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It's Time to Start 3D Scanning the World

This is a guest post. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the blogger and do not represent positions of Automaton, IEEE Spectrum, or the IEEE.

matterport scan

When Microsoft was developing its Kinect 3D sensor, a critical task was to calibrate its algorithms to rapidly and accurately recognize parts of the human body, especially hands, to make sure the device would work in any home, with any age group, any clothing, and any kind of background object. Using a computer-based approach to do the calibration had limitations, because computers would sometimes fail to identify a human hand in a Kinect-generated image, or would "see" a hand where none existed. So Microsoft is said to have turned to humans for help, crowdsourcing the image-tagging job using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the online service where people get paid for performing relatively simple tasks that computers are not good at. As a result the Kinect now knows what all (or most) hands look like. Great!

Well, that's great if all you care about is gesture-based gaming, but from my commercial robotics-oriented perspective, the problem is that a human hand is just one "thing" among thousands -- millions?! -- out there that we would like machines to be able to identify. Imagine if a robot could promptly recognize any object in a home or office or factory: Anything that the robot sees or picks up it would instantly know what it is. Now that would be great.

So the question is: Can we ever achieve that goal? Can we somehow automate or crowdsource image tagging of almost every object imaginable?

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Robot With Tail Shows Off More Midair Skills

uc berkeley tailbot robot slope transition with active tail

When we posted about UC Berkeley's Tailbot last week, we mentioned that the robot was originally presented back at IROS, the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. Evan Chang-Siu and Thomas Libby, two of the authors of the IROS paper, wrote in to point out a few additional tricks that Tailbot has up its sleeve and share some extra video with us.

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Video Friday: Giant Robotic Eggs Dance a Tango

Every Friday since the dawn of time, I've been hoping that I'd get a chance to post a video of giant dancing robotic eggs. And every Friday I've been disappointed when such a video has utterly failed to exist.

BUT NOT THIS FRIDAY!

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Microbes Could Power Future Planetary Rovers

The gigantic rover currently on its way to Mars, Curiosity, is powered by a gigantic butt-mounted radioisotope thermoelectric generator. For the next generation of space probes, the Naval Research Laboratory is looking for power sources that are smaller. Much smaller.

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Dinosaur-Like Tails Make Terrestrial Mobile Robots More Agile


Image: Thomas Libby, Evan Chang-Siu, and Pauline Jennings. Courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab & CiBER/UC Berkeley

This agile little robot with a lizard-inspired tail is by far one of the coolest things we saw at last year's IROS, the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. You better believe we wanted to share it with you back then, but the UC Berkeley researchers asked us to stay quiet since they were working on a paper for Nature, which is a pretty big deal. The embargo lifted just this second, and we're finally able to bring you the full story.

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Amazing Nao Hack Offers Full-Body Teleoperated Kitty Grooming

We've been following Taylor Veltrop's Nao teleoperation saga for, uh, well... It feels like it's been forever, but I guess it's only been about a year since Veltrop, a Japan-based roboticist, had a robot doing push-ups for him. But there's more to teleoperation than just virtual exercise: There's also virtual pet pampering, and it involves Nao, a Kinect system, a treadmill, a bunch of cameras, and one exceptionally tolerant cat.

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Behold Your Doom: Robospidernaut

Is this one seriously awesome death robot or what? Giant robotic spiders with human torsos and Cylon heads: it's not a nightmare, it's for science! 

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U.S. Navy Starts Delivering Drones Using Balloons and Submarines

A few years ago when we visited AUVSI, the big conference organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, we took a look at some of the vaguely nutty ways that UAVs are landed. Launching is generally more straightforward, unless you need to be stealthy about it, which is why the U.S. Navy is looking to submerged submarines and high-altitude balloons to deliver drones.

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