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UC Berkeley's Little Legged Robots Grow Wings and Tails

When researchers at UC Berkeley figured out what kinds of awesome things were possible when you endowed a robot with an actuated tail that it could use for pitch control, it earned them an article in Nature, which is only slightly less prestigious than an article in IEEE Spectrum. Anyway, the Berkeley students have been exploring what else you can do when you give ground robots bio-inspired accessories, and they've got some little legged robots doing cool new stuff thanks to the addition of wings and tails.

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DARPA's Virtual Robotics Challenge: OSRF Gets Simulator Ready

The most anticipated robot event of the year, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), is heating up. In fact, the DRC isn't just a single event. It actually consists of three increasingly difficult competitions, and the first one is the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC), in which teams compete through a computer simulation of a robot and the challenge tasks. For the last month, teams from around the world have been submitting entries to the VRC qualification event, in order to earn a place in the VRC itself, and the latest results are in.

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Video Friday: PR1, DARPA Cyborgs, and AR Drones Go Haywire

Trying to always be at the cutting edge of robotic technology (as we are), it's always fun to take a minute to look back and see just how much things have changed in a few short years. The PR2 and ROS, for example, have completely revolutionized robotics research (and a bunch of other things), but as with everything else, they had their origins, including Stanford's PR1. Videos of that robot, plus a lot more, in this week's Video Friday.

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Designing a More Human-Like Lower Leg for Biped Robots

Since bipedal robots took their first steps, the majority has been designed with the same basic joint/actuator configuration in their legs. This design, based on a simplified human leg, uses just six motors (three for the hip, one for the knee, and two for the ankle), and though it proved successful, it has also shown several limitations over the last 25 years. Now researchers at the Humanoid Robotics Institute at Waseda University (the birthplace of the first real humanoid robots) have set out to reinvent the wheel, er, the leg, by developing an entirely new shank that more closely replicates human walking.

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Drone Adventures Uses UAVs to Help Make the World a Better Place

Throughout most of the world, robots aren't particularly helpful to humanity, at least, not yet. If you've got enough money, you can of course buy a robot to vacuum your floors or clean your pool, but that's more about making life easier, which isn't quite the same thing as helping people in need. What with the increasingly negative focus on UAVs that we've been seeing lately (in terms of both civilian privacy issues and the military), it's important to remember that the overall purpose of robots is to help us, and drones can be very effective at doing just that, if they're given the opportunity. Drone Adventures was founded earlier this year to find ways of "promoting the great potential of drones in civilian applications, focusing on conservation, humanitarian, cultural and search and rescue domains," and they've recently returned from their very first mission: a humanitarian mapping project in Haiti.

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Linkbot: That Modular Robot You've Always Wanted Is Now on Kickstarter

Last month (I don't know how it can possibly be just last month but somehow it is) at Stanford's Robot Block Party, we talked to the guys over at Barobo, who gave us a peek at a modular educational robot system that they were getting ready to Kickstart. The project has now launched, meaning that the time to get a DIY modular robotics kit of your very own is right now.

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TurtleBot 2 Tutorial: Installing ROS

Due to ICRA (among other robot-y things), we had to take a bit of a break from our TurtleBot tutorials, but we're back this week to help get you going with Linux and ROS. The good news is, if you managed to survive the Ubuntu install, getting ROS installed is a cinch. The latest ROS version is called Groovy Galapagos (hence the hippie tortoise above). We'll help you through it, and provide some tips on using Linux, in the next installment of our tutorial. Groovy!

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Here's Microsoft's New Kinect Sensor

Yesterday, Microsoft held an event to announce its brand new Kinect sensor, and... Uh... Something else that we can't remember offhand, so it must not be that important. If you've hung around here long enough, you've probably noticed that Kinect sensors are on all kinds of robots nowadays, because they're inexpensive and pretty darn awesome. Plus, since so many people have them, there's a huge community that encourages ease of use.

But Kinect is nearly three years old, which is basically prehistoric in technological terms. It's time for something new, and better, and here it is.

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Robot Octopus Shows Off New Sculls

Octopi are pro swimmers, thanks (at least in part) to that octet of arms they've got going on. They've adopted a particular swimming gait called sculling, which works great for them, but until they start publishing scientific papers, we're missing out on all of their gait testing data. Roboticists have had to start from scratch, and along the way, they've experimented with some swimming gaits that we've never seen a real octopus try and pull off. 

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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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