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Video Friday: Flocking Quadcopters, Hip Hop NAO, and Watson Gets Cooking

Let me apologize in advance for this, because it's self-promotional and boring: I'm going to to be moderating a panel for the Commonwealth Club of California on "The State of Personal Robotics," featuring Pieter Abbeel from UC Berkeley, Melonee Wise from Unbounded Robotics, and Joe Augenbraun, one of the founders of Neato Robotics. It's Monday, March 10, in downtown San Francisco, and you should totally come because it's going to be great and I will probably be really awkward the whole time. Oh, and if you can think of any questions that you want me to ask any of these people, let me know, and I'll put them on the spot. More info here.

Okay, enough of that, time for videos!

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Unmanned Cargo Ships Face Industry Resistance, Are a Good Idea Anyway

British engineering company Rolls-Royce has been working on hardware and software systems designed to turn the giant cargo ships that are responsible for 90 percent of intercontinental world trade into semi or fully autonomous robots. The company says that these drone ships would be safer and more efficient than manned ships, but the shipping industry isn't buying it.

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These Quadruped Robots Double as Japanese Garden Lamps

Do you know what your garden is missing right now? Of course you do, because whenever this blog asks you what X is missing right now, the correct answer is always always always ROBOTS. And your garden is absolutely missing robots. Specifically, the sort with lots of legs and big lights on their heads.

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No Tree Is Safe From This Chainsaw-Wielding Robot

Of all the things you should not give robots—lasersknives, swords—one of the worst is possibly chainsaws. I mean, chainsaws are noisy in a terrifying sort of way and awfully messy. They're especially dangerous if you're a tree, in that if you're a tree, there is a significantly increased likelihood that this pruning robot will climb up you and violently lop off as many of your limbs as it can reach.

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Three Ways to Win Stuff by Doing Something Cool and Fun With Robots

Building robots is fun. Playing with robots is fun. What's really fun, though, is showing your robots off to other people, and winning some stuff at the same time isn't too shabby, either. Here are a few competitions coming up over the next few months that you can get involved in. 

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MIT Robots Adapt and Collaborate Under Real World Conditions

"Real world" is a dangerous phrase to talk about when it comes to robots, because robots very seldom find themselves operating alone out there in wild and forlorn places like your living room or office. Autonomy in unstructured environments is an exceptionally difficult problem to tackle, and it gets even harder when you're dealing with multiple robots trying to collaborate on tasks in situations where they might not even be able to talk to each other reliably. MIT has been developing a control program that's able to coordinate multiple robots while dealing with significant uncertainty, and it's quite creative in how it goes about doing it.

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Don't Worry, Doctor Robonaut Is Here to Help

Robots are notoriously horrible at being generalists. The most efficient and effective robots have been purpose-built to do one specific task very, very well. This is why we have Roombas and not Rosies, and it's why robotic telemedicine platforms look (and let's be honest here) kind of scary, all things considered.

But, at least part of the reason that humans (as a species) are so successful is that we are generalists. And our fantasy is to be able to create robots that are generalists too, able to bring that trademark robot intelligence and speed and precision to bear on whatever task we might require. This is certainly not the easiest route to take, but under some very specific circumstances, it might be the best one, which is why NASA's Robonaut is learning to be a doctor.

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TERMES Project Concludes, Insect Robots Declare Victory

In June of 2011, we introduced you to the TERMES Project from Harvard. Modeled after some of nature's most prolific and talented builders (at least, prolific and talented relative to their size), the TERMES robots are very simple, but are capable of working together to build relatively complex structures over time, using a simple set of rules that don't require any centralized command or control. The TERMES Project has now, after four years, come to a close, with a final update and a paper in Science.

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Video Friday: Shadow Hand, Table Tennis Death Match, and Happy Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day in many countries around the world. For Valentine's Day, we're posting robot videos, because we love robots. And we know you love robots too, at least a little bit, or you wouldn't be here, right? RIGHT!

Also, you should all watch WALL-E again, because it's one of the greatest robot love stories ever told. Consider it the final required video for your Video Friday.

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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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