Video Friday: Mars Helicopter, 100 Dancing Robots, and Putin's Combat Cyborg

Can a robot helicopter fly on Mars? We answer this question and much more on this week's Video Friday

5 min read

Video Friday: Mars Helicopter, 100 Dancing Robots, and Putin's Combat Cyborg
Image: NASA JPL/Caltech

In one of the wilder ideas we’ve heard for planetary exploration, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is proposing that we send a little robotic helicopter to Mars as an aerial scout for a rover on the ground. The copter would be completely self-contained, using a small solar panel to give it a few minutes of flight time every day, while simultaneously storing up enough energy to keep itself from freezing to death at night. This is more than just a concept, too: there’s video of the prototype flying in Martian atmospheric conditions which you can see after the break, because hey, it’s Video Friday.

The JPL Mars Helicopter could potentially triple the distance that rovers are able to drive each day, since the robot will be able to confidently survey the route and pre-plan ways around obstacles or dangerous areas. Also, the helicopter could fly around to check out potential sampling sites, making sure that the rover only has to travel between areas that have already been identified as interesting.

Trying to fly where there isn’t much atmosphere to work with is tricky, but it’s cool that the prototype can be tested in a gigantic vacuum chamber that lets researchers see if it would really work. If this thing gets added to a mission, we’re looking at a 1 kilogram vehicle with a 1 meter blade span and a body about the size of a box of tissues. It’s got my vote. 

[ JPL ]

We only just found out this week that ATLAS is done with its upgrades, and already MIT is getting the robot to walk, after less than a day:


Yet another robot-themed cafe has just opened in Tokyo, this one staffed (sort of) by Robis:

And if that’s not enough Robi for you, how about this:

Via [ YouTube ]

My editor once said that RHex, the super strong and nimble hexapod, is “the honey badger of robots.” But RHex is not just all brawn. It turns out the robot has an artistic side as well. 

Shortly before the Penn School of Design classes began, this past summer RHex borrowed a studio and explored its artistic abilities. RHex had three artist assistants, Anna, Mauricio and Diedra, to help with the execution. The path of the robot was not preplanned but in the future RHex will have the ability to walk without human assistance.

Most of the painting was done using a tripod gait. Other mark making was done by using the turn in place behavior. The turn in place enabled the legs to have longer contact with the ground to make more interesting marks. At first the tire treads from its C shaped legs left decisive traces on the paper. Sponge brushes attached to the legs had the most painterly results. 

Two questions: who had to clean up after the robot, and how much will an RHex original cost me?

[ UPenn Kod*lab ]

Earlier this month, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a “milestone for space robotics” with the first test of a force-feedback joystick in space. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore operated the Haptics-1 joystick on-board the ISS, in an experiment designed to measure an operator’s response to a force-reflecting device in weightless conditions.

“With Haptics-1 we are paving the way towards an entirely new type of combined human-robotic mission,” says Dr. Andre Schiele, the principal investigator of the experiment and founder of the ESA Telerobotics & Haptics Laboratory. “We are investigating in great detail the limits of human perception and the ability of robotics to apply fine forces and manipulations in a weightless environment. This experiment allows us to understand the technology boundaries for advanced robotic equipment to support human astronauts in space. With Haptics-1, this type of science and technology experiment is taking place for the first time in space.”

Before today neither the ESA, NASA nor any other space-fairing nation have gained detailed experience in this domain. In addition to measuring physiological parameters, Haptics-1 provides important insights on how force-reflection from a remote robotic system changes human perception in space. With these measurements, advanced robotic control equipment can be designed to better reflect the realities of human manipulation through a robotic interface in a weightless environment. This will enable more natural interaction with remote robots and lead to significantly more efficient remote operations and mission designs. Robots could be located thousands or tens of thousands of kilometers away, yet perform tasks as complex as a human operator could with objects in hand.

[ RTI ] and [ ESA ]

This may not look especially impressive, but keep in mind that DLR’s robot helicopter is autonomously navigating from inside to outside through a window without the use of any external localization aides, just onboard stereo vision and lasers:


I do not know what this is; can someone translate for us? An English lesson, maybe? And some other things??

[ Vstone ]

The reason to watch this video is for the bit right after 0:48, which trips me out. I’ve seen it before, but still… Whoa.

Here’s a look at ISAAC robot, a system that will add muscle to composite materials and structures research at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. ISAAC, which stands for Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites, will be put to work after a Jan. 26, 2015, commissioning ceremony.


Vladimir Putin does not look impressed with this “combat robot”:

Also, there’s something on fire over there. Um, guys?

[ Russia Today ]

QBotix has been around for a bit, but here’s a very cool demo of their little solar panel positioning robot in action:

[ QBotix ]

Morgan Spurlock’s got a show on CNN that premiered this week with an episode on robotics, including Stanford’s autonomous racecar Shelley, who we haven’t heard about in a little while:

[ Inside Man ] via [ Robots Dreams ]

Last week, we posted several videos from the AAAI Video Competition, but we didn’t post them all. This week, we’re going to rectify that oversight with all of the ones that we missed:

“Online POMDP Planning for Autonomous Driving in a Crowd”
Haoyu Bai, Shaojun Cai, Nan Ye, Scott Pendleton, David Hsu, and Wee Sun Lee
National University of Singapore

“CoSTAR: Collaborative System for Task Automation and Recognition”
Kelleher R. Guerin, Colin Lea, Chris Paxton, and Gregory D. Hager
Johns Hopkins University

“Distributed Multi-Robot Exploration”
Torsten Andre
Networked and Embedded Systems, Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt, Austria and Lakeside Labs 

“High Stakes”
Tom Gordon
NREC National Robotics Engineering Center, CMU’s School of Computer Science

“Towards Intelligent Compliant Service Robots”
Daniel Leidner and Alexander Dietrich
Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, German Aerospace Center (DLR)

“Long-Term Mobile Robot Localization in Dynamic Environments using Spectral Maps”
T. Krajnik, J.P. Fentanes, O.M. Mozos, J. Ekekrantz, M. Hanheide, and T. Duckett
Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems, United Kingdom

“AI for Aging In-Place”
Chunyan Miao, Cyril Leung, Han Yu, Daniel Wei Quan Ng, Huiguo Zhang, Qiong Wu, Feng Xiao, Yang Qiu, Jonathan Leung, and Zhiqi Shen
Nanyang Technological University and the University of British Columbia

“Robot Learning from Demonstration: From Mimicking to Emulation” 
Amir M. Ghalamzan E., Chris Paxton, Gregory D. Hager, and Luca Bascetta
Politecnico di Milano
Johns Hopkins University

[ AAAI Video Competition ]

Thanks Daniel!

This short film about a robot, by Vladimir Vlasenko, will make you sad:

See? :(

[ The Story of R32 ] via [ io9 ]

To end the week, as usual, we’ve got a few longer think pieces for you. The first is from Luc Steels giving a talk at Aldebaran Robotics: Can robots invent their own language?

And we’ll close with a TED Talk from Sarah Bergbreiter at the University of Maryland on making tiny little bio-inspired robots, some of which are packing rockets:

[ TED ]

The Conversation (0)