Items of Interest

RBE Items of Interest: November 3, 2017

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Bringing Motion to Life, Ras Labs Becomes a Breakout Labs Company – Some good news for our own Lenore Rasmussen – her company, Ras Labs, has joined the Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs! She has more exciting news as well – ask her!

Lockheed Martin to design giant robot sub for US Navy – What it says on the tin. Of interest to the Sailbot MQP.

Cockroach Robot Grows Tail, Does Flips – UC Berkley has apparently been working on robot roaches for a while, and now they have one that uses a simple “tail” to right itself (which real cockroaches would find useful).

Why Human-Controlled, Force-Multiplying Robots Are the Future of Work on Earth – An opinion-piece published by IEEE.

Three concerns about granting citizenship to robot Sophia – A robot from Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong has recently been granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. This article gives the details, but largely outlines the ethical issues of same.

New RoboBee flies, dives, swims, and explodes out of the water – Incredibly cool. The video is astonishing.

Shelley: Human-AI collaborated horrors stories – From MIT, a post-Halloween treat. Shelley_ai is a twitter account powered by a deep-learning AI fed with stories from the reddit thread “r/nosleep”. She starts a story, and invites human users to continue the story in round-robin fashion.

RBE Items of Interest: July 7, 2017

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A Colonoscopy Robot and Other Weird Biomedical Tech From IEEE’s Biggest Robotics Conference – A brief overview, with videos.

Self-driving cars could soon be making decisions based on morality – The University of Osnabruck in Germany has suggested that there are some basic, non-context-related moral principles that a self-driving car can use to deal with driving’s version of the Trolley Problem.

Why Rat-Brained Robots Are So Good at Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain – What it says on the tin, with a discussion of the current navigational tech and where rat brains could prove useful.

Purifying water with swimming, bacteria-hunting microbots – A fascinating alternative to harsh chemicals: magnesium as a propellant, with gold and silver as microorganism attractors/destroyers. The bots, which are partially iron, are then cleared from the water with magnets.

Self-driving potato – Exactly what it says on the tin, oh my gosh.

RBE Items of Interest: June 23, 2017

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WPI Salamander Wins First Place at the IEEE ICRA Soft Robotics Speed Challenge – Good job, everybody! Expect to see this and the next news item as individual posts on the blog. Our robot finished the course in under a minute – every other team took over *twelve*.

WPI Robotics Team Guides Unmanned Sailboat to Victory in SailBot ’17 – We beat out the US Naval Academy! The link is to a Worcester News Tonight segment featuring our own Ken Stafford and graduate Nick Gigliotti.

Robot Uses Evil Alter Ego to Learn Reliable Grasping – A surprisingly click-baity title for IEEE. Carnegie Mellon and Google are using zero-sum games between robots’ arms to help speed up self-supervised grasp learning.

Central Saint Martins graduate creates misbehaving robots designed purely to annoy you – Put in context with the “evil alter ego” above, one wonders if the robots are trying to teach us something.

“Virtual bubble” for autonomous cars would mean goodbye traffic lights – Controlling movement through a traffic system by reading the relative speed/distance of vehicles as they approach intersections and slowing down/speeding up relative to one another to make for smooth crossing. Very similar to the “invisible top hats” discussed for drone use.

Autonomous tunneling robot takes on the trenches – A segmented robot with the name BADGER is being designed to dig tunnels without the need for major digging by humans. A neat idea, and pretty sound, but I do wonder how this will affect archaeological concerns.

The rise of autonomous cars is probably going to do interesting things to our music

RBE Items of Interest: June 9, 2017

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TechCrunch Robotics Event – “TechCrunch and MIT’s CSAIL are running a one-day event on robotics on July 17 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium that will bring together the robotics perspective of startups, venture capital, research, government, and corporates.”

Softbank is buying robotics firms Boston Dynamics and Schaft from Alphabet – What it says on the tin. Big news in local business.

Take a Load Off. The Robots That Fold Laundry Are Coming. – What it says on the tin. I’m reminded of the Industrial Revolution’s spate of household inventions whose primary purpose was to ease the strain of servants’ (women’s) work.

US Army’s TAR head up display to give soldiers a tactical edge – Another application for augmented reality. One must ask, however, whether it is wise to manipulate the reality of a soldier. And more: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

Total Internal Reflection Accounts for the Bright Color of the Saharan Silver Ant – While this looks outside our wheelhouse, the biological construction of the hair on these ants makes for “remarkable thermoregulatory properties, enabling the ant to maintain a lower thermal steady state and to cope with the high temperature of its natural habitat” – which may be something interesting to study with regard to material science, space travel, and/or urban heat islands.

How to Prepare for an Automated Future – A thought-provoking article regarding the “up-skill”ing of our workforce to match the advances in automation. May suffer slightly from all interviewees being either Ivory Tower or white-collar.

Robotic priest offers blessings in digital form – What it says on the tin. I feel like there’s an Old Testament reason why this is a bad idea.

How to Recharge Batteries – An old, classic video that is, ah, very instructional.

RBE Items of Interest: May 19, 2017

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RBE Items of Interest: May 19, 2017
"Geometry", by CARP (Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter)

“Geometry”, by CARP (Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter)


Art in the age of ones and zeros: Robot art – A breakdown of the results of the 2017 RobotArt competition, where WPI’s “CARP: Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter” MQP placed 9th out of 38 teams from around the world! Several of their pieces are featured – very exciting!

The Surprising Repercussions of Making AI Assistants Sound Human – It comes down to the user making assumptions about the actual capabilities of the AI. If we add colloquialisms and filler sounds to our virtual assistants, it invites conversation/interaction beyond just directives – and, unfortunately, our AI can’t differentiate between chit-chat and commands.

Adding just a few self-drive cars to the road gets the traffic flowing – A team of researchers led by the University of Illinois tested the effect on traffic patterns with only a few autonomous cars in the mix – a microcosm of what we’re likely to see during the liminal period between all-human and all-autonomous drivers. There’s a lot to unpack here – from the actual results of the experiments, to traffic flow theory, control theory, and human/robot interaction.

Growing healthy resilient biological tissues on humanoid robots – It’s difficult to get musculoskeletal tissue to transplant, and it’s difficult to use engineered tissue because it’s not under the same performance pressure as tissue grown “in vivo.” Solution: Grow the tissue on robots who move like the transplantee will.

Are face-reading blimps and quadcopters in “top hats” the future of drone safety? — A brief overview of some of the practicalities of drones in daily life – from the need to consider three-dimensional safety zones for swarms (requiring “virtual top hats”!) to making drones more approachable by looking more like toy blimps.

3D-printed robot has first soft legs to tackle rough terrain – What it says on the tin. Includes a cute video – it sort of shuffles along.

Robot vs. Volcano: “Sometimes It’s Just Fun to Blow Stuff Up” – National Geographic. Blowing up robots. In a volcano.