Another Video Friday and still no Evan! I really need him back on the blog. Evan? Evan?! EVAAAAAAN!
We first wrote about Roombots three years ago, and back then the researchers at the EPFL Biorobotics Lab, led by Professor Auke Ijspeert, were just getting started with their self-assembling robotic furniture. Now the researchers have some real robots to show off. As Ijspeert himself puts it, this is a "crazy project" to create adaptive furniture that can change shape and functionality and even move around. His group has built robotic modules that can attach to one another and use onboard motors to change their shape. One of the goals is creating furniture that can assist elderly people living alone—imagine a table that can approach a person and bring over food or medicine, Ijspeert says.
Remember Hummingbird, the awesome educational robotics kit we said "every kid needs one"? BirdBrain Technologies, the Carnegie Mellon spinoff that created Hummingbird, has just announced the next generation of its kit. One of the things that makes Hummingbird cool is that it's designed to be really easy to use, and it comes with components that snap together and a friendly programming interface. Hummingbird has been used in more than 100 classrooms, so BirdBrain collected a lot of feedback to improve the design and capabilities of the new kit. The Hummingbird Duo operates in two modes: as a tethered device that can control all kinds of robots using languages like Scratch, or as a more advanced controller, which relies on an integrated Arduino Leonardo with a servo motor shield. It's now available on Kickstarter, starting at $130 for a basic kit.
[ Hummingbird Duo ]
The World Cup starts next month, but humans are not the only ones playing in a soccer tournament in Brazil: Robocup takes place the following month in the town of João Pessoa, in the northeast part of Brazil. The event has been growing tremendously and it has now many categories, including wheeled robots and humanoids of various sizes. The middle size robot league is one of my favorites, because the robots keep getting better at passing and kicking every year. Check out a recent match below between Tech United from the Netherlands and Cambada from Portugal.
[ Tech United ]
I didn't know Robotis had unveiled its Darwin Mini, a smaller version of its Darwin-OP humanoid. The vid below is a month old, but I'm including it here anyway, because why not? One thing that looks really interesting is controlling the robot using a smartphone. Bigger humanoids like Darwin-OP and NAO can be intimidating for beginners, and programming them has a steep learning curve. But mastering a smartphone app—much easier!
Another week, another drone stunt. This time a pizzeria in Mumbai, India, uses a quadrotor to "make a delivery." As we've said before, delivery by drone will happen in the future, sure, but what you see today in this and other videos is not for real—these are videos created for promotional purposes and they don't show real services that people can use. But don't worry: the future is coming, and it looks delicious.
Speaking of stunts and drones. This dude bought an AR Drone at Bed Bath & Beyond (seriously) and made a video showing the quadrotor "walking his dog." Of course, the video went viral, and the funny thing is some companies even contacted him to ask if his dog-walking drone system was real.
The first time I saw a robotic exoskeleton designed for people with disabilities I thought, "no way this will ever going to work." I was so wrong. Not only it's working, robotic exoskeletons are getting better and better at a fast pace. The most famous are probably Ekso Bionics, which we've featured in IEEE Spectrum a number of times, and the HAL suit from Japanese company Cyberdyne, about which we've also written before (and which Evan even strapped himself to a few years ago). Recently, though, I learned about Rex Bionics, a New Zealand company that has developed an impressive system.
A Shadow Hand with three fingers? Yes, this is a custom hand Shadow created for a group of Chinese researchers. Also interesting is that the researchers attached the hand to a Universal Robots UR-5 robot arm. The video below is a demo of force control in the robot arm, showing it can safely interact with people and that in case of a collision the human does not get hurt.
[ Shadow Hand ]
The video below is not real footage; it's an animation. But what it shows is pretty interesting: Dextre, the Canadian robotic arm on the International Space Station, has done several repair and maintenance missions before. Now, however, it's preparing to do something quite new: repair itself. The animation shows how Dextre will remove two faulty cameras and replace them with new ones.
[ Dextre ]
When did you last vacuum under your bed? Never? So long ago you don't even remember? Then you're not alone. According to a Neato Robotics survey, almost 40 percent of respondents said they have never vacuumed under their bed or hadn't done so for at least six months. Another reason to love robot vacuums! And kudos to Neato Robotics VP of marketing Nancy Nunziati who took to the streets trying to get strangers to talk to her on camera (having done my share of these as a reporter, I know it's not a walk in the park).
[ Neato Robotics ]
And finally, snake robots powered by series elastic actuators. This type of actuator is used in a variety of robots, including the Meka humanoids and Baxter from Rethink Robotics. But this is the first time I see them being used in a robot snake. It's a brilliant idea, tough, because as the video shows, the series elastic actuators let the snake sense and control the torque on each of its joints, allowing it to perform lifelike motions without a complex controller. Its creators named it the Series Elastic Snake Robot, naturally.
Erico Guizzo is the Director of Digital Innovation at IEEE Spectrum, and cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.