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Echodyne's metamaterial-based detect and avoid radar sensor

Metamaterial Radar Is Exactly What Delivery Drones Need

As we’ve pointed out over the last few years, there are some issues with the idea of urban or suburban delivery drones. Besides the fact that they’re illegal right now, the biggest technological problem is that none of the delivery drones that we’ve seen so far seem to have any kind of sense-and-avoid capability that could realistically deal with the challenges of urban airspace, including everything from other drones to light aircraft to birds to trees to overhead wiring.

There are some drones that try to use cameras for this, and at least one that relies on lidar, but for reliable all-weather sensing with the kind of range and resolution that you’d need for safe autonomous flight, the best answer might be to just do what aircraft have been doing for decades: use radar.

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Robot Drone Man

Behind the Music: How "Robot Drone Man" Built His Flying Avatar

The most entertaining video we posted on Video Friday a couple weeks ago was almost certainly Robot Drone Man, a parody of this PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen) video, which for some reason has 150 million views on YouTube. Parody or not, Robot Drone Man actually exists, and it’s a project of Ilhan Bae, a researcher and futurist at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), who wrote in to tell us about it.

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Gesture-controlled robot arm with Myo armband

Video Friday: Rescue Robot, Gesture Control, and 1986 Self-Driving Van

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!):

Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, England
HRI 2016 – November 15-17, 2016 – Cancun, Mexico
AI-HRI – November 17-19, 2016 – Arlington, Va., USA
Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work – December 05, 2016 – Houston, Texas, USA
RiTA 2016 – December 11-14, 2016 – Beijing, China
WAFR 2016 – December 18-20, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA

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


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Georgia Tech warm robot skin for tactile sensing

Robots With Warm Skin Know What They're Touching

Usually, if your robot is warm to the touch, it’s symptomatic of some sort of horrific failure of its cooling system. Robots aren’t supposed to be warm— they’re supposed to be steely and cold. Or at least, steely and ambient temperature. Heat is almost always a byproduct that needs to be somehow accounted for and dealt with. Humans and many other non-reptiles expend a lot of energy keeping at a near-constant temperature, and as it turns out, being warmish all the time provides a lot of fringe benefits, including the ability to gather useful information about things that we touch. Now robots can have this ability, too.

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GRASP Lab pico drone can fly through obstacles

The Secret to Small Drone Obstacle Avoidance Is to Just Crash Into Stuff

Roboticists are putting a tremendous amount of time and effort into finding the right combination of sensors and algorithms that will keep their drones from smashing into things. It’s a very difficult problem: With a few exceptions, you’ve got small platforms that move fast and don’t have the payload capability for the kind of sensors or computers that you really need to do real-time avoidance of things like trees or power lines. And without obstacle avoidance, how will we ever have drones that can deliver new athletic socks to our doorstep in 30 minutes or less?

At the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab, where they’ve been working very, very hard at getting quadrotors to fly through windows without running into them, Yash Mulgaonkar, Luis Guerrero-Bonilla, Anurag Makineni, and Professor Vijay Kumar have come up with what seems to be a much simpler solution for navigation and obstacle avoidance with swarms of small aerial robots: Give them a roll cage, and just let them run into whatever is in their way. Seriously, it’ll be fine!

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Russia's humanoid robot Fedor

Video Friday: Russian Android, Swarm User Interface, and Robot Drone Man

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. After two weeks of amazing videos from IROS, we’re back with our regular Video Friday edition.

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!):

ICSR 2016 – November 1-3, 2016 – Kansas City, Kan., USA
Social Robots in Therapy and Education – November 2-4, 2016 – Barcelona, Spain
Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems 2016 – November 7-9, 2016 – London, England
HRI 2016 – November 15-17, 2016 – Cancun, Mexico
AI-HRI – November 17-19, 2016 – Arlington, Va., USA
Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work – December 05, 2016 – Houston, Texas, USA
RiTA 2016 – December 11-14, 2016 – Beijing, China
WAFR 2016 – December 18-20, 2016 – San Francisco, Calif., USA

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

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Harvard's self-folding origami robots

Swarm of Origami Robots Can Self Assemble Out of a Single Sheet

One of the biggest challenges with swarms of robots is manufacturing and deploying the swarm itself. Even if the robots are relatively small and relatively simple, you’re still dealing with a whole bunch of them, and every step in building the robots or letting them loose is multiplied over the entire number of bots in the swarm. If you’ve got more than a few robots to handle, it starts to get all kinds of tedious.

The dream for swarm robotics is to be able to do away with all of that, and just push a button and have your swarm somehow magically appear. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close: At IROS this month, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard presented a paper demonstrating an autonomous collective robotic swarm that can be manufactured in a single flat composite sheet. On command, they’ll rip themselves apart from each other, fold themselves up into origami structures, and head off on a mission en masse.

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Georgia Tech robot moving furniture

You Can't Stop Robots With Furniture Barricades Anymore

It used to be that even sophisticated mobile robots could be easily defeated by using (say) a table to block its way. The robot would sense the table, categorize it as an obstacle, try to plan a path around it, and then give up when its planner fails. This works because robots generally don’t know what most objects are, or how they work, or what you can do with them: They just get turned into obstacles to be avoided, because in most cases, that’s the easiest and safest thing to do.

You can’t normally use a table across a hallway to deter a human, because humans understand that tables are physical objects that can be moved, and the human will just pull the table out of the way and keep on going. Even if the table doesn’t behave exactly the way we’d expect it to (like, one of the wheels is stuck), we can adapt, and figure it out. 

At IROS 2016 in South Korea, Jonathan Scholz from Google DeepMind and collaborators from Georgia Tech presented a paper on “Navigation Among Movable Obstacles with Learned Dynamic Constraints,” which gives mobile manipulators this same capability. They can recognize objects in their way, and get inventive with physics-based tricks to get where they need to go.

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Kengoro humanoid with robotic toes

Video Friday: Robot Toes, Wolverine Haptic Hand, and More From IROS 2016

This week we continue with our selection of awesome robot videos from IROS, which took place last week in South Korea. We’re posting the vids along with the titles, authors, and abstracts of their respective papers. If you have questions about these projects, let us know and we’ll try to get more details from the researchers.

As a reminder, we’ll return to normal Video Friday next week, so if you have video suggestions for us, send us an email or reach us on Twitter or Facebook. Enjoy Video Friday IROS 2016 Part 2!

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SRI's Abacus drive rotary transmission

SRI Demonstrates Abacus, the First New Rotary Transmission Design in 50 Years

I know, it doesn’t seem like there’s any possible way that a transmission system could be interesting enough that we’d dedicate an entire article (and video!) to it. But here we are: As soon as SRI explained how their new Abacus transmission worked, we were absolutely sure that it was cool enough to share. In a nutshell, here’s why: It’s the first new rotary transmission design since Harmonic Drive introduced its revolutionary gear system in the 1960s*, and it might give harmonic gears a literal run for their money.

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Automaton

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

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

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