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Senate Bill 2658 sheds light on how at least some people wanted to regulate drones

The Drone Rules That Never Became Law

The laws governing the use of drones in the United States are changing so fast it can be hard to keep up. But I’d like to explore here some proposed drone rules that never went into effect because the legislation that described them, Senate bill 2658 (the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016), was never passed.

Why care about rules that didn’t become law? It’s my theory that although the legislation died in Congress last year, the people championing various parts of it are still around and may yet influence future laws. So an examination of the ill-fated legislation could provide a window on what the future holds for drone operators.

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Japan's space agency is developing a small robotic explorer that uses a single solid fuel rocket to launch itself into the air and some braking rockets to help it make pinpoint landings

A Rocket-Propelled Miniature Robot for Planetary Exploration

In terms of overall bang for your buck, solid-fuel rockets are pretty great: They’re dead simple, very reliable, and offer respectable efficiency in a very small form factor, as long as you’re prepared to handle a lot of thrust all at once and then never again. While some robots have attempted to use rockets to jump from place to place, controllability has always been an issue, since solid-fuel rockets give you a fixed amount of thrust whether you want it or not, and that thrust isn't always directed in exactly the way you'd like.
At ICRA last week, researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) introduced a small robotic explorer that uses a single solid-fuel rocket to launch itself into the air. What’s new is that their robot includes some braking rockets that help it make pinpoint landings, as well as a clever gyroscopic system to make sure that it flies straight as well as providing a way for the robot to get around after landing.

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Robot Adversaries for Learning Tasks

Robot Uses Evil Alter Ego to Learn Reliable Grasping

You know what’s really tedious and boring? Teaching robots to grasp a whole bunch of different kinds of objects. This is why roboticists have started to turn to AI strategies like self-supervised learning instead, where you let a robot gradually figure out on its own how to grasp things by trying slightly different techniques over and over again. Even with a big pile o’ robots, this takes a long time (thousands of robot-hours, at least), and while you can end up with a very nice generalized grasping framework at the end of it, that framework doesn’t have a very good idea of what a good grasp is.
The problem here is that most of the time, these techniques measure grasps in a binary-type fashion using very basic sensors: Was the object picked up and not dropped? If so, the grasp is declared a success. Real-world grasping doesn’t work exactly like that, as most humans can attest to: Just because it’s possible to pick something up and not drop it does not necessarily mean that the way you’re picking it up is the best way, or even a particularly good way. And unstable, barely functional grasps mean that dropping the object is significantly more likely, especially if anything unforeseen happens, a frustratingly common occurrence outside of robotics laboratories.

With this in mind, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Google decided to combine game theory and deep learning to make grasping better. Their idea was to introduce an adversary as part of the learning process—an “evil robot” that does its best to make otherwise acceptable grasps fail.

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Robot Dance Teacher

Video Friday: Robot Dance Teacher, Transformer Drone, and Pneumatic Reel Actuator

The week is almost over, and so is the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Singapore. We hope you’ve been enjoying our coverage, which has featured aquatic drones, stone-stacking manipulators, and self-folding soft robots. We’ll have lots more from the conference over the next few weeks, but for you impatient types, we’re cramming Video Friday this week with a special selection of ICRA videos.

We tried to include videos from many different subareas of robotics: control, vision, locomotion, machine learning, aerial vehicles, humanoids, actuators, manipulation, and human-robot interaction. We’re posting the abstracts along with the videos, but if you have any questions about these projects, let us know and we’ll get more details from the authors.

We’ll return to normal Video Friday next week. Have a great weekend everyone!

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This aquatic drone has a clever mechanism that allows it to efficiently take off and land on water

Aquatic Fixed-Wing Drone Could Lake-Hop Across Canada

Fixed-wing drones are the way to go for efficient flying, but they pose challenges for long term autonomy because of how demanding they are when it comes to takeoffs and landings. You need a nice big flat area, and usually you need infrastructure support. A drone that needs to operate for days or weeks at a time completely on its own can’t rely on either, which means you need to get creative.

