Video Friday: NASA Is Sending Small Helicopter to Mars in 2020

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

5 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

NASA's Mars Helicopter
A flight model of NASA's Mars Helicopter, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The aluminum base plate, side posts, and crossbeam around the helicopter protect its landing legs and the attachment points that will hold it to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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!):

ISMR 2019 – April 1-5, 2019 – Atlanta, GA, USA
U.S. National Robotics Week – April 6-14, 2019 – USA
We Robot 2019 – April 11-13, 2019 – Miami, Florida, USA
RoboSoft 2019 – April 14-18, 2019 – Seoul, South Korea
NIST ARIAC Challenge – April 15-19, 2019 – Online
Nîmes Robotics Festival – May 17-19, 2019 – Nîmes, France
ICRA 2019 – May 20-24, 2019 – Montreal, Canada

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

NASA is sending a small helicopter to Mars in 2020, and it managed to get airborne in a simulated Martian atmosphere without crashing or exploding.

I really want to get excited about this thing, and from a technology perspective, I am. It just seems like a bit of a strange thing to be sending to Mars at this point, because it doesn’t appear to be able to do any science. As NASA says, the helicopters could be used as scouts on Mars one day, which would be nice, I guess, but we already have pretty good satellite coverage of the whole planet.

There’s something to be said for doing it because we can, and I’m sure it’s going to send back some cool pictures, including photos of the Mars 2020 rover itself on the Martian surface.

[ JPL ]

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have been experimenting with using drones as mobile hacking platforms, and also with ways of defending against the same sorts of drones. This first video shows how a drone carrying a cellular network spoofer hidden inside a pizza box could gain control over your Wi-Fi-enabled sprinkler system:

This second video is particularly interesting, showing a method by which it’s possible to figure out if a nearby drone is looking at you. All you need is a bright LED light that can be set to flicker at a specific frequency, and a laptop that can sniff Wi-Fi packets. The idea is that if the drone is looking at you, the pattern of the flashing LED will be detectable in its Wi-Fi camera feed, even if you can’t break into the content of the feed itself.

[ Ben Nassi ]

Thanks, Andy!

Starship is introducing a new package delivery service:

Not a problem I thought I had, but my love of robots makes me want it to be a problem anyway, just so a cool robot can solve it.

[ Starship ]

For those of you who need a little something extra with your outdoor rovers, Clearpath has you more than covered with Moose:

Moose is engineered to go where no other UGV can. Its rugged, lightweight steel and aluminum build gives it low ground pressure and traction to tackle all types of difficult terrains including steep grades and soft soils. With optional built-in bilge pumps and an IP rating of 65, Moose is fully amphibious, capable of moving through waterways at speeds up to 5 km/hr.

[ Clearpath ]

ANYmal, a quadrupedal robot developed by RSL (ETH Zurich) and ANYbotics, is deployed in subterranean environments. The legged robot explores an unknown area while creating a 3D representation of the surroundings.

[ ANYmal ]

Evolutionary algorithms can create robot designs without direct human interaction; the Robot Fabricator will extend this to create physical copies of these designs (phenotypes) without direct human interaction. The Robot Fabricator will receive genomes and produce populations of physical individuals that can then be tested, allowing this to form part of the evolutionary loop, so robotic evolution is not confined to simulation. In order to allow the production of robot bodies with the widest variety of shapes and functional parts, individuals will be produced through 3D printing, with prefabricated actuators and sensors autonomously attached in the positions determined by evolution.

[ University of York ]

I don’t know what I would do with one of these, but that’s some slick engineering right there:

[ Paper ] via [ Laval University ]

The Human-Robot Interaction Lab studies how to understand and improve all aspects of interactions between humans and robots. Led by Professor Matthias Scheutz, the HRI Lab is part of the Tufts University School of Engineering.

Always nice to see PR2 out there doing good work.

[ Tufts HRI Lab ]

ADAMA and Tactical Robotics have begun a feasibility study to evaluate the potential for aerial spraying using the Ag-Cormorant. The video demonstrates an innovative vision for the future of aerial spraying application in the agricultural industry. In this first test, the aircraft is flying out of ground effect (OGE) for initial calibration of the system.

[ Urban Aero ]

Tyndall Air Force Base sustained catastrophic damage during Hurricane Michael back in October, and RE2 Robotics helped with the cleanup using remotely operated heavy machinery:

[ RE2 ]

With more areas around the globe being used for agriculture and development, elephants are increasingly at risk from poachers and other human encounters. At Kenya’s Mara Elephant Project, staff are turning to drones as a vital tool for managing these extraordinary animals.


[ Mara Elephant Project ]

This edit of two tapes in the RI archive from April and November 1984 features Red Whittaker outlining the goals of the project and what was learned from the first prototype. Later in this edit is footage from when the RRV (Remote Reconnaissance Vehicle) was put inside the Three Mile Island (aka TMI) facility in November 1984.

[ CMU ]

A look at the Juno-TRT rover (TRT stands for Teleoperation Robotic Testbed) and the impressive things it can do. This terrestrial prototype of a lunar rover is used during a Lunar Exploration Analogue Deployment (LEAD) mission.

[ CSA ]

Can you make a drone entirely out of LEGOs? Maybe. Sort of. Although it’s not quite a drone. But the video is interesting.

[ YouTube ]

Some good work from HKU and HKUST on gap navigation with quadrotors.

[ HKU ] and [ HKUST ]

Sagittarius is a force augmentation exoskeleton designed to offload 75 lbs. of payload from an able-bodied operator. Currently under development, shown here the exoskeleton is compensating for its own weight while allowing an operator to move freely.

[ Apptronik ]

This lecture will bring you up to speed on all things Mars, including the biggest dust storm in a decade, rolling (and drilling) on "Rubin Ridge," a new rover under construction, and a recent arrival on Mars preparing to get down to business.

[ JPL ]

The responsible advancement and application of AI is a subject of much debate across research, government, defense, and commercial communities. Issues surrounding trust, privacy, security, and beyond are examined as the technology continues to advance and the number of applications expands. This panel discussion will explore the ethical considerations surrounding artificial intelligence research and development as it exists today, and is expected to evolve over the next decade.


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