Video Friday: RHex Pronking, LS3 Goes to Hawaii, and RoboBoat 2014

It's been a week full of ground robots, and it shows in our Friday full of videos

3 min read
Video Friday: RHex Pronking, LS3 Goes to Hawaii, and RoboBoat 2014

Video Friday is almost always a nice refreshing dash of randomness. We collect videos all week, and then jam 'em in here for you to check out, without much in the way of foresight (or afterthought). Some weeks, all we can find are drones, drones, drones. Other weeks, like this week, it's more about the ground robots, and we've got some fantastic vids to share today, including new tricks from RHex and LS3 out exploring Hawaii.

UPenn's RHex robot is already accomplished at doing parkour moves, and now it's learned a new trick: a stable pronk.

Here a new behavior is presented that is both significantly faster than prior pronking gaits and also inherently stable allowing for open-loop operation. This new, stably robust pronk will enable dynamic transitions such leaping from running in any stride without requiring a decision two strides ahead of the leap.

For reference, here's how it works in springboks:

This work was presented earlier this week at the 2014 Robotics: Science and Systems Conference in Berkeley, Calif.

[ Kodlab ]



Everybody is working on combat robots these days, and Russia is making sure that it doesn't fall behind. Platform-M is a remote controlled (not autonomous) ground vehicle that carries a machine gun and grenade launchers:

Platform-M is a universal combat platform. It is used for gathering intelligence, for discovering and eliminating stationary and mobile targets, for firepower support, for patrolling and for guarding important sites. The unit's weapons can be guided, it can carry out supportive tasks and it can destroy targets in automatic or semiautomatic control systems; it is supplied with optical-electronic and radio reconnaissance locators.

Via [ Gizmodo ]



Baxter is cheap enough that even woefully underfunded public schools can afford one, and that lets them start teaching kids as young as fifth graders to code on a real robot:

[ Rethink Robotics ]



How strong is a Clearpath's Grizzly robot? THIS STRONG.

[ Clearpath Robotics ]

Editor's Note: A reader writes in to say that pulling airplanes is a "fundamentally deceptive" stunt. He says:

Pulling planes (which can have tires inflated over 200 psi) is not that hard, due to their tires generally having very low rolling resistance at near zero speed (perhaps 0.5 percent) even though their specified maximum rolling resistance is higher (1-3 percent). Note that rolling resistance is not the same as the coefficient of friction between the tire and the runway surface, which prevents slipping, and is generally high. So a 100,000 lb plane * 0.5 percent takes about 500 lbs of tension to pull, which I'm guessing is the order of magnitude of the weight of the Clearpath robot, as if it was less it would need a coefficient of friction between its tires and the ground > 1. Five hundred pounds is not much force. Single human beings can generate it and pull large planes.

In fact, the reader notes that the stunt is routinely done by strongman and other performers around the world (sometimes using their teeth). The current record, according to the Guinness, belongs to a Canadian reverend who was able to pull a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft weighing 188.83 metric tons (416,299 lbs). Not with his teeth, though!


The United States Marines are in Hawaii, testing a Boston Dynamics LS3 as part of a field exercise. This is about as close as you can get to deploying a system without actually deploying it. We'd like to think that this bodes well for getting LS3s into the hands of soldiers who need them, but with Boston Dynamics now a part of Google, the future of LS3 is not at all certain.

[ Boston Dynamics ]



PadBot is like a Double, except not self-balancing, and stuck at the approximate level of everybody's crotch. But hey, it's cheap: you can riskily pledge for one on Indiegogo for just $360 (tablet not included).

[ PadBot ]



Team Blacksheep is, all by themselves, supplying the answer for why we need to be able to fly drones really really fast and really really low all over the place:

[ Team Blacksheep ]



Robots end up at trade shows of one sort or another all the time, and inevitably, their human masters will get bored. Sometimes, this leads to shenanigans:

Via [ Robots Dreams ]



A little bit of hackery can turn a Thymio robot into a teeny tiny little strandbeest:

[ Thymio ]



Do we need a new federal agency to deal with robots? According to Ryan Calo, who most definitely knows what he's talking about, maybe we do:



Our last video this week is footage from AUVSI's 2014 RoboBoat challenge for autonomous surface vehicles. Emphasis on the word "autonomous": there are no humans in the loop here, and the boats are competing for glory all on their own.

[ RoboBoat ]

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

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

"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.

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.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less