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Navy Launches Slightly Less Cool Drone from Submarine

Drones require infrastructure to function. You've got to launch them from somewhere, and if you want them back, you have to land them somewhere, too. And infrastructure, as a general rule, is not secretive or stealthy, which can cause problems for the military, since they like being stealthy. As far as the U.S. Navy goes, nothing is stealthier than a submarine, so turning one of those into a mobile drone launcher like the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) just did makes perfect sense.

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NASA JSC Unveils Valkyrie DRC Robot

When teams participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) were announced last year, almost all of them provided reasonably detailed renderings that gave us a good idea of the robots that they were working on.

The notable exception was NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), which only released a piece of concept art that appeared to show a Robonaut-like humanoid, but didn't give much detail. And since then, NASA JSC has been extraordinarily secretive about what they've been working on. Naturally, we got a little bit curious, and back in October, IEEE Spectrum went to Houston for a preview of NASA JSC's DRC robot, Valkyrie.

Today, NASA is ready to share it with the world.

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Robonaut Wiggles Its Fancy New Legs

Robonaut 2's space legs have been a not-secret since astronaut Rick Mastracchio posted a picture of them to Twitter back in January. Or at least, that's the first time we saw 'em. Since then, pictures have popped up all over the place, since anyone taking the Level 9 Tour at NASA's Johnson Space Center had a halfway decent chance of getting a peek. What we haven't seen, though, is much in the way of footage of Robonaut legging itself around. Finally, we've got some video* of that, which we can summarize in one word: wiggly.

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IROS 2013: Aqua Hexapod Gets New Amphibious 'Ninja Legs'

RHex-type legged robots are great at getting around. Like, really, really, really great. They can walk and run on land, and a RHex-based hexapod called Aqua can swim in water as well, with just a simple change of legs from something rigid for walking to something flexible for swimming. Technically, this makes RHex amphibious, but in practice, it's more like the robot is amphibious if you've got a human around to swap its legs out. The problem is that it's impossible to make legs that are flexible enough for efficient swimming and simultaneously rigid enough for efficient walking. And when we say "impossible," we mean "impossible until someone figured out how to do it," which happened at IROS last month.

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Video Friday: DRC Tasks, Quadrotor Failsafes, and Autopsy Robots

Well, we've made it to December. And that means we're just a few weeks away from the DARPA Robotics Challenge. It's kind of amazing to think that the DRC was announced a year and a half ago now; it doesn't seem like it's been nearly that long, probably because robotics in general just never stops. It's enough to drive you crazy, especially when it's Thursday night and you're trying to put together an awesome Video Friday and there are just too many videos and...

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Okay, I'm good now.

Anyway, the DRC runs the weekend of December 20-21 down in Homestead, near Miami, in Florida, and it's open to the public if you happen to be in the neighborhood. There'll be an expo, with demos of Boston Dynamics LS3 and WildCat (among other robots), and you'll get to sit in some grandstands just 20 meters away from the robots competing in the DRC itself, live. Or as live as robots get, anyway.

If you can't make it down there, we'll be there of course to bring you the cool stuff, but DARPA is putting some serious effort into webcasting as much as they possibly can, with multiple live streams in addition to live commentary and daily highlights from a bunch of dedicated camera crews, so there's no need to feel left out. We'll have all the details on that before the event starts.

Moving on now: videos!

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4 Robotics Trends from the International Robot Exhibition 2013

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.

Last month, I attended the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo. It was a mesmerizing display of robots—a gigantic hall filled with thousands of them. Robotics companies bring their latest and greatest robots to this exhibition. As you walk through the show floor, you can see a wide variety of amazing advances in the field of robotics.

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Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

A few months ago, we heard rumors that Google was planning something big in robotics. We also heard that Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, was leading this new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, we were told, is personally interested in robots, and now he wants Google to have a major role in making robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual robots. Today, an article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans: according to the article, the company is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups, quite a few of which we're familiar with.

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2013 Robot Gift Guide

It's that time of year again, when you go out on a huge shopping spree buying all kinds of cool robot gifts for your family, friends, and Secret Santa coworkers. Or maybe you just go out and get something robotic for, you know, yourself. Because you sure deserve an awesome US $12,000 advanced humanoid robot, right? If, however, that's a bit above your budget (it certainly is way above ours!), we have lots of other options for you. And note that we're trying to bring you different stuff (slightly different, at least) than what we featured on our 2012 Robot Gift Guide. So check out our list, and if you think we missed something good, let everyone know in the comments.

On to the gifts!

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Amazon Promises Package Delivery By Drone: Is It for Real?

Okay, look. I know that the idea of having drones deliver stuff sounds like the future. And there are a lot of companies making promises about it, including, this weekend, Amazon. "We'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place [in 2015]," Amazon says. The reason that Amazon can say this, and that it sounds so exciting, is that it is technically possible to put together a demo like the one they've just unveiled, where you have a drone autonomously transport an object from one place to another.

However, once you get past the wow factor and start thinking critically about what it would take to make something like this work in practice, it starts to look a lot less realistic very, very quickly. 

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Seiko Epson Shows Off Its Dual-Arm Robot

Often equipped with two arms, strange hands, and even stranger-looking heads, a new breed of jack-of-all-trades industrial robot could change the face of automation. And the place to see the latest examples of these dual-arm manufacturing machines was the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) in Tokyo earlier this month.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
Jason Falconer
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

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