Video Friday: Tesla’s Robot Tentacle, Subscale Aircraft, and Virtual Humans Getting Dressed

No more killer robots debate today, let's just relax with a bunch of fun videos

4 min read
Video Friday: Tesla’s Robot Tentacle, Subscale Aircraft, and Virtual Humans Getting Dressed
Just the kind of thing you want living in your garage.
Image: Tesla via YouTube

We spent most of this week arguing thinking about whether armed autonomous robots are a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t think we should ban killer robots, but lots of people think that it’s very clear that we should. There’s been an enormous debate in the comments of these articles, and on Twitter as well. Georgia Tech’s Ron Arkin weighed in this week, and we’ll have another expert perspective next week. We’re not expecting to reach a consensus here: there’s no easy (or even unambiguously correct) answer. What we’re trying to do, though, is to provide as many perspectives on the issue as possible to help you inform your own thinking. The ethics of robotics is something that we’re very interested in, and we’ll be returning to it in a variety of contexts over this year and next.

Still, that’s all some heavy, heavy stuff, you know? So let’s all just chill out with a bunch of robot videos.

Someone at Telsa must have thought to themselves, “Let’s design a robot that can recharge our electric car as creepily as possible,” because this:

Just exactly what I want living in my garage. Not other details on this yet, unfortunately.

[ Tesla ]

While we’re on the topic(s) of robots, cars, and creepy:

Via [ Consumerist ]

Savioke’s little delivery robot, which is called Botlr or Alo or Savi-One or Relay, is now also called Dash, thanks to its new job delivering anything you want (within reason, please) at the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley:

Savioke ]

Can you believe that Curiosity has been exploring Mars for three years already?

Personally, I still can’t believe it managed to land safely in the first place.

[ Curiosity ]

I hate to break it to you, Harry Potter fans, but owls are really, really, really dumb, and they’re never going to deliver your mail. Robots totally will, though:

[ UMD Robotics ]

It’s cuuute and I WANT ONE:

[ Dash Robotics ]

There’s a new version of the Sphero robot called SPRK that’s been optimized to allow kids (and adults) to easily script programs for the robot to follow through an easy-to-use app:

[ Sphero SPRK ]

Experts explain how a new robotic composite fiber placement system will be used to build large space structures for space vehicles. Lightweight composites have the potential to increase the amount of payload that can be carried by a rocket along with lowering its total production cost. The robotic system is part of the Composites Technology Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


Finally, people are teaching robots how to spend less time not wearing pants:

Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology has produced a systematic tool that allows animators to create realistic motion for virtual humans who are getting dressed. The new algorithm enables virtual characters to intelligently manipulate simulated cloth to achieve the task of dressing with different dressing styles for various types of garment and fabric.

The research team’s long-term goal is to develop assistive technologies that would enable robots of the future to help disabled or elderly adults with self care, such as getting dressed. 

[ Georgia Tech ]

The reconfigurable inspection robot KAIRO 3 with its snake-like kinematics can autonomously climb up unknown obstacles like stairs. An integrated rotating laser scanner (KaRoLa) is used to capture precise 3D point clouds. Multiple point clouds are registered and a 2.5D map is generated. Based on this map paths over obstacles are planned and motions with joint angles are generated. The resulting paths depend on the current configuration (amount of modules) of the reconfigurable inspection robot KAIRO 3.

[ FZI ]

More gymnastics from YouTube user Hinamitetu’s clever robots!

[ YouTube ]

The robotic arm COMPI is a development of the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). The system has six rotary joints that implement various control modes via one FPGA. COMPI mainly serves as a research platform in the field of dynamic control. Control strategies, as they are evaluated by means of the robot arm, playing with force and torque-based tasks - for example in the field of human-robot interaction - an important role. The results of the research are continuously incorporated into other robotic systems with similar kinematic structures.


Based on 3D Robotics’ Solo drone, the Solo AGCO Edition UAV is a dedicated (and autonomous) crop monitoring drone that comes packaged with an IR camera for monitoring plant vigor:

[ AGCO  Solo ] via [ DIY Drones ]

If you’re new to Pepper, here are the first couple of apps you’ll probably be running to get introduced to the capabilities of your robot:

[ Pepper ]

At NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Robert Jensen’s full-time job is flying futuristic subscale robotic aircraft, which sounds pretty sweet:

[ NASA Armstrong ]

ESCHER is still hard at work, post-DRC, with an elegant performance on a rough terrain task:

The robot also seems to be gaining confidence in its balance, demonstrating its ability to walk on a variety of different terrain and up stairs with unknown height variations. Watch through to the end of this video to see an impressive shove recovery, as well:

[ TREC ]

Thanks Robert!

Here’s something we didn’t really get to see at the DRC Finals: a simultaneous view of IHMCs ATLAS robot, what the robot sees, and what the team is doing during a run:

I hope at some point, one of the teams will post a version like this, except in real time and with audio from the robot drivers.

[ IHMC Robotics ]

Lastly this week weve got an even more unique perspective on the DRC Finals, from the head camera of MITs ATLAS. Its sped-up 6x, so you only have to wait until 4 minutes in to see the robot faceplant.


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.

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