Video Friday: CMU Team Prepares for DARPA Subterranean Challenge

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

6 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum’s digital innovation director.

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

CMU robots for the Darpa SubT Challenge
Photo: CMU

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!):

DARPA SubT Urban Circuit – February 18-27, 2020 – Olympia, Wash., USA
HRI 2020 – March 23-26, 2020 – Cambridge, U.K.
ICARSC 2020 – April 15-17, 2020 – Ponta Delgada, Azores
ICRA 2020 – May 31-4, 2020 – Paris, France
ICUAS 2020 – June 9-12, 2020 – Athens, Greece
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – Moscow, Russia

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

Start your robots! Next week DARPA will kick off the Urban Circuit competition, the second of four robotics competitions that are part of its Subterranean Challenge.

We’re going to have a Urban Circuit preview post with all the details on Monday, a Q&A with DARPA SubT program manager Tim Chung on Tuesday, a follow-up with the teams on their preparations on Wednesday, and a post on how to watch the livestream on Thursday.

For now, watch Team Explorer from CMU and Oregon State testing some of their robots ahead of the competition.

In stage two of DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge, a team from Carnegie Mellon University and Oregon State will send robots into the depths of an incomplete nuclear power plant in a search-and-rescue scenario in Elma, Washington. Team Explorer’s machines will scale stairs and search for artifacts in the "Urban Circuit."

[ Team Explorer ]

We could watch these expandifying objects all day.

ExpandFab is a fabrication method for creating expanding objects using foam materials. The printed objects change their shape and volume, which is advantageous for reducing the printing time and transportation costs. For the fabrication of expanding objects, we investigated a basic principle of the expansion rate and developed materials by mixing a foam powder and elastic adhesive. Furthermore, we developed a fabrication method using the foam materials. A user can design expanded objects using our design software and sets the expansion areas on the surface. The software simulates and exports the 3d model into a three-dimensional (3D) printer. The 3D printer prints the expandable object by curing with ultraviolet light. Finally, the user heats the printed objects, and the objects expand to maximum approximately 2.7 times of their original size. ExpandFab allows users to prototype products that expand and morph into various shapes, such as objects changing from one shape to various shapes, and functional prototype with electronic components. In this paper, we describe the basic principle of this technique, implementation of the software and hardware, application examples, limitations and discussions, and future works.

[ Yasuaki Kakehi Laboratory ]

This new robot vacuum from Panasonic can prop itself up to drive over thick rugs and even go over small steps and bumps up to 2.5 centimeters high.

Apparently it does SLAM, though it’s not clear what kind of sensor it’s using. And at 1:05, is that a “follow me” feature?

[ Panasonic ] via ImpressWatch ]

Cybathlon needs you!

Robert Riener from ETH Zurich tells us that the Cybathlon organizers “still need many volunteers” to help with multiple phases of the event. Learn more about it here.

From 2nd to 3rd ETH Zurich’s CYBATHLON 2020 takes place in May. The CYBATHLON is a unique competition in which people with disabilities measure themselves when completing everyday tasks using the latest technical assistance systems.

Greet and look after international teams in the SWISS Arena in Kloten and help with the competition or with the assembly and dismantling! Are you in?

Register now as a volunteer


Happy Valentine’s Day from Robotiq!

[ Robotiq ]

In case you missed our story yesterday, Iranian researchers at the University of Tehran have unveiled a new humanoid robot called Surena IV.

[ IEEE Spectrum ]

Great, first those self-healing liquid metal robot tendons, and now this. How soon until T-1000? 

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the UT Dallas have introduced a soft, multifunctional composite that remains electrically conductive when stretched and exhibits a number of other desirable properties for soft robotics and stretchable electronics.

[ CMU ]

Hey, it’s not just BotJunkie who likes to hug robots!

Roboy is not only the most human Robot, with it’s muscles and tendons - it’s also the most cuddly! At CIIE in November 2019, Roboy has been hugging more than 2800 people - connecting robots to humans and building relationships that last

[ Roboy ]

In the Dominican Republic, this initiative is using DJI drones to deliver supplies to rural communities.

