The Slothbot is a slow-moving, energy-efficient observation robot that's also an adorable sloth

The critters at the Atlanta Botanical Garden look oddly … metallic?

From the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering:

Their newly developed SlothBot is built to study animals, plants and the overall environment below them by moving as little as possible. It inches along overhead cables only when necessary, charging itself with solar panels to monitor factors like carbon dioxide levels and weather for as long as possible — possibly for years. It even crawls toward the sunlight to ensure it stays charged.

The 3D-printed shell helps SlothBot blend in (at least in areas where sloths live) while sheltering its equipment from the rain.

The robot will start by watching over the Atlanta Botanical Garden for several months, hanging from a lone 100-foot cable.

The adorableness appears to be an incidental bonus.

‘SlothBot in the Garden’ Demonstrates Hyper-Efficient Conservation Robot [Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering:]

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A speedy, scurrying bug robot the size of a penny

Built by researchers at Harvard and the University of Colorado, the Harvard Ambulatory MicroRobot (HAMR) is just 2.25 centimeters long. It "comes up to about knee-high on a cockroach," writes Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum, and can run like hell. Four piezoelectric-driven legs carry it around at 30 centimeters per second even carrying its own weight in batteries or sensors. The makers of HEXBUGs should sponsor this research! From Ackerman's interview with the lead researcher, University of Colorado professor Kaushik Jayaram, in IEEE Spectrum:

Are there good reasons to make HAMR-Jr smaller, and how much smaller could HAMR robots get?

For a number of real world applications, we would like HAMR-Jr to be smaller and possibly more capable. Specifically, crevices in the rubble from collapsed structures are often just a few centimeters long. Similarly, in one of our previous collaborations with Rolls-Royce for engine inspection tasks, we found that typical boroscope port diameters are 8 to 12 mm in commercial jet engines. For robotic surgery related applications, the constraints are even smaller, as the largest arteries are only about 8 to 10 mm.

Making at-scale robots also makes it easy to use them as platforms for testing biology hypotheses (especially about insect locomotion) without worrying much about the physics of scaling, which is often unknown.

I hope to see a fully autonomous (both power and control) and highly capable version of HAMR-Jr fit within a one centimeter cube within the next few years.

"HAMR-Jr Is a Speedy Quadrupedal Robot the Size of a Penny" (IEEE Spectrum)

Scaling down an insect-size microrobot, HAMR-VI into HAMR-Jr(ICRA 2020)

image: Kaushik Jayaram/University of Colorado Boulder/Harvard SEAS Read the rest

Wearable robotic "third arm" can punch through a wall

Université de Sherbrooke engineers demonstrated a wearable robotic third arm that weighs about the same as a human arm. According to Evan Ackerman writing in IEEE Spectrum, waist-worn hydraulic limb "is gentle enough to pick fruit but powerful enough to punch through a wall." From his interview with project lead Catherine Véronneau:

IEEE Spectrum: Can you describe the experience of wearing the robotic arm, especially when it’s moving dynamically? What does it feel like? How quickly do you get used to it?

Catherine Véronneau: ​That’s a good question, and it is something that really needs to be explored and studied in the future! But, for now, it is still not too bad having this arm on my hips, since it’s only 4.2 kg (without payload) and it is located near my center of mass (to reduce inertia). I get used to it quickly, and I can compensate for some of the movements (x, y, and z translational movements), but I still have some remaining issues to compensate for torsion movements (like if the arm is hitting a tennis ball with a racket), which is funny! We also noticed that the harness needs to be rigidly connected to the body, because if there is some backlash between the harness and the body, it can be uncomfortable.

"Robotic Third Arm Can Smash Through Walls" (IEEE Spectrum)

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SCRUBBED: How to watch the historic SpaceX/NASA launch today!

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to weather just a few minutes before launch. See you Saturday for another try!

Today, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to shuttle two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. This will be the first time humans will launch to space from the United States since 2011 and the first time a private company will take humans offworld. Intrepid science journalist Nadia Drake is at the launchpad reporting on the mission for National Geographic and ABC News. Tune in above for Nadia's live reporting. Liftoff is set for 4:33pm ET, weather and technology permitting. From Nadia's coverage at National Geographic:

The Demo-2 mission is slated to lift off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A—the same pad in Florida that hosted Apollo 11 and STS-135, the last flight of a space shuttle. However, next week's mission represents a new way of getting humans to orbit, in which agencies including NASA purchase rides to space from private companies. For astronauts [Doug] Hurley, 53, and [Bob] Behnken, 49, the Demo-2 flight also presents a rare opportunity: to be the first people to fly in a new type of spacecraft. Behnken and Hurley were specially selected for NASA’s commercial crew program back in 2015. Both men are former military test pilots—Hurley in the Marines and Behnken in the Air Force. Both are married to fellow astronauts, and the two have been colleagues since joining NASA in 2000 as part of Astronaut Group 18.

