Video Friday: Ascento Pro

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Video Friday: Ascento Pro

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. 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!):

ICRA 2022 – May 23-27, 2022 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

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

Bigger, faster, stronger: This is Ascento Pro! Our newest creation can climb full flights of stairs, drive at up to 12km/h—and all this for up to 8h per battery charge. Oh, and also it is now autonomous.

[ Ascento ]

At the CMU Robomechanics Lab, to get new lab members used to working with the robots, every semester we have a competition where new members are challenged to make the silliest walk they can on any robot in the lab.

[ Robomechanics Lab ]

This is a small motion test for a Mesmer robot head. This head and neck has 22 custom servo actuators - only 5 around the mouth which is not enough for really good lip sync - which is why its not speaking in this clip.

[ Engineered Arts ]

At USC Center for Advanced Manufacturing, students have taught a robot to make pour-over coffee. This allows the robot to control the flow rate and the number of the pour.

[ USC Viterbi ]

Cheesiest robot video of the week, right here.

[ Bouébot ]

Merry Christmas from Thymio!

[ Thymio ]

Looking for some summer feeling in the cold and grey winter? One of the top acrobat-ic bartenders in the world competes against Makr Shakr, the most advanced system for robotic cocktail-making, powered by KUKA. It’s an extraordinary duel in front of the world-famous Milan Cathedral. Who will succeed in creating the perfect drink?

I definitely appreciate that Kuka actually used real robots slinging real liquid, although to be honest, I was expecting a little more, you know?

[ Kuka ]

Two new videos highlighting the performance of DeepRobotics' Jueying X20 quadruped.

Jueying X20 Quadruped Robot Load Test:What happens when a 75kg boy stands up?

[ DeepRobotics ]

MIT students and researchers from MIT Sea Grant work with local oyster farmers in advancing the aquaculture industry by seeking solutions to some of its biggest challenges. A combination of mechanical engineering, ocean engineering, and electrical engineering and computer sciences students work together to design a robot to help with flipping oyster bags at Ward Aquafarm on Cape Cod.

[ MIT ]

Space rovers like Zhurong or Perseverance are currently exploring the surface of Mars. However, the systems are unable to penetrate scientifically interesting places such as craters, caves, or rock crevices. Much more suitable are walking #robots, which can overcome rough terrain thanks to their flexible locomotor system.

[ DFKI ]

A presentation by JPL's Ali Agha from DARPA SubT Team CoSTAR, on Resilient Robotic Autonomy Under Uncertainty, part of CMU's Tartan SLAM Series.

[ CMU ]

Summary of the technical approach used by Team CSIRO Data61 in addressing the DARPA SubT Challenge.


Team CERBERUS' DARPA Subterranean Challenge Technical Approach and Lessons Learned. We outline our team's approach with respect to the robotic systems legged and flying mobility concepts, methods for resilient multi-modal and multi-robot localization and mapping, autonomy and especially exploration path planning, artifact detection and localization on the map, as well as communications and networking. Finally, we outline our competitive runs and results especially during the Prize Run of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge finals.


Skydio's VP of International Business Development, Martin Brandenburg, describes how autonomous drones hold the potential to become part of many industries, unlock new business outcomes, and deliver countless benefits.

[ Skydio ]

Herb Simon was captured at Carnegie Mellon University in September of 1979 giving a talk simply titled "Current Research". Simon discusses various Artificial Intelligence systems, concepts and technologies pioneered over the 25 years leading up to 1979.
The complete video is presented here because of its historical significance, complete with all the shortcomings of the original camera used at the time.

[ CMU ]

The Conversation (1)
Abdo Eid13 Dec, 2021

Great work!

Great collection!

The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.