The June 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Video Friday: Self-Driving Potato, NASA at Mars, and Autonomous Sumo Robots

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

5 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum’s digital innovation director.

Self-driving potato
Image: Marek Baczynski via YouTube

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 two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 25-28, 2017 – London, England
Autonomous Systems World – June 26-27, 2017 – Berlin, Germany
RoboUniverse Seoul – June 28-30, 2017 – Seoul, Korea
RobotCraft 2017 – July 3-3, 2017 – Coimbra, Portugal
ICAR 2017 – July 10-12, 2017 – Hong Kong
RSS 2017 – July 12-16, 2017 – Cambridge, Mass., USA
MARSS – July 17-21, 2017 – Montreal, Canada
Summer School on Soft Manipulation – July 17-21, 2017 – Lake Chiemsee, Germany
Living Machines Conference – July 25-28, 2017 – Stanford, Calif., USA
RoboCup 2017 – July 27-31, 2017 – Nagoya, Japan
IEEE CASE 2017 – August 20-23, 2017 – Xi’an, China

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

At the Queensland University of Technology, in Australia, roboticists have spent the last 14 years honing a robot navigation system modeled on the brains of rats. This biologically inspired approach, they hope, could help robots navigate dynamic environments without requiring advanced, costly sensors and computationally intensive algorithms.

Hey, that’s our video! And you can read more about this research at the link.

[ Best Website Ever ]

No one under 20 has experienced a day without NASA at Mars. The Pathfinder mission, carrying the Sojourner rover, landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. In the 20 years since Pathfinder’s touchdown, eight other NASA landers and orbiters have arrived successfully, and not a day has passed without the United States having at least one active robot on Mars or in orbit around Mars.

Aww, videos like that always make me tear up a little. And I dunno what that humanoid-robot-dump-truck-thing was at the end, but I like it.


Marek Baczynski made a self-driving potato. And then named it “Pontus” and adopted it as a pet. 

Note: This potato may occasionally have been augmented with lithium-ion batteries. Also note: many, many potatoes were almost certainly harmed in the making of this video.

YouTube ]

Crabster CR6000 dove to 4,743 meters, the floor of the Pacific Ocean, where it discovered some sort of horrible and terrifying sea creature:


Humans are doomed, and this supercut of autonomous sumo robots proves it:

3:31 was my favorite.

[ YouTube ]

WiFi signals are everywhere these days. Unmanned aerial vehicles are expected to become a part of our near-future society. In this paper, we are interested in the possibilities created at this intersection of robotics and communication. More specifically, we propose a new methodology that enables the first demonstration of high-resolution 3D through-wall imaging of completely unknown areas, using only WiFi signals and unmanned aerial vehicles. Some of the key features of our approach are as follows: 1) only WiFi RSSI measurements are used, 2) no prior measurements need to be made in the area of interest, and 3) the objects do not have to move to be imaged. Here, we briefly summarize our proposed approach and show sample experiments results.


If the mobile version of was a little too spendy for you, One is now up for grabs on Indiegogo:

TheCorpora has been building robots for a decade; here’s a bit of background on the company.

[ Indiegogo ] via [ Thecorpora ]

I like Plen <3

[ Plen Project ]

Pepper is having just as much fun with a fidget spinner as I ever have:

[ Pepper ]

As robotic systems become more popular in household environments, the complexity of required tasks also increases. In this work we focus on a domestic chore deemed dull by a majority of the population, the task of ironing. The presented algorithm improves on the limited number of previous works by joining 3D perception with force/torque sensing, with emphasis on finding a practical solution with a feasible implementation in a domestic setting. Our algorithm obtains a point cloud representation of the working environment. From this point cloud, the garment is segmented and a custom Wrinkleness Local Descriptor (WiLD) is computed to determine the location of the present wrinkles. Using this descriptor, the most suitable ironing path is computed and, based on it, the manipulation algorithm performs the force-controlled ironing operation. Experiments have been performed with a humanoid robot platform, proving that our algorithm is able to detect successfully wrinkles present in garments and iteratively reduce the wrinkleness using an unmodified iron.

Brought to you by researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid, Spain, and to be presented at IROS later this year in Vancouver.

[ arXiv ] via [ New Scientist ]

Students, members of the Mars Water Horizons team at Penn, built an ice drilling robot as part of a NASA student challenge to design a system that could recover water from the surface of Mars.

[ NASA ]

Here’s a robot you’ll never want to turn off, ever.

[ YouTube ]

Robot attempts to remove head of small child:

Fourteen-year-old Emma Lin removes the hat of her eight-year-old brother, Kevin, with the help of a robotic arm during their tour of the MCube Lab located in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

[ MIT ]

From Chris Atkeson in the mid-1990s, a blind juggler robot handling three balls at once with soft paddles:

The juggler in the video does not use visual feedback (it is blind) and uses the pattern of motion and the soft paddle to stabilize the juggling. We use the same drive trajectory to stabilize 3 separate jugglers to demonstrate open loop (blind) juggling.

[ Chris Atkeson ]

Three lucky season ticket holders Beamed into Golden State Warriors Media Day 2015! The fans had the chance to meet the championship team, attend press conferences, receive an exclusive look at player photoshoots, and more!

Still waiting for the Beam vs. pro basketball players grudge match.

[ Suitable Technologies ]

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) will be the stage for an unprecedented air show during the EPFL Drone Days this coming September. The event will combine a spectacular drone race, an exhibition on the latest advances in robotics research, and conferences on innovation, safety and sport – all in the same place.

[ EPFL ]

This video animation shows the task of the AUVx within the EurEx mission scenario: Shortly after the icedrill melted through the iceshield of Jupiters moon Europa, several µGliders are released. The AUVx will determine the position of each µGlider and transmit the positions to the autonomous research vehicle Leng.

Oh that’s a cool concept—but wait, they have real ones!


If you haven’t seen this 1911 film featuring a humanoid robot driving a car, you’ve been missing out on learning about all of the potential self-driving car catastrophies that could happen to you: Did you know that if you let a robot drive your car, you could end up in space?

[ Atlas Obscura ] via [ Cars That Think ]

The Conversation (0)