Video Friday: Robot Roller Skating, BonsAI Tree, and Thor's Hammer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

5 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum’s digital innovation director.

ANYmal roller skating
Photo: ETH Zurich

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 few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

HRI 2018 – March 5-8, 2018 – Chicago, Ill., USA
US National Robotics Week – April 7-17, 2018 – United States
Xconomy Robo Madness – April 12, 2018 – Bedford, Mass., USA
NASA Swarmathon – April 17-19, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
RoboSoft 2018 – April 24-28, 2018 – Livorno, Italy
ICARSC 2018 – April 25-27, 2018 – Torres Vedras, Portugal
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 14-18, 2018 – Kennedy Space Center, Fla., USA
ICRA 2018 – May 21-25, 2018 – Brisbane, Australia
RSS 2018 – June 26-30, 2018 – Pittsburgh, Pa., USA
Ubiquitous Robots 2018 – June 27-30, 2018 – Honolulu, Hawaii

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


ANYmal has no brakes.

It’s nearly as fun to watch when it’s working like it’s supposed to, on flat surfaces:

[ ANYmal ]

My life would be so much better with a robotic bonsai tree to keep me company:

Not only can BonsAI seek out sunlight when it needs it, it can also tell you when it’s thirsty, and provide sage advice when asked. According to the website, “BonsAI is a bit smarter than a man, because it lives longer than a human being.” True.

[ TDK ]

We’re just going to go ahead and call this thing a robot, because...THOR’S HAMMER!

Now, can you throw it?

[ Seongkook Heo ]

Samsung probably does not actually have any little robots like these, but wouldn’t it be great if they did?

Indeed, these robots aren’t all that different from the autonomous mobile robots that you see in factories nowadays. Just maybe with a little more personality.

[ Samsung US ]

I really appreciate Waymo putting together this 360-degree video that does an excellent job of explaining how much of its self-driving car tech works.

More robotics companies should be doing things like this.

Waymo ]

And now, a robot duck:

This is from 2012, and I really want to see the 2017 version.


Here’s a fascinating video showing how NASA engineers came up with a workaround for a problem that Curiosity is having with its drill on Mars:


[WeRobotics] programmed drones to transport medical supplies between local hospitals and remote villages in the mountains, several hours north of Santo Domingo [in the Dominican Republic]. In some cases, remote villages will have a small clinic. But these small clinics often lack a continuous supply of medicines. This is particularly problematic for patients who need to take specific medicines on a regular basis. What’s more, sending patient samples that require a specialized laboratory for testing purposes and then receiving results of this testing is also a cumbersome task that becomes complicated. These logistical challenges can potentially be alleviated by introducing the use of cargo drones.

The field tests were carried out using 2 types of general-use drones that were adapted for cargo delivery: DJI’s M600 hexacopter drone and Vertical Technologies’ DeltaQuad, a new VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) fixed wing drone, also called a QuadPlane configuration. A total of 31 complete flights were logged (not counting shorter test flights). The types of cargo transported included items of up to 2kg including water, sample tubes, some medicines and even avocados and energy bars for testing purposes. The distances covered by the cargo drones ranged between 5 kilometers and 12 kilometers, with an altitude difference of up to 250 meters in altitude between takeoff and landing.

[ WeRobotics ]

Toyota Research Institute (TRI) demonstrates its progress in the development of automated driving technology, robotics and other project work. “In the last few months, we have rapidly accelerated our pace in advancing Toyota’s automated driving capabilities with a vision of saving lives, expanding access to mobility, and making driving more fun and convenient,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of TRI. “Our research teams have also been evolving machine intelligence that can support further development of robots for in-home support of people.”


Always nice to see EMILY getting better at rescuing people:

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), roboticist Robin Murphy of Texas A&M and her colleagues are developing some upgrades to make EMILY and other rescue robots "smarter" for large-scale water rescues, such as coming to the aid of a capsized ferry or water taxi. Among other things, the researchers are working with tethered drones to create an "eye in the sky" combined with onboard thermal sensing to autonomously navigate EMILY to a cluster of people. Because the drone is tethered, no one must "staff" it during rescue operations and it remains clear of any participating aircraft.

[ NSF ]

EPFL scientists are developing a three-legged robot for search and rescue missions that can crawl, roll, jump, and – like a Swiss Army knife – fold away into compact form, all on less power than your standard LED light.

Like a Swiss Army knife, tribots are multi-functional : they crawl, roll, and hop to get around obstacles ­– with a prototype jumping repeatedly as high as 25 centimeters, seven times their size. They can also fold-up into a little package, and unfold themselves into an upright position, even when dropped from high altitudes. The scientists are experimenting with different types of shape memory alloys as actuators for improved energy management.


Airbus has an all-electric self-piloted drone monstrosity that recently made its first flight.

[ Vahana ]

Did you know that a game of duck duck goose with Sphero will make grown adults look very very silly?

[ Sphero ]

Wingtra has an update to its hybrid VTOL surveying drone that improves the resolution and accuracy of the camera.

As someone who has had to manually georeference a crazy amount of aerial imagery, I can very much appreciate the value of this.

[ Wingtra ]

Thanks Max!

This autonomous Norwegian ROV called “Ægir” suffers abuse at the hands of a poorly insulated biped with violent subaquatic pretensions:

[ UiS Subsea ]

Thanks Hartvik!

While perhaps not as impressive as other ROBO-ONE competitions, this one is notable because the robots are autonomous.


Seegrid Vision transforms powered industrial vehicles into the next generation of AGVs: Vision Guided Vehicles (VGVs). Guided by cameras instead of wires, lasers, magnets, or tape, VGVs transport goods with unmatched flexibility.

[ Seegrid ]

Thanks Avery!

In this episode of Robots in Depth, Per interviews Justin Werfel from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Termites have an amazing ability to create and maintain large, complicated structures with very limited capabilities. Justin talks about the opportunity to learn from the termites capability to create impressive structures and use that to create structures with autonomous swarms of robots. We get to hear about how the Termes project aims to learn from termites and build on their capabilities to create any desired structure. We also hear how Justin was drawn to robotics by the balance between theoretical and practical work.

[ Robots in Depth ]

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