Automaton iconAutomaton

Harvard snake robot

Artificial Snakeskin Helps Robots Get Their Slither On

Snakes have got to be some of the most creatively mobile animals ever evolved. They can move fast. They can move stealthily. They’re good climbers. They’re good swimmers. They can squeeze into very small holes. Some of them can even fly, a little bit. And all of this despite looking like a lizard that’s missing 100 percent of the limbs that it’s supposed to have.

Roboticists have been working on snake robots for a long time, primarily with a focus on versatile mobility in constrained spaces. With that in mind, we’ve seen a variety of limbless robots that can mimic snake “gaits” fairly well. But it’s not just the lack of limbs that makes snakes so special—it’s also their scales. In a new article in Science Robotics this week, researchers from Harvard show how mimicking snake scales with kirigami-inspired deformable materials enabled them to make a limbless soft robot that can crawl by simply inflating and deflating itself over and over.

Read More
Boston Dynamics SpotMini

Video Friday: Boston Dynamics, Autonomous Drone, and Robot Drum Man

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

International Symposium on Medical Robotics – March 1-3, 2018 – Atlanta, Ga., USA
HRI 2018 – March 5-8, 2018 – Chicago, Ill., USA
US National Robotics Week – April 7-17, 2018 – United States
Xconomy Robo Madness – April 12, 2018 – Bedford, Mass., USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 17-19, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
RoboSoft 2018 – April 24-28, 2018 – Livorno, Italy
ICARSC 2018 – April 25-27, 2018 – Torres Vedras, Portugal
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 14-18, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
ICRA 2018 – May 21-25, 2018 – Brisbane, Australia

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


Read More
NASA's Robonaut

Robonaut Has Been Broken for Years, and Now NASA Is Bringing It Home

In February of 2011, NASA launched Robonaut 2 to the International Space Station. It was a huge achievement for the robotics team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There had been other robots in space, but Robonaut was the first advanced humanoid to ever go on a mission beyond Earth. On board the ISS, the robot was intended to eventually work side by side with astronauts, performing some of the dull and repetitive tasks that take up a significant amount of time that the humans on the station could instead be spending on science and discovery.

For a while, things went well. The robot was unboxed from its protective foam packaging, and set up in the Destiny laboratory module. It was powered up for the first time in August of 2011, and by 2012 it was flipping practice switches and cleaning practice handrails while being teleoperated from the ground. Once a month or so, astronauts set Robonaut up and it would do research tasks for several hours at a time, working towards making a transition from an experimental project to a useful helper in the caretaking of human spacecraft. Robonaut even got its own Twitter account: “Check me out. I’m in space!

But in 2014, NASA decided to go forward with a complex and risky upgrade. The Robonaut sent to the ISS was a torso with a pair of arms and head, and now NASA wanted to add a pair of legs. The idea was to give Robonaut more mobility inside the station. The elongated, wiggly legs would work almost as a secondary pair of arms, allowing the robot to move itself around the station by holding on to hand rails, significantly adding to its capability. 

The hardware upgrade, however, didn’t go according to plan, and repeated attempts to fix a persistent problem have failed. For the last several years, Robonaut has been almost entirely disabled, and publicly available ISS status reports show that the last time the robot completed a full research task was December of 2013. This week, NASA announced that it is bringing Robonaut back to Earth to be fixed.

Read More
Skydio R1, an autonomous flying camera drone

Skydio Demonstrates Incredible Obstacle-Dodging Full Autonomy With New R1 Consumer Drone

Almost two years ago, a startup called Skydio posted some video of a weird-looking drone autonomously following people as they jogged and biked along paths and around trees. Even without much in the way of detail, this was exciting for three reasons: First, the drone was moving at a useful speed and not crashing into stuff using only onboard sensing and computing, and second, the folks behind Skydio included Adam Bry and Abe Bachrach, who worked on high-speed autonomous flight at MIT before cofounding Project Wing at Google[x] (now just called X).

The third reason we were excited about Skydio’s drone was that, as much as it looked like a research project, it was actually designed to be commercialized, and today, Skydio is (finally!) announcing their first product: the R1, a fully autonomous flying camera. And before you think that you’ve seen flying cameras before, we promise you’ve never seen anything like the R1: as Bry told us two years ago, Skydio’s goal was “to provide a trustworthy and magical experience.” They’ve delivered.

