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Video Friday: Japanese Androids, Rolls-Royce Microrobots, and Robotic Racecar

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

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!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Can someone please teach me how to be that stylish? This week Rolls-Royce announced that they're working on small robots designed to inspect engines: What's getting a little bit lost in the announcement is that the robots themselves are based on (and perhaps, at this point, entirely identical to) Harvard's HAMR robot that we covered back in February: The Velodyne VLS-128 is the world's most advanced LiDAR sensor.


Video Friday: Honda's Huggable Robot, New Artificial Muscle, and Boeing Cargo Drone

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

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!):


Video Friday: Rocket RoboBee, Willow Garage, and Caltech's Cassie

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

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 two months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. A new RoboBee from Harvard can swim underwater, and then launch itself into the air with a microrocket and fly away. At the millimeter scale, the water's surface might as well be a brick wall.


Why Rat-Brained Robots Are So Good at Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

If you take a common brown rat and drop it into a lab maze or a subway tunnel, it will immediately begin to explore its surroundings, sniffing around the edges, brushing its whiskers against surfaces, peering around corners and obstacles. After a while, it will return to where it started, and from then on, it will treat the explored terrain as familiar. Roboticists have long dreamed of giving their creations similar navigation skills. To be useful in our environments, robots must be able to find their way around on their own. Some are already learning to do that in homes, offices, warehouses, hospitals, hotels, and, in the case of self-driving cars, entire cities. Despite the progress, though, these robotic platforms still struggle to operate reliably under even mildly challenging conditions.


The Self-Driving Car's Bicycle Problem

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Robotic cars are great at monitoring other cars, and they're getting better at noticing pedestrians, squirrels, and birds. The main challenge, though, is posed by the lightest, quietest, swerviest vehicles on the road. "Bicycles are probably the most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicle systems face," says UC Berkeley research engineer Steven Shladover. Nuno Vasconcelos, a visual computing expert at the University of California, San Diego, says bikes pose a complex detection problem because they are relatively small, fast and heterogenous. "A car is basically a big block of stuff.


After Mastering Singapore's Streets, NuTonomy's Robo-taxis Are Poised to Take on New Cities

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Take a short walk through Singapore's city center and you'll cross a helical bridge modeled on the structure of DNA, pass a science museum shaped like a lotus flower, and end up in a towering grove of artificial Supertrees that pulse with light and sound. It's no surprise, then, that this is the first city to host a fleet of autonomous taxis. Since last April, robo-taxis have been exploring the 6 kilometers of roads that make up Singapore's One-North technology business district, and people here have become used to hailing them through a ride-sharing app. Maybe that's why I'm the only person who seems curious when one of the vehicles--a slightly modified Renault Zoe electric car--pulls up outside of a Starbucks. Seated inside the car are an engineer, a safety driver, and Doug Parker, chief operating officer of nuTonomy, the MIT spinout that's behind the project.


Will Overly Polite Self-Driving Cars Brake for Jerks?

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Pedestrians will quickly learn how to game tomorrow's robocar-dominated traffic system, often bringing it to a halt, according to a model based--of course--on game theory. "From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied five-year-old children,"writes Adam Millard-Ball today in theJournal of Planning Education and Research. Millard-Ball, who teaches environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, modeled what he calls crosswalk chicken, in which a brazen pedestrian crosses in front of oncoming cars, daring them to run him over. Of course, in today's world, such effrontery is dangerous because drivers may be inattentive, particularly when operating under the expectation that pedestrians will not act like total jerks. But in the right context, say that of a college town--where students can be at once inattentive, inebriated, and jerks--drivers "adjust to the unpredictability of pedestrians and modify their speed and behavior accordingly," Millard-Ball observes.


Retracted: GM-Lyft Self-Driving Taxis Could Launch in 2019

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Editor's note: Our story was based on the premise that the advanced radars discussed below were intended for autonmous cars. GM contacted IEEE Spectrum after publication to say that the radars are not intended for autonomous vehicles. The FCC filings referenced in the IEEE Spectrum story are not part of our autonomous vehicle development program. They are related to further advancement of technologies featured on our vehicles today. General Motors (GM) is likely building a fleet of 725 self-driving taxis for its partnership with Lyft, with an intended launch date of January 2019, according to documents filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).


Fatal Tesla Self-Driving Car Crash Reminds Us That Robots Aren't Perfect

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

On 7 May, a Tesla Model S was involved in a fatal accident in Florida. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was driving itself, using its Autopilot system. The system didn't stop for a tractor-trailer attempting to turn across a divided highway, and the Tesla collided with the trailer. In a statement, Tesla Motors said this is the "first known fatality in just over 130 million miles [210 million km] where Autopilot was activated" and suggested that this ratio makes the Autopilot safer than an average vehicle. Early this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters that the Autopilot system in the Model S was "probably better than a person right now."


5D Robotics Can Locate You To Within An Inch

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

GPS falls from the sky and costs nothing to use, but it may not reach a car roving the canyons of Manhattan or a forklift moving boxes in a warehouse. For uninterrupted autonomous driving, you need some backup. Sure, you can festoon your vehicles with a vast array of overlapping sensors, but even that won't always give you a clear sense of where you are. So, when the GPS satellites can't pinpoint you, why not resort to land-based beacons? That's the solution proposed by 5D Robotics, a Carlsbad, Calif.