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Video Friday: Angry Romibos, Rockets in Flight, and Real Dogs Dropping Robot Snakes

This time next week, we'll be making our way from touring robotics labs in Switzerland up to Karlsruhe in Germany for ICRA, followed by a weekend in Stuttgart for ROSCon. But that's next week, and it's not next week yet, it's this week. So while we frantically start packing (how many pairs of underwear does one generally need for two weeks in Europe?), help yourself to some Video Friday.

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FIRST and NI Announce New Robot Controller: Smaller, Faster, Super Rugged

FIRST, the popular robotics competition created by Dean Kamen to foster science and engineering, is known to attract thousands of high school students who organize into teams to build robots that can drive around autonomously and shoot balls and discs to score points. Now the teams are getting a new controller that will let them design robots that are even faster, smarter, and stronger.

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Beware the Unstoppable Robot Turtle

What are the odds of us having two articles this week about robotic turtles? As of today, it's 100 percent, thanks to this robotic baby sea turtle, um, thing. It's called Flipperbot, and it's designed to help biologists figure out how animals with flippers move in sand, and to help roboticists figure out how to get robots with flippers to do the same.

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Not Surprising: Brain Scans Show Humans Empathize With Robots

Last year, we posted about a study investigating whether people care if a robot friend of theirs gets unfairly stuffed into a closet, featuring one of the saddest robot videos ever. Turns out, people do care. A lot. And they care even though robots don't have feelings. Today, we're looking at another study from researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany that uses a functional MRI procedure to see just exactly how much people empathize with robots compared to humans.

IEEE Spectrum contributor Charles Q. Choi has a detailed story on this, with psychologists and experts in human-machine interaction describing how they see the experiment. Below, I include some more details and also my own take on the results.

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Beware the Unstoppable Cyborg Turtle

We've turned insects into cyborgs using nerve stimulation, and that's pretty cool. But insects aren't scary. You know what's scary? Turtles. Turtles are scary. Researchers at KAIST in South Korea have managed to hack a live turtle, adding a noninvasive steering system that they've successfully used to get the animal to follow an arbitrary winding path. Yes, this means that we have cyborg turtles now. Everybody very slowly panic.

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PR2 Learns Pick and Place Skills, Gives Baxter a Run for Its Way Less Money

As much as we love the PR2, it's not a robot that anyone would likely describe as "quick." Not that it's trying to be quick or anything, but it does have a tendency towards being absurdly slow, generally because it's doing very complicated things.

However, for a robot like the PR2 to be useful in any sort of versatile industrial setting (which is slowly but surely becoming a huge market for robotics), speed, efficiency, and reliability is very important. Some talented roboticists have been working away at this problem, and they've managed to get a PR2 to pick and place (or at least, pick and drop) objects at a rate of one every seven seconds from a conveyor belt moving at over a foot per second. This is quite possibly the fastest I have ever seen a PR2 move.

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TurtleBot 2 Tutorial: Installing Ubuntu Linux

This is the fourth post in our TurtleBot tutorial series. Check back every week (or so) for new posts.

I apologize for the break in the TurtleBot 2 tutorials; we got entirely too caught up in U.S. National Robotics Week last week (there's still more to come on that)! And there will likely be another break for a few weeks in early May, since we'll be in Switzerland and Germany checking out robotics labs and covering the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) and ROSCon. But it's all for you, dear reader, all for you, and our little TurtleBot is constantly demanding out attention (and affection), so it's not like we'll (ever) be forgetting about it.

This week, we're going to lay the initial groundwork for doing just about everything complicated with TurtleBot, and that means getting Ubuntu set up to coexist with Windows 7 on our desktop computer. Why do we need a desktop if the TurtleBot carries its own computer, a netbook? Good question. The goal is that, eventually, we won't be using the TurtleBot's netbook for anything at all: we'll be running ROS (Robot Operating System) on our desktop, and feeding commands wirelessly to the TurtleBot. It's the future, people!

Installing Ubuntu is probably not the easiest thing you've ever done, but it's certainly not the hardest, and we'll take you through everything that you need to do to make it happen flawlessly.

We hope.

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Team DRC-Hubo Prepares for DARPA Robotics Challenge

Later this year, some of the world's most advanced humanoid robots—and their human masters—will gather for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition where the robots will attempt to perform a series of complex tasks in a disaster response scenario. The highly anticipated event is still eight months away, but teams will also have to show that their robots can perform adequately in a computer simulation, which is coming up soon, in June. Teams are working frantically on their robots and simulations, and while some groups operate in total secrecy, others like Team DRC-Hubo are eager to show off their progress.

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Unbounded Robotics: The Next Willow Garage Spin-Off?

For the last several months, a number of Willow Garage employees have been transitioning over to some of Willow's spin-off companies, including the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), Industrial Perception (IPI), and Suitable Technologies. We've been trying to generally keep track of who ends up where, and last week, we noticed that several roboticists who used to be with Willow have now formed an entirely new company called Unbounded Robotics.

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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.
Contact us:

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

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