Tomorrow, at a ridiculously early hour, we're flying to Chicago to cover the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). WOOHOO!
As we've mentioned, IROS 2014 is going to be unlike any IEEE conference that we've covered so far. Instead of eight or ten or twelve tracks of researchers giving PowerPoint presentations nearly non-stop, simultaneously, from what feels like 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., slowly killing us (with, um, happiness) over the course of three days, now everything is interactive sessions. This means that instead of relentless PowerPoint in overcrowded rooms, there will be a bunch of roboticists with tables, monitors, and (we hope) robots that we can actually, you know, interact with. It's a bit of a risk, since IROS has never tried this before, but we're hoping that it'll result in more time for us to talk to people, and more chances for the people actually doing the interesting robot stuff to tell us what they're up to directly.
So, you have that to look forward to next week, and so do we, assuming that we don't collapse by Wednesday.
Usually, we collapse.
But that hasn't happened yet! So, videos!
Need a robot to give your airplane a polish? The Kuka Moiros concept is possibly the largest mobile manipulator ever built. The thing rolls on a giant omnidirectional base and carries a robot arm capable of lifting a 120-kilogram payload and move with 5-millimeter accuracy. And Kuka says an even stronger arm can be mounted on the base.
[ KUKA ]
Here's one more ice bucket challenge video, and this one is worth it for two reason. Reason #1 is that it's Professor Sangbae Kim who gets ice bucket'd (and we're big fans of his work). Reason #2 is that it's the MIT Cheetah robot doing the bucketing (and this version looks WAY different).
From last year:
Are those battery packs on its back, maybe? Could it be running untethered? We have no idea, but we'll see what we can find out next week.
[ MIT Biomimetics ]
Chris Anderson's drone company 3D Robotics has had a busy, busy week. They started by announcing that billionaire Sir Richard Branson (!) is now one of their investors, which I guess involves a drone-filled vacation on an island that's slightly larger than mine:
It’s amazing to see what a little flying object with a GoPro attached can do; before they came along the alternative was an expensive helicopter and crew. I’m really excited about the potential for drones, and I hope this affordable technology will give many more people the chance to see our beautiful planet from such a powerful perspective.
But it’s not just about beauty shots. When you say the word "drone", most people will think about military drones, which are used for surveillance and warfare. But this increasingly affordable, easy to use technology is starting to be used around the world in many positive ways. Like to monitor endangered species, deliver healthcare to remote areas, and help manage natural disasters.
We’ll be sharing lots of stories about people and organisations involved in drones over on Virgin Unite from next week in our "Drones for good" series.
Meanwhile, where did my sunglasses go?
Next from 3D Robotics: the release video for their Iris+ personal drone, and it's only slightly pretentious:
And lastly, 3D Robotics is now partnering with Intel to use their Edison microcomputer in drones:
Vision, eh? Does that mean my drone might soon be smart enough to follow me autonomously somewhere besides wide open fields, wide open lakes, and way above me in the wide open sky?
[ 3D Robotics ]
[ Moriyama Wado ]
RoboGen is open source software from EPFL LIS that can be used to evolve robots and control software. It's constrained such that the components that it generated can be easily 3D printed and assembled. First, you let the software do its thing for a few generations until you end up with something potentially effective:
And then, real hardware!
[ RoboGen ]
GPS is often not the best localization technique when you're going for precision. Vision is a lot harder to do, but potentially much better, and it's viable if you've got a semi-structured environment to deal with. When we think about structured environments, we usually think about hospitals and stuff, but farms are also structured environments, and Rowbot takes advantage of the fact that corn is planted in rows to use vision to traverse them while applying nitrogen fertilizer and seeding cover crops.
[ Rowbot ]
If you do this to any creature who is just trying to peacefully enjoy lunch, I think you deserve to get rammed:
I can't find a lot of information about StuntMIP, a speedy little self-balancing "stunt" robot from Ed Pogue at the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab, but I know it's awesome because it has the literal support of Switchblade:
[ UCSD Robotics ]
The idea of making a soft robotic exosuit is a very interesting one. At Harvard, instead of using a rigid structure driven directly by motors, they're developing a cable driven, completely flexible system:
You won't get as much power with this suit, and unlike most other hard exoskeletons, it won't transfer any weight directly to the ground, limiting how much it can augment your strength or endurance. But, it doesn't restrict your movement at all, either.
[ Harvard ]
Curiosity has finally, after two years and 9 kilometers of driving, officially reached the base of Mt. Sharp.
And here's what 9 kilometers of driving on Mars looks like:
[ MSL ]
Here's a talk by Intel's Genevieve Bell on the "prehistory of robots":
As human beings we have always been fascinated with making life, in its many forms, with all of the technologies of the day at our disposals. Our cultures and our histories are steeped in stories of making life: gods making human beings to do their biddings; gods making themselves into human beings temporarily; ancestral figures transforming themselves into human beings; strange hybrids of gods and human beings with blends of skills and powers. As an anthropologist working at the intersections of new technology development and cultural practices, Dr. Genevieve Bell is an a unique position to explore the relationships between innovation and society. In this talk, she explores a different set of narratives about making life – ones that revolve around technology. Specifically, Bell is interested in how we might locate robots in this larger set of cultural and historical conversations. Here she traces the history of automata, monsters, and mechanical men as precursors to robots. We had already built mechanical objects (and indeed mechanical people), and we had imagined making life. So when the word and idea of robots first appeared in English, it had immediate and global resonance in no small part because it became the place where centuries of literary and technical activities collided. Drawing on cultural, literary, and historical accounts, Bell makes the case that we have an opportunity to re-imagine the ways in which we encounter and make sense of new digital technologies.
[ ORNL ]
And finally: this isn't really a robot, but it does fall into the category of human augmentation through artificial systems, so let's just roll with it. It's a back-mounted jetpack designed to help you run faster.
Just let the sheer awesomeness of that sink in for a minute, and then watch the video.
The actual improvement is buried in the video kinda deeply: the subject wearing the pack shaves three seconds off his time, which is more significant since he's carrying an extra 5 kilograms (11 pounds). Not great (and we'd like to see a more statistically valid trial), but it's very much a prototype at this stage, and I want one already.
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.