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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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OSHbot Will Save You From Having to Ask for Help in a Hardware Store

When we first heard about Fellow Robots, back in 2012, they were called 9th Sense Robotics, and they were working on a couple of consumer telepresence platforms called Telo and Helo. Sometime in 2013, 9th Sense became Fellow Robots, and now we know what they’ve been up to: in partnership with Lowe’s Innovation Labs (that’s Lowe’s as in Lowe’s the home improvement store), Fellow is introducing a customer assistance robot.

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Flying Robots Stay Stable With Just One Motor, Controllable With Two

Last week, we wrote about a little robot that can be steered in any direction, even though it only has one motor. This week, we thought we’d follow it up with some flying robots that are also taking advantage of clever design to find the absolute minimum number of motors required for stable flight. And as you may have guessed from the headline, it’s not very many motors at all.

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Electrostatics: Good for Robot Grippers, and Lots More

We first covered SRI’s electroadhesion tech in 2010 (although it’s been public since at least 2008). More recently, SRI spun it out into a company called Grabit. Grabit was demonstrating an electrostatic gripper at RoboBusiness earlier this month, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the more exciting stuff that SRI has done with electroadhesion, including conveyors, climbing robots, and delivery drones.

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Video Friday: Robot Racecar, Kilobot Display, and Humanoid Skin

Next Friday is Halloween! This means that you have just seven days to decide what robot you want to dress up as, along with what robots you want your robots to dress up as when they go trick or treating. My TurtleBot is going as a Dalek, my Pleo is going as a Paro, my AR Drone is going as an illegal autonomous quadrotor, my Roomba is going as a Neato, and my Sphero is going as a cube. And as for me, well, I’m going as a Geminoid: costumes don’t get much easier than that, right?

Let’s see what we can do to inspire you with our regular Friday full of robot videos.

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CyPhy Works' New Drone Fits in Your Pocket, Flies for Two Hours

Anybody who’s ever flown a rotary wing drone will look at the stats of CyPhy Works’ new Pocket Flyer drone and be amazed. It fits in your pocket and weighs a mere 80 grams. It’ll fly continuously for two hours or more, sending back high quality HD video the entire time. What’s the catch? There isn’t one, except for the clever thing that grants all of CyPhy’s UAVs their special powers: a microfilament tether that unspools the drone and keeps it constantly connected to communications and power.

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