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DARPA Announces Tasks for DRC Finals

Late last week, DARPA released the final rules document for the DRC Finals. This document includes the list of tasks that robots will have to compete to score points, and we’ll take you through the details that are available of all eight of them.

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Video Friday: Robot Sword Fights, MIT Basement Racing, and RoboGames

I will never, ever, ever understand why robotics researchers seem to feel the need to persist in teaching their robots how to use swords, of all things. First Georgia Tech, then Stanford, and now Namiki Lab in Japan is doing it with robot arms that can move faster than you can. At some point, this is all going to go horribly wrong, but until that happens, we can enjoy the videos. And we have lots of videos this week, what with the perfect storm of National Robotics Week, RoboGames, and it being Friday. Here we go! 

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iRobot Definitely Developing Robot Lawn Mower, Astronomers Very Upset

We’ve been assuming for years now (years!) that sooner or later, iRobot would come out with a robotic lawn mower. The reason it's been later and not sooner, we're guessing, is that iRobot has been trying to figure out how to make a lawn mower that’s as easy to use as a Roomba, which could be impossible. Based on a recent FCC filing, it sounds like iRobot is working on a lawn mower that uses a wireless beacon system as opposed to an edge wire, which is a pretty cool idea. It’s too bad astronomers are doing their level best to kill the whole thing.

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Why Google's Robot Personality Patent Is Not Good for Robotics

As of March 31, 2015, Google owns a shiny new patent (8,996,429) outlining a robot that changes personalities based on circumstance and a wide variety of user information. The system stores useful data in the cloud where it can be accessed by other robots. Adorable robots, if we’re to go by Google’s “conceptual graphical representations” (above).

Using data that could include your current location, calendar events, and social media profiles, the robot will do its best to adopt the right personality at the right time in ostensibly any circumstance, from negotiating a car purchase on your behalf at the dealership to reminding you to clean your fridge (in your mother’s voice).

This patent illustrates that the personalization we’ve seen in services like Nest and Google Now is only the beginning, as far as Google is concerned. Privacy and data security issues aside, the coming marriage of “Internet of Things” devices with the existing data on our “human” Internet is geared to make social robots much more useful than your Wi-Fi-connected blender.

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Why You Should Start a Brain Technology Company

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Scientists have spent decades trying to build machines that talk to the brain. Robust and reliable neural interfaces have long been a holy grail in the field of neuroscience. The hope is that a new wave of  research programs, including the BRAIN Initiative and Human Connectome, among others, could lead to groundbreaking technologies for helping people with brain-related diseases. If effective, these new therapies could even, some argue, bring about the end of disability

Some believe that developing such interfaces will require advanced brain implants that are still a decade or more away. More recently, though, neuroscientists—as well as a legion ofbrain hackers”—have turned to powerful new sensing, processing, and prototyping tools to explore a host of non-invasive techniques to stimulate the brain. Some of these methods, proponents say, could benefit not only patients who suffer from disease or injury, but also healthy individuals, who would be able to learn faster, acquire better math skills, improve their memory capabilities, and even boost their creativity.

So, is this all still science fiction or are consumer brain products nearing commercialization? Should entrepreneurs and brain researchers consider starting companies right now? I believe the answer is yes—now is the time for you to start a brain tech startup. Belgian company STX-Med has recently received FDA approval to market its Cefaly headband device to people suffering from migraines. At my firm, Lux Capital, we have invested in Halo Neuroscience, which is building a non-invasive brain-stimulating device capable of enhancing cognitive performance. 

Lux and other VC firms are on the prowl to back more entrepreneurs aiming to build promising companies around our brains. We believe this is just the beginning of what will become a huge industry. To see why, consider these four trends contributing to make neuroscience a fertile ground for exciting new startups.​ 

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Video Friday: Robot April Fool's, Sheepdog Drone, and R2-D2 in Love

I don’t know why, but a lot of interesting technology companies all seem to be clustered around Kitchener, in Southern Ontario, Canada. Clearpath Robotics is up there, and they’ve taken advantage of their neighbors like Thalmic Labs to put together cool crossover demos. Turns out that audio visual company Christie, which, among many other things, makes high-end digital projectors, is just 10 minutes away from Clearpath, so they all got together for a hack week and developed a sort of augmented reality game using projectors and real robots. See it running, and see lots of other robot videos, too. It’s Friday!

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South Korea Prepares for Drone vs. Drone Combat

With the news that South Korea discovered some suspicious camera-equipped spy drones flying near its border, we’d imagine that the country might want to develop ways of countering that technology. Firing guns or missiles would be an option, of course, but another way of taking on enemy drones is with drones of your own.

Funded by a South Korean defense research institute, a group of roboticists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has been testing out ways of using autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to locate, intercept, and disable other UAVs.

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How Drones Can Help Save Elephants and Rhinos from Poachers

Last year, 25,000 elephants were killed by poachers throughout the African continent. In South Africa, more than 1,200 rhinos were slayed, a record year. The vast open expanses and dense undergrowth make it easy for illegal hunters to elude the authorities on the ground. Recently, though, conservationists have found a technology they believe could help them turn the tables on poachers: drones.

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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

Editor
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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