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Tiny Little Multi-Modal Picobug Walks, Flies, Grabs Stuff

Bipedal walking has worked out pretty well for humans. I guess. We’re kind of stuck with it until someone comes up with something better. And the really frustrating part is that all kinds of animals have already come up with better ways of getting around: specifically, birds and insects, who use wings to fly as well as legs and feet to walk. This multimodality makes birds and insects inherently versatile and adaptable, which is why you can find them doing quite well just about everywhere.

Some of the most versatile and adaptable robots also exhibit multimodal characteristics: they can fly and climb, or jump and glide, or even fly and swim. But flying and walking seems to be by far the most useful combination, as evidenced by the variety of animals that can do it, and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Laboratory have designed a new robot called Picobug that can fly, walk, and even (soon) grab on to stuff.

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How Google Wants to Solve Robotic Grasping by Letting Robots Learn for Themselves

You are likely pretty good at picking things up. That’s nice. Part of the reason that you’re pretty good at picking things up is that when you were little, you spent a lot of time trying and failing to pick things up, and learning from your experiences. For roboticists who don’t want to wait through the equivalent of an entire robotic childhood, there are ways to streamline the process: at Google Research, they’ve set up more than a dozen robotic arms and let them work for months on picking up objects that are heavy, light, flat, large, small, rigid, soft, and translucent (although not all at once). We talk to the researchers about how their approach is unique, and why 800,000 grasps (!) is just the beginning.

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Video Friday: Robots Building Robots, EggBot Op Art, and The Beginning of T-1000

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your shapeshifting Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

RoboCup European Open – March 30-4, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
ROS-Industrial Training Class – April 6-8, 2016 – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Robotics in Education 2016 – April 14-15, 2016 – Vienna, Austria
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-22, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
LEO Robotics Congress – April 21, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
International Collaborative Robots Workshop – May 3-4, 2016 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICARSC 2016 – May 4-6, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Robotica 2016 – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain
RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
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
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


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


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What 17 Prominent Roboticists Think Google Should Do With Its Robots

These days, whenever a group of roboticists gets together to talk shop, the subject almost inevitably turns to Google and its secretive robotics division. What are those guys up to?

The curiosity is understandable. It’s been nearly three years since Google made its huge move into robotics by acquiring an impressive and diverse group of companies, including Meka and Redwood Robotics, Industrial PerceptionBot & Dolly, Holomni, Autofuss, Schaft, Reflexxes, and, most notably, Boston Dynamics. Google’s robotics division, which has some of the world’s brightest robotics engineers and some of the most advanced robotics hardware ever built, has been working quietly at various secluded locations in California, Massachusetts, and Tokyo, and details about their plans have been scarce. Earlier this year, following Google’s reorganization as Alphabet, the robotics unit became part of X, Alphabet’s experimental technology lab, or as the company calls it, its “moonshot factory.”

Now the robotics community’s curiosity has reached a new height after news broke that Alphabet is reportedly selling Boston Dynamics, according to sources who spoke to Bloomberg. The revelation surprised many observers, but what they say was most confounding were reports suggesting that Alphabet wants to get out of robotics altogether. Is the company done with robots? Is the robotics group being disbanded?

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Miniaturized Sibling of OTTO Material Handling Robot Joins Clearpath Fleet

Last September, Clearpath Robotics introduced the OTTO 1500, a robotic mover-of-stuff designed to autonomously haul pallets of things weighing up to 1500 kilograms. That’s a lot of kilograms, and frankly, it’s more kilograms than most people need delivered to them personally at any given time. Today, Clearpath is announcing a bite-sized follow-up to the OTTO 1500, the OTTO 100. It’s smaller, more agile, slightly cuter, and with a 100 kg payload, is just the right size to be your new best friend. If you work in a warehouse, that is.

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Skydio's Camera Drone Finally Delivers on Autonomous Flying Promises

Every time we post about autonomous delivery drones, we have to point out that despite the promises implied by overproduced and optimistic videos, the drones are simply not capable of autonomous navigation in complex environments. Same goes for those camera drones that promise to follow you: the videos inevitably show them following skiers on wide open slopes, surfers on the wide open sea, or other people doing things very far away from inconvenient obstacles like trees.

So far, we’ve only seen a tiny handful of drones capable of dynamically detecting and avoiding obstacles at a useful speed. Qualcomm and UPenn have been working on some, and MIT has that speedy tree-avoiding fixed-wing drone.

A Silicon Valley company called Skydio, founded by a team of researchers from MIT and Google X’s Project Wing, have posted a video that shows a drone following people jogging and biking while autonomously avoiding tree trunks and branches. In other words, it’s what other drone companies have been promising to be able to do for years, except Skydio actually delivers—or at least it shows real progress (and footage) toward that goal.

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Video Friday: Autonomous Pizza Delivery, Handwriting Robot, and ROS Master

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your starving Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

European Robotics Forum – March 21-23, 2016 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
RoboCup European Open – March 30-4, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
ROS-Industrial Training Class – April 6-8, 2016 – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Robotics in Education 2016 – April 14-15, 2016 – Vienna, Austria
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-22, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
LEO Robotics Congress – April 21, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
International Collaborative Robots Workshop – May 3-4, 2016 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICARSC 2016 – May 4-6, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Robotica 2016 – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain
RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 – June 6-10, 2016 – Singapore
CR-HRI – June 6-10, 2016 – Orlando, Florida
NASA SRRC Level 1 – June 6-11, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA


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


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Why AlphaGo Is Not AI

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.

What is AI and what is not AI is, to some extent, a matter of definition. There is no denying that AlphaGo, the Go-playing artificial intelligence designed by Google DeepMind that recently beat world champion Lee Sedol, and similar deep learning approaches have managed to solve quite hard computational problems in recent years. But is it going to get us to full AI, in the sense of an artificial general intelligence, or AGImachine? Not quite, and here is why.

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Stanford's Flying, Perching SCAMP Robot Can Climb Straight Up Walls

Morgan Pope is a Ph.D student investigating robots that live at the boundary of airborne and surface locomotion at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab. He’s the lead author on a paper about SCAMP that is in review for IEEE Transactions on Robotics, and enjoys reading, Star Wars, and trying to keep up with his three small children.

What goes up must come down—unless it can perch on something first. Quadrotors have limited endurance because of restrictions on battery capacity and the physics of small-scale flight, but perching can allow them to operate for hours or even days, gathering data or performing communication tasks while stationary. Perching can be tricky, because the odds of your drone landing in just the right place are low. Adding the ability to climb allows your drone to reposition itself more accurately, with the added bonus that it works if it’s too windy for flight. 

At Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab, we saw a chance to combine our experience in perching and climbing with a new robot capable of multi-modal operation in unstructured outdoor environments. The result was the Stanford Climbing and Aerial Maneuvering Platform, a collection of words that gives us an excuse to call our robot SCAMP.

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iRobot’s Braava Jet Mopping Robot Is Small, Smart, and Not Round

iRobot has a new cleaning robot. Behold, it’s square!

The Bedford, Mass.-based company, which has sold millions of its disc-shaped Roomba vacuums, is expanding its family of cleaning automatons. The new robot is the Braava jet, a small, shiny white robotic mop designed to clean hard floors, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. And did we say it’s square?

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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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