Video Friday: Laser SnakeBot, Million Object Challenge, and Karma Is Coming

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

7 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Video Friday: Laser SnakeBot, Million Object Challenge, and Karma Is Coming
Photo: OC Robotics

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your ready-for-the-holidays Automaton bloggers. We’ll be also posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
ASSISIbf Winter School – January 12-14, 2016 – Lausanne, Switzerland
ASU Rehabilitation Robotics Workshop – February 8-9, 2016 – Tempe, Arizona, USA

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

An industrial-grade high-powered laser: just what your snake robot always wanted.

[ OCRobotics ]

The winner of Rethink Robotics’ Video Challenge is Brown University, with this music video describing Brown’s “Million Object Challenge”:

If 300 Baxters participated in this, a million object manipulation experiences could be collected in just 11 days, and you (and your Baxter) can sign up to help here.

Watch the other finalist videos here.

[ Brown ] via [ Rethink Robotics ]

An inflatable blimp plane for exploring Venus? Northrop Grumman is working on it:

Maybe not as cool as taking humans to Venus in a blimp, but certainly more robotic, and maybe even more near-term realistic.

[ VAMP ]

This looks like fun:

Cool video from Volvo, but for the record, I very much doubt that little Sophie here was doing most of the driving.

[ Volvo ]

Texas A&M students will have the opportunity to fly a quadrotor that is located 8,000 miles away in Sydney, Australia in a race against students in Sydney who will fly a quadrotor located in College Station, Texas at the Texas A&M Student Recreation Center on the Texas A&M campus. The quadrotors, controlled by the pilots through first-person view, will race around an obstacle course for the title of AIRUS University Champion of the World.

[ Texas A&M ]

GoPro’s new drone will be called Karma:

Video looks nice, but as with every video drone, the question is whether it’ll require you to be an expert pilot, or if it’ll do all the hard stuff by itself.

[ GoPro ] via [ Gizmodo ]

ONAGOfly is the latest nanodrone on Indiegogo to promise advanced features like GPS navigation and obstacle avoidance:

ONAGOfly is currently 240 percent funded with 28 days left, but you can still pledge for one for $200. Note that a similar project on Kickstarter a year ago, ZANO, failed to deliver despite collecting £2,335,119 from backers. As always, remember that you are funding an attempt to develop a product, and not necessarily paying for the product itself.

[ Indiegogo ]

A very brief look at DJI’s consumer drone games, held in Switzerland earlier this year:

I can appreciate how using a standard platform focuses the competition on piloting skills, but it would be cool to have a contest where users could bring their own hardware, too.

[ DJI ]

I like how when you’re teleoperating a robotic hand an arm system, it looks like you’re doing the robot because you’re literally doing the robot.

[ Shadow Robot Company ]

While it’s illegal to fire projectiles from drones (because dropping anything from an aircraft is against FAA regulations), I guess flamethrowers are technically okay...?

[ The Verge ]

In Japan, wayward drones around government buildings will be scooped up by another drone carrying a 3m x 2m net underneath it:

Also useful for pigeon control.

[ Asahi Shimbun ]

We were a bit suspicious of Alpha 2’s voice in its Indiegogo video, and this may be one of the tricks they used to get it to sound so human-like: voice imitation.

Note that this won’t allow the robot to sound human like when it’s generating it’s own speech, since it’s not trying to understand the content of what it’s parroting in this demo. It’s just recording a sound and playing it back.

[ Alpha 2 ]

At IREX, Toyota’s HSR robot put on this compelling demo:

With Gill Pratt running the show now, we’re expecting something much more impressive for IREX 2017.

[ Kazumichi Moriyama ]

This video shows MIT’s robot OPTIMUS working under remote human control using a shared autonomy approach. Our system uses Director and Drake ( for visualization and motion planning.

[ Claudia D’Arpino ]

Thanks to ROS, Xaxxon’s Oculus Prime surveillance robot can autonomously go on patrol, even in the dark:

[ Xaxxon ]

Some of the UAE’s Drones for Good award recipients talk about using their drones for, um, not evil:

[ Drones for Good ]

We describe Jibo, Inc. as a design-driven company dedicated to creating unforgettable user experiences through advanced social robotics technology. In this video interview, Blade Kotelly, who heads up Design for Jibo, Inc., describes what it means to be design-driven and why this is so critical to bringing the world’s first social robot for the home to life.

[ Jibo ]

Ooooo, shiiiiiny...

[ Kazumichi Moriyama ]

Serving kids breakfast is a dull, dirty, and dangerous job. In other words, it’s a job for a robot. 

