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May 24, 2021

To Protect Against Weaponized Drones, We Must Understand Their Key Strengths

Baykar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Azerbaijan recently used its Turkish Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to great effect in its conflict with Armenia.  For all the amazement that swarms of consumer-grade drones provoke—flying in choreo­graphed clusters to form logos, pictures, and even QR codes in the sky—they’re also a subject of some strategic concern among national security experts. Drone swarms, one analyst says, are the new WMD (weapon of mass destruction); “slaughterbots” are the new nightmare technology, says another; one […]
April 8, 2021

Ingenuity’s Chief Pilot Explains How to Fly a Helicopter on Mars

On April 11, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity will take to the skies of Mars for the first time. It will do so fully autonomously, out of necessity—the time delay between Ingenuity’s pilots at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Jezero Crater on Mars makes manual or even supervisory control impossible. So the best that the folks at JPL can do is practice as much as they can in simulation, and then hope that the helicopter can handle everything on its own. […]
March 29, 2021

Stretch Is Boston Dynamics’ Take on a Practical Mobile Manipulator for Warehouses

Today, Boston Dynamics is announcing Stretch, a mobile robot designed to autonomously move boxes around warehouses. At first glance, you might be wondering why the heck this is a Boston Dynamics robot at all, since the dynamic mobility that we associate with most of their platforms is notably absent. The combination of strength and speed in Stretch’s arm is something we haven’t seen before in a mobile robot, and it’s what makes this a unique and potentially exciting entry into […]
March 17, 2021

MIT’s HERMIT Crab Robots Can Do Anything You Shell Them To

Robots are well known to be specialists, doing best when they’re designed for one very specific task without much of an expectation that they’ll do anything else. This is fine, as long as you’re OK with getting a new specialist robot every time you want something different done robotically. Making generalist robots is hard, but what’s less hard is enabling a generalist to easily adapt into different kinds of specialists, which we humans do all the time when we use tools. […]
March 2, 2021

Review: DJI’s New FPV Drone is Effortless, Exhilarating Fun

In my experience, there are three different types of consumer drone pilots. You’ve got people for whom drones are a tool for taking pictures and video, where flying the drone is more or less just a necessary component of that. You’ve also got people who want a drone that can be used to take pictures or video of themselves, where they don’t want to be bothered flying the drone at all. Then you have people for whom flying the drone […]
February 26, 2021

Meet Catfish Charlie, the CIA’s Robotic Spy

Photo: CIA Museum CIA roboticists designed Catfish Charlie to take water samples undetected. Why they wanted a spy fish for such a purpose remains classified. In 1961, Tom Rogers of the Leo Burnett Agency created Charlie the Tuna, a jive-talking cartoon mascot and spokesfish for the StarKist brand. The popular ad campaign ran for several decades, and its catchphrase “Sorry, Charlie” quickly hooked itself in the American lexicon. When the CIA’s Office of Advanced Technologies and Programs started conducting some […]
February 24, 2021

When Robots Enter the World, Who Is Responsible for Them?

Over the last half decade or so, the commercialization of autonomous robots that can operate outside of structured environments has dramatically increased. But this relatively new transition of robotic technologies from research projects to commercial products comes with its share of challenges, many of which relate to the rapidly increasing visibility that these robots have in society. Whether it’s because of their appearance of agency, or because of their history in popular culture, robots frequently inspire people’s imagination. Sometimes this […]
February 20, 2021

Soft Legged Robot Uses Pneumatic Circuitry to Walk Like a Turtle

Soft robots are inherently safe, highly resilient, and potentially very cheap, making them promising for a wide array of applications. But development on them has been a bit slow relative to other areas of robotics, at least partially because soft robots can’t directly benefit from the massive increase in computing power and sensor and actuator availability that we’ve seen over the last few decades. Instead, roboticists have had to get creative to find ways of achieving the functionality of conventional robotics components using […]
January 29, 2021

Video Friday: These Robots Have Made 1 Million Autonomous Deliveries

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!): HRI 2021 – March 8-11, 2021 – [Online Conference] RoboSoft 2021 – April 12-16, 2021 – [Online Conference] Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.
January 7, 2021

How Boston Dynamics Taught Its Robots to Dance

A week ago, Boston Dynamics posted a video of Atlas, Spot, and Handle dancing to “Do You Love Me.” It was, according to the video description, a way “to celebrate the start of what we hope will be a happier year.” As of today the video has been viewed nearly 24 million times, and the popularity is no surprise, considering the compelling mix of technical prowess and creativity on display. Strictly speaking, the stuff going on in the video isn’t […]