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SRI's Inception Drive, an infinitely variable transmission for robotics

Inception Drive: A Compact, Infinitely Variable Transmission for Robotics

Last year, SRI’s Alexander Kernbaum introduced us to Abacus Drive, a new kind of rotary transmission based on pure rolling motion that promises to be much cheaper and much more energy efficient than harmonic gears, which are the current (quite expensive) standard. Now Kernbaum is back with another ingenious—and cleverly named—transmission design. It’s called Inception Drive, and he describes it as “an ultra-compact infinitely variable transmission based on a novel nested pulley configuration” that’s designed to make robots, and all kinds of other things, safer, more affordable, and vastly more efficient.

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These robots can merge and split their brains to form new modular bots.

These Robots Can Merge and Split Their Brains to Form New Modular Bots

We cover all kinds of modular robotics around here, and when we do, we’re almost always talking about one overall robotic system made up of many different modules, some number of which can be individually controlled or swapped around. What these systems generally have in common is that there’s one brain (usually a computer sitting on a desk somewhere) that interprets all of the sensory data from the modules, and then provides directions to each module. Essentially, the individual robots form a nervous system that passes information to the centralized brain, which is the same way that humans work, and so do most non-modular robots.

While this sort of system works quite well in a research environment, the ideal use case for modular robots is to make them more decentralized, such that any individual module can be part of a nervous system or a brain on-demand, depending on what the robot as a whole is trying to accomplish. In a recent paper in Nature Communications, Nithin Mathews, Anders Lyhne Christensen, Rehan O’Grady, Francesco Mondada, and Marco Dorigo from universities in Lisbon, Brussels, and Switzerland, present the idea of a “mergeable nervous systems for robots,” with a framework for fully modular robotic systems:

We present robots whose bodies and control systems can merge to form entirely new robots that retain full sensorimotor control. Our control paradigm enables robots to exhibit properties that go beyond those of any existing machine or of any biological organism: the robots we present can merge to form larger bodies with a single centralized controller, split into separate bodies with independent controllers, and self-heal by removing or replacing malfunctioning body parts. This work takes us closer to robots that can autonomously change their size, form and function.

Cool!

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SpaceX rocket exploding

Video Friday: SpaceX Rocket Mishaps, Robot Puppy, and Lean Robotics

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!):

Singularities of Mechanisms and Robotic Manipulators – September 18-22, 2017 – Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
ROSCon – September 21-22, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
IEEE IROS – September 24-28, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
RoboBusiness – September 27-28, 2017 – Santa Clara, Calif., USA
BtS Maritime Robotics – October 1-8, 2017 – Biograd na Moru, Croatia
Drone World Expo – October 2-4, 2017 – San Jose, Calif., USA
HAI 2017 – October 17-20, 2017 – Bielefeld, Germany
ICUAS 2017 – October 22-29, 2017 – Miami, Fla., USA

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


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Drone

EPFL's Collapsable Delivery Drone Protects Your Package With an Origami Cage

Of the many, many (many many many) challenges that are inherent to urban drone delivery, safety is one of the most important. Nobody has a reliable, cost-effective solution for this, although we’ve seen some unreliable ones (dangling packages on strings) and cumbersome ones (dedicated, protected landing pads), so we’ve been missing an elegant way of protecting end users from robots that fly with spinning blades of death.

EPFL in Switzerland has had a solution for this for years—drones surrounded by protective cages that allow them to bounce off of obstacles. As far as the drones are concerned, humans are obstacles as well, so a protective cage does pretty well at protecting them from us (and vice versa). The annoying thing about these cages has always been that they’re all kinds of bulky, especially if they’re protecting a quadrotor beefy enough to be useful.

At IROS in Vancouver, researchers from Dario Floreano’s lab at EPFL will present a clever origami protective cage that can quickly expand to 92 percent of its original size to safely(ish) deliver 0.5 kilogram of whatever you want, locked up inside.

