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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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Lunatix

How Much Would You Pay to Drive a Jumping Robot on the Moon?

The moon isn't nearly as exciting as it used to be. Once we convinced ourselves that it was mostly just a big dead pile of rock (which didn't take long), interest and the funding that comes with it moved to Mars and beyond. The biggest thing that the moon has going for it is that it's relatively close to us: Spacecraft can get there in just a few days, and it takes only a couple of seconds for a signal to get there from here. 

The European Space Agency has been trying to encourage a hybrid approach to lunar usefulness, combining science with business (like mining and tourism) to help promote exploration in general. In partnership with the SpaceTech program at the Graz University of Technology in Austria, ESA is encouraging startups to develop ways of making money on the moon. One of the most recent ideas involves a bunch of little robots that gamers will be able to drive themselves.

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Image: NVIDIA

Video Friday: Isaac Plays Dominoes, iCub Cleans Up an Octopus, and Weaponized Plastic Fighting

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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AREE Venus rover

JPL's Design for a Clockwork Rover to Explore Venus

The longest amount of time that a spacecraft has survived on the surface of Venus is 127 minutes. On March 1, 1982, the USSR’s Venera 13 probe parachuted to a gentle landing and managed to keep operating for just over two hours by hiding all of its computers inside of a hermetically sealed titanium pressure vessel that was pre-cooled in orbit. The surface temperature on Venus averages 464 °C (867 °F), which is hotter than the surface of Mercury (the closest planet to the sun), and hot enough that conventional electronics simply will not work.

It’s not just the temperature that makes Venus a particularly nasty place for computers—the pressure at the surface is around 90 atmospheres, equivalent to the pressure 3,000 feet down in Earth’s ocean. And while you can be relieved that the sulfuric acid rain that you’ll find in Venus’ upper atmosphere doesn’t reach the surface, it’s also so dark down there (equivalent to a heavily overcast day here on Earth) that solar power is horrendously inefficient.

The stifling atmosphere that makes the surface of Venus so inhospitable also does a frustratingly good job of minimizing the amount that we can learn about the surface of the planet from orbit, which is why it would be really, really great to have a robot down there poking around for us. The majority of ideas for Venus surface exploration have essentially been the same sort of thing that the Soviets did with the Venera probes: Stuffing all the electronics inside of an insulated container hooked up to a stupendously powerful air conditioning system, probably driven by some alarmingly radioactive plutonium-powered Stirling engines. Developing such a system would likely cost billions in research and development alone.

A conventional approach to a Venus rover like this is difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous, but a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, Calif., have come up with an innovative new idea for exploring the surface of Venus. If the problem is the electronics, why not just get rid of them, and build a mechanical rover instead?

With funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, the JPL team wants to see whether it might be possible to build a Venus exploration rover without conventional sensors, computers, or power systems. The Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE) would use clockwork gears and springs and other mechanisms to provide the majority of the rover’s functionality, including power generation, power storage, sensing, locomotion, and even communication: no electronics required. Bring on the heat.

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This Osaka University three-legged robot is called Martian Petit

Martian-Inspired Tripod Walking Robot Generates Its Own Gaits

When Yoichi Masuda set out to design a new legged robot, he found inspiration in the Martian Tripods from the classic sci-fi novel “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. A three-legged configuration seems to offer some advantages when it comes to walking and balancing, and Masuda became curious about the absence of three-legged animals in nature. Are there evolutionary factors that explain why we haven’t seen any? And if three-legged creatures existed, could there be a universal principle of walking locomotion, common for bipeds, tripeds, and quadrupeds? To explore those questions, Masuda and his colleagues at Osaka University built a three-legged robot named Martian.

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ANYmal quadruped robot from ANYbotics

Video Friday: More Boston Dynamics, Giant Fighting Robots, and ANYmal Quadruped

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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Peter Corke, director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision at Queensland University of Technology, and other members of Team ACRV work on their robot, named Cartman, which won the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge in Japan.

Aussies Win Amazon Robotics Challenge

Amazon has a problem, and that problem is humans. Amazon needs humans, lots of them. But humans, as we all know, are the most unreasonable part of any business, constantly demanding things like lights and air. So Amazon has turned to robots (over 100,000 of them) for doing tasks like moving things around in a warehouse. But it’s proving to be much more difficult to get the robots to do some other tasks. One of the hardest is picking objects from shelves and bins.

To solve this problem, Amazon is making it someone else’s problem, by hosting a yearly robotics “picking” challenge. In the competition, teams have to develop robotics hardware and software that can recognize objects, grasp them, and move them from place to place. This is harder than it sounds, because we’re on year three and Amazon is still running this thing, but some clever Australians are making substantial progress.

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Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot

Video Friday: Boston Dynamics, Inflatable Robots, and Japan's Space Ball

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

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


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Georgia Tech developed a robot mediator for patients and caregivers

Robots Could Act as Ethical Mediators Between Patients and Caregivers

Most of the discussion around robots and ethics lately has been about whether autonomous cars will decide to run over the nearest kitten or a slightly farther away basket full of puppies. Or something like that. Whether or not robots can make ethical decisions when presented with novel situations is something that lots and lots of people are still working on, but it’s much easier for robots to be ethical in situations where the rules are a little bit clearer, and also when there is very little chance of running over cute animals.

At ICRA last month, researchers at Georgia Tech presented a paper on “an intervening ethical governor for a robot mediator in patient-caregiver relationship.” The idea is that robots will become part of our daily lives, and they are much, much better than humans at paying close and careful attention to things, without getting distracted or bored, forever. So robots with an understanding of ethical issues would be able to observe interactions between patients and caregivers, and intervene when they notice that something’s not going the way it should. This is important, and we need it.

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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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