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Flying Robots Stay Stable With Just One Motor, Controllable With Two

Last week, we wrote about a little robot that can be steered in any direction, even though it only has one motor. This week, we thought we’d follow it up with some flying robots that are also taking advantage of clever design to find the absolute minimum number of motors required for stable flight. And as you may have guessed from the headline, it’s not very many motors at all.

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Electrostatics: Good for Robot Grippers, and Lots More

We first covered SRI’s electroadhesion tech in 2010 (although it’s been public since at least 2008). More recently, SRI spun it out into a company called Grabit. Grabit was demonstrating an electrostatic gripper at RoboBusiness earlier this month, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the more exciting stuff that SRI has done with electroadhesion, including conveyors, climbing robots, and delivery drones.

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Video Friday: Robot Racecar, Kilobot Display, and Humanoid Skin

Next Friday is Halloween! This means that you have just seven days to decide what robot you want to dress up as, along with what robots you want your robots to dress up as when they go trick or treating. My TurtleBot is going as a Dalek, my Pleo is going as a Paro, my AR Drone is going as an illegal autonomous quadrotor, my Roomba is going as a Neato, and my Sphero is going as a cube. And as for me, well, I’m going as a Geminoid: costumes don’t get much easier than that, right?

Let’s see what we can do to inspire you with our regular Friday full of robot videos.

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CyPhy Works' New Drone Fits in Your Pocket, Flies for Two Hours

Anybody who’s ever flown a rotary wing drone will look at the stats of CyPhy Works’ new Pocket Flyer drone and be amazed. It fits in your pocket and weighs a mere 80 grams. It’ll fly continuously for two hours or more, sending back high quality HD video the entire time. What’s the catch? There isn’t one, except for the clever thing that grants all of CyPhy’s UAVs their special powers: a microfilament tether that unspools the drone and keeps it constantly connected to communications and power.

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UAVs Flex Their Artificial Muscles

Until recently, a defining characteristic of robots has been their rigid mechanical nature. Most of them are made up of hard structural elements, motors and actuators, electronics, sensors, and batteries, none of which are compliant. The future, though, promises to be softer, and we’ve seen lots of different robots that are either partially or completely soft. Soft robots have the potential to be much more adaptable, portable, and durable than rigid robots do, so ideally you’d want them for field applications where there might be a lot of crashing involved. Like UAVs. That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it?

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How to Make a Steerable Robot With Just One Single Motor

Imagine a little robot with six even little leggy wheel things that it uses to scurry around on the floor. Or, don’t imagine it, and just look at the picture above instead. This robot is called 1STAR, for “1 actuator STeerAble Robot.” Even though it has six legs, and it can controllably move and turn both left and right, it manages to do it with one single motor. Just one.

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Real Robots to Help Fight Ebola

A few Fridays ago, we took a little bit of a dig at all of the media coverage of an “ebola-fighting robot” that turned out to be essentially just a UV light on a wheeled cart hooked up to a timer. It’s clever marketing, but not clever robotics. Even one of the fanciest UV disenfecting “robots” have instructions that begin, “after a hospital staff member cleans the room using traditional methods...” This is not what real robots are all about. Real robots use autonomy (or at least teleoperation) to keep humans as far away from dangerous situations as possible.

You’d think that real robots would have a lot to offer when it comes to assisting with the control of a highly infectious disease, just like you’d think that robots would have a lot to offer when it comes to assisting with the control of a highly radioactive nuclear power plant. You’d be right to think that, but the problem that we’re having now with Ebola is the same as the problem that we had with Fukushima: there simply aren’t any robots that are prepared and ready, right now, to tackle an immediate crisis, even though robots would be immensely valuable in this situation.

To attempt to rectify this, the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University is partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology and other groups to hold a policy workshop on Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers. The goal of the workshop will be to not just figure out what kinds of robots would be valuable to have on-hand for future epidemics, but also to try and identify things that the robots we have now can actually help with. And they’ve already got some good ideas.

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Video Friday: Keecker Not a Robot, Drone Racing, and Robotics Tipping Point

Today, we’ll be attending the 2014 edition of the Stanford-Berkeley Robotics Symposium. These two fine institutions have historically been partners, allies, and friends The SBRS is a manifestation of that, featuring a solid day of presentations from professors and students. Last year at Berkeley, more than a few interesting things happened, and this year we’re looking forward to more of the same. Except better.

We’ll bring you highlights when we’ve got ’em, but until then, videos!

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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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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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