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Autonomous Robots Plant, Tend, and Harvest Entire Crop of Barley

Autonomous Robots Plant, Tend, and Harvest Entire Crop of Barley

Agriculture is no stranger to autonomy. Tractors were among the first commercial autonomous vehicles, and there’s a huge market for drones packed with sensors that can help farmers make more informed decisions. The problem, though, is that farming is still work for humans. There’s still dirt, early mornings, dirt, more dirt, and a lot of hard work that involves some extra dirt. All this dirty-ness makes farming an ideal target for robots, especially since farms also offer repetitive tasks in a semi-constrained environment. At Harper Adams University, they’re taking the farm autonomy idea very seriously: Seriously enough that they’ve managed to plant, tend, and harvest an acre and a half of barley using only autonomous vehicles and drones.

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Two Cassies, a bipedal robot developed by Agility Robotics, visit the office

Video Friday: Agility Robotics, Pancake Robots, and Metallica's 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!):

CLAWAR 2017 – September 11-13, 2017 – Porto, Portugal
FSR 2017 – September 12-15, 2017 – Zurich, Switzerland
Singularities of Mechanisms and Robotic Manipulators – September 18-22, 2017 – Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
ROSCon – September 21-22, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
IEEE IROS – September 24-28, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
RoboBusiness – September 27-28, 2017 – Santa Clara, Calif., USA
Drone World Expo – October 2-4, 2017 – San Jose, Calif., USA
HAI 2017 – October 17-20, 2017 – Bielefeld, Germany
ICUAS 2017 – October 22-29, 2017 – Miami, Fla., USA

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


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iRobot CEO Colin Angle.

Interview: iRobot CEO Colin Angle on Data Privacy and Robots in the Home

About a month ago, iRobot CEO Colin Angle mentioned something about sharing Roomba mapping data in an interview with Reuters. It got turned into a data privacy kerfuffle in a way that iRobot did not intend and (probably) did not deserve, as evidenced by their immediate clarification that iRobot will not sell your data or share it without your consent.

Data privacy is important, of course, especially for devices that live in your home with you. But as robots get more capable, the amount of data that they collect will increase, and sharing that data in a useful, thoughtful, and considerate way could make smart homes way smarter. To understand how iRobot is going to make this happen, we spoke with Angle about keeping your data safe, integrating robots with the future smart home, and robots that can get you a beer. 

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Wearable robotic third arm

Things You Can Do With an Extra Robotic Arm

Having extra robotic limbs sure sounds cool, in theory. With an extra arm, you could do all kinds of stuff! Throwing three frisbees at once! Eating three times as many slices of pizza at the same time! Giving three thumbs up! Er, other things! Seriously though, if we’re going to get real about supernumerary robotic limbs, we have to know what people really want them for. Guy Hoffman’s lab at Cornell has some experience with sticking bits of robots onto people, and in a paper presented at RO-MAN 2017, grad student Vighnesh Vatsal figures out the kinds of tasks for which a third arm might actually be useful.

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iCub, the rocket propelled flying humanoid

Jet-Powered iCub Could Be the First Flying Humanoid Robot

Science fiction is full of robotic systems that can fly. Whether they’re humanoid robots or robotic exoskeletons, all it seems to take to turn a walking robot into a flying robot is some thrusters attached to the hands and feet, and just like Iron Man, off you go. The reason that science fiction is full of this kind of thing is because it’s tremendously fun to think about this kind of thing, and you can imagine all kinds of compelling applications for it, even beyond the obligatory punching of aliens and more generalized anti-antagonist-ing.

In fact, some of these applications could be useful outside of science fiction, and researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) are working on making it a reality, by developing a system that can control an iCub humanoid robot with four jet engines attached to it.

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Soft robotic mask

Video Friday: Powered Exoskeleton, Drone Shows, and Soft Robotic Mask

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!):

IEEE RO-MAN – August 28-31, 2017 – Lisbon, Portugal
CLAWAR 2017 – September 11-13, 2017 – Porto, Portugal
FSR 2017 – September 12-15, 2017 – Zurich, Switzerland
Singularities of Mechanisms and Robotic Manipulators – September 18-22, 2017 – Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
ROSCon – September 21-22, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
IEEE IROS – September 24-28, 2017 – Vancouver, B.C., Canada
RoboBusiness – September 27-28, 2017 – Santa Clara, Calif., USA
Drone World Expo – October 2-4, 2017 – San Jose, Calif., USA
HAI 2017 – October 17-20, 2017 – Bielefeld, Germany
ICUAS 2017 – October 22-29, 2017 – Miami, Fla., USA

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


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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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