Video Friday: Drone Aerodynamics, Spy Monkey, and Brain-Controlled Robot

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.

Drone aerodynamics study by NASA Ames Research Center
Image: NASA Ames Research Center 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!):

RoboBusiness Europe – April 20-21, 2017 – Delft, Netherlands
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online

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

Intuition Robotics, a startup pioneering social companion technologies, today emerged from stealth debuting Elli•Q, an artificial intelligence-based robot companion that keeps older adults active and engaged. Elli•Q, whose design intentionally avoids the look and feel of a traditional robot, seamlessly enables older adults to use a vast array of technologies, including video chats, online games and social media to connect with families and friends and overcome the complexity of the digital world.

The company says it will start a trial in the homes of older adults in the Bay Area next month.

[ Intuition Robotics ]

Thanks Einav!

You had me at “spy monkey.”

Langur monkeys mistake the motionless robotic spy monkey that was accidentally dropped as a lifeless baby langur and begin to grieve.

Did someone, like, tell those monkeys at some point that it was just a robot...?

[ BBC ]

For decades, NASA has used computer models to simulate the flow of air around aircraft in order to test designs and improve the performance of next-generation vehicles. At NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, researchers recently used this technique to explore the aerodynamics of a popular example of a small, battery-powered drone, a modified DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter. This simulation reveals the complex motions of air due to interactions between the vehicle’s rotors and X-shaped frame during flight. In the video, airflow interactions are shown as undulating lines. Pressure changes are shown using color. Areas of high pressure are red; low are blue.

[ NASA ]

Loomo, previously known as Segway Robot, is a smart machine that can transform between a self-balancing transporter and an autonomous robot. Our first developer customers have received our Alpha developer edition robots and we are looking for more developers to join our program.

[ Loomo ]

The Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center has more than 25 years of experience in building robots and developing software to allow humans and robots to work together. One of their key developments is a 3D user interface called Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration, or VERVE, that allows a human operator to see the world from the perspective of the robot. VERVE has proved to be useful with many different types of remotely operated robots in a variety of applications. Through a technology transfer, a version of VERVE has been adapted by Nissan North America for use in their autonomous vehicle systems.

[ NASA Ames ]

HEBI Robotics’ modular robotic, er, modules, can be used to make a nifty 5-axis robotic arm. And if you get tired of the arm, you can take it apart and use the actuators for something else, which isn’t usually how robots work:

[ HEBI Robotics ]

Offroading with a TurtleBot3? You bet:


Interesting soft modular robotics research, just published in PLOS ONE:

In this paper we present a new type of simple, pneumatically actuated, soft modular robotic system that can reproduce fundamental cell behaviors observed during morphogenesis; the initial shaping stage of the living embryo. The fabrication method uses soft lithography for producing composite elastomeric hollow cubes and permanent magnets as passive docking mechanism. Actuation is achieved by controlling the internal pressurization of cubes with external micro air pumps.


Thanks Professor Zagal!

I think I may be too old to properly appreciate the genius of this robot:

[ Peeqo ]

Aubot has unveiled the world’s first commercially available brain-controlled telepresence robot, which will allow people with limited upper limb mobility to attend work or school remotely, giving them more freedom to travel and explore. The brain control is done using a simple off-shelf brain control interface, the MindWave, that costs less than $200. Typically used for meditation, it tracks a mind’s focus. Once a person concentrates over a certain threshold, the robot moves. To toggle between going forwards, left, right, or backwards, someone need only blink their eyes twice. The brain control device is easy to set up and calibrate, taking less than 5 minutes from unboxing until it is driving Teleport around.

[ Aubot ]

Thanks Marita!

Humans are incredibly annoying because we use social cues to navigate around each other. This is tricky for robots to understand, and a lot of work has been put into figuring out what we’re likely to do so that urban robots run into us less frequently:

Within the scope of the european FP7 framework program project EUROPA2 (European Robotic Pedestrian Assistant 2.0) the robot needs to navigate autonomously in urban environments. The presented local motion planner is responsible for the dynamic and static obstacle avoidance. If the task is to integrate the robot in a smooth fashion into a workspace shared with other agents, optimization of, e.g., travel time will result in aggressive behavior, perceived as unnatural by other individuals. Eventually we wish to realize a robot navigation style which is close (in some sense) to human behavior, commonly referred to as “social compliance”. Therefore, the local motion planner takes into account interactions between agents. The underlying interaction model is a probabilistic maximum entropy model which is learned from demonstrations.

Paper ]

Czech out how robots and humans are working collaboratively to build Škoda vehicles:

Kuka ]

This video perfectly expresses what it’s like to be a robot. I assume. I’m not a robot. Really. I promise.

Vimeo ] via [ Gizmodo ]

UBTECH has decided that breeding a Pepper with a Jibo would result in the perfect customer service robot. I’m not so sure.

Cruzr is the first customized service robot adaptable to a variety of business needs, optimizing human resources and improving work efficiency. Cruzr provides a new generation of service for a variety of industrial applications and domestic environments. Offering user-friendly, humanlike interaction, Cruzr provides customized AI business services. Each of its robotic platforms can be configured for a wide range of applications to a company’s specific needs for safe and easy access to virtually endless resources.

Press Release ]

SpiderFab, SpiderFab, fabs whatever a SpiderFab fabs. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) In this case, it’s a Baxter putting together truss segments which are pumped continually out of Tethers Unlimited’s magical “trusselator” box:

Eventually, robots will use techniques like these to manufacture enormous structures in space from raw materials.

[ SpiderFab ]

Cynthia Breazeal knows more about personal robots than just about anyone, and sometimes all the Jibo stuff overshadows the fact that she’s the director of the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group:



Most high school students save their summers for vacations, trips to the beach and generally steering clear from school. Not so for Prat Prem Sankar. He spent last summer exploring deep learning, cultivating mentors and building humanoid robots with our Jetson TX1 embedded computing platform.

The robot itself is from a Trossen Robotics kit, to be fair, but getting it to do some fruit-based deep learning is still pretty cool.


From Ekso Bionics:

Our Move Yourself Montage: 2016 represents our greatest accomplishments, which would not have been possible without the ongoing commitment and support of our staff members, our medical, clinical and industrial partners, and the physical therapists across the world who are committed to providing excellent patient care each and every day.

[ Ekso Bionics ]

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