Video Friday: NASA's Opportunity Rover Celebrates 10 Years on Mars

This tough robot has spent a decade on the Red Planet and is still going

2 min read
Video Friday: NASA's Opportunity Rover Celebrates 10 Years on Mars

A decade ago, it was 2004. In 2004, I had long hair, was convinced I was going to be a geologist, and I didn't care a jot about robots. Also in 2004, a pair of NASA robotic rovers landed on Mars to begin an ambitious three months worth of exploration and scientific discovery. Three months! That's how long NASA engineers expected the rovers would survive. But as of today, one of those rovers is still alive and well, roving around and doing science.

NASA's Opportunity really deserves to be front page news every single day that it manages to not succumb to having spent a decade on THE PLANET MARS without any sort of direct tech support whatsoever. Seriously. This robot is stupendously complicated, and was only really designed for a three-month mission. Operating for six months would have been impressive. A year? That's crazy talk. And it's now been 10 years.

JPL has put together some highlight videos to help celebrate; the first three are bite-sized (just three very worthwhile minutes each), while the last one is a full NASA press conference for you hardcore fans:





[ 10 Years on Mars ]



We like to fantasize about robots doing their own thing, but working very (very) closely with humans has a huge amount of potential for one particular type of application: rehabilitation. Carnegie Mellon has developed a sort of robotic ankle support with pneumatically powered muscles that doesn't just provide support and increase range of motion, but can also "reeducate" your neuromuscular system if it needs a little bit of help. The sensors they've come up with are especially cool, since they rely on liquid metal to measure flexible deformation:

[ CMU ]



The Discovery Channel (the one in Canada) stopped by Texas A&M's AMBER Lab to watch their latest human-like walking robot try and handle obstacles:

[ AMBER Lab ]



I have no idea why the defense industry is so determined to make their robot videos as dramatic as possible, but that seems to be what they do. Eventually, this game of one-upsmanship will result in all robot demo vids being just one gigantic continuous explosion, but we're not there yet, so here's some footage of Northrop Grumman's MQ-8C Fire Scout:

[ Fire Scout ]



NAO is entertaining enough as a robot, but giving it a portable arm-projector is a fantastic idea:

Via [ YouTube ]



If you don't need a telepresence robot system on wheels, Revolve Robotics' KUBI now works with (appropriately enough) Android:

[ Revolve Robotics ]



It's always nice to see Baxter out in the wild being productive, and here's one working at a custom injection molded plastics factory:

[ Rethink Robotics ]



Does your robot arm have balls? If not, maybe it should:


[ Empire Robotics ]



Yep, I totally want to go to the parties that REEM goes to:

[ PAL Robotics ]



We'll close things out with a TED Talk from Guy Hoffman, who's been giving robots soul through creative use of music and art:

[ IDC ] via [ TED ]

The Conversation (0)

How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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