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PR2 Learns Pick and Place Skills, Gives Baxter a Run for Its Way Less Money

As much as we love the PR2, it's not a robot that anyone would likely describe as "quick." Not that it's trying to be quick or anything, but it does have a tendency towards being absurdly slow, generally because it's doing very complicated things.

However, for a robot like the PR2 to be useful in any sort of versatile industrial setting (which is slowly but surely becoming a huge market for robotics), speed, efficiency, and reliability is very important. Some talented roboticists have been working away at this problem, and they've managed to get a PR2 to pick and place (or at least, pick and drop) objects at a rate of one every seven seconds from a conveyor belt moving at over a foot per second. This is quite possibly the fastest I have ever seen a PR2 move.

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TurtleBot 2 Tutorial: Installing Ubuntu Linux

This is the fourth post in our TurtleBot tutorial series. Check back every week (or so) for new posts.

I apologize for the break in the TurtleBot 2 tutorials; we got entirely too caught up in U.S. National Robotics Week last week (there's still more to come on that)! And there will likely be another break for a few weeks in early May, since we'll be in Switzerland and Germany checking out robotics labs and covering the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) and ROSCon. But it's all for you, dear reader, all for you, and our little TurtleBot is constantly demanding out attention (and affection), so it's not like we'll (ever) be forgetting about it.

This week, we're going to lay the initial groundwork for doing just about everything complicated with TurtleBot, and that means getting Ubuntu set up to coexist with Windows 7 on our desktop computer. Why do we need a desktop if the TurtleBot carries its own computer, a netbook? Good question. The goal is that, eventually, we won't be using the TurtleBot's netbook for anything at all: we'll be running ROS (Robot Operating System) on our desktop, and feeding commands wirelessly to the TurtleBot. It's the future, people!

Installing Ubuntu is probably not the easiest thing you've ever done, but it's certainly not the hardest, and we'll take you through everything that you need to do to make it happen flawlessly.

We hope.

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Team DRC-Hubo Prepares for DARPA Robotics Challenge

Later this year, some of the world's most advanced humanoid robots—and their human masters—will gather for the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition where the robots will attempt to perform a series of complex tasks in a disaster response scenario. The highly anticipated event is still eight months away, but teams will also have to show that their robots can perform adequately in a computer simulation, which is coming up soon, in June. Teams are working frantically on their robots and simulations, and while some groups operate in total secrecy, others like Team DRC-Hubo are eager to show off their progress.

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Unbounded Robotics: The Next Willow Garage Spin-Off?

For the last several months, a number of Willow Garage employees have been transitioning over to some of Willow's spin-off companies, including the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), Industrial Perception (IPI), and Suitable Technologies. We've been trying to generally keep track of who ends up where, and last week, we noticed that several roboticists who used to be with Willow have now formed an entirely new company called Unbounded Robotics.

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Stanford Robot Block Party 2013

Last week, Stanford hosted a gigantic Robot Block Party as part of U.S. National Robotics Week. The Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab opened its doors to a huge number of robots, and an even huger number of people who love robots. We were there to check it out, and yes, that is a giant inflatable Keepon, because GIANT INFLATABLE KEEPON.

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Bizarre Soft Robots Evolve to Run

This crazy looking thing is a simulated robot, made up of two different kinds of muscles along with bones and soft tissue for structure. This robot wasn't designed, it was evolved over a thousand virtual generations to move as fast, as far, and as functionally as possible.

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Capacitor-powered water-cooled motors make this humanoid superstrong

Japanese Robot SCHAFT Shows Off Its Strong Limbs

Despite the popular notion, propagated by Hollywood and the media, that humanity should fear its extermination at the hands of evil humanoid robots with superhuman strength, the reality is that the electric motors used to power most robots aren't very powerful at all. Famous examples like Honda's ASIMO are only capable of lifting a few kilograms, and most other adult-size robots could be described as having one-tenth the strength of the average person. So much for Terminator and the rise of the machines!

But now a Japanese startup, SCHAFT Inc., has announced a breakthrough in motor technology that may bypass the limitations of existing systems. The company, a spin-off of the University of Tokyo's Jouhou System Kougaku (JSK) Laboratory, has developed—and patented—a new kind of actuator that may make robotic muscles much stronger. Gulp.

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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:

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

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