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Yet Another Drone Delivery Trial, This Time in Asia

For the next few days, Alibaba’s major online marketplace Taobao will be delivering small packages of ginger tea to 450 paying customers in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, by drone. What makes this different than other drone delivery trials we’ve seen before is that supposedly there will be real customers in the loop on this one.

Alibaba released a video showing how things will supposedly work from the moment a user orders an item and a drone is loaded and sent out to the moment when the item is delivered:

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PAL Robotics Introduces Tiago Mobile Manipulator

Spanish robot maker PAL Robotics, best known for their REEM humanoid robots, has just introduced a new mobile manipulator called Tiago (Take It And Go). Want to pick stuff up and move it around in a research environment? This could be the robot for you.

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Can We Detect Small Drones Like the One That Crashed at White House? Yes, We Can

Last week, a small drone belonging to a federal worker crashed on the White House grounds. Just what caused the little flyer to head off to one of the most security-sensitive sites in the world is not certain, but in any event the results were pretty harmless. Still, the incident sparked much interest in the White House’s aerial defenses should someone want to use a small drone of this kind to do real mischief.

The New York Times reported that the ill-fated drone, a DJI Phantom, was “too small and flying too low to be detected by radar,” according to government officials. So how might the U.S. Secret Service—or others worried about drone incursions to the properties they oversee—detect them? I contacted T. Adam Kelly, the CTO of DeTect, a specialty radar company based in Panama City, Fla., to discuss this issue.

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Robots Learning to Cook by Watching YouTube Videos

In the hierarchy of things that I want robots to do for me, cooking dinner is right up there with doing the laundry and driving my car. And writing all my articles. For now, the best we can do is just watch progress being made toward getting all of these things to work reliably (and affordably). We’ve seen plenty of examples of robots that can cook, but generally, they’re all following some level of pre-programmed instructions. Telling robots what to do and how to do it is one of the trickiest things about robotics, especially for end users, so it’s a good thing we can all just sit back and let them learn things by watching videos on YouTube.

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A Smartphone Is the Brain for This Autonomous Quadcopter

At CES 2015, we stopped by the Qualcomm booth to check out a collaborative project with University of Pennsylvania researchers led by Vijay Kumar: it’s a quadrotor that uses a smartphone for a brain for autonomous flight, using only on-board hardware and vision algorithms, no GPS. Impressive.

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Video Friday: Robot Skiing, Cow Art by Drone, and 11 Years Roving on Mars

I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of writing articles about how the Opportunity rover is still doing amazing and awesome science on the surface of Mars. Oppy has now been operational for 11 years, which works out to just under 4,000 Martian days. The rover’s warranty expired after 100. I could throw even more cool numbers at you, but it’d be better if I just shut up and let JPL do it.

That, and more, as Video Friday starts now.

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Care-O-bot 4 Is the Robot Servant We All Want but Probably Can't Afford

Mobile manipulators are the robots we want, because they’re the robots that have the most potential to do the things that we care about: working in our homes and businesses, making things better and faster and easier. Robots have a long way to go before better and faster and easier become a thing that consumers get to experience directly, but with each new and updated platform, we get a little closer. Today, that little bit closer is the new and improved Care-O-bot 4, from Fraunhofer IPA.

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Smaller Drones Aren't Major Threat to Aircraft: A Little Birdie Told Me So

Last December, a group of investors called the UAS America Fund petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to create a set of rules that would govern “micro unmanned aircraft.” The basic idea is that these microdrones—defined as being 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) and under—pose much less of a hazard than many of the model aircraft now flying in the United States, which can weigh as much as 55 pounds (25 kilograms). So it makes no sense to regulate all “small unmanned aircraft systems,” as the FAA likes to call them, the same way, which might well be what the U.S. government has in store.

While the rules the investment group has drafted make for an interesting read, what I found particularly eye-opening was an attached report from Exponent, a failure-analysis consultancy. That report tries to quantify the threat such microdrones—a category that includes popular models like the DJI Phantom and 3DR Iriswould pose to full-scale aircraft using data the FAA has collected on collisions with birds.

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These Inflatable Pouch Motors Will Make Building Robots as Easy as Using Stickers

How easy is it to build a robot? Not very. How easy could it be to build a robot? Well, what if we try just sticking printable, inflatable actuators made of plastic onto origami (or anything else)? As Ryuma Niiyama and colleagues from the University of Tokyo and MIT have discovered, it really is that easy.

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Creadapt: How to Make a Robot That Cannot Be Stopped

It’s been a year and a half since we watched Jean-Baptiste Mouret’s hexapod teach it self how to walk again after losing a leg. Damage resilience is certainly critical to being able to remain mobile while exploring that scary and dangerous world outside of a laboratory, but adaptation can be taken even farther, and Mouret’s new robot is exploring exactly how far that is on six adaptable wheels.    

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