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Harvest Automation Beta Testing Robot Farmers

We've been following Harvest Automation for a couple years now, since they've got a bunch of ex-iRobot people on board and they started out in stealth mode, which is a combination that's just inviting wild speculation. The plant has been out of the pot for a while, though, since Harvest Automation was revealed in 2008 to be primarily interested in, um, the automation of harvesting. Surprise?

In searching for ways to leverage Roomba-style (simple, specific, and reliable) technology in a new market, Harvest decided to give agriculture a try. Specifically, they've come up with a little robot whose only purpose in non-life is to pick up potted plants and move them from place to place. Potted plants are heavy and need to be moved frequently to optimize their spacing, and if you've got a big enough ornamental plant farm, that's a lot of people with a lot of sore backs.

The robots, not having backs, are much better suited for this, and using a variety of simple but accurate and reliable local sensors, they can either completely take over from humans, or work alongside them if the robots happen to be feeling magnanimous.

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Watch This Robot Control a Person's Arm Using Electrodes

robot control human arm

When this robot needs a hand, it borrows yours.

In an experiment that opens a new chapter in human-machine interaction, a French research team has demonstrated how a robot can control both its own arm and a person’s arm to manipulate objects in a collaborative manner.

The robot controls the human limb by sending small electrical currents to electrodes taped to the person's forearm and biceps, which allows it to command the elbow and hand to move. In the experiment, the person holds a ball, and the robot a hoop; the robot, a small humanoid, has to coordinate the movement of both arms to successfully drop the ball through the hoop.

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This Is What DARPA's Robot Ostrich Will Look Like

I'll bet you didn't know that DARPA was even interested in a robotic ostrich, did you? I sure as heck didn't. But I suppose it shouldn't be that surprising, since DARPA seems to want robotic versions of just about anything that's capable of extreme levels of performance, and an ostrich apparently fits the, uh, bill.

The above image is a rendering of the eventual form of a robot called FastRunner, a project led by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), in Pensacola. MIT's Robot Locomotion Group is a partner in the project. FastRunner uses a novel* leg design that should allow it to efficiently sprint at speeds of over 30 kilometers per hour while stabilizing itself and only using one actuator per leg. It'll also be able to run over moderately rough terrain, albeit at 15 km/h, which is still probably going to give even a talented human a run for their money. To put the speed of this robot in perspective, a human can sprint at about 40 km/h over short, level distances, while an actual ostrich can hit almost 100 km/h, with sustained speeds in the 70s. 

So far, FastRunner consists of legs and body in simulation, plus one full-scale test leg. When completed, the robot will weigh about 30 kilograms, stand 1.4 meters high, and offer fast, efficient, and very robust motion for whatever potentially sinister applications DARPA can dream up:

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iFling: UCSD's Latest Ball-Flinging Robot Is 100% More Flingy

Generally, I approach robots (and everything else) with gratuitous "i"s appended to their names with no small amount of skepticism, but UCSD's robotics lab has somehow managed to create a whole lineage of "i" robots that can do some totally unique stuff. We've written about them before, but this latest version of iFling has some substantial quality of life improvements when it comes to doing what it does best: picking up ping-pong balls and chucking them at things:

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Video: International Micro Aerial Vehicle Competition Highlights

The International Micro Aerial Vehicle Conference/Competition took place back in September, and unfortunately, we couldn't make it because we weren't sure how to pronounce the name of the place in which it was being held: 't Harde, in the Netherlands.

While IMAV had plenty of papers and talks and stuff, the most exciting bits were the indoor and outdoor MAV competitions. Inside, little autonomous flying robots had to identify and collect objects from within a structure, while outside, teams of MAVs had to cooperate to locate and observe groups of people, drop objects in specific locations, and even pop balloons. For both competitions, points were awarded for completing more difficult and complicated tasks and for increased autonomy.

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ROS Turns Four, Schedules Conference/Party for 2012

We post a lot about ROS (Robot Operating System) around here, and the reason that we do is because a lot of the coolest stuff that's happening in the robotics world right now has been made possible in one form or another by the open sourceitude of ROS. This year, ROS is celebrating its fourth anniversary, so there's gonna be a HUGE PARTY in May of 2012 right after the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Oh, did I say party? I meant conference. Yeah, conference.

Anyway, ROSCon (see? conference!) will be a great place to learn from the best, and if you're one of those best, you've got until December 4th to submit a presentation proposal.

[ ROSCon 2012 ]

Honda Robotics Unveils Next-Generation ASIMO Robot

UPDATED: November 8, 2011, 9:15 a.m. Added video and more photos. November 10, 2011, 9:42 a.m. Updated video.

You're looking at Honda's brand new ASIMO robot, which was just unveiled today in Japan. While the new ASIMO's appearance is similar to the version of ASIMO that we've come to know and love, there are some key differences inside that promise to make this generation more autonomous and capable than ever.

Below we give you all the details, with a bunch of new pics to match. But first, here's a video of ASIMO showing off some of its new skills:

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A New Way for Robots to Balance on Two Feet

It turns out that studying how to make robots grasp objects with their hands is helping researchers figure out how to make robots balance on their feet. 

Christian Ott and his team at the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics have discovered a way to keep bipedal robots from falling over by using principles from robot grasping.

As shown in this video released at the 2011 IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Bled, Slovenia, the new approach allows the DLR Biped, a legged robot based on KUKA's lightweight system, to keep its feet firmly planted on the floor, even when kicked by a mean researcher or slammed with a 5-kilogram medicine ball. You try to do that!

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Creepy Crawly Slug Robot Has Tank Treads for Skin

Rescue robots don't always have to be big and burly and complicated. Usually, if you put something big and burly and complicated in an environment with lots of water and dust, all the big and burly complicated bits get decidedly less complicated by virtue of ceasing to function. You can seal up individual parts (like wheels or tracks) as best you can, but sealing up the entire robot offers even more durability. The SCV (Slug Crawler Vehicle) from the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan relies on a flexible, waterproof "skin" to protect it from the elements while still allowing it to get around pretty well:

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