Video Friday: Curiosity Rover, Giant Crab Robot, and Drone Umbrella

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.

Curiosity Mars rover
Image: NASA

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!):

RoboCup 2018 – June 18-22, 2018 – Montreal, Canada
RSS 2018 – June 26-30, 2018 – Pittsburgh, Pa., USA
Ubiquitous Robots 2018 – June 27-30, 2018 – Honolulu, Hawaii
MARSS 2018 – July 4-8, 2018 – Nagoya, Japan
AIM 2018 – July 9-12, 2018 – Auckland, New Zealand
ICARM 2018 – July 18-20, 2018 – Singapore
ICMA 2018 – August 5-8, 2018 – Changchun, China
SSRR 2018 – August 6-8, 2018 – Philadelphia, Pa., USA
ISR 2018 – August 24-27, 2018 – Shenyang, China
BioRob 2018 – August 26-29, 2018 – University of Twente, Netherlands
RO-MAN 2018 – August 27-30, 2018 – Nanjing, China

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

Since its epic landing on Mars in 2012rappelling down to the surface like a robot commando, the Curiosity Mars rover has been one of our favorite robots of all time, and space. Not only it’s an impressive piece of engineering, it’s also an amazing exploration tool to help humanity answer questions we’ve been asking ourselves for a very long time, including: Are we alone?

Yesterday NASA announced a new round of discoveries that, although they aren’t evidence of life itself, they provide further confirmation that the Red Planet could have supported ancient life:

Since arriving at Mars in 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into rocks in search of organics - molecules containing carbon. Organics are the building blocks of all life on Earth, though they can also come from non-living sources. The surface of Mars readily destroys these molecules, making them difficult to detect. Now, Curiosity has discovered ancient organics that have been preserved in rocks for billions of years. This finding helps scientists better understand the habitability of early Mars, and it paves the way for future missions to the Red Planet.

[ NASA ]

Space Bok is redefining space exploration. Legged robotics with all its advantages can be used in space to improve the exploration of the Moon or Mars. In low gravity environments hopping proves to be energetically more efficient than walking. Our aim is to build a jumping robot capable of overcoming large obstacles and thus increase the operation range of mobile robots for data collection.

[ Space Bok ] via [ ETH Zurich ]

Skydio: making the autonomous capabilities of every other consumer drone look bad since 2018.

Sigh, I wish I was as good at flying a drone as the Skydio R1 is at flying itself.

[ Skydio ]

Purple Robotics, founded by key developers behind the world’s first collaborative robot (cobot), has launched the PR10, an innovative vacuum gripper designed for collaborative applications.

It requires no external air supply or hoses and instead creates its own vacuum using a little electrical pump—neat! You can mount it on any UR arm, and it can be operational 30 minutes after you take it out of the box. However, it is obviously not in fact purple, which seems like a serious problem to me.

[ Purple Robotics ]

I’m not sure whether this technically counts as a robot, but you’ll enjoy watching it anyway.

[ Sano Lab ]

We’ve written a whole bunch about Johnny Matheny and the robotic arm that Johns Hopkins APL has been working, and this year, APL is doing what all roboticists are afraid of doing: letting Johnny take the arm home with him to do whatever he wants with it. Quartz is following along, putting together some excellent videos about how it’s all going.

“How’re things?”

“Go ahead and guess.”

“The arm broke?”


Classic robots.

[ JHU APL ] via [ Quartz ]

Thanks Jacob!

CRASAR has been in Hawaii providing drone help to the USGS, and they’re getting the kind of video footage that you only get if you’re willing to fly a drone over an active volcano.


We’ve haven’t had nearly enough videos of giant swimming crab robots lately, so here’s some.


Project Ascento has been run by a team of 9 Bachelor students at ETH Zurich. Over the course of 9 months, we have conceived, designed and manufactured a robot that is capable of climbing stairs by jumping up steps. Also very quick on his wheels, the robot shows unprecedented indoor manoeuvrability and mobility.

[ Project Ascento ] via [ ETH Zurich ]

As Clearpath shows us, all robots are better with quad tracks.

All robots. PR2, Jibo, Keepon, your Roomba. ALL ROBOTS.

[ Clearpath ]

Soft-bodied and continuum robots have shown great adaptability to the environment thanks to its flexibility of the body. They have great potential in environment exploring or rescuing mission. One of those robots is snake-like soft-bodied robots. A snake robot is often made by attaching passive wheels along a long body to achieve frictional anisotropy. This anisotropic structure helps to propel the body with serpentine locomotion and prevents it from sliding laterally. However, with a snake-like soft-bodied robot, attaching wheels is not only clumsy but also adding weight to the robot. In this paper, being inspired by the scales on the skin of a snake, we propose a designing scheme to achieve an all-printed wriggle soft-bodied robot by patterning high and low friction material to the ventral side of the robot.

Compared to a totally flat ventral, we are able to speed-up the serpentine locomotion 2.8 times. Besides, by changing the configuration of high/low friction material, our wriggle soft-bodied robot can easily move forward or backward just by switching the controlling signal. The fabrication time is just less than 1 hour and the robot can achieve the speed of 26 mm/s.

[ Kawahara Lab ]

Does HyQ Centaur have any trouble with whole body optimization?

No, no it doesn’t.

[ HyQ Centaur ]

The best worst idea we’ve seen this week is to mount an umbrella to a Mavic Pro that must be really, really unhappy for a variety of reasons.

Reason No. 2 that the Mavic Pro is unhappy is that it can’t possibly get much more embarassing than to be a drone umbrella.

[ YouTube ] via [ Gizmodo ]

Recently KUKA was at SXSW 2018. We had a panel session on Artificial Intelligence and its effect on humanity, and we also exhibited at the SXSW Trade Show. Take a look to see why we make SXSW a priority and how it impacts our development of robotic technology.

[ KUKA ]

Roboticists Karl von Ellenrieder and Satyandra Gupta may work on opposite U.S. coasts, but they envision the same future for work on the water -- fleets of boats and ships operating more safely, efficiently and less expensively, with the help of robotics. USVs, or unmanned surface vehicles, are basically robotic boats guided by humans, who may or may not be on board. von Ellenrieder of Florida Atlantic University and Gupta of the University of Southern California say teams of humans working with robotic boats could transform jobs vital to society, such as bridge inspections, environmental monitoring, and search and rescue.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), von Ellenrieder and Gupta are currently focused on engineering new decision-making tools to make USVs smarter and more autonomous. Advances in this area could be extremely important from both a regulatory and practical standpoint for the future deployment of human–robot teams on the water.

[ NSF YouTube ]

In this week’s episode of Robots in Depth, Per interviews Søren Peter Johansen from the Danish Technological Institute.

Søren Peter Johansen from DTI talks about implementing robotics solutions. Søren talks about how he got into robotics by starting to tinker with any electronics he could get his hands on. He worked in a mechanical workshop and added automation to the machines in the shop. As robots became more and more available, he then included them in his work. Søren also discusses examples of successful human robot collaboration and how software and hardware both are essential elements of robot development. We also get to hear about how he went to the Danish Technological Institute because he saw an opportunity to work with lots of interesting robots.

[ Robots in Depth ]

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