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A silver drone flies through an aisle of sheleves lined with boxes in a warehouse.

MIT Builds Drone-Based RFID Relay to Track Boxes in Warehouses

Boxes are everywhere: The United States Postal Service shipped 5.2 billion packages in 2016, while Amazon shipped 1 billion packages just for the holidays. A single Girl Scout has sold an astounding 101,100 boxes of cookies.

Keeping track of all these boxes is a real pain. Retailers, shipping companies, and manufacturers are always looking for better ways to manage inventory. In recent years, they’ve begun using RFID tags to track boxes from warehouses to trucks to retail stores and then to customers’ homes.  

But RFID tags aren’t perfect—at every step, employees must scan each tag with an RFID reader. These scans must be done at close range, because RFID tags harness power from the signal the reader transmits to them.

Recently, researchers have begun to investigate other ways for these industries to trace items, including systems that can snap photos of labels or identify shipments by other visual cues. Now, an MIT group thinks they have an even better answer.

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Neato D7

Neato Adds Persistent, Actionable Maps to New D7 Robot Vacuum

Vacuums are the most successful consumer home robots ever, and they’re likely to remain so for quite a while, simply because they do quite a good job at keeping your floors clean in a reliable and affordable way. For robot vacuum manufacturers, this is a bit of a problem: As we very often point out in our reviews, lower-end models clean just about as effectively as more expensive ones, often making it difficult to justify an upgrade.

Today, Neato Robotics is introducing a new flagship robot vacuum that we think offers one of the most significant advances we’ve seen in years: persistent, actionable maps. Like its predecessors, the D7 uses a lidar sensor to create a map of your house as it goes, but now, the robot will remember that map and allow you to interact with it. Neato is starting off simple with what you’ll be able to do (like defining no-go zones), but it’s an incredibly powerful feature that’s necessary for the future of all home robots.

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Turtlebot Euclid

Clearpath Modernizes TurtleBot With Intel Euclid and iRobot Create

Today, Clearpath Robotics (in partnership with Intel and iRobot) is announcing the newest member of the TurtleBot family: the TurtleBot Euclid. The TB Euclid, which should probably not be abbreviated as TBe, features an iRobot Create 2 mobile base along with a shiny new Intel Euclid sensing and computing module. It’s designed to be both easier to use and cheaper than the original Turtlebot 2, and makes us more certain than ever that yes, TurtleBots are taking over the world.

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Sharkdrone

Drones and AI Take On Killer Sharks Down Under

Whether or not shark attacks are a major problem in Australia (spoiler alert: they're not), the Australian government has devoted an enormous amount of resources into trying to mitigate the risk of sharks near popular beaches. They've tried nets to keep the sharks out, they've tried electronic gadgets to dissuade them, and they've tried lots of different ways of killing them, without much in the way of evidence that any of it is particularly effective. 

After six months of trials, the latest and most robot-y idea is about to be implemented: drones will start patrolling some Australian beaches next month, using cameras and some AI-backed image analysis software to spot lurking sharks much better than humans can.

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Snake drone

Video Friday: Robogami, Flying Snake Robots, and Autonomous Car Eclipse

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 ICARM 2017 – August 27-31, 2017 – Hefei, China
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, Florida, USA

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


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Blossom

Blossom: A Handmade Approach to Social Robotics from Cornell and Google

As excited as we are about the forthcoming generation of social home robots (including Jibo, Kuri, and many others), it's hard to ignore the fact that most of them look somewhat similar. They tend to feature lots of shiny white and black plasticky roundness. That’s for admittedly very good reasons, but it comes at the cost of both uniqueness and visual and tactile personality.

Guy Hoffman, who is well known for the fascinating creativity of his robot designs, has been working on a completely new kind of social robot in a collaboration between his lab at Cornell and Google ZOO's creative technology team in APAC. The robot is called Blossom, and we'd describe it for you, except that it's designed to be handmade out of warm natural materials like wool and wood so that every single one is a little bit different.

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AI

Industry Urges United Nations to Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons in New Open Letter

Today (or, yesterday, but today Australia time, where it's probably already tomorrow), 116 founders of robotics and artificial intelligence companies from 26 countries released an open letter urging the United Nations to ban lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS). This is a follow-up to the 2015 anti-"killer robots" UN letter that we covered extensively when it was released, but with a new focus on industry that attempts to help convince the UN to get something done.

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Robotarium

Video Friday: AI vs. Dota 2, Cassie Gets Bored, and Georgia Tech's Robotarium

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 CASE 2017 – August 20-23, 2017 – Xi'an, China
IEEE ICARM 2017 – August 27-31, 2017 – Hefei, China
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

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


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S-MAD

Reliable Perching Makes Fixed-Wing UAVs Much More Useful

UAV designs are a perpetual compromise between the ability to fly long distances efficiently with payloads (fixed-wing) and the ability to maneuver, hover, and land easily (rotorcraft). With a very few rather bizarre exceptions, any aircraft that try to offer the best of both worlds end up relatively complicated, inefficient, and expensive. The ideal fantasy UAV would be a fixed-wing aircraft with the magical ability to land on a dime, and a group of researchers from the University of Sherbrooke in Canada have come very close to making that happen, with a little airplane that uses legs and claws to reliably perch on walls.

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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:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Editor
Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.
 

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