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Why You Should Be Glad That Quadrotors Have Learned to Dodge Swords

When that quadrotor fencing video showed up everywhere last month, we asked Ross Allen, the Stanford PhD candidate (and fencer) responsible for the research, if he’d be willing to talk to us about it. He said sure, except his thesis defense was that Friday, so would we mind waiting a bit? It’s been a bit, and after a successful defense, Dr. Allen is somehow not sick and tired of robots and answered a bunch of our questions about quadrotors, swords, and why mixing them is such a great idea.

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Review: Neato BotVac Connected

Six years ago, I drove from my crummy little apartment in the part of Berkeley that’s too close to Oakland to somewhere in the south bay that I don’t really remember to pick up, in person, what I’m pretty sure was a development prototype of the Neato XV-11 robotic vacuum. I was instructed to return it in 24 hours, or they’d send a robotic hit squad after me. I wrote a blazing fast review of the XV-11, taped a butter knife to it and let it duel my iRobot Roomba 560, and then brought it back to Neato, having inflicted a bare minimum of physical (and emotional) scarring. 

Since then, Neato Robotics has established itself as a solid and capable competitor to iRobot’s Roombas in the autonomous vacuum space. The XV-11 series has been incrementally upgraded, with a much more significant redesign in 2014 in the form of the BotVac series. Late last year, Neato announced the BotVac Connected, which adds WiFi connectivity and an app that lets you control your robot from anywhere in the world. This is Neato’s top of the line model and currently sells for US $700. We took a look at it at CES, and then Neato promised to send us one to check out at home.

Neato’s robots, starting with the XV-11 and continuing with the BotVac Connected, are notable because of their ability to rapidly generate accurate maps of the spaces that they’re in, and then localize and navigate to efficiently clean those spaces in nice straight lines. For a long time, this was a capability that was almost entirely unique to Neato, but over the last few years, other robot vacuum manufacturers have added mapmaking to their robots, most recently iRobot with its Roomba 980, which uses a camera for helping with localization and mapping. So the question is, now that Neato isn’t the only robot vacuum on the block with this technology, how does the latest version look? Does its six-year-old navigation system still hold up, and can it survive in an increasingly competitive market without the feature that made it unequivocally unique?

We’ve got a full review for you after the break, complete with some long-exposure cleaning pics and an interview with the Neato robotics team.

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Video Friday: Snake Monster, Crash-Proof Drone, and Usain Bot

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

ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
National Manufacturing Week – May 11-13, 2016 – Sydney, Australia
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
Dynamic Walking 2016 – June 4-7, 2016 – Holland, Mich., USA
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
ICROM 2016 – June 23-25, 2016 – Singapore
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany


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


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Robot Roaches With Tiny Magnetic Winch Cooperate to Scale Steps

In a world full of things that are much, much bigger than they are, insects manage to do pretty well with getting around. Some of the most successful insects are the social and cooperative ones, like ants, which can do incredible things such as using their bodies to create structures to get themselves across rivers.

In Ron Fearing’s lab at UC Berkeley, Carlos Casarez was inspired by behaviors like these to modify some VelociRoACHes to help each other climb up and over obstacles with the aid of an adorable little magnetic tether system.

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NASA's Valkyrie Humanoid Upgraded, Delivered to Robotics Labs in U.S. and Europe

It’s always exciting when a new robot arrives in your lab. Usually, the more expensive the robot is, the more exciting it is. With the possible exception of Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS, NASA’s Valkyrie has got to be one of the most expensive humanoid robots ever made, and last year, NASA promised to give away (or, at least, lend) three of them to universities in the hope that Valkyrie will learn some new skills.

Within the last few weeks, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which teamed up with Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., took delivery of their fancy new robot, as did MIT and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. We talked to Holly Yanco at UMass Lowell and Taskin Padir at Northeastern, along with Sethu Vijayakumar and Maurice Fallon at Edinburgh,  and Russ Tedrake at MIT, about what it’s like to have a smokin’ hot space robot show up on your doorstep in a bunch of pieces. We also asked them what they’ve told NASA that they’re going to do with it, and what they actually plan to do with it. NASA, you will be happy to hear that these last two things are only slightly different.

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Google's Project Wing Needs More Moonshot

Okay Google, I give up. I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to “moonshot” with Project Wing. A couple of weeks ago, X, the experimental technology lab that is part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, posted a new video about their delivery drone effort that, if anything, manages to make things look less exciting.

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Video Friday: iCub Does Yoga, Wooden Walking Robot, and Wind Tunnel for Drones

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

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
National Manufacturing Week – May 11-13, 2016 – Sydney, Australia
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
Dynamic Walking 2016 – June 4-7, 2016 – Holland, Mich., USA
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
UK Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2016 – London, England


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


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Stanford's Humanoid Diving Robot Takes on Undersea Archaeology and Coral Reefs

If you were in the audience for Oussama Khatib’s IROS keynote in Hamburg last year, you may remember him talking about this crazy thing:

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We, of course, cornered Oussama immediately afterwards, because humanoid robotic submarine what?! It turned out that OceanOne, as it was called, was involved in a top secret (or something) project in collaboration with the French, which has (now that it’s over and wasn’t a disaster) been un-topsecretified so we can finally, finally tell you about it.

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Video Friday: Snakebot Swimming, Robots and Duckies, and Giant Eyeball Blimp

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your venomous 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!):

FIRST Robotics Championship – April 27-30, 2016 – St. Louis, Missouri
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
UK National Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
TAROS 2016 – June 28-30, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Amazon Picking Challenge – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
DLMC 2016 – July 13-15, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
MARSS 2016 – July 18-22, 2016 – Paris, France


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


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Dmitry Grishin Doubles Down on Robotics With New $100 Million Fund

Nearly four years ago, Dmitry Grishin launched a US $25 million fund to invest exclusively in consumer robots. Grishin, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Mail.ru, the Russian Internet giant, believed that robotics was going to be one of the next big technology revolutions, and he was willing to put his money where his mouth was.

Now the Russian investor is ready to double down on his vision. Or actually double double down. Grishin Robotics has recently announced a second fund four times as large as the original one. The new $100 million fund will seek Series A and B deals and expand its focus to include startups in markets like connected devices, collaborative and material-handling robots, AI and data analytics, and industrial Internet of Things.

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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.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

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Evan Ackerman
 
 
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