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Gecko Adhesives Moving from Robot Feet to Your Walls

Few robots are as elegantly designed as Stickybot, Stanford's original robotic gecko. The bio-inspiration extends all the way down to the toes, which featured an early generation of gecko toe adhesive. Geckos stick to things using van der Waals' forces generated between the tiny fibers on their toes and whatever surface they're on: it's not sticky in the same sense that glue or tape is sticky; it's a molecular attraction that works on the smoothest of surfaces and can be used over and over. It sounds like something that might be useful apart from robots, and it looks like artificial gecko toes are about to go mainstream, with super strong, reusable Geckskin.

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KMel's Hexrotors Put on Autonomous Musical Spectacular

We love KMel Robotics because they're a fantastic example of how it really is possible to take robots straight out of a research environment and use them to do awesome stuff that also (we assume) is to some extent commercially viable. This is an incredibly hard jump to make for any company, but KMel has done it in style, and their latest performance piece has a large swarm of hexrotors playing (and controlling) a symphony of musical instruments.

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Quadruped Robot Pneupard Takes Its First Steps

Last year, Boston Dynamics' Wildcat quadruped robot managed to "escape" its lab in spectacular style, galloping in a parking lot at up to 25 km/h (16 mph). But Wildcat is just one of a growing pack of quadrupeds under development in robot laboratories around the world.

Another example, hailing from Osaka University, is Pneupard, a biologically-inspired quadruped robot powered by pneumatic muscles. When we last saw this robot over a year ago, it was far from complete. Now a new version, equipped with all four limbs, is taking its first steps.

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Hitachi's EMIEW Robot Learns to Navigate Around the Office

First unveiled in 2007, Hitachi's adorable little service robot EMIEW 2 has been gradually improving over the years. Standing 80 centimeters tall and weighing 14 kilograms, the robot is rather unusual in that it moves on a combination of legs and wheels, a system that works a bit like roller skates. Recently Hitachi announced that the robot's software is able to understand its environment better than before, allowing it to mingle more harmoniously among workers in busy settings like offices and hospitals.

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Watch SRI's Nimble Microrobots Cooperate to Build Structures

Over the past year or two, we've seen all kinds of creative robots and robot teams that are learning how to build things. Recently, we've highlighted Harvard's TERMES Project, and we're particular fans of this robot that builds ramps by tossing thousands of toothpicks and glue into a giant random pile.

SRI International has also been developing construction robots, but on a much smaller scale, with swarms of magnetically actuated microrobots that can work together to build macro-scale structures.

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Repurposed Military Drones Create Mobile Wireless Hotspots

The military is pouring a huge amount of resources into unmanned systems like UAVs. Every year, drones get fancier and more capable, which means that there's an increasing number of slightly less fancy and slightly less capable drones gathering dust and feeling lonely in a hangar somewhere. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an idea of what these drones might be good for: not delivering weapons, not surveillance, but instead providing mobile high-speed network connectivity for deployed troops.

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Patent Suggests Sony Still Sees Future for Household Robots

When Sony shuttered its entertainment robotics division back in 2006, and after its Rolly (an egg-shaped robotic music player) was met with consumer apathy the following year, we thought it was safe to say the Japanese electronics giant was finished with robots for good. However, a recently published patent application suggests the company might be considering a come back of sorts.

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Why Are Search-and-Rescue Drones Grounded?

Update (22 April 2014): Texas EquuSearch and Gene Robinson filed suit against the FAA yesterday for prohibiting them from flying their search-and-rescue drones.

Gene Robinson of Wimberly, Texas, is a licensed pilot and also flies radio-controlled model airplanes—not an unusual combination. About a decade ago, he realized that a model aircraft outfitted to take aerial photos could be enormously useful in locating people who have gone missing—perhaps because they’ve been abducted or maybe just because they are very young and have wandered off into the woods alone. His efforts have paid valuable dividends over the years—helping find the remains of nearly a dozen people. But since late February his search-and-rescue model airplanes have been grounded: That’s when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified him in writing that what he has been doing is illegal.

Since 2007, the FAA has maintained that model airplanes, no matter how small, cannot be flown for commercial purposes until the agency puts regulations in place to accommodate them. But thousands of people fly radio-controlled (RC) model airplanes as a hobby, and what Robinson has been doing with his 2-kilogram, electrically powered, foam-and-plastic planes is really no different. “This is a double standard we’ve had to deal with for almost seven years,” says Robinson.

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