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Freaky Soft Robot Walks Through Fire and Ice

A few years back, we wrote about this squishy little air-powered legged robot from Harvard with no electronics or moving parts that you could beat down with a hammer and it would still try and kill you keep walking. The 2011 version of the robot was tethered to external air compressors, but the newest one brings all of its power and control onboard, and you can no longer kill it with fire. Uh oh.

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Video Friday: Ollie Rolling, RoboRaven Flying, TurtleBot Curling

Dyson sure did deliver this week. They managed to put together a fun little teaser video with just the right amount of truthiness mixed in, and followed it up with an excitingly unique consumer robot. Is it too much to ask that we get this sort of thing every single week from now on?

Probably, yeah.

The consumer robotics isn't quite at the level of, I dunno, the useless app market, where there are new products releases so relentlessly that they make me want to push that scary looking "Destroy Universe" button on my Android phone. What, you don't have one of those? Weird. But anyway, we have hope that one day, we will have the privilege of making announcements about new robots that you can buy much more frequently then we do now.

And then it'll be time to retire! But we're not there yet, so on to Video Friday.

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Why Are Google and Amazon Not Using Drone Airplanes?

Last week Google pulled back the curtain on its Project Wing, an effort to develop small drones that can deliver packages. The notion of being able to deliver small payloads in this way has been on lots of people’s minds since December of last year when Amazon revealed its own efforts to whisk packages to its customers using small drones, a service-to-be that it calls Prime Air. Even before that, the Silicon Valley startup MatterNet announced its plans to use similar technology to help move materials around places lacking good roads. And one San Francisco company claims it will offer such a service very soon to residents in urgent need of pharmacy supplies in the city's Mission district, despite the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's position that commercial use of even the smallest drones is forbidden.

Could such drone-based delivery services really be practical?

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Dyson's Robot Vacuum Has 360-Degree Camera, Tank Treads, Cyclone Suction

All of our wild speculation about Dyson's mystery video (well, maybe not all) has just been confirmed with the announcement this morning of the Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner. If it looks familiar, it's because we got some of our guesses exactly right: the new robot looks just like the patent image we posted, and it's got a vision-based localization system that relies on a panoramic camera. Even those tank treads that we thought were a joke? Totally not a joke.

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NASA Developing Air Traffic Control System for Drones

If you don't think that drones are a problem today, you have to admit that drones will be a problem soon. As they get even cheaper and easier to fly (and especially as they start to fly themselves more and more), everyone is going to be able to have a drone. And even worse than that, all those companies who came up with ridiculous drone delivery publicity stunts will start to seriously think that "hey, maybe this can work!"

I'm pretty sure that the whole urban drone delivery thing is still probably never (or almost never) going to happen, but under some very specific circumstances, certain aspects of it (like repetitive point-to-point delivery) might make sense to put into practice. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is a little bit behind on all of this, but NASA is working to get ahead, by developing an autonomous drone traffic management program. 

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Disney Research Patents ETH Zurich's PuppetCopter

Disney has a research lab in Zurich, right next door to ETH Zurich. In the past, we've seen a lot of collaborations between Disney and ETH, often in the form of fun robot concepts and prototypes. So, we weren't at all surprised to hear that Disney filed a patent for an "Aerial Display System With Marionettes Articulated and Supported by Airborne Devices," because we spotted a prototype at ETH Zurich last year, and its name is Maurice.

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What Happened to NASA's Valkyrie Robot at the DRC Trials, and What's Next

NASA's Valkyrie robot is, arguably, one of the most sophisticated and potentially capable humanoids in existence. The key here is "potentially," because in addition to the very fancy and expensive hardware that was put into the robot at its conception, it has to have the software and controls that enable it to, you know, do stuff. Reliably.

Valkyrie didn't have that great of a time at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials, and we never quite figured out why. We certainly noticed that we didn't hear much about the robot after it didn't make the cut last December. So what's up with Val?

At the Robotics Science and Systems conference at UC Berkeley last month, we got an update on Valkyrie, including a description of what went wrong at the DRC and NASA's plans for the robot going forward.

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

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