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Video Friday: Strong Microbots, Holographic Robots, and Extreme Drone Flying

Today we have two weeks of robots videos for you

6 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Video Friday: Strong Microbots, Holographic Robots, and Extreme Drone Flying
Photo: Karen Ladenheim

Yeah, so, you know how Video Friday last week was lighter than normal, and I was all like, “We have a light week this week,” and everyone was sad and disappointed and sad? My bad. Turns out Google decided to kill YouTube user subscription RSS feeds as of last week and I may have, um, utterly failed to notice.


So this week, we’re playing catch-up. And there’s a lot of catch-up, so let’s get going.

Usually, we try and save news that’s going to be presented at ICRA to post during the conference, so that we can attend the presentations, talk to the researchers, and get the latest details and updates. But for some awful reason, the rest of the universe doesn’t respect our process (grumble), so let’s take a look at Stanford’s MicroTug robots that were in the news this week, which use gecko-inspired directional adhesive and a winch to haul around objects thousands of times its own weight.

This first video is a friendly explanation of how it all works, in a style that we’d love to see more of:

And here’s a bit more in-depth info:

Since the robots are using directional adhesives, they can be adapted to haul loads vertically, as well:

The nature of directional adhesives means that the current incarnation of these robots only really function on glass or other substances that allow the adhesives to maintain sufficient surface contact. This has been an issue with gecko-inspired adhesives for a long time; geckos themselves can climb on pretty much any surface, but we’re not (yet) able to match their sticky prowess.

We’re hoping to get a little bit of hands-on time with these bots at ICRA, where we’ll see two different presentations on the research.

[ Stanford ]

You know what’s easier than building a complicated robot and equipping it with sensors to do navigation and dynamic obstacle avoidance? Microsoft’s HoloLens:


I. Want. One. Of. Those.

Thanks Dan!

If you’ve ever wondered, as I frequently do, just what exactly a TurtleBot is useful for, the answer is (among other things) helping a PR2 deliver drinks:

We consider a heterogeneous multi-robot bartender and waiters domain. The robot team consists of a PR2 bartender and two Turtlebot waiters. There are also three rooms in which people can order drinks from the waiters. Our goal is to bring drinks to the rooms with orders in the quickest manner. We impose communication limitations so the robots cannot communicate unless they are in close range. As a result, the robots must make decisions based on their own information, reasoning about the status and behavior of the other robots. This is a challenging task with stochasticity in ordering, navigation, picking, and placing objects as well as partial observability. We will model this domain as a MacDec-POMDP and introduce a planning algorithm capable of automatically generating controllers for the robots (in the form of finite-state machines) that collectively maximize team utility.


After you get your robots working in a lab, it’s time to get them working outside of a lab. And that means upgraaaaades!

More info on the microgrid robots can be found in this article.

[ MTU Nonlinear and Autonomous Systems Lab ]

We saw this “wharf roach” robot at ICRA last year in Hong Kong, but it’s not like we’re tired of watching it or anything:

Suzumori Robotics Laboratory ]

There’s nothing like taking a romp on the grass in the Oregon sunshine if you’re a legged robot that’s able to withstand dodgeball abuse:


“At Keio University, the Imai Laboratory, in the Department of Information and Computer Science (Faculty of Science and Technology), is doing three research projects to make communication easier. These projects involve robots with artificial intelligence, telepresence robots, and technology for attaching sensors to people to make computers easier to use.”

The design of that little shoulder-mounted telepresence robot reminds me of something

[ Imai Lab ] via [ DigInfo ]

We’ve known for like eight years that robots are better than humans at mid-air refueling, but it’s taken until just now for the X-47B to take a shot at it:

[ X-47B ]

While we’re on the topic of aerial refueling, have a look at this video showing one robot refueling (or recharging, rather) from another, for what could be the first time ever:

[ Australian Center for Field Robotics ]

It’s always nice seeing Aldebaran Robotics’ Romeo humanoid doing something new, even if it’s just a short demo:

[ Romeo ]

This is a publicity stunt for Pepsi, and it’s very obviously staged and highly CGI’ed, but, hey, there’s a drone in it and I’m a soccer player:

Here is a much better drone, from the same guys at NASA who are working on the LEAPtech X-Plane. It’s the Greased Lightning GL-10, and it’s got more engines than you can shake nine sticks at:

[ NASA Langley ]

“We developed an interactive quadcopter that drives playback of drum sounds in real-time. A touch-sensitive quadcopter sends information to a Linux machine running ROS, the Robot Operating System, that then sends information over a network to a computer running Ableton Live 9 and Max. Somewhere in this chain, the information is translated to MIDI and fed into an Ableton Live drum rack. The performance is being visualized using WaveDNA Liquid Rhythm.”

By Xingbo Wang, Natasha Dalal, Tristan Laidlow, and Angela P. Schoellig at the University of Toronto.

[ Paper (pdf) ]

I’m not sure why we haven’t seen more videos of extreme quadcopter trick flying, since it’s what people seem to like to do with more traditional hobby-scale electric helicopters. What can be done with a quadcopter will terrify you:

Apparently this thing can hit 144 km/h (!). 

[ Quadmovr ]

Here’s an inside look at one of hinamitetu’s gymnast robots:

[ YouTube ]

DRC Hubo looks pretty stable in the lab, but we’re still waiting to see some of these DRC robots fall over and then get back up again:

[ DRC Hubo ]

We always like seeing robots operating autonomously outside of the lab, and here’s a UAV that manages to navigate using SLAM while over a lake. That’s a lot of faith in the stability of the system.

An accompanying paper is available here.

SparkFun presents EdiBot, a cute little rover that you can build from $284.80 worth of bits and pieces 

[ EdiBot ]

ZANO’s creators demonstrate its obstacle avoidance capabilities. This will be known as “drone tennis”:

[ ZANO ]

Robo Raven V utilizes both wings and propellers to generate a significantly greater amount of thrust and maneuverability, allowing it to perform tighter and more controlled aerobatics, carry greater payloads, fly for longer, and do realistic soaring and gliding.

[ University of Maryland ]

iCub, the humanoid robot of the Italian Institute of Technology, can stand, balance perform goal directed actions while interacting with people. Thanks to the artificial skin, which equips the robot with 4000 sensitive contact points, the iCub's control system measures the external forces and properly regulate these interactions in order to keep the balance.

[ IIT ]

In Syria, the BBC reports on how drones are being used to deliver food and medical supplies.

Parts of Syria are cut off from aid by fighting. Starvation of food and medical supplies has become a brutal a weapon of war. Devastated that this could be allowed to happen, a team of volunteers in America are trying to develop drones to get to places that humans and airlifts can’t.

[ Syria Airlift Project ] via [ DIY Drones ]

The Hurt Locker got it only partly right. Just ask Brian Castner, a former bomb technician with the US military. He served three tours in the Middle East, two of which were spent leading an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, and deployed small remote-controlled robots to battle a blitz of insurgent-rigged car bombs and improvised explosive devices in and around Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2006. Castner and his crew grew so reliant on these machines, which can disarm explosives from afar, that they considered them part of the team. Years later, does he still feel an attachment to the machines?

[ Motherboard ]

RoboNation TV is “your online source for investigating the latest, most innovative trends in robotic technology.”

Hmm. I thought that was IEEE Spectrum. But you can watch the video anyway:

[ RoboNation ]

This last video may be an hour and 15 minutes long (in fact it is an hour and 15 minutes long), but it’s worth your time: Brett Kennedy, from the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group at JPL, discusses rescue robots, including both RoboSimian and Surrogate:

[ JPL Robotics ]

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