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Lockheed's Drones Cooperate to Autonomously Put Out Fires

Last year, Lockheed Martin demonstrated (semi) autonomous firefighting capabilities with an unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter and a small quadrotor. There were still humans in the loop, though, and the whole test was carefully monitored to make sure that there were no conflicts with other aircraft in the area. Last month, Lockheed held another firefighting demo, this time with even more autonomy and real-time integration with air traffic control.

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Video Friday: Robot With Axe, Drone With Claw, and Droid With Kittens

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

RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASSISIbf Winter School – January 12-14, 2016 – Lausanne, Switzerland
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
Portuguese Robotics Festival – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Advanced Robotics Systems and Competitions – May 06, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
RoboCup 2016 – June 30-4, 2016 – Leipzig, Germany
Cybathalon 2016 – October 08, 2016 – Zurich, Switzerland
Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, Great Britain
UK National Robotics Week – June 25-1, 2016 – United Kingdom
IEEE AIM 2016 – July 12-15, 2016 – Banff, Canada
IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada


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


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Lessons Learned from Observing 90 Untrained Participants Abusing a Flying Robot

We stole this headline from the title of a paper that was presented last month at the AI for Human-Robot Interaction symposium in Washington, D.C., because we couldn’t think of a better way to frame this research. To figure out how instructions given to humans can change the way that the humans perform a task, researchers from Washington State University’s Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory gave people a drone, told them to fly it through an obstacle course, and then watched them do a terrible job.

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Custom AI Programs Take on Top Ranked Humans in StarCraft

Every year, the Annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE) co-hosts a competition for computer programs that play StarCraft: Brood War against each other. StarCraft is a complex real-time strategy (RTS) game that poses a significant challenge to AI research “because of hidden information, vast state and action spaces, and the requirement to act quickly,” as the AIIDE website explains. “The best human players still have the upper hand in RTS games, but in the years to come this will likely change, thanks to competitions like this one.”

This year, 22 programs were entered into the competition at the University of Alberta, Canada, playing against each other continuously for two weeks on 12 virtual machines (that’s over 1,800 games each). At the end of the competition, three of the best AIs played some exhibition matches against a Russian StarCraft player who goes by Djem5 and is “widely regarded as one of the best non-Korean Protoss players in the world.”

So did the AI win? Are humans doomed? Spoiler alert: nope. As far as StarCraft goes, we’re still way better than the machines, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to watch these pro human vs. AI matches unfold.

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Amazon's Latest Drone Delivery Promo Answers Zero Important Questions

Today is Cyber Monday, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. In what I’m sure is just a coincidence, Amazon has posted a fancy new video of the latest version of their drone that may, one day, they hope, deliver things to you, kinda, maybe. Are we now astounded and impressed and excited and optimistic about the future of urban drone delivery? Not so much, no.

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FAA Task Force Recommends Registration for All Drones 250 Grams and Up

Over the weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s acronym-laden Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force (RTF) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) released its final report, consisting of a set of recommendations on how the FAA should implement mandatory registration of consumer drones. The most immediately relevant is the minimum mass required for registration, which is a mere 250 grams (a little more than half a pound). In other words, if your drone weighs more than 250 grams, the FAA’s drone registration will most likely apply to you.

In addition to details on the registration process, the 18-page document also includes some justification for why the task force made the recommendations it did. So, before you get out your pitchforks to protest the 250-gram weight threshold, let’s take a look at where it came from.

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2015 Robot Gift Guide

With the holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to step back and reflect on the things that really matter: family, friends, what robots you’d like to get this year. This guide, with 17 suggestions for all ages, interests, and pockets, is by no means exhaustive. There are lots of great robots out there. But we’re limiting ourselves to products that you can purchase right now, which means that things like Kickstarter are out of the running. With this year’s selection, we tried to cover three main categories: DRONES, ROBOT TOYS & KITS, and HOME ROBOTS. Our list includes new products released in 2015 but also robots from previous years that we still like (check out more ideas from our 2014 and 2013 guides). We tested many of these bots ourselves, and we plan to post in-depth reviews sometime soon. And while we provide links to places where you can buy these items, we’re not endorsing any in particular, and a little bit of searching may result in better deals (all prices are in U.S. dollars). Lastly, if you think we missed the best robot thing (or things) of the year, let us know in the comments.

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Video Friday: Cyborg Athletes, Drone Drop Test, and Robot Makes Sandwiches

Tons of videos this week, and lots of super long ones down at the end. Since we have a bit of time off next week, consider pacing yourself on the videos so that you have something to distract yourself from family time next Friday. Or, you know, just go ahead and binge, we don’t judge. Anyway, moving on...

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your thankful Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

World Robotics Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.
IREX 2015 – December 2-5, 2015 – Toyko, Japan
RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA
HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
Portuguese Robotics Festival – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Advanced Robotics Systems and Competitions – May 06, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
Automatica 2016 – June 21-25, 2016 – Munich, Germany
RoboCup 2016 – 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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Researchers Teaching Robots How to Best Reject Orders from Humans

The Three Laws of Robotics, from the 56th edition of the “Handbook of Robotics” (published in 2058), are as follows:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Pretty straightforward, right? And it’s nice that obeying humans is in there at number two. Problem is, humans often act like idiots, and sometimes, obeying the second law without question is really not the best thing for a robot to do. Gordon Briggs and Matthias Scheutz, from Tufts University’s Human-Robot Interaction Lab, are trying to figure out how to develop mechanisms for robots to reject orders that it receives from humans, as long as the robots have a good enough excuse for doing so.

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NASA Awards R5 Valkyrie Robots to MIT and Northeastern

At the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals this summer, we heard from NASA that they were preparing to send two Valkyrie robots to U.S. universities “for active research of high-level humanoid behaviors” through a competitive selection process. Yesterday, NASA announced the winners: Russ Tedrake’s lab at MIT, and a group led by Taskin Padir, who just moved to Northeastern University from WPI.

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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.
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