Robot appendage "grows" like a plant

Inspired by the way plants grow, MIT researchers designed a flexible robot appendage that can work in tight spaces but is rigid enough to support heavy parts or twist tight screws. From MIT News:

The appendage design is inspired by the way plants grow, which involves the transport of nutrients, in a fluidized form, up to the plant’s tip. There, they are converted into solid material to produce, bit by bit, a supportive stem.

Likewise, the robot consists of a “growing point,” or gearbox, that pulls a loose chain of interlocking blocks into the box. Gears in the box then lock the chain units together and feed the chain out, unit by unit, as a rigid appendage...

“The realization of the robot is totally different from a real plant, but it exhibits the same kind of functionality, at a certain abstract level,” (mechanical engineer Harry) Asada says.

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Spectacular, robotic cardboard sculptures

Greg Olijnyk works as a 2D graphic designer, but his hobby is creating unbelievably wonderful 3D science fictional cardboard sculptures that sport motors and lights that animate them (some use photovoltaic cells for power, too). Read the rest

Bosstown Dynamics, the future of law enforcement

Corridor produced this excellent parody of Boston Dynamics' robots and the style of its promotional videos. It could be the trailer for a new Neill Blomkamp or Paul Verhoeven movie, but where the satire is immediately transformed into stress because there's very little about it that seems unlikely or even beyond the fairly immediate future.

Bosstown Dynamics has a new robot in town. You'll see it in the army soon!

The unnerving way they abused the robots in early Boston Dynamics videos, I bet they regret that. Read the rest

The 6-legged walker of CMU (1982)

Pittsburgh is now a hotbed of robotics and machine intelligence, and very likely the place the AIs will eventually sigh and commence the annihilation of humankind. 40 years ago it was just getting started. CMU Robotics:

"From the Robotics Institute Archives in Honor of our 40th Anniversary, we've uploaded Ivan Sutherland talking about his 6 Legged Walking Machine. A wonderful piece of our early history."

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Robot assemblers build structures out of identical modular pieces

Pushing forward on the vision of "programmable matter," MIT researchers demonstrated a new kind of assembly system based on robots that can collaboratively build complicated structures from small identical pieces. Professor Neil Gershenfeld, graduate student Benjamin Jenett, and their colleagues present their research in a scientific paper titled "Material–Robot System for Assembly of Discrete Cellular Structures." From MIT News:

“What’s at the heart of this is a new kind of robotics, that we call relative robots,” Gershenfeld says. Historically, he explains, there have been two broad categories of robotics — ones made out of expensive custom components that are carefully optimized for particular applications such as factory assembly, and ones made from inexpensive mass-produced modules with much lower performance. The new robots, however, are an alternative to both. They’re much simpler than the former, while much more capable than the latter, and they have the potential to revolutionize the production of large-scale systems, from airplanes to bridges to entire buildings.

According to Gershenfeld, the key difference lies in the relationship between the robotic device and the materials that it is handling and manipulating. With these new kinds of robots, “you can’t separate the robot from the structure — they work together as a system,” he says. For example, while most mobile robots require highly precise navigation systems to keep track of their position, the new assembler robots only need to keep track of where they are in relation to the small subunits, called voxels, that they are currently working on.

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Watch: OpenAI enabled a one-handed robot to solve a Rubik's Cube

OpenAI Inc. demonstrated a one-handed robot solving a Rubik's Cube. Apparently the real breakthrough in this milestone was teaching the system to do the task in simulation. “While the video makes it easy to focus on the physical robot, the magic is mostly happening in simulation, and transferring things learned in simulation to the real world," writes Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum:

The researchers point out that the method they’ve developed here is general purpose, and you can train a real-world robot to do pretty much any task that you can adequately simulate. You don’t need any real-world training at all, as long as your simulations are diverse enough, which is where the automatic domain randomization comes in. The long-term goal is to reduce the task specialization that’s inherent to most robots, which will help them be more useful and adaptable in real-world applications.

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This bot automatically entered Twitter giveaways, won four times a day

Hunter Scott decided to design a bot to enter Twitter giveaways that asked for follow/like/retweets. He wrote a Python script that searched for and retweeted giveaways, and manually followed accounts when needed. Soon, the problem was not getting banned by Twitter:

They have rate limits which prevent you from tweeting too often, retweeting too aggressively, and creating “following churn”, by rapidly following and unfollowing people. Twitter doesn’t publish these numbers, so I had to figure them out by trial and error. Twitter also limits the total number of people you can follow given a certain number of followers. If you have below a few hundred followers, you cannot follow more than 2000 people. Since a lot of contests required following the original poster, I used a FIFO to make sure I was only following the 2000 most recent contest entries. That gave me long enough to make sure the person I unfollowed had already ended their contest and it kept the follow/unfollow churn rate below the rate limit.

Over the course of nine months, he entered 165,000 contests, winning around 1000. The most valuable prize was a trip to New York Fashion Week, which he did not accept. And his favorite prize was suitably random:

My favorite thing that I won was a cowboy hat autographed by the stars of a Mexican soap opera that I had never heard of. I love it because it really embodies the totally random outcome of these contests.

