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Robot Builds Ramp by Randomly Flinging 3,600 Toothpicks

One way of making a simple robot more capable is to give it the capacity to modify its environment. We've seen this in practice in the last year or two with robots that have the capacity to create tools, build buildings, and even manufacture other robots. This concept can be taken even farther, though, with robots that can construct large structures out of amorphous materials like glue, foam, and toothpicks.

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Robotic Airplane, Boat, and Submarine Team Up to Monitor Coral Reefs

Designing a robot that can do everything is hard. Robots work best when they’re given one specific task to perform and have been constructed with that task in mind, so if you’re trying to, say, monitor coral reefs from the air, the surface of the ocean, and under water all at once, you can either drive yourself nuts trying to come up with some sort of autonomous submersible seaplane, or you can just teach a robotic airplane, robotic boat, and robotic submarine to all work together.

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Inflatable Limb Robot Runs Around on Wiggly Legs

Some of the most interesting forms of locomotion in the animal kingdom come from creatures without bones. We're talking cephalopods, like octopi, who can use their tentacles to both "walk" like we do and move in a bunch of other ways, often while carrying objects. This has inspired researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology and Kings College London to design a new sort of quadruped robot that walks around on air-powered soft tentacles instead of legs.

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Harvard RoboBees Learn to Steer, Mostly

Harvard has been working on a robotic bee for five years now. Five years is a long time in the fast-paced world of robotics, but when you're trying to design a controllable flying robot that weighs less than one tenth of one gram from scratch, getting it to work properly is a process that often has to wait for technology to catch up to the concept. 

The RoboBee has been able to take off under its own power for years, but roboticists have only just figured out how to get it to both take off and go where they want it to. Or at least, they're getting very, very close, and the latest testing was presented at one of the opening sessions of IROS this morning.

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We're at IROS 2012!

Don't mind the fact that there's a fabulous resort and beach in the background of this picture: we're all business here at the 2012 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, or IROS.

Last year, IROS was in San Francisco, and this year, we're in Vilamoura, on the southern coast of Portugal, which may or may not be one of the most popular resort regions in all of Europe. There are 11 presentation tracks all going on simultaneously, with new talks taking place every 15 minutes for the next three days, and we're going to be at every single one of them. Impossible, you say? Probably. But we're going to do it anyway, or (more likely) kill ourselves trying.

Check back all this week for exclusives from IROS, and we'll be bringing you awesome news from the forefront of robotics research for the next several weeks at least: there's a lot to see, and we're going to make sure you don't miss a thing.

[ IROS 2012 ]

Firefighting Robot is $100k of Cute n' Foamy

We're all familiar with the Triple D's of robotics: Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous. That third D, the dangerous one, is arguably where robots have found their most valuable niche, at least when it comes to protecting humans from things that are, you know, dangerous. Like bombs. And now, fires!

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PR2 Learns How To Be a Robobutler Without Destroying Things

While IEEE Spectrum has not yet seen fit to hire me my own butler (like most bloggers tend to expect), as far as I can tell (and let me just clarify that I have absolutely no idea about this whatsoever) being a butler requires mastery of three things: looking good in a tux, having a butler-y attitude, and not spilling things on trays. PR2 might be able to cover those first two, but we now have video proof that it's nailed the third one: PR2 is officially a traymaster.

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Cowabunga: Swiss Boffins Working on Robot Turtle

Of all the scary and dangerous robot animals, turtles are almost (but not quite) on the very bottom of the list, just above robotic baby harp seals.* But that's fine, because turtles are great at lots of things that aren't scary and dangerous (like swimming around in the vast and heartless ocean), and researchers in a certain landlocked European country that isn't Austria are working to make a new one.

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

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

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