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

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robot
Boston Dynamics' SpotMini at a SoftBank event in Tokyo.
Image: Kazumichi Moriyama via YouTube

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.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank and Japan’s richest man, recently invited Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics—which SoftBank acquired last month—to give a live demonstration of SpotMini in Tokyo. The demo starts with some basic teleoperated walking and trotting, but the robot also shows off some impressive autonomous behaviors, like performing an inspection task, navigating over and around obstacles, and fetching a drink with its face-arm.

Look at the smile on Masa’s face.

[ Boston Dynamics ] via [ Kazumichi Moriyama ]

Researchers have demonstrated soft inflatable robots before, but this “vinebot” from Stanford and UCSB is like nothing we’ve seen before. This thing not only inflates but also “grows,” using a mechanism called eversion, which means it turns inside out as more plastic material emits from the tip, allowing it to squeeze through tight spaces, take turns, and even lift stuff up. Not even fire can stop vinebot. 

[ Stanford ]

Japan sent a new free-flying robot to the International Space Station, and it’s adorable.

And here’s how it works: 

[ JAXA ] via [ Engadget ]

iCub’s parents at IIT are teaching their robot children to do something real children never ever do: cleaning up their toys.

This is an important step in our quest to replace real children with robot children.

[ Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia ]

Robots bringing humans together.

Or as Dean Kamen said, “Most of the robots don’t win. All of the kids, all of the competitors win.”

[ PBS NewsHour ]

“No battery, no wire, no problem.”

[ Wyss Institute ]

Researchers are increasingly interested in robots that they can make using cheaper materials (like flat sheets of paper and plastic) and faster fabrication techniques (like 3D printing and origami-style assembly). The latest example of this trend is C-Turtle, which its creators at Arizona State University’s Interactive Robotics lab call a “crawling paper robot for the detection of landmines or the exploration of Mars...or your living room.”

[ Arizona State University ]

Thanks Heni!

Team Blacksheep, responsible for some of the craziest drone stunts we’ve ever seen, is introducing a collision-avoidance system that can alert drone operators and aircraft pilots if they get too close to one another. To test this thing, Team Blacksheep did exactly what you’d expect Team Blacksheep to do.

[ Team Blacksheep ]

Nicholas Paine, from Apptronik, a new robotics spinoff from UT Austin’s Human Centered Robotics Lab, writes in to share a video of their prototype robotic leg: “The Apptronik/UT Draco leg is a prototype robotic leg aimed at advancing high power high efficiency robotic locomotion. It uses a combination of newly developed viscoelastic liquid cooled actuation, optimized kinematic linkages, and advanced embedded algorithms to safely sustain high speeds with a test 20lbs payload.”

[ Apptronik ]

Thanks Nick!

When asked about applications for their new robots, researchers often mention things like “disaster response” and “search and rescue.” But what does that mean? To make things less abstract, or rather, to make things very, very realistic, the University of Southampton, in the U.K., produced this video. It shows what happens when a turbine explodes at a power plant while a school visit is in progress. Don’t worry, it’s a simulated disaster, but the film helps understand how aerial, ground, and water robots can be a huge help in such situations.

Wait, did they ever find Lucy?

[ University of Southampton ]

Thanks Kirk!

This poor robot is getting dizzy.

[ UT Human Centered Robotics Lab ]

“This video shows footage from a recent demonstration of the Digital Farmhand robot at Richmond, NSW. Digital Farmhand is a low cost row crop robot aimed towards helping small scale farmers in Australia & overseas to perform crop analytics and automation of simple farming tasks. The design of the platform is based around the use of cheap low cost sensors, computing and manufacturing techniques which will allow the farmer to easily maintain and modify their platform to suit their needs. The platform comes with an actuated 3 point hitch mechanism which allows various implements to be attached (similar to a tractor). Currently 4 implements have been manufactured for this platform. These include a sprayer, seeder, tine weeder and tow ball hitch.”

[ Australian Centre for Field Robotics ]

“A robotic security guard was on the beat at the Georgetown Waterfront. It can beep, turn, and whistle to keep order. But—apparently—it was just too hard to keep folks in line down on the Potomac.”

As someone said on Twitter, “We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots.”

[ Knightscope ] via [ WUSA9 ]

“Watch the introduction to our 10th International RoboBoat Competition! After spending the past few years in Virginia Beach, 2017 RoboBoat changed the scenery. Now in Daytona Beach, Florida, we are excited for new challenges and possibilities for our Teams. See you there!”

[ RoboBoat Competition ]

TechCrunch just posted all videos from their robotics conference in Boston last week. We’re including some of our favorites here, but you should go watch all seven hours of demos, interviews, and panels from the event.

Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics

Bringing Robots Home with Colin Angle (iRobot)

Demo with Sangbae Kim (MIT Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory)

What's Next at MIT with Daniela Rus (MIT CSAIL)

[ TechCrunch ]

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