We’re assuming that many of you are taking Friday off to prepare for celebrating the 4th of July. We are too, hence Video Thursday this week. If you don’t live in the United States, you should take Friday off anyway, because a celebration that involves grilling and fireworks is pretty great, whether or not you happen to observe the fact that a handful of annoyed colonies started a bit of a tiff with Britain a while back. And if you’re from Britain, well, you should just be glad that you managed to get rid of us when you did.

Anyway, let’s watch some robot videos and then get out of here and enjoy the long weekend, shall we?

For better or worse, the biggest thing that happened in robotics this week was some guys from MegaBots challenging some other guys from Suidobashi Heavy Industry to a giant robot duel. We’re not making any claims that this is advancing the field in any way, or really that these are robots as opposed to just fancy remote-controlled vehicle things, but even so, this is alarmingly awesome:

Here’s the Japanese robot they want to take on, which will fire its weapons whenever you smile:

So there you have it, something to look forward to a year from now, if Japan accepts the challenge.

[ MegaBots ]

This is what happens when you try to talk to too many Pepper robots all at once.

As one YouTube commenter pointed out, that laser emitter in their right eyes makes them look more than a little freaky.

[ Taylor Veltrop ]

Here’s a teaser video for Blue Frog Robotics’ forthcoming social, mobile robot, Buddy:

I am a revolutionary robot that assists you in your daily life tasks, lets you stay connected to your loved ones, entertains your kids. I keep an eye on your home so you can relax whenever you are away. I can also help senior citizens keep their independence. I can be your personal assistant, I can guard your house, or just be your friendly companion. Help me to grow, my platform is based on an open model for developers.

We should have more details soon; Buddy is scheduled to debut on Indiegogo this month.

[ Blue Frog Robotics ]

A robot starring in a German opera? Sure, why not?

What’s surprising is that the robot is, to some extent, autonomous, as Vice explains:

“No one can control Myon and there is no man behind him telling him what to do—the fascinating thing is that he’s independent,” said Hansky. The singer described “meeting” Myon two years ago, when he had no theatrical talents to boast of.

“He was sitting in front of us on a chair and that was it. He could do nothing more than just sit and stare at us,” said Hansky. “But in these last two years, he’s acquired knowledge about human behaviours and he is now able to do stuff by himself.”

[ My Square Lady ] via [ Vice ]

The ExoMars spacecraft is almost complete. A joint mission between ESA and Roscosmos, it begins with the launch of the ExoMars orbiter in 2016 and carries an aerodynamically designed capsule containing a robotic lander.

Getting to Mars, landing there safely and searching for life is a huge scientific and technical challenge. ExoMars 2016 will send back information about the Martian atmosphere and the lander’s findings. These will inform the second part of the mission, in 2018, when a European rover will drill into the Martian surface, up to two metres down. The rover will be trying to detect traces of organic molecules that indicate the presence of past or present life on Mars.

This video includes interviews with Jorge Vago, ExoMars Project Scientist, ESA and Pietro Baglioni, ExoMars Rover Manager, ESA. It shows ExoMars 2016 nearing construction in its clean room at Thales Alenia Space in France and a prototype ExoMars rover in the ExoMars test yard at ESA’s ESTEC facility in the Netherlands.

[ ExoMars ]

If your phone is laggy when it runs Android or Chrome OS, don’t blame Google, because they have a dedicated lag-testing robot:

Via [ Engadget ]

Would CMU’s snake-legged robot have trouble climbing stairs? Of course not: 

See? No trouble at all!

[ CMU Biorobotics ] via [ Robotics Spectrum ]

I love the way that this Kawada Nextage robot examines these parts:

[ Nextage ] via [ Kazumichi Moriyama ]

This week’s episode of NSF Science Now features, among other things, UC Berkeley’s PR2 doing some deep learnin’:

[ UC Berkeley Robotics ]

In case you were wondering, the first ever (I guess?) wedding between two robots happened last weekend in Japan:

Via [ RT ]

Here’s a look at Team AERO’s nifty teleop master/slave system:

[ AERO ] via [ YouTube ]

Using “phase space locomotion planning” and “whole-body operational space control,” Hume becomes the point-foot biped robot with the smallest feet able to balance unsupported.

Seriously, I don’t know if those even qualify as “feet” at that size:

[ UT Austin ]

According to DARPA:

Biology is Technology. From programmable microbes to human-machine symbiosis, biological technologies are expanding our definition of technology and redefining how we interact with and use biology. We now have the opportunity for a radically new approach to developing game-changing applications and solutions to intractable problems.

DARPA held a conference thingy in New York this week, and there were a couple very cool talks on the interaction between humans and machines.

Dr. Justin Sanchez, Program Manager in DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO), discusses how next-generation neural interfaces might open up whole new dynamics of humans and machines working together. The talk was part of a two-day event held by BTO to bring together leading-edge technologists, start-ups, industry, and academic researchers to look at how advances in engineering and information sciences can be used to drive biology for technological advantage.

MAJ Chris Orlowski, Program Manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technologies Office, discusses his work to develop a soft suit that can be worn by troops to prevent injury and reduce the metabolic load of carrying heavy equipment. The talk was part of a two-day event held by DARPA's Biological Technologies Office to bring together leading-edge technologists, start-ups, industry, and academic researchers to look at how advances in engineering and information sciences can be used to drive biology for technological advantage.


We’ll end with this recent TED Talk from Google’s Chris Urmson on “How a Driverless Car Sees the Road.” If you’ve been reading all of our autonomous car coverage over the last few years, nothing in this talk will surprise you all that much, but it’s fun to hear about from the source, and has some great visuals and anecdotes that we’ve never seen before.

[ TED ]

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

“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.

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

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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