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Video Friday: Morphing Wheels, Soft Inflatable Robot, and Snipe Nano Quadrotor

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

6 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Robot with morphing wheels can climb stairs
Photo: Draganfly Innovations

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!):

Innorobo – May 16-18, 2017 – Paris, France
Midwest Robotics Workshop – May 18-19, 2017 – Chicago, IL, USA
NASA Robotic Mining Competition – May 22-26, 2017 – NASA KSC, Fla., USA
IEEE ICRA – May 29-3, 2017 – Singapore
University Rover Challenge – June 1-13, 2017 – Hanksville, Utah, USA
IEEE World Haptics – June 6-9, 2017 – Munich, Germany
NASA SRC Virtual Competition – June 12-16, 2017 – Online
ICCV 2017 – June 13-16, 2017 – Venice, Italy
RoboBoat 2017 – June 20-20, 2017 – Daytona Beach, Fl., USA
Aerial Robotics International Research Symposium – June 21-22, 2017 – Toronto, ON, Canada
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2017 – London, England
Autonomous Systems World – June 26-27, 2017 – Berlin, Germany
RoboUniverse Seoul – June 28-30, 2017 – Seoul, Korea
RobotCraft 2017 – July 3-3, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong

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

A very clever design for a small mobile robot by Draganfly Innovations: morphing wheels allow it to climb stairs with ease.

The DraganScout by Draganfly Innovations Inc. is a unique ground-based robot with the ability to morph and adapt to different application or mission needs. The ability to climb stairs, stand vertically, extend a payload to 72", and tackle the worst terrain. In 1998, Draganfly Innovations re-invented the helicopter, and in 2017, re-invented the wheel. The patented wheel technology allows the wheel to quickly morph from a fast-running round shape to a claw shape for tackling stairs or other obstacles. The boom is also used as a powerful tail to assist in climbing stairs or to maintain balance while standing.

DraganScout ]

Puffy is an inflatable mobile interactive companion for children with neurodevelopmental disorders that bears a slight resemblance to a certain other robot that you may have seen in the movies:

The paper describes the design of Puffy, a robotic companion for children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders that has been developed in cooperation with a team of therapists and special educators. Puffy has a combination of features which makes it unique with respect to existing robots for this target group. Puffy is mobile and its egg-shaped body is inflatable and soft. Puffy can interpret children’s gestures and movements, facial expressions and emotions. It communicates using voice, lights, movements in space, as well as inside-out projections in its body.

The full paper is linked below.

[ CHI 2017 ]

CuddleBits: build your own tribble!

Social robots that physically display emotion invite natural communication with their human interlocutors, enabling applications like robot-assisted therapy where a complex robot’s breathing influences human emotional and physiological state. Using DIY fabrication and assembly, we explore how simple 1-DOF robots can express affect with economy and user customizability, leveraging open-source designs. We found that CuddleBits can express arousal (activation), and to a lesser degree valence (pleasantness). We also show how a sketch-refine paradigm combined with DIY fabrication and novel input methods enable parametric design of physical emotion display, and discuss how mastering this parsimonious case can give insight into layering simple behaviours in more complex robots.

CHI 2017 ]

AeroVironment’s new Snipe Nano Quadrotor weighs less than 150 grams, can fly for 15 minutes, and is ready to go in under 60 seconds:

And you don’t even need to register it with the FAA! Civilian version coming soon, we assume.

AeroVironment ]

Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo have an idea for an Adam Sandler movie that’s better than any other Adam Sandler movie:

Netflix ]

Meet the NCCR Robotics Paik Lab (RRL, EPFL) - headed by Professor Jamie Paik, the lab is dedicated to creating interactive robotic systems using cutting edge manufacturing techniques. The lab specialises in creating soft, foldable robots for use in a variety of situations, including creating compliant robotic assistive devices for people with disabilities.


Swarm robots have feelings too, and they can show you how they feel through coordinated motions:

As robots become ubiquitous in our everyday environment, we start seeing them used in groups, rather than individually, to complete tasks. We present a study aimed to understand how different movement patterns impact humans’ perceptions of groups of small tabletop robots. To understand this, we focus on the effects of changing the robots’ speed, smoothness, and synchronization, on perceived valence, arousal, and dominance. We find that speed had the strongest correlation to these factors. With regard to human emotional response to the robots, we align with and build on prior work dealing with individual robots that correlates speed to valence and smoothness to arousal. In addition, participants noted an increase in positive affect in response to synchronized motion, though synchronization had no significant impact on measured perception. Based on our quantitative and qualitative results, we describe design implications for swarm robot motion.

