One small step for a robot, one giant leap for robotkind

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The Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) developed a control algorithm enabling Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid robot to walk across a short stretch of rocky terrain. It's much harder than you might think.

"After each step the robot explores the new foothold by shifting its weight around its foot," IMHC explains. "To maintain balance we combine fast, dynamics stepping with the use of angular momentum (lunging of the upper body)."

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Prizewinning junkbots made from surplus robotics kit

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Trossen Robotics challenged the roboticists whom it serves to make junkbots out of grab-bags of surplus parts they had lying around. The three winners are extremely impressive! Read the rest

Leonard Bernstein once owned this amazing cigarette-lighting Rube Goldberg machine

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German sculptor Daniel Kühn created the "Light & Cigarette Machine," which plays Candide while lighting and extending a cigarette; it was later owned by Leonard Bernstein, and was auctioned off to a German collector after his death. Read the rest

Make: a Rick and Morty-inspired butter-passing robot

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Andre was so impressed with the existential crisis of a butter-passing robot as depicted in the cartoon Rick and Morty that he created his own, and shows you how to make one for yourself. Read the rest

Watch a robot solve a Rubiks Cube in 0.637 seconds

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Today, classic puzzles. Tomorrow, deep-dreamed enemies of freedom! Read the rest

Cubetto is a programmable robot for pre-schoolers

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I had a chance to play with a Cubetto recently. It's a little, wooden, happy face robot on two wheels. You can control which way it goes by inserting colorful plastic chips on programming board (which also has a wood top). There are four kinds of chips: turn clockwise, turn counterclockwise, move forward, and call subroutine. You unfold a mat with a grid of colorful squares and illustrations and set the robot on top of it. An included booklet presents challenges to move the robot from one square on the grid to another.

My wife, 13-year-daughter, and I are not the intended users of Cubetto, but we spent a very fun hour going through the challenges in the booklet and then coming up with our own challenges. My guess is that a kindergartner or pre=schooler would love this and learn a lot from it.

The overall product design is gorgeous, too. I wish the manufacturer, Primo, made consumer technology for grown-ups.

Cubetto costs $225 and can be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Read the rest

Artoo-Deco, an art deco droid from author/maker Kurt Zimmerman

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Kids' author/droid builder Kurt Zimmerman created "Artoo Deco," an Art Deco take on R2-D2, capable of movement under radio control, and with an in-built sound-system that makes cool, droidish noises. Read the rest

Alt-Right trolls argue for hours with Twitter bot

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The internet's army of enraged anime avatars has a new enemy beyond their comprehension: a Twitter bot created by writer and activist Sarah Nyberg to make fools of them. Some lose themselves to hours of interaction, unaware they are ranting at a computer program. Read the rest

Robots 3D-printed with shock-absorber skins

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MIT researchers developed a method to 3D print robots with soft, shock-absorbing materials that can be "programmed" to desired elasticity to protect bouncing bots, drones making hard landings, and eventually phones, shoes, helmets and other materials. From MIT News:

For example, after 3-D printing a cube robot that moves by bouncing, the researchers outfitted it with shock-absorbing “skins” that use only 1/250 the amount of energy it transfers to the ground.{? “That reduction makes all the difference for preventing a rotor from breaking off of a drone or a sensor from cracking when it hits the floor,” says (MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Daniela) Rus, who oversaw the project and co-wrote a related paper. “These materials allow us to 3-D print robots with visco-elastic properties that can be inputted by the user at print-time as part of the fabrication process...”

“It’s hard to customize soft objects using existing fabrication methods, since you need to do injection moulding or some other industrial process,” says Lipton. “3-D printing opens up more possibilities and lets us ask the question, ‘can we make things we couldn’t make before?”

Using a standard 3-D printer, the team used a solid, a liquid, and a flexible rubber-like material called TangoBlack+ to print both the cube and its skins. The PVM process is related to (CSAIL Director Daniela) Rus’ previous 3-D printed robotics work, with an inkjet depositing droplets of different material layer-by-layer and then using UV light to solidify the non-liquids.

The cube robot includes a rigid body, two motors, a microcontroller, battery, and inertial measurement unit sensors.

