Video Friday: MIT Develops Ionogel Soft Robot Hand

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.

Soft robotic fingers with embedded ionogel sensors created by MIT researchers, who'll present this project at RoboSoft 2019.
Soft robotic fingers with embedded ionogel sensors created by MIT researchers, who'll present this project at RoboSoft 2019.
Image: MIT

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

RoboSoft 2019 – April 14-18, 2019 – Seoul, Korea
NIST ARIAC Challenge – April 15-19, 2019 – Online
Nîmes Robotics Festival – May 17-19, 2019 – Nîmes, France
ICRA 2019 – May 20-24, 2019 – Montreal, Canada
2nd Annual Robotics Summit & Expo – June 4-6, 2019 – Boston, Mass., USA
ICUAS 2019 – June 11-14, 2019 – Atlanta, Ga., USA
Energy Drone Coalition Summit – June 12-13, 2019 – Woodlands, Texas, USA
Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics – June 23-26, 2019 – London, U.K.
ETH Robotics Summer School – June 27-1, 2019 – Zurich, Switzerland

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

The 2019 IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics (RoboSoft) takes place in Seoul, South Korea, next week, and the organizers put together this preview video stuffed full of—what else?—soft robots.

[ RoboSoft 2019 ]

Thanks Kyujin!

Single-stream recycling is currently an extremely labor intensive process due to the need for manual object sorting. Soft robotics offers a natural solution as compliant robots require less computation to plan paths and grasp objects in a cluttered environment. However, most soft robots are not robust enough to handle the many sharp objects present in a recycling facility. In this work, we present a soft sensorized robotic gripper which is fully electrically driven and can detect the difference between paper, metal and plastic. By combining handed shearing auxetics with high deformation capacitive pressure and strain sensors, we present a new puncture resistant soft robotic gripper.

[ Paper ]

iRobot CEO Colin Angle believes that one of the best ways to learn how something works is by taking it apart. In honor of National Robotics Week, Mr. Angle dismantles a Roomba robot vacuum to demonstrate that its not "magic" that makes a Roomba tick, but great engineering.

If you don’t have your own old Roomba, you can find them for next to nothing on Craigslist, and they can be useful both slightly less taken apart than this, as well as completely eviscerated.

[ iRobot ]

Along developed riverbanks, physical barriers can help contain flooding and combat erosion. In arid regions, check dams can help retain soil after rainfall and restore damaged landscapes. In construction projects, metal plates can provide support for excavations, retaining walls on slopes, or permanent foundations. All of these applications can be addressed with the use of sheet piles, elements folded from flat material and driven vertically into the ground to form walls and stabilize soil.

With this motivation, a team of roboticists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has developed a robot that can autonomously drive interlocking steel sheet piles into soil. The structures that it builds could function as retaining walls or check dams for erosion control.

[ Wyss Institute ]

Starship’s robots are delivering to the residents of Milton Keynes, UK seven days a week, 365 days a year. After our one year anniversary of operations in the city, we decided to ask residents what they thought about our service and how they use it. The delivery robots have now completed over 50,000 commercial deliveries globally and travelled over 200,000 miles.

For urban and suburban deliveries, I still prefer ground robots like Starship over drones. They’re safer, quieter, and can carry more. They may take a little longer, but so what?

[ Starship ]

Robots: helping endangered rhinos become a little less endangered.

[ UCSD ARClab ]

This video shows some of Laikago’s new skills created in 2018. Our new robot (2019) coming soon! Faster, Higher, Stronger...

[ Unitree ]

If your job is shearing sheep, you’re in for a baaad time because the robots are coming.

[ Asahi ]

Professor Shai Revzen’s Biologically Inspired Robotics and Dynamical Systems (BIRDS) Lab took advantage of the winter weather and tested a new BigAnt in the snow. With a change in materials from poster board to corrugated plastic, BigAnt could withstand the snow and climb hills better than its human handlers.

[ BIRDS Lab ]

For some specific tasks, robots don’t need to be particularly clever if you just make them big enough.

One thousand and five hundred boxes per hour. But can it put them back in again?

[ Honeywell ] via [ RobotStart ]

Carnegie Mellon University’s MoBot Races have been going for 25 years! Twenty five years ago, I was—well, I was younger, let’s leave it at that.

[ CMU MoBot ]

Why learn how to be a fancy drone pilot when your drone can do all of the filming itself? And not just some boring subject tracking, but actual fancy autonomous camera moves deep-learninged from the pros.

[ CVPR Paper ]

Here’s some additional footage of GITAI’s teleoperated space station robot doing some testing on space stuff.

I like the little bits of tape that make the tools robot friendly.


The worst thing about watching robots handling cupcakes is that I don’t have any cupcakes.

[ Soft Robotics ]

This research is a few years old, but it’s interesting to consider how best to teach a UAV to snag a parachute.

Demonstrating how small UASs can autonomously track, chase and intercept airborne parachute-systems (often carrying atmospheric sensing equipment). Parachutes are generally hard to model, and hovering close to the canopy is usually unfavourable - but multirotors are also agile and hence useful in such applications.

[ NIMBUS Lab ]

Matthias Scheutz and his team at Tufts University’s Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory are developing a new kind of artificial intelligence designed to adhere to the social and moral norms that guide humans’ lives. And that means our robots will sometimes need to tell us “no.”


You know it’s a video from a military contractor when there are scary animations and rock music.

[ Raytheon ]

Rodney Brooks gave the annual Sackler Lecture here in Washington, D.C. a few weeks back. I was in the audience, and like every other Rodney Brooks talk I’ve ever been to, it was amazing. The topic is “Steps Toward Super Intelligence,” and it’s mostly Rod giving us a reality check about deep learning.

[ NAS ]

This week’s CMU RI Seminar is by Amir Barati Farimani from CMU, on “Creative Robots With Deep Reinforcement Learning.”

Recent advances in Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL) algorithms provided us with the possibility of adding intelligence to robots. Recently, we have been applying a variety of DRL algorithms to the tasks that modern control theory may not be able to solve. We observed intriguing creativity from robots when they are constrained in reaching a certain goal. To introduce the topic, I will talk about some of the experiments that are being done to show the capabilities and limitations of modern Deep Reinforcement Learning approaches, including those of sparse rewards and continuous observations and action spaces. An in depth explanation of how Hindsight Experience Replay (HER) has been used to obtain dense results from sparse environments when using Deep Deterministic Policy Gradient (DDPG) agents will be given. I will then show how we have modified some of these experiments to have a deeper understanding of the intelligence we are developing, and what are the baseline environmental characteristics that make the robots achieve higher levels of creativity during their problem solving scenarios.

[ CMU RI ]

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