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Marty the robot from Robotical

Video Friday: Marty the Robot, Dancing With Drones, and Deep Learning for Cars

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

RSS 2016 – June 18-22, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Mich., USA
European Land Robot Trial – June 20-24, 2016 – Eggendorf, Austria
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ISR 2016 – June 21-22, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ICROM 2016 – June 23-25, 2016 – Singapore
The Rise of Machine Learning – June 24, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
DLMC 2016 – July 13-15, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
ROS Industrial Workshop – July 14-15, 2016 – Singapore
MARSS 2016 – July 18-22, 2016 – Paris, France
IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada


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


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Magazino Toru warehouse robot

German Warehouse Robots Tackle Picking Tasks

Companies like Clearpath, Fetch, and Locus Robotics are doing some amazing work in order fulfillment and other warehouse tasks by developing mobile platforms that can autonomously and intelligently ferry items between locations. We don’t want to minimize how much of a challenge this is, but at the same time, it’s only half of the order fulfillment problem (and not the most difficult half). The hard part is getting those robots to pick items from shelves, and apparently it’s really hard: Amazon (whose warehouse robots are capable of tranporting items but not picking them) is holding its second Picking Challenge at RoboCup this year, and even with teams of researchers all collaborating on picking tasks with very expensive robots, results have been good but not inspiring.

German startup Magazino is another company trying to solve both problems. It has begun deploying a mobile warehouse robot called Toru designed to not only transport items but also pick them (some of them, anyway) directly off of shelves. They haven’t completely solved the problem of humans, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Humanoid robot assembly instructions

Study: You'll Love Your Robot More If You Assemble It Yourself

There is such a thing as the “IKEA effect,” which, according to one description, suggests that “when individuals construct products themselves, they tend to overvalue their (often mediocre) creations.” The “IKEA effect”  highlights the importance of “self-agency”: when you make something yourself, the work it takes to make that thing gives you a richer sense of initiative and ownership. The result is you get a more positive perception of your creation (even if it’s made of particle board).

Now two researchers from Pennsylvania State University’s Media Effects Research Laboratory want to find out if the same thing applies to robots. The researchers, Yuan Sun and S. Shyam Sundar, say previous studies in human-computer interaction have demonstrated that the “self-agency” effect is present in things as basic as customizing the interface of a software application, resulting in “more positive attitudes toward the technology, a heightened sense of control and identity, greater user engagement, and product attachment.” If the same is true of robots, how can we leverage it to make them more acceptable to people? Sun and Sundar did a series of experiments and presented the results at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in New Zealand earlier this year.

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PR2 grasping with tool

PR2 Learns a Trick to Grasp Ungraspable Objects

Anyone who’s worked with a mobile manipulator will be bitterly familiar with grasping failures: you ask your robot to pick something up, and for whatever reason, it refuses to do it. Often, the whatever reason is because the robot can’t figure out how to properly position its gripper relative to the object, because the object is in a weird place that would lead to a gripper collision, like up against the side of a shelf. 

A few years ago at IROS, Zhe Xu and Maya Cakmak at the University of Washington in Seattle presented a paper about how equipping mobile manipulators (like the PR2) with simple 3D printed tools can help them be much more effective at gripping (and consequently using) objects. Last month at ICRA, Cakmak presented another paper (with lead author Sarah Elliott) on a new kind of tool specifically designed to make it possible for robots to reorient and grasp objects that would otherwise not be graspable. The tool is “a rectangular prism” with a handle and “a textured silicon area with a high friction constant.” In other words, it’s a robot-friendly grippy poking stick.

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ETH Zurich's Scubo robotic submersible.

Video Friday: Robotic Submersible, Hair-Cutting Drone, and What Is a Robot?

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

Field Robot Event – June 14-18, 2016 – Haßfurt, Germany
EuroEAP 2016 – June 14-15, 2016 – Copenhagen, Denmark
RSS 2016 – June 18-22, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Mich., USA
European Land Robot Trial – June 20-24, 2016 – Eggendorf, Austria
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ISR 2016 – June 21-22, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ICROM 2016 – June 23-25, 2016 – Singapore
The Rise of Machine Learning – June 24, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
DLMC 2016 – July 13-15, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
ROS Industrial Workshop – July 14-15, 2016 – Singapore
MARSS 2016 – July 18-22, 2016 – Paris, France
IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada


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

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Vyo social robot for controlling smart home devices.