Kit Fuderich, an upper/middle school teacher at Lancaster Country Day School in Lancaster, Pa., created the little robot as part of the Teacher’s Pet Students’ Robotics Challenge, organized by element14, in collaboration with MathWorks and Adafruit. Fuderich used 3D-printed parts and a bunch of sensors, servos, and microcontrollers to build the arm, which he programmed using MATLAB/Simulink, and for the wheeled robot he used an Arduino. 

Kit learned MATLAB and Simulink by starting with the basics like graphing temperature sensor data and making a LED light blink, and applied his learning in creating the winning entry “The Rice Krispies Loader.” The final version of his robot used Simulink to move the robot chassis while interacting with an external arm. Kit mentioned that he focused on using Simulink to program Arduino because: a) the graphical, flowchart feel of the visual programming language will be appealing to his students and b) the ability to tune parameters while the code is running on hardware without having to recompile makes the process more efficient.

Since creating this robot, Kit has been able to pass on this knowledge to his students, as he sees both the value and opportunity that coding and robotics present to students everywhere. With robotics and automation becoming more commonplace in the future, there is a growing benefit for his students to learn programming skills before entering the job market. He believes that the earlier students acquire programming and engineering skills, the better able they will be in realizing their potential when engaged in post-secondary school study.

Teacher’s Pet Students’ Robotics Challenge ]

Humans versus robots; man verses his own creation. It’s one of the most well-explored power struggles we know of. And as robots increasingly become part of our daily lives, it’s one that is only gaining ground in our social consciousness. We’ve heard both sides of the debate, from those claiming robots can help us to others saying they’ll lead to our own demise. But what if the conversation didn’t rely on this “us versus them” binary? How could, for example, people and robots work together as a team to solve problems? The collaboration between people and robots can be improved upon, but the first step is moving away from making this an either/or choice. To do this, we need to be more comfortable with the machines we’d work with – we need to trust that they’ll do the right thing. We need build better machines that can reverse engineer the human mind, understand our behavior, and jump in seamlessly as a team member to shore up our weaknesses.

Julie Shah is an Associate Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and leads the Interactive Robotics Group of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Shah received her SB and SM from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and her PhD in Autonomous Systems from MIT. Before joining the faculty, she worked at Boeing Research and Technology on robotics applications for aerospace manufacturing. She has developed innovative methods for enabling fluid human-robot teamwork in time-critical, safety-critical domains, ranging from manufacturing to surgery to space exploration. Her group draws on expertise in artificial intelligence, human factors, and systems engineering to develop interactive robots that emulate the qualities of effective human team members to improve the efficiency of human-robot teamwork.

[ TEDxCambridge ]

In this lecture titled “On the Ethics of Research in Robotics”, Dr. Raja Chatila shares his reflections on this very current and engaging topic addressing both professionals in the field and the lay public affected by the commercialisation of robotic systems. Today’s robot application has reached an impressive level of capabilities and autonomous operations in sectors ranging from transport, defense, construction to medicine, among many other. The popularisation of robotics in general raises ethical questions within the general society. Will robots take our jobs? Will AI become completely autonomous and surpass the capabilities of the human mind? What about the application of autonomous lethal weapons acting without being controlled by the human hand? It is Dr. Chatila’s opinion that roboticists have the duty to educate the wider public on what is really going on with these new, incredibly advanced robotic applications. It is also up to the researchers to understand the consequences of their own research findings and commercialisation of certain robot applications.


RI Seminar: Stelian Coros : Personalized Robotic Devices

Robots have fundamentally transformed industrial manufacturing over the past five decades. As they become increasingly affordable and safe, robotic devices will have an equally profound impact on day-to-day living. Robots that help with kitchen tasks, housekeeping, gardening and do-it-yourself projects, assistance devices for people with disabilities, interactive kinetic art, smart furniture that adjusts to individual needs, and compelling physical characters for therapy, education and entertainment will all fundamentally change the way we live, work, learn and play. To best serve their purpose, such robotic devices need to be carefully engineered and customized for different applications and for the needs and preferences of different users. Today, this is a time-consuming, largely manual task that requires highly-trained personnel and significant resources. Anticipating a future where a rich ecosystem of robotic devices are tightly integrated into the fabric of daily life, relying on traditional approaches to robot-making will likely not scale. In this talk, I will present several computational design approaches that leverage the 3D Printing revolution in order to allow the general public to create personalized mechanical automata and walking robotic creatures.

[ RI Seminar ]

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