January 29, 2023

Roboticists Want to Give You a Third Arm

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that […]
January 13, 2023

Relativity Space Aims for Orbit

Three days before astronauts left on Apollo 8, the first-ever flight around the moon, NASA’s safety chief, Jerome Lederer, gave a speech that was at once reassuring and chilling. Yes, he said, America’s moon program was safe and well-planned—but even so, “Apollo 8 has 5,600,000 parts and one and one half million systems, subsystems, and assemblies. Even if all functioned with 99.9 percent reliability, we could expect 5,600 defects.” The mission, in December 1968, was nearly flawless—a prelude to the […]
January 6, 2023

Stowing is a “Beautiful Problem” that Amazon is Solving with Robots

When we hear about manipulation robots in warehouses, it’s almost always in the context of picking. That is, about grasping a single item from a bin of items, and then dropping that item into a different bin, where it may go towards building a customer order. Picking a single item from a jumble of items can be tricky for robots (especially when the number of different items may be in the millions) and while the problem’s not certainly not solved, […]
December 12, 2022

Miniscule Sensing Suite is a Big Step Towards Robotic Gnats

In the late 1980s, Rod Brooks and Anita Flynn published a paper in The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society with the amazing title of Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robotic Invasion of the Solar System. The paper explored the idea that instead of sending one big and complicated and extremely expensive robot to explore (say) the surface of Mars, you could instead send a whole bunch of little and simple and extremely cheap robots, while still accomplishing […]
November 24, 2022

These Haptic Microfingers Tickle Pill Bugs’ Toes

All things considered, we humans are kind of big, which is very limiting to how we can comfortably interact with the world. The practical effect of this is that we tend to prioritize things that we can see and touch and otherwise directly experience, even if those things are only a small part of the world in which we live. A recent study conservatively estimates that there are 2.5 million ants for every one human on Earth. And that’s just […]
November 22, 2022

Robot Gift Guide 2022

It’s been a couple of years, but the IEEE Spectrum Robot Gift Guide is back for 2022! We’ve got all kinds of new robots, and right now is an excellent time to buy one (or a dozen), since many of them are on sale this week. We’ve tried to focus on consumer robots that are actually available (or that you can at least order), but depending on when you’re reading this guide, the prices we have here may not be […]
November 10, 2022

Luxonis’ New Fun-size Bot

Luxonis, a sensor company best known for their OAK line of stereo depth cameras, has decided to take a crack at something a little more complicated and a lot more RGB. They’ve just launched a Kickstarter for Rae, a pint-sized open source mobile robot with an integrated depth camera that combines accessible apps with ROS 2 and is somehow also kind of affordable. “Rae,” which is technically “rae” but I can’t bring myself to not capitalize it, stands for “robotics […]
November 10, 2022

Building a Zero Trust Security Model for Autonomous Systems

This sponsored article is brought to you by Technology Innovation Institute. Autonomous systems sit at the intersection of AI, IoT, cloud architectures, and agile software development practices. Various streams of these systems are becoming prominent, such as unmanned drones, self-driving cars, automated warehouses, and managing capabilities in smart cities. The drone industry alone was estimated at US $100 billion in 2020, and autonomous systems are already driving significantly more value across other domains. 1 But surprisingly little attention has been […]
October 5, 2022

IHMC’s Nadia is a Versatile Humanoid Teammate

The Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) is well known in bipedal robotics circles for teaching very complex humanoid robots to walk. Since 2015, IHMC has been home to a Boston Dynamics Atlas (the DRC version) as well as a NASA Valkyrie, and significant progress has been made on advancing these platforms toward reliable mobility and manipulation. But fundamentally, we’re talking about some very old hardware here. And there just aren’t a lot of good replacement options (available […]
October 4, 2022

What Robotics Experts Think of Tesla’s Optimus Robot

Last Friday, 30 September, Tesla introduced several prototypes of its new humanoid robot, Optimus. After a year of speculation based on little more than a person in a robot suit combined with some optimistic assertions made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, many roboticists tuned in to the event livestream (or attended in person) to see what Tesla’s approach to humanoid robotics would turn out to be. Reactions across the robotics community were diverse. Because robotics requires expertise in many different […]