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Video Friday: Quadrotor Tour Guides, Laser Hexapods, and Robots vs. Gymnasts

What is it about lasers that makes anything to bolt them on to like ten thousand times cooler, even if they don't actually do anything? Maybe it's the fact that even though lasers have been around for half a century, they're still one of the most inherently futuristic things I can think of. And it's amazing that you can buy them for next to nothing on eBay. We can only hope that 50 years from now, the same thing will happen to robots: futuristic awesomeness for cheap. While we wait, let's watch some videos.

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Robots Learning Better Ways to Ask Clueless Humans for Help

A lot of the time, robots seem pretty dumb to us humans. It's not entirely a surprise, then, that a lot of the time, humans apparently seem pretty dumb to robots. If you're a robot, it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to get a human to assist you with tasks, so researchers at MIT are teaching robots to politely ask for very specific kinds of help.

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DIY Robots Make Brute-Force Security Hacks Possible

Many common types of software security systems only function because they assume that nobody has the time, interest, or energy to use brute force approaches to crack them. Take your phone, for example: it (probably) has a four digit number to unlock it. A human would likely not bother to try out all 10,000 combinations since it would be super boring, but robots don't get bored, so this sort of security doesn't dissuade them.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) often works the same way: by making it time consuming for people to copy things, the idea is that people just won't copy things. And it works. The two key words there, though, are "time consuming" and "people," and if you change "people" to "robots," time consuming ceases to be a factor. And so does the DRM, as this creative little LEGO robot shows.

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How to Control Hundreds of Dumb Robots with One Clever Remote

Computers have no trouble controlling huge swarms of robots, because the computer can just treat the swarm as a bunch of individually controllable units. But what happens when you have a swarm of really dumb robots, where they're all listening to the exact same controller? Like, you input a command to go left, and every single robot goes left? It seems like this would severely limit what can be done with the swarm, but thanks to some sophisticated algorithms and real world randomness, researchers from Rice University have shown that you can get a swarm of robots like this to do absolutely anything you want. 

And also, the robots are equipped with laser turrets. Laser turrets.

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Video Friday: Crossing the Alps, DRC Robots, and Kirobo Goes to Space

It's barely September, but here at Automaton, we're already looking ahead to November. We've just booked our tickets to IROS (the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) along with IREX (the International Robot Exhibition), both held in Tokyo from November 3 to November 10. How are we going to contain our excitement for the next two months? Videos. Lots of videos.

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Hoaloha Robotics Developing Socially Assistive Hardware Platform

Last we heard from Hoaloha Robotics was back in September of 2010, when the company was initially founded by Microsoft veteran Tandy Trower, who'd led the Microsoft Robotics Group for several years. According to some press at the time, Hoaloha was all about "developing a common interface and software that will make assistive robots easy to use and customize with applications, similar to the way Apple standardized the interface and application model for smartphones." In other words, software, not hardware, that'll enable service robots to assist people without robotics experience directly in their homes. It's now three years on, though, and it sounds like things have changed.

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Video Friday: Retro Robots, Mobile Manipulation, and Mario

I have to imagine that when you work at an industrial robotics company, it must be a lot of fun to come up with trade show demos. You can throw practicality and efficiency entirely out the window, and instead try and come up with the most entertaining thing that you possibly can, whether it's fighting with light sabers or battling humans with Wiimotes. So here's to you, Industrial Robot Demo Maker Person. We salute you, and your latest idea involving robots, slot cars, and Mario. And there's more, of course, because it's Video Friday.

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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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