At ICRA this week, researchers from the University of Sherbrooke in Canada have gotten creative, and came up with a very clever design for a fixed wing drone called SUWAVE (Sherbrooke University Water-Air VEhicle) that uses lakes as landing pads. It crash lands in them, recharges with solar power, and then takes off again with a brilliant hinged propeller.

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A live dragonfly with a cybernetic backpack and optical implants is now airborne

Draper's Genetically Modified Cyborg DragonflEye Takes Flight

In January, we wrote about a cybernetic micro air vehicle under development at Draper called DragonflEye. DragonflEye consists of a living, slightly modified dragonfly that carries a small backpack of electronics. The backpack interfaces directly with the dragonfly’s nervous system to control it, and uses tiny solar panels to harvest enough energy to power itself without the need for batteries.

Draper showed us a nifty looking mock-up of what the system might look like a few months ago, but today, they’ve posted the first video of DragonflEye taking to the air.

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Robot arm carefully stacks rocks one on top of another

Incredibly Soothing Robot Makes Towers of Balanced Stones

Building things with robots is a nice idea, especially if robots are doing what they’re best at: predictable, repetitive tasks like you get with bricklaying. When humans build structures, however, we can be a bit more creative, adapting on the fly to the sizes and shapes of materials available. This is one of those robotic paradoxes—building something that’s easy for robots, like an exactly spaced curvy brick wall, is tricky for humans, while building something that’s easy for humans, like a wall made out of pile of random rocks that doesn’t spontaneously fall over, is tricky for robots.

At ICRA this week, researchers from ETH Zurich are presenting a robot that’s able to handle some of that variability that humans are so good at effortlessly coping with. With careful planning and a delicate touch, this robot arm is learning to autonomously build towers out of balanced pieces of limestone.

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Roboticists built self-folding 3D models of a rabbit, tuna fish, and starfish to demonstrate a new approach for making compliant, controllable robotic structures

Soft Robotic Structures Fold Themselves Up in Hot Water

Over the last few years there’s been an increased focus on robots that can build themselves. This is especially pertinent when you’re dealing with robots that are fiddly to make, which includes (at the moment) most robots that are soft and compliant. It seems like soft robots would be quite happy to be 3D printed, but in practice, they need to be made out of highly deformable materials that only behave themselves if you take the trouble to mold them instead, which is tedious any annoying.

At ICRA on Tuesday, Cynthia Sung, who was previously with Daniela Rus’s group at MIT and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, presented a new approach for making compliant, controllable robotic structures. Called additive self-folding, this origami-inspired technique involves creating 3D shapes made out of a long strip of self-folding 2D material, and all you have to do is add some hot water.

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ICRA robotics conference in Singapore

All the Latest, Most Exciting Robotics Research From ICRA 2017

Every six months, an enormous posse of top robotics researchers from around the world converge on some moderately exotic location to impress each other with their latest research. Right now, we’re at the 2017 edition of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), which is taking place as you read this in Singapore. As always, we’re going to do our best to read every single paper and attend every single technical session, even though there are 11 tracks all happening at the same time along with workshops, forums, and an expo.

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DJI Spark drone

Video Friday: DJI Spark Drone, Google Tango, and 18-DOF Hexapod Robot

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!):

IEEE ICRA – May 29-3, 2017 – Singapore
University Rover Challenge – June 1-13, 2017 – Hanksville, Utah, USA
IEEE World Haptics – June 6-9, 2017 – Munich, Germany
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online
ICCV 2017 – June 13-16, 2017 – Venice, Italy
RoboBoat 2017 – June 20-20, 2017 – Daytona Beach, Fl., USA
Aerial Robotics International Research Symposium – June 21-22, 2017 – Toronto, Canada
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2017 – London, England
Autonomous Systems World – June 26-27, 2017 – Berlin, Germany
RoboUniverse Seoul – June 28-30, 2017 – Seoul, Korea
RobotCraft 2017 – July 3-3, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong
RSS 2017 – July 12-16, 2017 – Cambridge, Mass., USA
MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany
Living Machines Conference – July 25-28, 2017 – Stanford, Calif., USA

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

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IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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Erico Guizzo
New York City
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Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.

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