[ CHI 2017 ]

While perhaps not quite as dramatic as the robot soccer competition, RoboCup@Home (a competition that aims to develop service and assistive robot technology) is arguably more important to society as a whole. Here’s the final run from Tech United Eindhoven:

[ Tech United Eindhoven ] via [ RoboCup ]

How do you make a drone way more terrifying? Put an extra prop in the center and then power it with a little gas engine:

[ Canberra UAV ]

LittleBot is an Arduino-based, mostly 3D-printed programmable robot. You can use Scratch and Blockly, and there’s plenty of room for custom sensors and hardware. It’s on Kickstarter right now for $55:

Kickstarter ]

Ekso Bionics has had a busy spring, looks like:

[ Ekso Bionics ]

Before you start to panic about this U.S. Navy robot with a machine gun on it, note that the whole thing is remote controlled, so you’ll have to find a human to blame if anything goes wrong.

[ NSWC ] via [ Gizmodo ]

Exoskeletons are getting more refined and more useful, and some of the most interesting research is in systems that are assistive, making you faster and stronger without completely taking over for you. At EPFL, they’re developing an exoskeleton that’s completely passive until it detects that you’re about to lose your balance, at which point it kicks in to prevent you from falling over:

[ EPFL ]

Robots are coming for your asparagus:

That asparagus field looks fake, I know, but apparently it isn’t, that’s just what growing asparagus looks like.

[ GARotics ]

RoboMagellan is a competition at RoboGames for scratch-built robots that can navigate between waypoints and avoid obstacles, while getting bonus points for touching cones. Here’s a POV of the final run of the winning robot, EntdeckerL:

[ Marco Walther ] via [ DIY Drones ]

The Flooring Fellow is a floor cleaning robot equipped with a sponge that runs like a belt sander, for when you need your floors seriously clean:

The Flooring Fellow (2F) experiment aimed at developing a co-working robot for specific floor building functions: grout removal and floor washing with acid. The developed co-working robot, together with a range of accessory, provides increased safety, ergonomics and eco-sustainability during specific working phases. The 2F robot’s mobile base is provided with a sponge system and a mechanism to apply proper sponge pressure. The system is powered by a battery, avoiding the use of heavy power cables, and the battery pack is also extractable and portable. Navigation sensors and Robot Operating System (ROS)-based navigation software give the robot a proper level of autonomy. The system is also provided with both an autonomous and a manual control mode: a user interface for mobile devices allows the configuration, set up and control of the robot.

[ Flooring Fellow ]

This video shows the RIPPA robot working on an apple orchard in Three Bridges, Victoria, Australia. Various experimental autonomous tasks are demonstrated including: autonomous row following and changing rows, autonomous real time apple detection and targeted variable rate fluid dispensing using VIIPA.

[ ACFR ]

In this video the problem of online trajectory optimization and cooperative collision avoidance is addressed when several mobile service robots are operating in close proximity to each other. Using online trajectory optimization to obtain smooth transitions in multi-agent path crossing scenarios applies to the demand for more flexibility and efficiency in industrial autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) systems, where these situations are traditionally solved by computing either detours or by implementing simple traffic regulations, in which one agent needs to stop to let another agent pass. In this approach, the robots share each other’s trajectories using a Cloud-based navigation infrastructure so that cooperative optimization can be performed.

[ Fraunhofer IPA ]

This video summarizes the research carried out by the Robotics and Perception Group of the University of Zurich on Event-based Vision between 2013 and 2017. Event-based sensors enable the design of very agile low powered robots that respond within microseconds to changes in the environment, faster than robots based on standard cameras, which have a latency of 200 ms or more. We investigate new methods to make our robots perceive and understand the environment using neuromorphic sensors. In our work, we strive to demonstrate the capabilities of these sensors to tackle real-world robotics problems that are out of reach with traditional cameras, namely in high speed and/or high dynamic range (HDR) conditions.

[ University of Zurich ]

This TEDx talk is from Leila Takayama, who spent time at Willow Garage and Google X before becoming a professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz. As a psychologist, Leila has a unique perspective on human-robot interaction, and her talk is excellent and just 12 minutes long.

[ Leila Takayama ]

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