Eventually, he transformed his bot into one that sought out and retweeted accounts raising money for charity. Read the rest

This soft inchworm robot could lead to new smart clothing and morphing airplane wings

This soft, inchworm robot changes shape in response to tiny electrical or temperature changes. The power-efficient robot is made from a specialized "programmable" polymer technology that, according to the University of Toronto researchers, could someday lead to lightweight and safer robots but also enable other kinds of smart materials. From EurekAlert!:

"In situations where humans could be in danger -- a gas leak or a fire -- we could outfit a crawling robot with a sensor to measure the harmful environment," explains Naguib. "In aerospace, we could see smart materials being the key to next-generation aircrafts with wings that morph."

Though he points out it will be some time before the world sees morphed-wing aircrafts, the most immediate impact will be seen in wearable technology.

"We're working to apply this material to garments. These garments would compress or release based on body temperature, which could be therapeutic to athletes," says Naguib. The team is also studying whether smart garments could be beneficial for spinal cord injuries.

"In this case, we've trained it to move like a worm," he says. "But our innovative approach means we could train robots to mimic many movements -- like the wings of a butterfly."

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This bipedal robot is a flying drone with legs

From Catlech's Center for Autonomous Systems and Technology, LEONARDO (LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne) is a bipedal robot that's uses dronelike propellers to balance and walk around. Eventually, the propellers will boost LEONARDO's ability to jump. The demo video above was just released. The following is from a February article by Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum:

IEEE Spectrum: Where did the idea for a robot like this come from?

Mory Gharib: For many applications that we’re thinking about for the future, like a flying ambulance project that we have or missions to Mars, there is a huge need for I would say a third party—a robotic partner that can, in very extreme situations, conduct scouting or help people in ways that that either drones or bipedal robots can’t do. That was the whole idea—we need to have a system that basically can defy gravity to go places where other robots cannot. And because this machine is not going to fly in the way that drones do, because it has most of the time its legs are on the ground, it can carry a much heavier battery and payload...

If everything works perfectly, what kinds of capabilities will the robot have?

Soon-Jo Chung: Walking on flat terrain, walking, running, and jumping to overcome small obstacles by using the lift generated by the propellers. And it should be able to in a very soft and stable fashion land after it jumps or flies. The ultimate form of demonstration for us will be to build two of these Leonardo robots and then have them play tennis or badminton.

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Atlas the robot just got more human with this gymnastics routine

Oh shit, Atlas, "one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever built" according to DARPA, is now doing a gymnastics routine, and it's really good. Launched in 2013 by BostonDynamics for DARPA, this robot gets more and more human by the year. Both eerie and spectacular.

From BostonDynamics on YouTube:

Atlas uses its whole body -- legs, arms, torso -- to perform a sequence of dynamic maneuvers that form a gymnastic routine. We created the maneuvers using new techniques that streamline the development process. First, an optimization algorithm transforms high-level descriptions of each maneuver into dynamically-feasible reference motions. Then Atlas tracks the motions using a model predictive controller that smoothly blends from one maneuver to the next. Using this approach, we developed the routine significantly faster than previous Atlas routines, with a performance success rate of about 80%. For more information visit us at www.BostonDynamics.com.

Here is Atlas going for a walk on a winter day in 2016:

And Atlas presented to us in 2013:

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Boston Dynamic's robot dog is now for sale

Spot, the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, is now for sale. Sort of. From IEEE Spectrum:

But don’t pull out your credit card just yet. Spot may cost as much as a luxury car, and it is not really available to consumers. The initial sales, described as an “early adopter program,” is targeting businesses. Boston Dynamics wants to find customers in select industries and help them deploy Spots in real-world scenarios.

“What we’re doing is the productization of Spot,” Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert tells IEEE Spectrum. “It’s really a milestone for us going from robots that work in the lab to these that are hardened for work out in the field.”

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This robot tuna could become a swimming surveillance system

Do androids dream of electric sashimi? Read the rest

Watch the PuppetMaster, a robotic puppeteer, control marionettes

ETH Zurich engineers demonstrated a system enabling a robot to control a marionette. Although a robotic puppeteer is pretty damn cool, that's not the point of the research.

"Our long term goal is to enable robots to manipulate various types of complex physical systems – clothing, soft parcels in warehouses or stores, flexible sheets and cables in hospitals or on construction sites, plush toys or bedding in our homes, etc – as skillfully as humans do," they write in their technical paper. "We believe the technical framework we have set up for robotic puppeteering will also prove useful in beginning to address this very important grand-challenge."

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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Robotic bird inspired by seagull steals show at World Robot Conference in China

The fifth annual World Robot Conference was open to the public in Beijing last Thursday, August 22, and this bionic flying bird based on a herring gull was one of the more spectacular sights.

Other robots on show at the annual event in China included robo-superheroes, and Taiji-playing robots.

Rough cut of video from Reuters is here (no reporter narration).

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This robotic jar opener may help folks who have trouble opening jars

There are many reasons one may not have the ability to open a jar. This Robo Twist has lowered my usefulness around my mother's kitchen.

It is loud, but the jars get opened. Can't have it all.

Robo Twist Jar Opener via Amazon Read the rest

The word "robot" originated in this 1921 Czech play

In 1920, Czech writer Karel Čapek penned a play titled R.U.R., a cautionary tale about technology's potential to dehumanize. Read the rest

This war-dialing safe-cracker opens combination safes

The war-dialing safe-opener takes a maximum of 8 hours to open a safe. Read the rest

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