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A live dragonfly with a cybernetic backpack and optical implants is now airborne

Draper's Genetically Modified Cyborg DragonflEye Takes Flight

In January, we wrote about a cybernetic micro air vehicle under development at Draper called DragonflEye. DragonflEye consists of a living, slightly modified dragonfly that carries a small backpack of electronics. The backpack interfaces directly with the dragonfly’s nervous system to control it, and uses tiny solar panels to harvest enough energy to power itself without the need for batteries.

Draper showed us a nifty looking mock-up of what the system might look like a few months ago, but today, they’ve posted the first video of DragonflEye taking to the air.

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Robot arm carefully stacks rocks one on top of another

Incredibly Soothing Robot Makes Towers of Balanced Stones

Building things with robots is a nice idea, especially if robots are doing what they’re best at: predictable, repetitive tasks like you get with bricklaying. When humans build structures, however, we can be a bit more creative, adapting on the fly to the sizes and shapes of materials available. This is one of those robotic paradoxes—building something that’s easy for robots, like an exactly spaced curvy brick wall, is tricky for humans, while building something that’s easy for humans, like a wall made out of pile of random rocks that doesn’t spontaneously fall over, is tricky for robots.

At ICRA this week, researchers from ETH Zurich are presenting a robot that’s able to handle some of that variability that humans are so good at effortlessly coping with. With careful planning and a delicate touch, this robot arm is learning to autonomously build towers out of balanced pieces of limestone.

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Roboticists built self-folding 3D models of a rabbit, tuna fish, and starfish to demonstrate a new approach for making compliant, controllable robotic structures

Soft Robotic Structures Fold Themselves Up in Hot Water

Over the last few years there’s been an increased focus on robots that can build themselves. This is especially pertinent when you’re dealing with robots that are fiddly to make, which includes (at the moment) most robots that are soft and compliant. It seems like soft robots would be quite happy to be 3D printed, but in practice, they need to be made out of highly deformable materials that only behave themselves if you take the trouble to mold them instead, which is tedious any annoying.

At ICRA on Tuesday, Cynthia Sung, who was previously with Daniela Rus’s group at MIT and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, presented a new approach for making compliant, controllable robotic structures. Called additive self-folding, this origami-inspired technique involves creating 3D shapes made out of a long strip of self-folding 2D material, and all you have to do is add some hot water.

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ICRA robotics conference in Singapore

All the Latest, Most Exciting Robotics Research From ICRA 2017

Every six months, an enormous posse of top robotics researchers from around the world converge on some moderately exotic location to impress each other with their latest research. Right now, we’re at the 2017 edition of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), which is taking place as you read this in Singapore. As always, we’re going to do our best to read every single paper and attend every single technical session, even though there are 11 tracks all happening at the same time along with workshops, forums, and an expo.

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DJI Spark drone

Video Friday: DJI Spark Drone, Google Tango, and 18-DOF Hexapod Robot

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

IEEE ICRA – May 29-3, 2017 – Singapore
University Rover Challenge – June 1-13, 2017 – Hanksville, Utah, USA
IEEE World Haptics – June 6-9, 2017 – Munich, Germany
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online
ICCV 2017 – June 13-16, 2017 – Venice, Italy
RoboBoat 2017 – June 20-20, 2017 – Daytona Beach, Fl., USA
Aerial Robotics International Research Symposium – June 21-22, 2017 – Toronto, Canada
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2017 – London, England
Autonomous Systems World – June 26-27, 2017 – Berlin, Germany
RoboUniverse Seoul – June 28-30, 2017 – Seoul, Korea
RobotCraft 2017 – July 3-3, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong
RSS 2017 – July 12-16, 2017 – Cambridge, Mass., USA
MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany
Living Machines Conference – July 25-28, 2017 – Stanford, Calif., USA

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

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Soft legged robot

3D-Printed Pneumatic Quadruped Robot Adapts to Rough Terrain

At IROS in Chicago a few years back, then Harvard grad student Michael Tolley introduced us to a robot that used explosions to jump. It was soft, it was pink, it had three wiggly legs that it used to position itself, and it was kinda freaky looking. As it turns out, Tolley now has his own robotics lab at UC San Diego, and they’ve been working on ways of efficiently fabricating useful soft robots. Their latest paper, which will be presented at ICRA in Singapore next week, throws a fourth wiggly leg into the mix to make a soft quadruped robot that can walk.

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Researchers mounted a robot on the back of a live turtle to guide its movements

Parasitic Robot Steers Live Turtle With Tasty Snacks

It’s going to be a long, long time before we have amphibious robots that are anywhere near as capable as the mighty and majestic turtle. While many roboticists are working diligently on TurtleBots of all kinds, researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have taken things much more literally with the development of a robot-turtle hybrid: a “parasitic robot,” as they call it, that lives on the back of a real turtle, guiding the animal from place to place with the aid of an array of LEDs coupled with positive reinforcement from tasty turtle snacks.

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DJI Phantom drone flying

Court Ruling: The FAA Can't Make You Register Your Drone

Since December of 2015, Americans have been required to register any drone that weighs more than two sticks of butter with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It’s a minor hassle and costs a little bit of money and seems like a reasonable idea considering how many people are flying sizeable drones nowadays. However, there was one particular group that really didn't appreciate the new ruling: model aircraft enthusiasts. One of them sued the FAA in February of 2016, and a federal court in Washington, D.C. ruled in favor of hobbyists, meaning that the FAA can no longer require you (or anyone else) to register their personal drones.

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Animatronic King Kong to debut on Broadway

Video Friday: Animatronic King Kong, Robot Pilot, and Giant Eyeball Drone

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

NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 22-26, 2017 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
ROS-I Asia Pacific Workshop – May 25-26, 2017 – Singapore
IEEE ICRA – May 29-3, 2017 – Singapore
University Rover Challenge – June 1-13, 2017 – Hanksville, Utah, USA
IEEE World Haptics – June 6-9, 2017 – Munich, Germany
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online
ICCV 2017 – June 13-16, 2017 – Venice, Italy
RoboBoat 2017 – June 20-20, 2017 – Daytona Beach, Fl., USA
Aerial Robotics International Research Symposium – June 21-22, 2017 – Toronto, Ont., Canada
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2017 – London, England
Autonomous Systems World – June 26-27, 2017 – Berlin, Germany
RoboUniverse Seoul – June 28-30, 2017 – Seoul, Korea
RobotCraft 2017 – July 3-3, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong
RSS 2017 – July 12-16, 2017 – Cambridge, Mass., USA
MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany

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

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This omnidirectional eight-rotor drone flies like no other aircraft

ETH Zurich's Omnicopter Plays Fetch

Most aircraft are designed to be very good at going upward, and also not bad at going forward, with some relatively small amount of thought given to turning left and right. Thanks to gravity, downward is usually taken care of. Even aircraft designed to hover, like helicopters and quadrotors, have preferential directions of orientation and travel where their particular arrangement of motors and control surfaces makes them most effective. 

ETH Zurich’s Omnicopter goes about flying in a totally different way. With eight motors oriented in all directions, the Omnicopter doesn’t have an up or down or front or back: It can translate and rotate in any direction, letting it play a very skilled game of fetch.

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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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Erico Guizzo
New York City
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Washington, D.C.
 

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