Well, we've made it to December. And that means we're just a few weeks away from the DARPA Robotics Challenge. It's kind of amazing to think that the DRC was announced a year and a half ago now; it doesn't seem like it's been nearly that long, probably because robotics in general just never stops. It's enough to drive you crazy, especially when it's Thursday night and you're trying to put together an awesome Video Friday and there are just too many videos and...
Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Okay, I'm good now.
Anyway, the DRC runs the weekend of December 20-21 down in Homestead, near Miami, in Florida, and it's open to the public if you happen to be in the neighborhood. There'll be an expo, with demos of Boston Dynamics LS3 and WildCat (among other robots), and you'll get to sit in some grandstands just 20 meters away from the robots competing in the DRC itself, live. Or as live as robots get, anyway.
If you can't make it down there, we'll be there of course to bring you the cool stuff, but DARPA is putting some serious effort into webcasting as much as they possibly can, with multiple live streams in addition to live commentary and daily highlights from a bunch of dedicated camera crews, so there's no need to feel left out. We'll have all the details on that before the event starts.
Moving on now: videos!
Since we were just talking about the DRC, let's take a look at some of what we can expect. Team Drexel has been conducting dry runs of some of the tasks with HUBO. All of these videos are massively sped up, but apart from that, it should give you a good sense of the kind of thing that we'll be seeing:
Break Wall with Tool
[ Team Drexel ]
If you close your eyes for much more than seven seconds, you'll miss this half-size micromouse winning the 34th All Japan Micromouse Robot Competition:
Via [ Robots-Dreams ]
Pilus Energy has engineered living bacterial robots called BactoBots that can do incredible things, like eat up contaminants in waste water and then extract energy from it. Pilus has an Indiegogo campaign on right now looking for just $50,000 to help them build a prototype system, and if you can afford to throw down $400,000, they'll even set one up in your backyard. (Sure, these aren't robots in the strict sense, but bacterial robots aredefinitely an active subfield of robotics.)
[ Indiegogo ]
You remember that ridiculous Amazon drone delivery thing from earlier this week, right? Century 21 (yes, the real estate people) has an idea that, while a more obvious piece of silliness, actually makes sense as a potentially critical piece of enabling technology:
Forget robots being practical or whatever: some of the most fun you can have with a robot is taking it somewhere with a bunch of people, and just letting it roam:
Or, you can paint :
[ Sphero ]
The Virtopsy Project is teaching a robot to be able to do precise, repeatable autopsies on humans, because after the robots kill us all, they'll need something to do:
[ Virtopsy Project ] via [ Medgadget ]
Baxter is learning some valuable new workplace skills:
Not bad, Baxter, but you have some catching up to do. Here's a blast from the past, a video I took at RoboDevelopment 2008 showing a cube-solving robot and a cube-solving human, Dan Dzoan, who performs a 12 second solve on camera:
[ Rethink Robotics ]
As it turns out, you don't actually need four operational propellers to fly a quadcopter: you can do it with just three. It's not going to be pretty, but it is going to be survivable, meaning that losing a motor or a propeller now just means a mildly irritation instead of a really bad day:
The controller that pulls this off was developed by Mark Mueller at ETH Zurich, and it'll run on existing quadcopter hardware, meaning that taking advantage of it is potentially as simple as a software upgrade, no motion capture environment required. And it can do even more:
This new approach allows such a vehicle to remain in flight despite the loss of one, two, or even three propellers. Having lost one (or more) propellers, the vehicle enters a continuous rotation — we then control the direction of this axis of rotation, and the total thrust that the vehicle produces, allowing us to control the vehicle’s acceleration and thus position.
Even if the vehicle can no longer produce sufficient thrust to support its own weight, this technology would still be useful: one could, for example, try to minimize the multicopter’s velocity when it hits the ground, or steer the multicopter away from dangerous situations such as water, or people on the ground.
I don't know about you, but I'd very much like to see a quadcopter lose one, then two, then three propellers in succession. Can you make it happen, guys?
Via [ RoboHub ]
Diving inside potentially unstable shipwrecks (or, really, anywhere that you've got anything between you and the surface) is dangerous. In other words, it's a perfect task for a little tiny robot shaped vaguely like a turtle that wants to help you find sunken treasure:
Don't you just love all of those different swimming gaits?
Via [ Discovery ]
TU Delft has a brand new flight arena:
Arenas like these are exciting, because they're motion-capture environments where robots usually end up doing all sorts of amazing tricks. We're looking forward to seeing what TU Delft has in store.
MARLO is an underactuated 3D bipedal robot with passive prosthetic feet. Its feedback control is designed using virtual constraints. In previous experiments, MARLO was attached to a boom. but with improved control, the robot can now walk without any external support. A mobile gantry supports a safety cable to catch the robot when it falls, avoiding expensive and time-consuming repairs.
The AR Drone's director mode gives you some level of autonomous control: by stringing together a series of preset movement commands, you can send the drone off as a remote cameraman. Parrot has put together a highlight reel of user submitted videos, and they look pretty good.
This entire thing is just $277 at Amazon. Not bad.
[ AR Drone ]
Here's a TED Talk from David Lang, who helped create an open source underwater exploration robot:
Via [ TED ]
And finally, what better way to end a Video Friday than with this satirical robot video, called iDiots. Try not to take it personally.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.