Traditional methods of delivering medicine to rural communities have not been considered the most efficient solutions. Patients in smaller areas of the Dominican Republic, for example, would often go weeks without receiving the care they needed, increasing mortality rates. A reliable and cost-efficient solution became necessary. Thankfully, drone technology would answer the call. Watch how powerful equipment like the Matrice 600, and a strong collaboration between the local medical staff, Ministry of Health, WeRobotics and the Drone Innovation Center, has led to increased efficiency during important medical deliveries.


We’ve already seen some robots helping to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Here are some more.

This one is used for deliveries of food and medication:

[ New China TV ]

“The BOT-chelor” LOL

Who would you pick?

[ Sphero ]

Impressive demo of a real-time SLAM technique developed by SLAMcore, a startup spun out of Imperial College London.

This video was created in real-time running on the CPU of the Jetson TX2. The final map is sub cm accurate and only a few megabytes in size.

[ SLAMcore ]

We heart coffee indeed.

Kawasaki's coffee cobot, duAro, operates an espresso machine, and uses precise movements to pour steamed milk in the shape of a heart.

[ Kawasaki Robotics ]

How do you grasp hollow, deformable objects? Researchers at the Technical University of Munich are on the case.

[ Jingyi Xu ]

Some robots can use the same type of limb to walk and swim. But it would be even better if the robot’s limbs could change their shape to better adapt to different environments. Yale researchers are working on a possible implementation of this idea, inspired by sea turtles.

Most robots operate either exclusively on land or in water. Toward building an amphibious legged robot, we present a morphing limb that can adapt its structure and stiffness for amphibious operation. We draw inspiration for the limb’s design from the morphologies of sea turtle flippers and land-faring tortoise legs. Turtles and tortoises have rigid hulls that can be emulated in amphibious robots to provide a convenient, protected volume for motors, electronics, power supply, and payloads. Each of these animals’ limbs are tailored for locomotion in their respective environments. A sea turtle flipper has a streamlined profile to reduce drag, making it apt for swimming. A land tortoise leg boasts a strong, expanded cross-section conducive to load-bearing. We capture the morphological advantages of both animals’ limbs in our morphing limb via a variable stiffness composite coupled to a pneumatic actuator system that enables on-demand transitions between leg and flipper configurations. We control the degree of stiffness of the limb by varying electrical input to flexible heaters bound to the thermally responsive variable stiffness composite. The proposed morphing amphibious limb design is promising for enabling the next generation of hybrid soft-rigid robots to adapt to unstructured environments.

[ Yale Faboratory ]

Sorting recyclable waste: A job that we should definitely let robots steal from humans.

Recyclable waste sorting is mostly performed by manual labor in dull, dirty and dangerous environments. There are less and less people willing to perform these tasks and more and more recycling to be processed. A task like this is ideal for automation, but the challenge of recognizing and extracting random looking objects in a random stream of waste is very difficult. Newly available Artificial intelligence (AI) now enables these complex applications.

Current systems have limited recognition and extraction technologies that limit the quality of sorted material. Waste Robotics has developed a computer vision system that enables real-time recognition of objects in a random stream while dispatching robot commands to perform efficient and high-quality sorting to enable a circular economy.


We aren’t sure why a flying robot is the best way of doing this task but the drone hitting the target with the rope at 0:20 is pretty cool.

This movie shows the successful test of a TugDrone, developed by Delft Dynamics and KOTUG. The drone delivers the ’heaving’ line from the the tugboat to a vessel. This improves safety on board both the vessel and the tugboat. This innovation supports the credo of KOTUG International: ’Ahead in Towage’.

[ Delft Dynamics ]

We were in Rwanda and Tanzania last year to see how drones are helping to deliver blood and medicine. See our full coverage and 3D videos here.

Three amazing days of #ADF2020 in Kigali has just wrapped up. See the highlights from the first African Drone Forum.

[ African Drone Forum ]

The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society continues to post more conference keynotes to its YouTube channel. This one is from ICRA 2018 by Louis Whitcomb from Johns Hopkins University on “Extreme Robotics: Underwater Robotic Exploration of the Karasik Seamount.”


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