. And here’s the cool part: Baymax is actually based on real (and awesome) research out of Carnegie Mellon University. The excitment has apparently inspired some equally real robots to get dressed up in big white inflatable suits, and until you’ve seen Atlas try to walk in one of these things, you have not lived. Or something.

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MIT's Augmented Reality Room Shows What Robots Are Thinking

Most of the time, most of us have absolutely no idea what robots are thinking. Someone who builds and programs a robot does have some idea how that robot is supposed to act based on certain inputs, but as sensors get more ubiquitous and the software that manages them and synthesizes their data to make decisions gets more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a sense of what’s actually going on. MIT is trying to address that issue, and they’re using augmented reality to do it.

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Robotic Micro-Scallops Can Swim Through Your Eyeballs

Designing robots on the micro or nano scale (like, small enough to fit inside your body) is all about simplicity. There just isn’t room for complex motors or actuation systems. There’s barely room for any electronics whatsoever, not to mention batteries, which is why robots that can swim inside your bloodstream or zip around your eyeballs are often driven by magnetic fields. However, magnetic fields drag around anything and everything that happens to be magnetic, so in general, they’re best for controlling just one single microrobot robot at a time. Ideally, you’d want robots that can swim all by themselves, and a robotic micro-scallop, announced today in Nature Communications, could be the answer.

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Fluffy Little Rovers Are an Effective, Adorable Way of Monitoring Penguins

Generally speaking, wild animals don’t like humans all that much. Even animals that aren’t directly threatened by humans (and won’t immediately attempt to flee) get all kinds of stressed out to have tall squishy bipeds getting all up in their business. For scientists studying the behavior of wild animals, this presents a serious conflict, because trying to help those animals by collecting data on them also messes with them such that, in more extreme cases, the animals won’t be able to breed as effectively.

In the past, we’ve seen some remarkable pictures and video footage from small, remote-controlled rovers designed to carry cameras up to wild (and dangerous) animals without freaking them out too much. Now, in a paper just published in Nature Methods, researchers discuss using robots to get up close to penguins to collect data while disturbing the animals as little as possible.

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Video Friday: Beams for Sale, Drone on a Leash, and Open Source Humanoid

Last night, Suitable Technologies opened a brand new store in the middle of Palo Alto, Calif., to give people a way to try out the Beam telepresence not-a-robot. Uniquely, the store will not have any humans in it at all, we’re told. Just Suitable employees from New York to Sydney, beaming in to interact with anyone who wanders into the store.

This is a good idea for Suitable, because people like me are always trying to describe the experience of using something like a telepresence robot, and (more often than not) failing. It's really one of those things that you have to try for yourself. And if you’re not local to Silicon Valley, you can make an appointment to beam in.

The store is mostly empty, except for Beams. At the moment, it’s staffed by Beam Pros, but the Beam Plus should show up eventually. There are also stations along the walls where you can test drive a Beam in a remote location for yourself.

If you (or your robots) happen to be trick-or-treating in Palo Alto tonight, Beams will be giving out candy until 8 p.m. on what I assume is the honor system, so feel free to take shameless advantage of that. The Beam store is open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., at 425 University Avenue.

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The Defibrillator Drone Is Another Good Drone Idea But Will It Work?

Problem: Many people who go into cardiac arrest could be helped with an automated external defibrillator (AED)—as well as CPR from someone who knows what they’re doingbut most of the time, an AED isn’t handy. Solution: Turn a drone into a flying AED, and then send it to rapidly respond to emergency calls reporting a heart attack event. It’s a great idea, and its originator, TU Delft engineering graduate Alec Momont, has even built a functional flying prototype. But it is realistic?

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
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Evan Ackerman
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