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Skydio's Camera Drone Finally Delivers on Autonomous Flying Promises

Every time we post about autonomous delivery drones, we have to point out that despite the promises implied by overproduced and optimistic videos, the drones are simply not capable of autonomous navigation in complex environments. Same goes for those camera drones that promise to follow you: the videos inevitably show them following skiers on wide open slopes, surfers on the wide open sea, or other people doing things very far away from inconvenient obstacles like trees.

So far, we’ve only seen a tiny handful of drones capable of dynamically detecting and avoiding obstacles at a useful speed. Qualcomm and UPenn have been working on some, and MIT has that speedy tree-avoiding fixed-wing drone.

A Silicon Valley company called Skydio, founded by a team of researchers from MIT and Google X’s Project Wing, have posted a video that shows a drone following people jogging and biking while autonomously avoiding tree trunks and branches. In other words, it’s what other drone companies have been promising to be able to do for years, except Skydio actually delivers—or at least it shows real progress (and footage) toward that goal.

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Video Friday: Autonomous Pizza Delivery, Handwriting Robot, and ROS Master

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

European Robotics Forum – March 21-23, 2016 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
RoboCup European Open – March 30-4, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
ROS-Industrial Training Class – April 6-8, 2016 – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Robotics in Education 2016 – April 14-15, 2016 – Vienna, Austria
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-22, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
LEO Robotics Congress – April 21, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
International Collaborative Robots Workshop – May 3-4, 2016 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICARSC 2016 – May 4-6, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Robotica 2016 – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain
RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 – June 6-10, 2016 – Singapore
CR-HRI – June 6-10, 2016 – Orlando, Florida
NASA SRRC Level 1 – June 6-11, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA


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


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Why AlphaGo Is Not AI

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.

What is AI and what is not AI is, to some extent, a matter of definition. There is no denying that AlphaGo, the Go-playing artificial intelligence designed by Google DeepMind that recently beat world champion Lee Sedol, and similar deep learning approaches have managed to solve quite hard computational problems in recent years. But is it going to get us to full AI, in the sense of an artificial general intelligence, or AGImachine? Not quite, and here is why.

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Stanford's Flying, Perching SCAMP Robot Can Climb Straight Up Walls

Morgan Pope is a Ph.D student investigating robots that live at the boundary of airborne and surface locomotion at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab. He’s the lead author on a paper about SCAMP that is in review for IEEE Transactions on Robotics, and enjoys reading, Star Wars, and trying to keep up with his three small children.

What goes up must come down—unless it can perch on something first. Quadrotors have limited endurance because of restrictions on battery capacity and the physics of small-scale flight, but perching can allow them to operate for hours or even days, gathering data or performing communication tasks while stationary. Perching can be tricky, because the odds of your drone landing in just the right place are low. Adding the ability to climb allows your drone to reposition itself more accurately, with the added bonus that it works if it’s too windy for flight. 

At Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab, we saw a chance to combine our experience in perching and climbing with a new robot capable of multi-modal operation in unstructured outdoor environments. The result was the Stanford Climbing and Aerial Maneuvering Platform, a collection of words that gives us an excuse to call our robot SCAMP.

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iRobot’s Braava Jet Mopping Robot Is Small, Smart, and Not Round

iRobot has a new cleaning robot. Behold, it’s square!

The Bedford, Mass.-based company, which has sold millions of its disc-shaped Roomba vacuums, is expanding its family of cleaning automatons. The new robot is the Braava jet, a small, shiny white robotic mop designed to clean hard floors, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. And did we say it’s square?

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Video Friday: Walking the XDog, Muscle-Powered BioBots, and Rollin’ Justin Will Clean Your Kitchen

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

RobArch 2016 – March 14-19, 2016 – Sydney, Australia
European Robotics Forum – March 21-23, 2016 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
RoboCup European Open – March 30-4, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
Robotics in Education 2016 – April 14-15, 2016 – Vienna, Austria
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-22, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
LEO Robotics Congress – April 21, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
International Collaborative Robots Workshop – May 3-4, 2016 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICARSC 2016 – May 4-6, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Robotica 2016 – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain
RoboBusiness Europe – June 1-3, 2016 – Odense, Denmark
IEEE RAS MRSSS 2016 – June 6-10, 2016 – Singapore
CR-HRI – June 6-10, 2016 – Orlando, Fla., USA


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


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Little Robotic Leg Investigates Enormous Dinosaur Locomotion

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any dinosaurs lately. I mean, I’ve seen lots of birds, some lizards, and the occasional crocodile, but none of those massive Jurassic Park-style dinos. For paleontologists who want to know how a 60- to 70-ton dinosaur got around, this lack of subjects to study is a bit of an obstacle. At Drexel University, researchers are 3D printing small scale robotic models of the legs of one of the largest dinosaurs ever found to figure out how it was able to keep itself moving.

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Why You Want Your Drone to Have Emotions

There’s been a lot of research on how humans interact with robots. In fact, there’s a whole field for it called HRI (Human-Robot Interaction), with its own flagship conference (that IEEE co-sponsors) going on right now in New Zealand. The majority of the research in this field focuses on how humans interact with social robots, including home robots, commercial robots, and educational robots and toys, but odds are, if you personally own a robot, it’s going to be either a vacuum or a drone.

As drones have become more and more pervasive over the last few years, HRI research on them has been expanding. The latest contribution to this area is a fascinating paper being presented at the HRI conference on “Emotion Encoding in Human-Drone Interaction.” In other words, how you can program a recognizable personality into a drone.

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SRI's Micro Robots Can Now Manufacture Their Own Tools

A few years ago, SRI International introduced their MicroFactory platform, which uses hundreds of tiny robots (each one smaller than a dime) that cooperate to build macro-scale structures, like trusses, which can even contain integrated electronics. Such complex manufacturing requires cooperation between many different micro robots, each one outfitted to perform a specific task. Building a bunch of little custom bots is, we have to assume, a little bit tedious, so SRI has developed a tool shop for their MicroFactory that can make custom end-effectors for micro robots on-demand.

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Video Friday: Robot Scorpion, Jibo A Capella, and Anti-Drone Bazooka

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your stigmergic Automaton bloggers. We’re 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!):

HRI 2016 – March 7-10, 2016 – Christchurch, New Zealand
RobArch 2016 – March 14-19, 2016 – Sydney, Australia
RoboCup European Open – March 30-4, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
WeRobot 2016 – April 1-2, 2016 – Miami, Fla., USA
National Robotics Week – April 2-10, 2016 – United States
AISB HRI Symposium – April 5-6, 2016 – Sheffield, United Kingdom
Robotics in Education 2016 – April 14-15, 2016 – Vienna, Austria
NASA Swarmathon – April 18-22, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
LEO Robotics Congress – April 21, 2016 – Eindhoven, Netherlands
International Collaborative Robots Workshop – May 3-4, 2016 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICARSC 2016 – May 4-6, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
Robotica 2016 – May 4-8, 2016 – Bragança, Portugal
ARMS 2016 – May 9-13, 2016 – Singapore
ICRA 2016 – May 16-21, 2016 – Stockholm, Sweden
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 18-20, 2016 – NASA KSC, Fla, USA
Skolkovo Robotics Conference – May 20, 2016 – Skolkovo, Russia
Innorobo 2016 – May 24-26, 2016 – Paris, France
RoboCity16 – May 26-27, 2016 – Madrid, Spain


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


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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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