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Yamaha Demos Agricultural RoboCopter, But Humans Can't Unleash It Yet

Agriculture is (arguably) where drones are going to be the most useful in the near future. Drones have already proven their usefulness to hobbyists and the military, and agriculture is the next huge commercial frontier. And although commercial drone operation is still waiting for official approval, at least in the United States, developers of unmanned aerial vehicles are eager to show that the technology is ready.

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NASA's New Free-Flying Robot to Conquer ISS in 2017

NASA has had little flying robots called SPHERES on board the International Space Station since 2006. That’s closing in on a decade of successful operations, in that they’ve mostly behaved themselves and done everything that their astronaut masters have asked them to do. So that’s all well and good, but the idea (or one of the ideas) behind putting robots on the ISS was to get them to do useful things, ultimately freeing up the astronauts to look out the windows more often. And, you know, science.

Neither the little SPHERES robots nor Robonaut 2 have been able to contribute to inspection and basic maintenance tasks. NASA has just announced a contest to name a new, ISS-bound robotic system called the “Free Flying Robot,” which will be the next step towards robots that are useful in space.

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Robot Teams Practice for Japan Volcano Monitoring

When Mount Ontake erupted in Japan a few weeks ago, it was completely unexpected. No significant earthquakes, no steam or gas releases, nothing. Usually, some warning does exist, and the best that we can to is to monitor active volcanoes as carefully as we can to try and spot whatever warning signs that are there. This is especially problematic with volcanoes that are undergoing frequent periods of activity, where it’s not safe to get close to them to determine when a minor eruption might turn into a major one. Not safe, you say? There’s a solution for that: send in the robots.

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Drones Learn Tricks With Suspended Loads, Through-Window Package Delivery Inevitable

Drones that carry things come at many different scales. On the smaller end, you have delivery drones, real or imaginary. On the larger end, you have…well, delivery drones, I guess, but ones that are full-size helicopters, that can deliver entire crates of supplies autonomously. Once you start thinking about how to deliver objects much bigger than a breadbox, it stops making sense to try and stuff all of your stuff inside the drone itself, and you end up having to hang it from the outside. Hanging things from fast-moving aircraft with cables results in payloads that swing around, and controlling that swing can lead to more stable payloads, and other, way more exciting things.

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Video Friday: Pico Quadrotor, iRobot Control, and Android Metamorphosis

You know how we keep saying that robots are designed for places that are dirty and dangerous? Yeah, we need to get ourselves some robots that can go in and help with the Ebola outbreak. That’s why I got all excited to see something about an Ebola-fighting robot in the news this week. But as it turns out, this thing is totally not a robot, since a human has to wheel it around, and then it just sits there and turns some UV lights on and off for five minutes. No sensing, no reacting to its environment, no autonomy or intelligence. It’s just a dumb machine. This isn’t to say that it’s not effective at what it does; it’s just not a robot.

Sigh.

To make ourselves feel a little bit better, we’ve done what we usually do, which is to fill our Friday with videos of robots that really are robots.

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Sidewinding Snakebots Sinuously Summit Steep Sandy Slopes

As a snake owner, I can personally attest to the fact that lack of limbs is no impediment to mobility. In fact, snakes are masters of moving over all kinds of terrain where wheeled or legged robots usually fail. They’re also excellent swimmers, and they can even jump and glide. Part of what makes snakes so adaptable is how they can choose from a variety of gaits depending on what they’re trying to do or where they’re trying to go. Robot snakes can do this too, and in some ways, they can do it even better, because they can execute behaviors that real snakes don’t know how to do, like rolling longitudinally to climb up poles (or legs).

We don’t mean to say that robot snakes would have real snakes trounced. Far from it: we have a lot to learn about how, and why, snakes move the way they do. In the latest issue of Scienceresearchers from Georgia Tech, roboticists from Carnegie Mellon, and herpetologists from Zoo Atlanta describe how sidewinders climb up steep sandy slopes, and show how snake robots can learn from their technique.

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Beautiful Fluid Actuators from Disney Research Make Soft, Safe Robot Arms

Roboticists have long been trying to build robot arms that are light, nimble, and safe to operate near people. Some designs rely on compliant actuators, artificial muscles, or sensors and software to keep the arms from smashing into things that they’re not supposed to. The challenge, however, is that most robot arms are stuffed full of electric motors and gears, and these are relatively big and heavy, adding to the size and weight of the arms.

Now engineers at Disney Research have come up with an ingenious way of making robot arms that are low mass but high speed. Instead of conventional motors, their arm uses what’s called a fluid transmission. It consists of tubes filled with air or water that connect antagonistic actuators. The result is a system that’s passively safe and compliant and lightweight and backdriveable and backlash free and... Well, it goes on. This thing is cool.

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RoboGames Is Back in 2015 (With Your Help)

The year 2013 was, as far as we knew, the last year for RoboGames. This was very, very sad, because there was really nothing like RoboGames: it was unique among robot competitions, not just because of the robot combat (although the robot combat was pretty darn awesome), but because of the enormous variety of events and the inclusiveness that encouraged people from all ages, with any level of experience, and from all over the world to attend and participate. And people did: 54 separate events, teams from nearly two dozen countries, and tens of thousands of spectators over the last five years. It gave aspiring roboticists structure, a goal, and rewarded them for effort and creativity. Oh, and it was a huge amount of fun to watch.

And then it vanished after the 2013 event, never to return.

Until.

Now.

If you help them out with just a little bit of money, that is.

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Dynamic Vision Sensors Enable High-Speed Maneuvers With Robots

We love watching quadrotors pull off amazing high-speed, high-precision acrobatics as much as anyone. But we’re also the first to point out that almost without exception, stuff like this takes place inside a controlled motion-capture environment, and that the quadrotors themselves are blind bots being controlled entirely by a computer somewhere that’s viewing the entire scene at a crazy framerate and from all angles through an expensive camera setup.

It’s going to take something new and innovative for robots to be able to perform high-speed maneuvers outside of a lab. Something like a special kind of camera called a Dynamic Vision Sensor (DVS) that solves the problems that conventional vision systems face when dealing with rapid motion.

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U.S. Navy Tests Robot Boat Swarm to Overwhelm Enemies

A fleet of U.S. Navy boats approached an enemy vessel like sharks circling their prey. The scene might not seem so remarkable compared to any of the Navy's usual patrol activities, but in this case, part of an exercise conducted by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), the boats operated without any direct human control: they acted as a robot boat swarm.

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Automaton

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

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

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