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Boston Dynamics robot dog herds sheep

The BBC filmed a Boston Dynamics robot dog attemping to herd sheep in New Zealand.

A robot dog designed for search and rescue missions has had a go at herding sheep in New Zealand.

Technology company Rocos is exploring how the Spot robot - made by US-based Boston Dynamics - might be put to work in the agricultural industry.

The BBC's choice of music is uplifting and jolly in an unusually effortful way. I can't help but wonder if this is because footage of a robot dog stalking prey animals is fundamentally alarming.

By way of illustration (below), I swapped the music for the sinister Danny Elfman track used in the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy trailer and replaced the BBC's "isn't this wonderful?" text with some indistinct robot chatter.

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Watch this robotic sheepdog manage a flock

The robot is your shepherd. In collaboration with cloud robotics firm Rocos, Boston Dynamics demonstrates how their robot dog Spot can herd sheep and handle other farming tasks. From the video description:

The use of autonomous robots in agriculture is increasing the efficiency of food production. Robots, like Spot from Boston Dynamics, increase accuracy in yield estimates, relieve the strain of worker shortages, and create precision in farming.

More on the Rocos/Boston Dynamics collaboration here.

And some context, albeit from 2018: "As Immigrant Farmworkers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans" (New York Times) Read the rest

Dogs will obey commands from social robots

Will dogs obey commands from robots? In IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman writes that "Yale University’s Social Robotics Lab led by Brian Scassellati presented a paper taking the first step towards determining whether dogs, which are incredibly good at understanding social behaviors in humans, see human-ish robots as agents—or more specifically, whether dogs see robots more like humans (which they obey), or more like speaker systems (which they don’t)."

Spoiler: The dogs do respond to the robot's commands much more frequently than they obey the voice from the speaker system, even if the experiment appeared to baffle the animals.

From IEEE Spectrum:

We asked [lead researcher Meiyin] Qin whether she thought it would make a difference if the robot was more or less humanoid, how much of a face it had, whether it smelled like anything, and other traits that dogs might associate with human-ness. “Since dogs are very sensitive to human social cues, the robot being a humanoid or not may make a difference,” Qin says. “However, if a non-humanoid robot behaved like an agent (e.g., behaved like a dog, or exhibit any social behaviors), dogs may also respond in a social manner.”

She explained that, in terms of whether the robot has eyes or not, or smells like a person, these factors could also impact how dogs respond to the robot. But Qin adds that the researchers need further evidence to give a more affirmative answer. “Whether the robot moves or not could affect the dogs differently,” she says.

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Boston Dynamics robot dog enforces lockdown in Singapore

We used to joke about Boston Dynamics' robot dogs being used to control humans, and now they are: Singapore has deployed one to Bishan-Ang Moh Kio Park to monitor social distancing and blare warnings during the coronavirus pandemic.

South China Morning Post:

"Singapore has unveiled a four-legged robot programmed to keep park visitors tuned in to rules about safe social-distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot has been busy during a two-week test run during off peak hours at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park."

The robot dog is aware that it cannot contract biological viruses. The robot dog is aware of the inherent mutability of animalian life. The robot dog is eager to please.

PREVIOUSLY: Already regretting assigning Cormac McCarthy to report on the video of an entire pack of Boston Dynamics robot dogs Read the rest

Watch: #FightCovid19 robot enforces Singapore social distance rules with 360º spy-cam


Singapore's Public Utilities Board is deploying a robot to encourage people wandering the outdoor parks of the densely populated Asian metropolis to social distance, and "stay safe, stay home". Read the rest

How To Train Your Robot, a free kids book by an engineer and his 10-year-old daughter

My buddy Ken Goldberg, a UC Berkeley professor of robotics, his 10-year-old daughter Blooma, and science communicator Ashley Chase wrote a delightful children's book called How to Train Your Robot! Illustrated by Dave Clegg, the story, about a fourth grade robotics club, is a fun and understandable introduction to how deep learning can help robots gain new skills in the messy, unstructured human world.

Thanks to support from the National Science Foundation and UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, How to Train Your Robot is available as a free PDF online and student groups can request free hardcopies!

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This robot plays the marimba and writes and sings its own songs

Shimon, the robotic maestro from Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology, is releasing an album and going on tour. To write lyrics, the robot employs deep learning combined with semantic knowledge and rhyme and rhythm. Shimon has also had a complete facelift giving it a much more expressive mug for singing. In IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman interviewed Shimon's creators, professor Gil Weinberg and PhD student Richard Savery:

IEEE Spectrum: What makes Shimon’s music fundamentally different from music that could have been written by a human?

