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Hexapod robot

Six-Legged Robot One-Ups Nature With Faster Gait

Usually, biologically inspired robotics is about figuring out evolution’s clever tricks and then trying to apply them to your robot to make it faster or more efficient or more skilled or whatever. It isn’t very often that a robot ends up beating nature at its own game—evolution is a very intelligent designer, and roboticists are going up against a half billion years of trial and error.

In an article published last week in Nature Communications, researchers from EPFL, in Lausanne, Switzerland, managed to show that for legged hexapods, a bipedal gait (using just two active legs at once) is often the fastest and most efficient way of moving, even though insects use a tripedal gait instead.

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iCub humanoid robot

Video Friday: Robot Push-Recovery, Air-Water Drone, and DARPA Explains AI

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!):

Robotics Alley – February 28-March 1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – New York, N.Y., USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
ITU Robot Olympics – April 7-9, 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
RoboGames 2017 – April 21-23, 2017 – Pleasanton, Calif., USA
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
AUVSI Xponential – May 8-11, 2017 – Dallas, Texas, USA
AAMAS 2017 – May 8-12, 2017 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
Innorobo – May 16-18, 2017 – Paris, France

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


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Roomba uses tail to communicate with humans

Wagging Tails Help Robots Communicate With Humans

I have no idea what my Roomba is doing most of the time when it runs. It’s vacuuming, I know that, but sometimes it just sits there for a little bit, or slowly swivels back and forth, or does something else that doesn’t seem (strictly speaking) vacuuming related. This isn’t as much of a problem for Roombas specifically, but for robotics in general, it can be: If robots are bad at communicating what’s going on with them, it’ll be harder for people to accept them in our daily lives.

One thing that lets humans instantly grasp the abstract internal state of other humans is we look at each other’s faces. Now, as you can imagine, giving robots human faces can lead to other problems. The good news is we’re also hardwired to perform this intuitive abstract internal state reading trick on some other expressive living things, like dogs: When we look at a dog’s tail, we get an indication of whether it’s happy or not. It turns out that we can do the same for robots, as long as you can give them a tail.

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Magnetic Robot Swarm

Magnetic Control Could Help Robots Navigate Inside Your Body

There are two options for controlling a robot inside of the human body: Either you try and build some sort of intricate and tiny robot submarine with self contained propulsion and navigation, which would be really really hard to do, or you just make the robot with a tiny bit of something that responds to magnetic fields, and control it externally with some big magnets. The latter approach is vastly less complicated, but it has one major drawback, which is that it’s very hard to manage multiple robots.

Here’s the problem: Magnetic fields, being fields, aren’t easily constrained to specific areas. Realistically, if you’re using something like a clinical MRI scanner to create a magnetic field, whatever gradient you give the field will affect everything inside of the MRI, whether you’ve got one single microbot or a vast swarm of them. If you want two different robots to do two different things, you’re out of luck.

One potential way of getting around this is by making each of your robots slightly different, such that consistent control inputs have inconsistent effects on each robot. But for homogenous robots, it’s much more difficult. In a paper published today in Science Robotics, researchers from Philips, in Hamburg, Germany, describe a technique that can use magnetic fields to selectively actuate individual microbots, or individual components of a robot, even if they’re all made of the same stuff and located within the same field.

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DLR ROboMObil robotic car

Video Friday: DLR Robot Car, Lady Gaga's Drone Swarm, and Cassie Does Squats

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!):

Robotics Alley – February 28-1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – NYC, NY, USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
ITU Robot Olympics – April 7-9, 2017 – Istanbul, Turkey
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
AUVSI Xponential – May 8-11, 2017 – Dallas, Texas, USA

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


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Cassie is a dynamic bipedal robot developed by Agility Robotics

Agility Robotics Introduces Cassie, a Dynamic and Talented Robot Delivery Ostrich

Today, Agility Robotics, a spin-off of Oregon State University, is officially announcing a shiny new bipedal robot named Cassie. Cassie is a dynamic walker, meaning that it walks much more like humans do than most of the carefully plodding bipedal robots we’re used to seeing. This makes it better at handling the kind of diverse and complex terrain that we walk over all the time without even thinking, a talent that’s going to be mandatory for robots that want to tackle the different environments and situations that they’ll need to master to be actually useful around people.

In addition to search-and-rescue and disaster relief, Agility Robotics has one particular environment and situation in mind: They want Cassie to be scampering up your steps to deliver packages to your front door.

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NASA's Astrobee space robots

How NASA's Astrobee Robot Is Bringing Useful Autonomy to the ISS

Since 2006, NASA has had a trio of small, free-flying robots on board the International Space Station. Called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites), these robots have spent about 600 hours participating in an enormous variety of experiments, including autonomous formation flying, navigation and mapping, and running programs written by middle school students in team competitions. But beyond serving as a scientific platform, SPHERES weren’t designed to do anything especially practical in terms of assisting the astronauts or flight controllers, and it’s time for a new generation of robotic free fliers that’s fancier, more versatile, and will be a big help for the humans on the ISS.

This is Astrobee.

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NASA Valkyrie Humanoid Robot

NASA Announces Space Robotics Challenge Finalists

Last August, NASA opened the first round of the Space Robotics Challenge. A follow-on to the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the SRC is focused on what it’s going to take to get humans back to the moon or on to Mars, embracing the idea that sending humanoid robots there first would make everything a heck of a lot easier. Just like the DRC, the SRC starts in simulation, with an initial round to select 20 finalists from 93 competing teams. NASA has just announced the results.

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Rethink Robotics' Sawyer robot with Intera 5 software platform

Rethink’s Robots Get Massive Software Upgrade, Rodney Brooks “So Excited”

Rethink Robotics is taking the wraps off a massive project that the company has been working on for two years. “It’s been a big part of our development that the world hasn’t seen,” says Rethink founder and CTO Rodney Brooks. “I’ve been so excited about this because I know what it can do.”

A little over a year ago, Rethink started shipping Sawyer, a collaborative robot designed to be faster, stronger, and more precise than the company’s first cobot, Baxter, which didn’t “sell like hotcakes,” as Brooks had expected. But developing a brand-new robot was just part of Rethink’s post-Baxter plans: Another goal was completely rebuilding its software platform, called Intera, which is responsible for controlling all of Sawyer’s functions as well as allowing users to program the robot.

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ARMAR-III humanoid robot preparing dinner

Video Friday: A Humanoid in the Kitchen, Transparent Gel Robots, and NFL's Ball-Dropping 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!):

Robotics Alley – February 28-1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – NYC, NY, USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal

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

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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

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.
 

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