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Video Friday: Happy Robot Holidays!

UPDATED 12/23/15: More robot holiday videos added!

Happy holidays from all of us here at IEEE Spectrum. This week, we’ve collected a whole bunch of holiday-themed robot videos from around the Internet. If we missed yours, send it to us, or post a comment and we’ll add it. We’re going to take some time off over the next week, but we’ll be back in force with January, with in-depth coverage of whatever robots happen to show up at the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off the first week of 2016. We’ll also take a look back at 2015, and let you know what our plans are for the next year. Have a safe and fun December, and we hope you get all the robots you’ve ever wanted.

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Google and Johnson & Johnson Conjugate to Create Verb Surgical, Promise Fancy Medical Robots

This week, Google’s Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson medical device company, announced the formation of a startup called Verb. What is Verb? Something about medical robotics, I guess:

“In the coming years, Verb aims to develop a comprehensive surgical solutions platform that will incorporate leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology for operating room professionals.”

Sounds good to me! But seriously, that’s not much to go on, so let’s see what we can piece together from the press releases put out from the various companies involved.

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Next Monday, Mandatory Drone Registration Begins

Late last month, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee (FAAUASRTFARC) released a report consisting of a set of recommendations on how the FAA should implement mandatory registration of consumer drones. You can read all about that here. The key word there (besides FAAUASRTFARC) is “recommendations,” meaning that how the FAA would in practice set up drone registration was still a bit of a mystery. Yesterday, the FAA announced the actual rules that pretty much everyone who flies a drone will have to follow. The good news is that the FAA took most of the committee’s suggestions, but the bad news is that it didn’t take all of them.

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Review: iRobot Roomba 980

The Roomba 980 caught our attention when it was announced back in September because it’s the first iRobot vacuum robot in a very long time to incorporate a major upgrade to its cleaning technique. For generations, Roombas have used a sensor-driven pseudorandom coverage method to bounce around a room, cleaning every part of your floor an average of three times, from several different angles. This is an effective way to clean, but it’s not particularly efficient, and it’s often difficult for Roomba to cover an entire level of a home with multiple rooms.

What’s new about the Roomba 980 is that it can localize: it builds a map of its environment (your house) and then intelligently navigates to make sure that it covers every spot. Previous Roomba models can typically clean up to three rooms on a single charge; they can’t handle more than that because, once they go back to the charging dock, they don’t have a map to know where to resume from. Roomba 980 solves that problem: it can make its way from room to room, beeline back to its charging dock when its battery gets low, and then continue right where it left off. For the first time, you can rely on your Roomba to clean your entire single-level floor without supervision or assistance, which is incredibly awesome.

It’s no surprise that the most sophisticated Roomba ever is the most expensive: it costs just shy of US $900. Is it worth the premium? We’ve spent some time with the Roomba 980, and we have a full review for you to check out. We also spoke with Melissa O’Dea, Roomba 980 product manager at iRobot, to learn more about how the robot’s navigation system works.

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Video Friday: Laser SnakeBot, Million Object Challenge, and Karma Is Coming

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your ready-for-the-holidays Automaton bloggers. We’ll be also 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 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

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

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ROS, the Robot Operating System, Is Growing Faster Than Ever, Celebrates 8 Years

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

Eight years ago, Morgan Quigley, Eric Berger, and Andrew Ng published a paper that was not about ROS. It was about STAIR, the STanford Artificial Intelligence Robot, which used a library called Switchyard to pass messages between software modules to perform complex manipulation tasks like stapler grasping. Switchyard was a purpose-built framework that was designed to be modular and robot-independent, and it was such a good idea that in 2009, “ROS: An Open-Source Robot Operating System” was presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Japan. As of this month, the paper introducing ROS has been cited 2,020 times, an increase of more than 50 percent over last year.

The popularity of one single paper is only a minor indicator of the popularity of the robot operating system that it introduced. At eight years old, ROS is growing faster than ever, and helping the robotics community to grow along with it. We’re especially excited to see how brand new startups have been taking advantage of the open source nature of ROS to help them develop useful, reliable robots that are creating entirely new markets. In 2015 alone, more than US $150 million in VC funding (that we know of) was invested in businesses that utilize ROS.

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Canny Robot Rocks Out to Audio Programming

When we think about programming a robot, we focus on the part about writing code for the robot; we don’t pay much attention to the task of sending the code from our computers to the robot. To do that, we rely on things like WiFi or Bluetooth, or maybe USB or Ethernet cables, along with their specific software interfaces. And that’s fine, for now, but what about five years from now? Or 10 years from now? Fifty years? What are the odds that any of the things that we use to talk to our robots will still exist? To put it another way: what are the odds of being able to interact with a piece of 50-year-old technology (or even 10-year-old technology) as sophisticated as a robot?

Adam Kumpf, who did robotics at MIT a while ago and now does other cool stuff, is worried about this kind of obsolescence, so he took a stab at solving the problem with Canny. Canny is a very simple proof of concept robot that doesn’t depend on a depreciable communication interface, because you can transmit instructions to it using nothing more than an audio player and a pair of headphones.

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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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