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Video Friday: Laser SnakeBot, Million Object Challenge, and Karma Is Coming

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

RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASSISIbf Winter School – January 12-14, 2016 – Lausanne, Switzerland
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA

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

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ROS, the Robot Operating System, Is Growing Faster Than Ever, Celebrates 8 Years

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Eight years ago, Morgan Quigley, Eric Berger, and Andrew Ng published a paper that was not about ROS. It was about STAIR, the STanford Artificial Intelligence Robot, which used a library called Switchyard to pass messages between software modules to perform complex manipulation tasks like stapler grasping. Switchyard was a purpose-built framework that was designed to be modular and robot-independent, and it was such a good idea that in 2009, “ROS: An Open-Source Robot Operating System” was presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Japan. As of this month, the paper introducing ROS has been cited 2,020 times, an increase of more than 50 percent over last year.

The popularity of one single paper is only a minor indicator of the popularity of the robot operating system that it introduced. At eight years old, ROS is growing faster than ever, and helping the robotics community to grow along with it. We’re especially excited to see how brand new startups have been taking advantage of the open source nature of ROS to help them develop useful, reliable robots that are creating entirely new markets. In 2015 alone, more than US $150 million in VC funding (that we know of) was invested in businesses that utilize ROS.

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Canny Robot Rocks Out to Audio Programming

When we think about programming a robot, we focus on the part about writing code for the robot; we don’t pay much attention to the task of sending the code from our computers to the robot. To do that, we rely on things like WiFi or Bluetooth, or maybe USB or Ethernet cables, along with their specific software interfaces. And that’s fine, for now, but what about five years from now? Or 10 years from now? Fifty years? What are the odds that any of the things that we use to talk to our robots will still exist? To put it another way: what are the odds of being able to interact with a piece of 50-year-old technology (or even 10-year-old technology) as sophisticated as a robot?

Adam Kumpf, who did robotics at MIT a while ago and now does other cool stuff, is worried about this kind of obsolescence, so he took a stab at solving the problem with Canny. Canny is a very simple proof of concept robot that doesn’t depend on a depreciable communication interface, because you can transmit instructions to it using nothing more than an audio player and a pair of headphones.

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Lockheed's Drones Cooperate to Autonomously Put Out Fires

Last year, Lockheed Martin demonstrated (semi) autonomous firefighting capabilities with an unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter and a small quadrotor. There were still humans in the loop, though, and the whole test was carefully monitored to make sure that there were no conflicts with other aircraft in the area. Last month, Lockheed held another firefighting demo, this time with even more autonomy and real-time integration with air traffic control.

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Video Friday: Robot With Axe, Drone With Claw, and Droid With Kittens

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

RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASSISIbf Winter School – January 12-14, 2016 – Lausanne, Switzerland
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
Portuguese Robotics Festival – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Advanced Robotics Systems and Competitions – May 06, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Cybathalon 2016 – October 08, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, Great Britain
UK National Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada

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

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Lessons Learned from Observing 90 Untrained Participants Abusing a Flying Robot

We stole this headline from the title of a paper that was presented last month at the AI for Human-Robot Interaction symposium in Washington, D.C., because we couldn’t think of a better way to frame this research. To figure out how instructions given to humans can change the way that the humans perform a task, researchers from Washington State University’s Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory gave people a drone, told them to fly it through an obstacle course, and then watched them do a terrible job.

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Custom AI Programs Take on Top Ranked Humans in StarCraft

Every year, the Annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE) co-hosts a competition for computer programs that play StarCraft: Brood War against each other. StarCraft is a complex real-time strategy (RTS) game that poses a significant challenge to AI research “because of hidden information, vast state and action spaces, and the requirement to act quickly,” as the AIIDE website explains. “The best human players still have the upper hand in RTS games, but in the years to come this will likely change, thanks to competitions like this one.”

This year, 22 programs were entered into the competition at the University of Alberta, Canada, playing against each other continuously for two weeks on 12 virtual machines (that’s over 1,800 games each). At the end of the competition, three of the best AIs played some exhibition matches against a Russian StarCraft player who goes by Djem5 and is “widely regarded as one of the best non-Korean Protoss players in the world.”

So did the AI win? Are humans doomed? Spoiler alert: nope. As far as StarCraft goes, we’re still way better than the machines, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to watch these pro human vs. AI matches unfold.

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Amazon's Latest Drone Delivery Promo Answers Zero Important Questions

Today is Cyber Monday, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. In what I’m sure is just a coincidence, Amazon has posted a fancy new video of the latest version of their drone that may, one day, they hope, deliver things to you, kinda, maybe. Are we now astounded and impressed and excited and optimistic about the future of urban drone delivery? Not so much, no.

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FAA Task Force Recommends Registration for All Drones 250 Grams and Up

Over the weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s acronym-laden Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force (RTF) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) released its final report, consisting of a set of recommendations on how the FAA should implement mandatory registration of consumer drones. The most immediately relevant is the minimum mass required for registration, which is a mere 250 grams (a little more than half a pound). In other words, if your drone weighs more than 250 grams, the FAA’s drone registration will most likely apply to you.

In addition to details on the registration process, the 18-page document also includes some justification for why the task force made the recommendations it did. So, before you get out your pitchforks to protest the 250-gram weight threshold, let’s take a look at where it came from.

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2015 Robot Gift Guide

With the holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to step back and reflect on the things that really matter: family, friends, what robots you’d like to get this year. This guide, with 17 suggestions for all ages, interests, and pockets, is by no means exhaustive. There are lots of great robots out there. But we’re limiting ourselves to products that you can purchase right now, which means that things like Kickstarter are out of the running. With this year’s selection, we tried to cover three main categories: DRONES, ROBOT TOYS & KITS, and HOME ROBOTS. Our list includes new products released in 2015 but also robots from previous years that we still like (check out more ideas from our 2014 and 2013 guides). We tested many of these bots ourselves, and we plan to post in-depth reviews sometime soon. And while we provide links to places where you can buy these items, we’re not endorsing any in particular, and a little bit of searching may result in better deals (all prices are in U.S. dollars). Lastly, if you think we missed the best robot thing (or things) of the year, let us know in the comments.

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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.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
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Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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