Stanford Robot Block Party Has PR2s, SPHERES, More (Photos)

Couldn't make it to your local Robot Block Party? Fear not, we have a gallery for you from this week's event at Stanford

2 min read
Stanford Robot Block Party Has PR2s, SPHERES, More (Photos)

If you couldn't make it to the Robot Block Party at Stanford on Wednesday, you should probably take a minute and seriously re-examine your life goals. And after you've done that, head on past the break to check out our gallery of pictures from the event, which ought to give you a fairly good idea of all the robot fun that you missed out on.

NASA Ames is more or less next door to Stanford, so there were no excuses for them to not show up with a spacey robot or two, like SPHERES, which was utterly helpless in the crushing gravity of Earth.


This is TenseBot, a robotic recreation of a six DOF flight simulator. It moves around using 12 wire tendons controlled by a bunch of servos, and eventually, NASA is building a new version of TenseBot with multiple segments that will be "capable of snake-like crawling motion." Cool!


Alan, the Bosch PR2, kept itself busy by picking stuff up off of a table and putting it into a box, where it was immediately snatched up by greedy little children. To choose their prize, the aforementioned little children got to see Alan's view via a computer screen, and Alan would autonomously grasp any object that they chose. Most of the time, anyway.


Alan in a rare moment of not terrifying anyone.



SRI brought several toys with them, along with an operational (and scarier looking) version of their Taurus robot that we got our first look at last year.


To control Taurus, users get dual haptic controls and a 3D vision system and a big helping of feeling like they're doing something awesome.


One of SRI's electrostatic wall-climbing robots was just chilling out behind the SRI table, waiting to be noticed and pointedly not falling down.


Seeing as the block party was held at the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab at Stanford, we had no trouble spotting Shelley relaxing in a bay, sporting a new paint job.


Romotive's Romo smartphone robots were out in force, impressing robot novices and experts alike with their easy to use and intuitive design. Shipping this month, you can get your own for $150.


Willow Garage brought along another PR2, which kids were allowed to program using this sweet little control panel. With buttons, knobs, and sliders, anyone could queue up a series of movements in simulation, and then execute those movements on a real PR2:


The PR2, while mostly amicable to the arrangement, did find itself in what looked like some rather uncomfortable positions.


This Kuka arm with a super fancy camera on the end belongs to a San Francisco company called Autofuss, which takes laid-off industrial robots and gives them new jobs in the film industry.


And of course, no robot event would be complete without a posse of Keepons. In hats.

[ National Robotics Week ]

Eternal thanks to Andra Keay and Saurabh Palan for organizing the event!

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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