Video Friday: Robot Film Festival Highlights

Enjoy these selections from the 2018 Robot Film Festival

1 min read
Zanzibar robot film by Kamaliza/Cape & Monocle
Image: Kamaliza/Cape & Monocle via Vimeo

Even though we do our best to bring you a solid 52 Video Fridays every year (which works out to over 1,000 robot videos annually), we can’t manage to post everything, and sometimes we miss out on some awesome stuff. That’s just one of the reasons why we always look forward to the Robot Film Festival, and the 2018 event took place in July in Portland, Ore.

I showed up and gave a talk (most of which you can see in this article), and then found a seat and watched the film selections. As always, there was an impressive amount of really, really good robot videos that I’d never seen before. The videos have all been posted online, and we’ve picked out a few of the happiest, saddest, scariest, and cleverest to share.

Note that some of these films are mildly not safe for work.

The Nostalgist, by Daniel H. Wilson and Giacomo Cimini

Everything Is Okay, by Cirocco Dunlap

Reach, by Luke Randall

Chicken Licken - Robot, by Greg Grey

Dron’t You Love Me?, by Madeleine Dudley

Zanzibar, by Kamaliza

Extra special thanks to Heather Knight, Marek Michalowski, Andrew McGregor, Chrys Wu, and everyone who attended RFF 2018. Watch all the films here.

[ RFF ]

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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
LightGreen

“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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