The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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MIT supernumerary robotic limb
Image: d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology/MIT 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 few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2020 – June 1-15, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
RSS 2020 – July 12-16, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
ICUAS 2020 – September 1-4, 2020 – Athens, Greece
ICRES 2020 – September 28-29, 2020 – Taipei, Taiwan
ICSR 2020 – November 14-16, 2020 – Golden, Colorado

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

We are seeing some exciting advances in the development of supernumerary robotic limbs. But one thing about this technology remains a major challenge: How do you control the extra limb if your own hands are busy—say, if you’re carrying a package? MIT researchers at Professor Harry Asada’s lab have an idea. They are using subtle finger movements in sensorized gloves to control the supernumerary limb. The results are promising, and they’ve demonstrated a waist-mounted arm with a qb SoftHand that can help you with doors, elevators, and even handshakes.

Paper ]


Fluid actuated soft robots, or fluidic elastomer actuators, have shown great potential in robotic applications where large compliance and safe interaction are dominant concerns. They have been widely studied in wearable robotics, prosthetics, and rehabilitations in recent years. However, such soft robots and actuators are tethered to a bulky pump and controlled by various valves, limiting their applications to a small confined space. In this study, we report a new and effective approach to fluidic power actuation that is untethered, easy to design, fabricate, control, and allows various modes of actuation. In the proposed approach, a sealed elastic tube filled with fluid (gas or liquid) is segmented by adaptors. When twisting a segment, two major effects could be observed: (1) the twisted segment exhibits a contraction force and (2) other segments inflate or deform according to their constraint patterns.

Paper ]

And now: “Magnetic cilia carpets.”

ETH Zurich ]

To adhere to government recommendations while maintaining requirements for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Yaskawa Motoman is now utilizing an HC10DT collaborative robot to take individual employee temperatures. Named “Covie”, the design and fabrication of the robotic solution and its software was a combined effort by Yaskawa Motoman’s Technology Advancement Team (TAT) and Product Solutions Group (PSG), as well as a group of robotics students from the University of Dayton.

They should have programmed it to nod if your temperature was normal, and smacked you upside the head while yelling “GO HOME” if it wasn’t.

Yaskawa ]

Driving slowly on pre-defined routes, ZMP’s RakuRo autonomous vehicle helps people with mobility challenges enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan.

RakuRo costs about US $1,000 per month to rent, but ZMP suggests that facilities or groups of ~10 people could get together and share one, which makes the cost much more reasonable.


Jessy Grizzle from the Dynamic Legged Locomotion Lab at the University of Michigan writes:

Our lab closed on March 20, 2020 under the State of Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe" order. For a 24-hour period, it seemed that our labs would be "sanitized" during our absence. Since we had no idea what that meant, we decided that Cassie Blue needed to "Stay Home, Stay Safe" as well. We loaded up a very expensive robot and took her off campus. On May 26, we were allowed to re-open our laboratory. After thoroughly cleaning the lab, disinfecting tools and surfaces, developing and getting approval for new safe operation procedures, we then re-organized our work areas to respect social distancing requirements and brought Cassie back to the laboratory.

During the roughly two months we were working remotely, the lab’s members got a lot done. Papers were written, dissertation proposals were composed, and plans for a new course, ROB 101, Computational Linear Algebra, were developed with colleagues. In addition, one of us (Yukai Gong) found the lockdown to his liking! He needed the long period of quiet to work through some new ideas for how to control 3D bipedal robots.

[ Michigan Robotics ]

Thanks Jesse and Bruce!

You can tell that this video of how Pepper has been useful during COVID-19 is not focused on the United States, since it refers to the pandemic in past tense.

[ Softbank Robotics ]

NASA’s water-seeking robotic Moon rover just booked a ride to the Moon’s South Pole. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been selected to deliver the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to the Moon in 2023.

[ NASA ]

This could be the most impressive robotic gripper demo I have ever seen.

[ Soft Robotics ]

Whiz, an autonomous vacuum sweeper, innovates the cleaning industry by automating tedious tasks for your team. Easy to train, easy to use, Whiz works with your staff to deliver a high-quality clean while increasing efficiency and productivity.

[ Softbank Robotics ]

About 40 seconds into this video, a robot briefly chases a goose.

[ Ghost Robotics ]

SwarmRail is a new concept for rail-guided omnidirectional mobile robot systems. It aims for a highly flexible production process in the factory of the future by opening up the available work space from above. This means that transport and manipulation tasks can be carried out by floor- and ceiling-bound robot systems. The special feature of the system is the combination of omnidirectionally mobile units with a grid-shaped rail network, which is characterized by passive crossings and a continuous gap between the running surfaces of the rails. Through this gap, a manipulator operating below the rail can be connected to a mobile unit traveling on the rail.


RightHand Robotics (RHR), a leader in providing robotic piece-picking solutions, is partnered with PALTAC Corporation, Japan’s largest wholesaler of consumer packaged goods. The collaboration introduces RightHand’s newest piece-picking solution to the Japanese market, with multiple workstations installed in PALTAC’s newest facility, RDC Saitama, which opened in 2019 in Sugito, Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

[ RightHand Robotics ]

From the ICRA 2020, a debate on the “Future of Robotics Research,” addressing such issues as “robotics research is over-reliant on benchmark datasets and simulation” and “robots designed for personal or household use have failed because of fundamental misunderstandings of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI).”

[ Robotics Debates ]

MassRobotics has a series of interviews where robotics celebrities are interviewed by high school students.The students are perhaps a little awkward (remember being in high school?), but it’s honest and the questions are interesting. The first two interviews are with Laurie Leshin, who worked on space robots at NASA and is now President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Colin Angle, founder and CEO of iRobot.

[ MassRobotics ]

Thanks Andrew!

In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Dr. Timothy Chung, a program manager since 2016 in the agency’s Tactical Technology Office, delves into his robotics and autonomous technology programs – the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge and OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET). From robot soccer to live-fly experimentation programs involving dozens of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), he explains how he aims to assist humans heading into unknown environments via advances in collaborative autonomy and robotics.


The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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