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Frisky robot opens door

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Meet Ghost Robotics' adorable Minitaur quadruped robot.

Here's an excerpt from IEEE Spectrum's interview with Avik De and Gavin Kenneally, who are on the development team at Professor Dan Koditschek’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania:

How the heck did you manage to get Minitaur to open that door?

De: I don’t know if it’s clear from the video, but there’s a lot going on. The robot is jumping, it perceives that the door handle is there, retracts the leg, and manipulates the door handle.

Kenneally: Just to go over it in a little bit more detail: It jumps up on its front two legs, doing a handstand, and then jumps. The back left leg is waiting to feel the door handle, so it kind of sticks that leg out and waits until it senses contact. Again, all the sensing is through the motors, there’s no current sensors or force sensors. Once it perceives contact with the door knob, it retracts the leg, moves it over a little bit, and then extends it, and that actually all happens within 50 milliseconds, so it’s incredibly fast. And then once it’s done that, the other back leg, which is now also in the air, pushes against the door to crack it open a little bit, and it also helps push the robot so it pitches back down toward the ground, where it then retracts the leg back and catches itself before it falls. The door opening and stair/fence climbing were done with help from T.

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Andy Samberg asks Neil Degrasse Tyson three questions about ETs, time travel, and robot sex

Are we alone in the universe? Is time travel possible? If you have sex with a robot, does it count as cheating?

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Bull ants swarm a clockwork toy robot

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Someone sent a wind-up robot tottering into a nest of Australian bull ants, a species "characterised by their extreme aggressiveness, ferocity, and painful stings." It's a delight to watch these formicidaen bullies spend themselves impotently on the unfeeling skin of a toy, thus proving the superiority of humans over jerky ants. (via Beyond the Beyond) Read the rest

This robot's odd behavior is controlled by a neural network

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Alter is a robot made by Takashi Ikegami (University of Tokyo) that moves in a eerily lifelike way. It's behavior doesn't seem very human, but it is more alive than the typical Disney animatronic android. From Engadget:

The theory behind the CPG is based on one of the simplest artificial models for neurons, the Izhikevich neuron, which reacts in a way that's called "spiking and burst behavior": Something builds up, and the robot's system creates a signal spike, which chains together with other neurons. Professor Ikeue from Tokyo University describes the central pattern generator as "coupled pendulums" -- one bumps into another into another and a movement in formed. While not an equal, balanced rhythm, this becomes Alter's own rhythm. The researchers didn't make the movement; the robot made it itself.

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See this odd "ouroboros" robot roll right along

Researchers from Germany's University of Bielefeld presented their OUROBOT, a "Self-Propelled Continuous-Track-Robot for Rugged Terrain," at the recent IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From their technical paper:

Adapting the concept of continuous tracks that are propelled and guided by wheels, a self-propelled continuous-track-robot has been designed and built. The robot consists of actuated chain segments, thus enabling it to change its form, independent of guiding mechanisms. Using integrated sensors, the robot is able to adapt to the terrain and to overcome obstacles. This allows the robot to “roll” and climb in two dimensions. Possible extensions of the concept to three-dimensional navigation are presented as an outlook.

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Person walking dog encounters Boston Dynamics walking their robot

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Lucky there are leash laws!

(via Reddit)

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Security robot runs over child in mall, keeps going

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A 5-foot-tall, 300 pound security robot at a Palo Alto, CA shopping mall ran over a 16-month child last Thursday, hitting the toddler in the head. From KPTV:

"The robot hit my son's head and he fell down facing down on the floor, and the robot did not stop. And it just kept on moving forward," said Tiffany Teng.

Harwin's parents say the robot ran over his right foot, causing it to swell, but luckily caused no broken bones. Harwin also got a scrape on his leg from the incident.

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Meet your robot gardener

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The FarmBot Genesis is an open-source robot gardener for home food production. You design your mini-farm with their app and then the Raspberry Pi-powered robot handles the rest, from planting to watering, weeding to harvesting. The FarmBot Genesis sounds like the evolutionary descendant of Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana's groundbreaking 1994 telerobotic artwork, the TeleGarden:

FarmBot Genesis:

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