Automaton iconAutomaton

Cassie is a dynamic bipedal robot developed by Agility Robotics

Agility Robotics Introduces Cassie, a Dynamic and Talented Robot Delivery Ostrich

Today, Agility Robotics, a spin-off of Oregon State University, is officially announcing a shiny new bipedal robot named Cassie. Cassie is a dynamic walker, meaning that it walks much more like humans do than most of the carefully plodding bipedal robots we’re used to seeing. This makes it better at handling the kind of diverse and complex terrain that we walk over all the time without even thinking, a talent that’s going to be mandatory for robots that want to tackle the different environments and situations that they’ll need to master to be actually useful around people.

In addition to search-and-rescue and disaster relief, Agility Robotics has one particular environment and situation in mind: They want Cassie to be scampering up your steps to deliver packages to your front door.

Read More
NASA's Astrobee space robots

How NASA's Astrobee Robot Is Bringing Useful Autonomy to the ISS

Since 2006, NASA has had a trio of small, free-flying robots on board the International Space Station. Called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites), these robots have spent about 600 hours participating in an enormous variety of experiments, including autonomous formation flying, navigation and mapping, and running programs written by middle school students in team competitions. But beyond serving as a scientific platform, SPHERES weren’t designed to do anything especially practical in terms of assisting the astronauts or flight controllers, and it’s time for a new generation of robotic free fliers that’s fancier, more versatile, and will be a big help for the humans on the ISS.

This is Astrobee.

Read More
NASA Valkyrie Humanoid Robot

NASA Announces Space Robotics Challenge Finalists

Last August, NASA opened the first round of the Space Robotics Challenge. A follow-on to the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the SRC is focused on what it’s going to take to get humans back to the moon or on to Mars, embracing the idea that sending humanoid robots there first would make everything a heck of a lot easier. Just like the DRC, the SRC starts in simulation, with an initial round to select 20 finalists from 93 competing teams. NASA has just announced the results.

Read More
Rethink Robotics' Sawyer robot with Intera 5 software platform

Rethink’s Robots Get Massive Software Upgrade, Rodney Brooks “So Excited”

Rethink Robotics is taking the wraps off a massive project that the company has been working on for two years. “It’s been a big part of our development that the world hasn’t seen,” says Rethink founder and CTO Rodney Brooks. “I’ve been so excited about this because I know what it can do.”

A little over a year ago, Rethink started shipping Sawyer, a collaborative robot designed to be faster, stronger, and more precise than the company’s first cobot, Baxter, which didn’t “sell like hotcakes,” as Brooks had expected. But developing a brand-new robot was just part of Rethink’s post-Baxter plans: Another goal was completely rebuilding its software platform, called Intera, which is responsible for controlling all of Sawyer’s functions as well as allowing users to program the robot.

Read More
ARMAR-III humanoid robot preparing dinner

Video Friday: A Humanoid in the Kitchen, Transparent Gel Robots, and NFL's Ball-Dropping Drone

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

Robotics Alley – February 28-1, 2017 – Minneapolis, Minn., USA
HRI 2017 – March 6-9, 2017 – Vienna, Austria
IEEE ARSO – March 8-10, 2017 – Austin, Texas, USA
IEEE SSRR – March 10-13, 2017 – Shanghai, China
NYC Drone Film Festival – March 17-19, 2017 – NYC, NY, USA
European Robotics Forum – March 22-24, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Automate – April 3-3, 2017 – Chicago, Ill., USA
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 8-16, 2017 – USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-20, 2017 – NASA KSC, Florida, USA
RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
ICARSC – April 26-30, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal

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

Read More
Piaggio's Gita Cargo Robot

Piaggio's Cargo Robot Uses Visual SLAM to Follow You Anywhere

Making a fully autonomous delivery robot (whether it flies or not) is a very hard problem. Your robot has to be prepared to operate all alone in unstructured environments, and it has to do so both reliably and efficiently. A new robot introduced this week by Piaggio Fast Forward (herein abbreviated “PFF”), a division of Italian vehicle manufacturer Piaggio, is getting in on autonomous stuff-moving, but they’re taking a slightly different approach.

Rather than try to develop a fully autonomous delivery robot from scratch, PFF is instead starting with something simpler: a pleasingly roundish robot called Gita (“gee-tah”) that will follow you around, carrying 19 kilograms of tools, groceries, or whatever you want.

Read More
Otherlab's APSARA: Industrial Paper Airplanes for Autonomous Aerial Delivery

Swarms of Disposable Drones Will Make Critical Deliveries and Then Vanish

Delivery drones still face an uncertain future, but there’s at least one scenario where they make a lot of sense: Flying robots can be ideal for bringing small, high value, time-sensitive goods to people in low-infrastructure areas. As specific a situation as that sounds like, it’s an enormous opportunity, and has the potential to make a huge difference in rural areas and disaster relief missions with deliveries of food and medical supplies, for example.

One challenge with that, however, is that while drones are cheap to operate, the up-front investment is significant, especially if you need to make a lot of deliveries quickly, like right after an earthquake. With this sort of thing in mind, DARPA has funded several companies under its ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems) program to create cheap, disposable drones that are designed to deliver a thing to a place and then be forgotten about. One of the companies receiving DARPA funding is San Francisco research firm Otherlab, which does weird robotics-y stuff with creative materials, among other things, and they’ve come up with a design for a drone they’re calling APSARA: Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply/ Actions.

Read More
Bat Robot Offers Safety and Maneuverability in Bioinspired Design

Bat Robot Offers Safety and Maneuverability in Bioinspired Design

With a few exceptions, quadrotors are the go-to aerial robot when you need something small, fast, and maneuverable. This is because quadrotors are relatively cheap and easy to fly, and not because they’re the best aerial platform. In fact, you may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of rotary fliers in the animal kingdom—this is because (among other reasons) flapping wings offer high efficiency and incredible maneuverability as long as you’re able to manufacture and control them.

Those last two things are what make wings tricky for robots, which is why we don’t see nearly as many useful robot birds as we do useful quadrotors. Alireza Ramezani, Soon-Jo Chung, and Seth Hutchinson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Caltech have decided that making robot birds is just not tricky enough, so they’re working on something even better and even more complex: a robotic bat.

Read More
Poker pro Jason Les with computer mouse in hand plays against the Libratus AI

AI Decisively Defeats Human Poker Players

Humanity has finally folded under the relentless pressure of an artificial intelligence named Libratus in a historic poker tournament loss. As poker pro Jason Les played his last hand and leaned back from the computer screen, he ventured a half-hearted joke about the anticlimactic ending and the lack of sparklers. Then he paused in a moment of reflection.

“120,000 hands of that,” Les said. “Jesus.”

Libratus lived up to its “balanced but forceful” Latin name by becoming the first AI to beat professional poker players at heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold'em.  The tournament was held at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh from 11–30 January. Developed by Carnegie Mellon University, the AI won the “Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” tournament against four poker pros by US $1,766,250 in chips over 120,000 hands (games). Researchers can now say that the victory margin was large enough to count as a statistically significant win, meaning that they could be at least 99.98 percent sure that the AI victory was not due to chance.

Read More
WALK-MAN humanoid robot steps over an obstacle during a demonstration.

Video Friday: Muscle for Tough Robots, Cobots on Wheels, and WALK-MAN Goes for a Walk

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

RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online

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

Read More


IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Automaton newsletter and get biweekly updates about robotics, automation, and AI, all delivered directly to your inbox.

Load More