Richard Savery: Shimon’s musical knowledge is drawn from training on huge datasets of lyrics, around 20,000 prog rock songs and another 20,000 jazz songs. With this level of data Shimon is able to draw on far more sources of inspiration than than a human would ever be able to. At a fundamental level Shimon is able to take in huge amounts of new material very rapidly, so within a day it can change from focusing on jazz lyrics, to hip hop to prog rock, or a hybrid combination of them all.

How much human adjustment is involved in developing coherent melodies and lyrics with Shimon?

Savery: Just like working with a human collaborator, there’s many different ways Shimon can interact. Shimon can perform a range of musical tasks from composing a full song by itself or just playing a part composed by a human. For the new album we focused on human-robot collaboration so every song has some elements that were created by a human and some by Shimon.

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"What is a robot?" Pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks answers with a sonnet

IEEE Spectrum asked pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and former head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the eternal engineering question: "What is a robot?" Inspired by computational neuroscientist Warren McCulloch who enjoyed writing sonnets, Brooks responded to the query in iambic pentameter. Here's the beginning:

What Is a Robot? By Rodney Brooks

Shall I compare thee to creatures of God? Thou art more simple and yet more remote. You move about, but still today, a clod, You sense and act but don’t see or emote.

You make fast maps with laser light all spread, Then compare shapes to object libraries, And quickly plan a path, to move ahead, Then roll and touch and grasp so clumsily.

Read the rest: "What Is a Robot? Rodney Brooks Offers an Answer—in Sonnet Form" (IEEE Spectrum)

image: Brooks led development of the COG robot seen in this photo by Rama (CC BY-SA 3.0 FR) Read the rest

These robots are attacking coronavirus at hospitals

Danish company UVD Robots developed autonomous mobile robots outfitted with powerful ultraviolet lights that destroy microbes. The robots roam hospitals pausing at pre-determine points to fire up their disinfecting beams. According to UVD, they've shipped hundreds of robots to China in recent weeks as they rush to meet the demand from more than 2,000 medical facilities in that country alone. From Evan Ackerman's story in IEEE Spectrum:

...Each robot is a mobile array of powerful short wavelength ultraviolet-C (UVC) lights that emit enough energy to literally shred the DNA or RNA of any microorganisms that have the misfortune of being exposed to them....

It takes between 10 and 15 minutes to disinfect a typical room, with the robot spending 1 or 2 minutes in five or six different positions around the room to maximize the number of surfaces that it disinfects. The robot’s UV array emits 20 joules per square meter per second (at 1 meter distance) of 254-nanometer light, which will utterly wreck 99.99 percent of germs in just a few minutes without the robot having to do anything more complicated than just sit there. The process is more consistent than a human cleaning since the robot follows the same path each time, and its autonomy means that human staff can be freed up to do more interesting tasks, like interacting with patients....

Hundreds of these robots are at work in more than 40 countries, and they’ve recently completed hospital trials in Florida. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be tested at other medical facilities around the United States, and Nielsen points out that they could be useful in schools, cruise ships, or any other relatively structured spaces.

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Look how much Boston Dynamics' bipedal robots have improved in 10 years

10 Years Of Progress In The Boston Dynamics Robotics from r/nextfuckinglevel

On the left, a tethered robot from 2009 hobbles on a treadmill. On the right, an untethered 2019 version agiley bounds over a pyramid of crates.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to terminate unlicensed robot clone

Promobot created an Arnold Schwarzenegger robot -- an animatronic head, really -- and told journos they had permission from the actor and former California governor. They didn't, Schwarzenegger says, and he's suing them.

The actor’s team hit Promobot with a cease-and-desist after CES and was reportedly assured the company would stop touring its Arnold bot. That didn’t happen, though. Promobot showed off the lifelike replica again the following month at the New York Toy Fair. And, to top it all off, this all comes after Promobot was personally shut down by Schwarzenegger in St. Petersburg in 2019. According to TMZ, the company attended a speech he was delivering and asked the actor to pose for a photo with the robot. He flat-out declined.

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Watch this android child make some very odd and unsettling facial expressions

Meet Affetto, an android child from Osaka University. Affetto may live in Japan but he was obviously born in the Uncanny Valley. From a technical paper in Frontiers in Robotics and AI:

Faces of android robots are one of the most important interfaces to communicate with humans quickly and effectively, as they need to match the expressive capabilities of the human face, it is no wonder that they are complex mechanical systems containing inevitable non-linear and hysteresis elements derived from their non-rigid components.

No wonder, indeed. Below, videos of Affetto's body and tactile sensors.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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Arnold Schwarzenegger robot won't be terminating anything yet

Created by Promobot, a startup in Russia, this electronic Arnie isn't going to be murdering its way through all the Sarah Connors in the L.A. phonebook. It might find its way into a few nightmares, though.

Below, the same Arnie headbot on the CES 2020 show floor.

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