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Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid robot

Video Friday: Backflipping Atlas, Cozmo Lost, and MantaDroid Aquatic Robot

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 two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

iREX 2017 – November 29-2, 2017 – Tokyo, Japan
IEEE IRC 2018 – January 31-2, 2018 – Laguna Hills, Calif.

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


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Kamigami Robots created by Dash Robotics

Dash Robotics Acquires Bots Alive for Clever, Affordable Robot Toys

It is with much rejoicing that today we can share that one of our favorite robotics startups, Dash Robotics, is acquiring another of our favorite robotics startups, Bots Alive. Usually, we don’t cover acquisitions, or when we do, it’s with resigned skepticism—all too often, one company gets completely swallowed by another, and the things that made them unique and exciting simply vanish.

The sense that we get from talking with Dash Robotics’ CEO Nick Kohut and Bots Alive founder Brad Knox is that the amazing things that Bots Alive does fit right in with the equally amazing but totally different things that Dash Robotics does, and that together, they’ll be able to come up with some totally cool (and totally affordable) robotic toys with sophisticated personalities built right in.

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In "Slaughterbots," a film created by a group of academics concerned about autonomous weapons, terrorists deploy swarms of explosive-carrying microdrones to kill thousands of people.

Lethal Microdrones, Dystopian Futures, and the Autonomous Weapons Debate

This week, the first meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems is taking place at the United Nations in Geneva. Organizations like the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are encouraging the UN to move forward on international regulation of autonomous weapons, which is great, because talking about how these issues will shape the future of robotics and society is a very important thing.

Over the weekend, however, I came across a video that struck me as a disturbing contribution to the autonomous weapons debate. The video, called “Slaughterbots” and produced with support from Elon Musk’s Future of Life Institute, combines graphic violence with just enough technical plausibility to imagine a very bleak scenario: A fictional near future in which autonomous explosive-carrying microdrones are killing thousands of people around the world.

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Japan's avatar-robot teleoperated system

Video Friday: Japan's Avatar Robot, Lidar vs. Camera, and Knicks' Drone Show

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 two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Humanoids 2017 – November 15-17, 2017 – Birmingham, U.K.
iREX 2017 – November 29-2, 2017 – Tokyo, Japan

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


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Embodied Intelligence wants to use AI and VR to teach robots new skills, like how to manipulate wires, much faster.

AI Startup Embodied Intelligence Wants Robots to Learn From Humans in Virtual Reality

Depending on who you ask, robotic grasping has been solved for a while now. That is, the act of physically grasping an object, not dropping it, and then doing something useful is a thing that robots are comfortable with. The difficult part is deciding what to grasp and how to grasp it, and that can be very, very difficult, especially outside of a structured environment.

This is a defining problem for robotics right now: Robots can do anything you want, as long as you tell them exactly what that is, every single time. In a factory where robots are doing the exact same thing over and over again, this isn’t so much of an issue, but throw something new or different into the mix, and it becomes an enormous headache.

Over the past several years, researchers like Pieter Abbeel at UC Berkeley have been developing ways of teaching robots new skills, rather than actions, and how to learn, rather than just how to obey. This week, Abbeel and several of his colleagues from UC Berkeley and OpenAI are announcing a new startup (with US $7 million in seed funding) called Embodied Intelligence, which will “enable industrial robot arms to perceive and act like humans instead of just strictly following pre-programmed trajectories.”

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One of the initial PR2 prototypes, built in 2008, at Willow Garage.

Wizards of ROS: Willow Garage and the Making of the Robot Operating System

Ten years ago today, an engineer at Silicon Valley robotics lab Willow Garage published a new code repository on SourceForge. The repository, made publicly available to anyone in the world who wanted to access it, hosted the codebase for a new project Willow was working on: ROS.

The ROS code repo, set up by Ken Conley, ROS platform manager at Willow, on November 7, 2007 at 4:07:42 p.m. PT, was the first time the term ROS was used as a formal, public designation for Willow’s Robot Operating System project.

Choosing an exact date for the 10th anniversary of ROS is a little bit tricky, because what we know as ROS today is both older and younger than this: The concept of a robot operating system started at Stanford University, evolved through Willow Garage, and now resides with Open Robotics. It’s a complicated story that has shaped much of the robotics industry in recent years, and as robotics research makes the difficult transition to companies and products, the influence of ROS is becoming even more pronounced.

Over the last several weeks, IEEE Spectrum has been speaking with many of the people who helped shape ROS, from its origins as part of Stanford’s Personal Robotics Program to Willow Garage and its PR2 Beta Program, and beyond. Of course, there are many other people who contributed to ROS, and we weren’t able to talk to them all. This is our initial effort to put together an oral history and tell as much of the story of ROS as we can, in the words of the people who were there, making it happen.

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NREC's Chimp Robot

Video Friday: Aibo Reborn, Robot Plus HoloLens, and NREC's Formula

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 two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Robótica 2017 – November 7-11, 2017 – Curitiba, Brazil
Humanoids 2017 – November 15-17, 2017 – Birmingham, U.K.
iREX 2017 – November 29-2, 2017 – Tokyo, Japan

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


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A photo of the new aibo robot dog from above.

Sony Unleashes New Aibo Robot Dog

Eighteen years after unveiling its original Aibo robot dog, and 11 years after putting it down, Sony has revived the product using advanced mechatronics and AI to create a cuter, smarter, and more lifelike version. 

The new “entertainment robot” goes by the same name as its predecessor, aibo, but its name is written in lower case. The robot itself is crammed with ultracompact 1- and 2-axis actuators specially designed by Sony. These actuators enable aibo’s body to move along a total of 22 axes. This makes for smoother, more natural movements—such as ear and tail wagging, as well as mouth, paw, and body motions—compared to the original Aibo. 

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PR2 robots flying ROS flags in 2010.

The Origin Story of ROS, the Linux of Robotics

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.

Ten years ago, while struggling to bring the vision of the “Linux of Robotics” to reality, I was inspired by the origin stories of other transformative endeavors. In this post I want to share some untold parts of the early story of the Robot Operating System, or ROS, to hopefully inspire those of you currently pursuing your “crazy” ideas.

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This robot has no sensors, no controller, and weak actuators, but it can autonomously generate a variety of gaits

Weak, Brainless Quadruped Robot Autonomously Generates Gaits

Roboticists working on quadrupedal locomotion usually spend a lot of time developing control strategies to make their robots more robust and adaptable. The idea is that an advanced controller will let your robot do things on its own more effectively, such as choosing the proper gait for a given task or terrain.

Researchers from Osaka University in Japan are experimenting with a different approach—relying on interactions between the body of a quadruped and its environment to generate gaits without any sensors or controllers or, really, much of anything besides some deliberately weak leg motors.

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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.
 

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