Vyo Is a Fascinating and Unique Take on Social Domestic Robots

The way to make a social home robot seems to be pretty standardized: basically, you cram a tablet computer into a cute robot body with some degrees of freedom and do your best to make sure that your voice recognition and conversation algorithms are as good of an experience as you possibly can, using a screen to help you out when necessary. This is fine, if you can get it to work well, but there’s a concern that it’s just going to turn into an experience that’s essentially talking to a gussied-up version of your phone.

A group of researchers including Michal Luria, Guy Hoffman, Benny Megidish, Oren Zuckerman, Roberto Aimi, and Sung Park from IDC Herzliya, Cornell, and SK Telecom have developed a prototype social robot called Vyo. Vyo is “a personal assistant serving as a centralized interface for smart home devices.” Nothing new there, but what sets Vyo apart is how you interact with it: it combines non-anthropomorphic design with anthropomorphic expressiveness and a tactile object-based control system into a social robot that’s totally, adorably different. But is it practical?

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MIT drone inside wind tunnel.

Quadrotors Learning to Surf Urban Winds for Huge Performance Boosts

Personally, I don’t believe that urban delivery drones are a.) going to happen anytime soon or b.) even that good of an idea. One of the problems (among many, which I’ve discussed in previous posts) that urban drones have to deal with is efficiency: batteries count as payload, so if you want to fly farther, you’ll be carrying less of whatever your customers are paying for. Generally, quadrotor range is measured in minutes of flight time, which equates to a given distance at a given speed. Also generally, quadrotor range does not take into account the fact that the quadrotor is flying around outdoors, where wind can be a significant factor that either helps you out our ruins your day.

At MIT, John Ware and Professor Nicholas Roy have been working on ways of helping quadrotors leverage the wind fields created by structures in urban environments to improve their energy consumption. By modeling how wind blows around dense concentrations of buildings, quadrotors can plan intelligent trajectories to seek out tailwinds and avoid headwinds, boosting their efficiency and potentially leading to both higher speed and longer range.

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Atlas humanoid robot walking on cinder blocks

Video Friday: ATLAS on the Edge, Plant-Robot Hybrid, and Kuka Smash

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

RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
Dynamic Walking 2016 – June 4-7, 2016 – Holland, Mich., USA
IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 – June 6-10, 2016 – Singapore
CR-HRI – June 6-10, 2016 – Orlando, Fla., USA
NASA SRRC Level 1 – June 6-11, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
Field Robot Event – June 14-18, 2016 – Haßfurt, Germany
EuroEAP 2016 – June 14-15, 2016 – Copenhagen, Denmark
RSS 2016 – June 18-22, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Mich., USA
European Land Robot Trial – June 20-24, 2016 – Eggendorf, Austria
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ISR 2016 – June 21-22, 2016 – Munich, Germany
ICROM 2016 – June 23-25, 2016 – Singapore
The Rise of Machine Learning – June 24, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
DLMC 2016 – July 13-15, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
ROS Industrial Workshop – July 14-15, 2016 – Singapore
MARSS 2016 – July 18-22, 2016 – Paris, France


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


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Micro quadruped robot

This Is the Tiniest Little Quadruped Robot We've Ever Seen

The fact that most insects (except for the really freaky ones) are very small doesn’t stop them from getting everywhere they want to, especially all of those places that you try to keep them out of. Roboticists have been experimenting with bug-sized robots, but they’re still pretty large, about the size of giant beetles or moths. Most insects are far smaller than that, which means that they experience the world much differently, and that can be a hard thing to study effectively.

At ICRA last month, Ryan St. Pierre and Professor Sarah Bergbreiter from the University of Maryland presented a paper on the gait characteristics of magnetically actuated legged robots weighing less than 2 grams, which was very cool to see. It’s only the beginning, though: robots like these are about to get way, way smaller.

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Long Range Anti-Ship Missile

Why Should We Ban Autonomous Weapons? To Survive

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.

robots report icon

Killer robots pose a threat to all of us. In the movies, this threat is usually personified as an evil machine bent on destroying humanity for reasons of its own. In reality, the threat comes from within us. It is the threat of war.

In today’s drone warfare, people kill other people from the safety of cubicles far away. Many do see something horrific in this. Even more are horrified by the idea of replacing the operator with artificial intelligence, and dispatching autonomous weapons to hunt and kill without further human involvement.

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