Read More
MIT's NanoMap drone

Modeling Uncertainty Helps MIT's Drone Zip Around Obstacles

It’s not too hard to make a drone that can fly very fast, and it’s not too hard to make a drone that can avoid obstacles. Making a drone that can do both at once is much more difficult, but it’s necessary in order for them to be real-world useful.

At MIT CSAIL, Pete Florence (in Russ Tedrake’s lab) has developed a new motion planning framework called NanoMap, which uses a sequence of 3D snapshots to allow fast-moving (10 m/s) drones to safely navigate around obstacles even if they’re not entirely sure where they are.

Read More
SpaceX's double booster rocket landing

Video Friday: SpaceX's Double Booster Landing, Drone Taxi, and Robot Haka

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

International Symposium on Medical Robotics – March 1-3, 2018 – Atlanta, Ga., USA
HRI 2018 – March 5-8, 2018 – Chicago, Ill., USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 17-19, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
RoboSoft 2018 – April 24-28, 2018 – Livorno, Italy
ICARSC 2018 – April 25-27, 2018 – Torres Vedras, Portugal
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 14-18, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
ICRA 2018 – May 21-25, 2018 – Brisbane, Australia

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


Read More
Cleo Drone

Cleo Robotics Demonstrates Uniquely Clever Ducted Fan Drone

At last year’s CES, Cleo Robotics was showing prototypes of a palm-sized drone with a design unlike anything we’d ever seen. Shaped like a donut, the Cleo drone is essentially a ducted fan, with a pair of completely enclosed propellers (one on top of the other) and then a camera, battery, and electronics housed inside the shell. It’s compact (95 mm in diameter, 33 mm thick, 90 grams), elegant, and inherently safe, since the nasty spinny bits are all tucked away. With fewer motors than conventional quadrotors, it promises to be more efficient as well, and quite possibly cheaper. But if you look closely at the picture, you’ll probably end up with the same question that I did:

How the heck does the Cleo drone steer?

It’s easy to see how changing the relative speeds of the propellers could get the robot to yaw, but pitch and roll were a mystery to me. Back at CES, Cleo wouldn’t tell me how it was done, but assured me that their drone was fully controllable. My best guess at the time was that there was some sort of system of movable weights inside the drone, sliding around to unbalance it in the direction you wanted it to go.

Now Cleo Robotics has just released a new video of an operational prototype of the Cleo drone, and Cleo’s founder and CEO Omar Eleryan was kind enough to provide us with (a few) more details about how it works.

Read More
Nao ethical robot

Why Ethical Robots Might Not Be Such a Good Idea After All

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.

This week my colleague Dieter Vanderelst presented our paper: “The Dark Side of Ethical Robots” at AIES 2018 in New Orleans.

I blogged about Dieter’s very elegant experiment here, but let me summarize. With two NAO robots he set up a demonstration of an ethical robot helping another robot acting as a proxy human, then showed that with a very simple alteration of the ethical robot’s logic it is transformed into a distinctly unethical robot—behaving either competitively or aggressively toward the proxy human.

Read More
Drones That Smash Into Obstacles Can Be a Good and Useful Thing

Drones That Smash Into Obstacles Can Be a Good and Useful Thing

A little over a year ago, we wrote about some clumsy-looking but really very clever research from Vijay Kumar’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania. That project showed how small drones with just protective cages and simple sensors can handle obstacles by simply running into them, bouncing around a bit, and then moving on. The idea is that you don’t have to bother with complex sensors when hitting obstacles just doesn’t matter, which bees figured out about a hundred million years ago.

Over the past year, Yash Mulgaonkar, Anurag Makineni, and Luis Guerrero-Bonilla (all in Kumar’s lab) have come up with a bunch of different ways in which smashing into obstacles can actually be a good and useful thing. From making maps to increased agility to (mostly) on purpose payload deployment, running into stuff and bouncing off again can somehow do it all. 

Read More
Advertisement

Automaton

IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.
Contributor
Fan Shi
Tokyo
 

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Automaton newsletter and get biweekly updates about robotics, automation, and AI, all delivered directly to your inbox.

Advertisement
Load More