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Concept Art Hints at the Awesome Future of Drones

Robotics, in the present, is a little bit frustrating. Heck, it's been frustrating for years, as the promise of robotics in the future is always incredibly awesome, while the present state of robotics (being constrained by inconvenient things like, you know, reality) is, well, not quite as incredibly awesome. This awesome of which we speak seems to be perpetually about five years away, and in order to not be depressed about this all the time, it's nice to stretch our imaginations once in a while through the unabashed reality-independence of artistic concepts, like these.

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Modular Robotics' MOSS Kit Makes Building Robots a Snap

Building robots is hard. Seriously hard. Not only do you have to construct them physically, but even after you've got them all wired up with motors and sensors and batteries and whatnot, they won't actually DO anything until you've spent most of the rest of your life writing code. It's kind of depressing, when it comes down to it, because for those of us who aren't already professional roboticists, we have to deal with a learning curve like that really steep bit on the north face of the Matterhorn.

Back in 2010, a company called Modular Robotics introduced Cubelets, a system of robotic modules that could be magnetically snapped together. By themselves, the modules didn't do much, but by connecting them, you could build and program a robot at the same time, without any experience whatsoever. Last December, Modular Robotics came out with a slightly different take on this idea with MOSS. MOSS was successfully funded more than three times over on Kickstarter, and earlier this month at CES, we got a hands-on demo of the new kits.

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Perching AR Drone Can Watch You Forever

There's a reason that birds perch: flying is a lot of work, and until we teach our drones to survive off of hopes and dreams, we're (nearly, and nearly again) always going to have to deal with severe restrictions on flight time, especially when hovering. Drones have been working on perching for years as a method to extend their usefulness for stationary surveillance, and this modified AR Drone takes inspiration from falcons with some custom legs, claws, and feet. 

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Next Generation Robotic Whiskers Promise New Capabilities, More Cuteness

Robots have been relying on whiskers, of a sort, for a very long time. In a general sense, a whisker is simply a switch attached to some sort of sticky-outy thing, such that when the sticky-outy thing encounters an obstacle, it transmits that encounter to the switch, warning the robot that it's about to run into said obstacle. These sorts of primitive whiskers are like infrared or sonar obstacle detectors, except cheaper, simpler, and (depending on the application) more robust.

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Video Friday: NASA's Opportunity Rover Celebrates 10 Years on Mars

A decade ago, it was 2004. In 2004, I had long hair, was convinced I was going to be a geologist, and I didn't care a jot about robots. Also in 2004, a pair of NASA robotic rovers landed on Mars to begin an ambitious three months worth of exploration and scientific discovery. Three months! That's how long NASA engineers expected the rovers would survive. But as of today, one of those rovers is still alive and well, roving around and doing science.

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U.S. Army Considers Replacing Thousands of Soldiers With Robots

Last week at the Army Aviation Symposium, in Arlington, Va., a U.S. Army officer announced that the Army is looking to slim down its personnel numbers and adopt more robots over the coming years. The biggest surprise, though, is the scale of the downsizing the Army might aim for.

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Video Friday: Game of Drones, Jamming Grippers, and RoboCop Is Back

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of robotics announcements at CES this year. In the past it's been a bit of a snoozefest, since robotics companies didn't want to tussle with all of the other major electronics manufacturers for coverage. However, in what is perhaps a small sign that robotics is becoming more mainstream, CES featured new products from the likes of iRobot, Parrot, Orbotix, and Suitable Tech.

But just because CES happened last week didn't mean that the rest of the robotics world came to a standstill, although we would definitely have appreciated that. So once again, we're here to get you caught up with Video Friday.

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Muscle Sensors Allow Robots to Cooperate Better With Humans

Robots, even very well programmed robots, really don't care about you. And by "you," I mean humans. And even if a robot did care about you, most of them don't have a clue about what you're doing or what you want. We've seen all kinds of examples of robots that have been programmed to collaborate with humans, but few so directly as this Georgia Tech robot, thanks to a wearable sensor that lets it "spy" on its human partner.

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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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