Tag Archives: technology

#437869 Video Friday: Japan’s Gundam Robot ...

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!):

ACRA 2020 – December 8-10, 2020 – [Online]
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Another BIG step for Japan’s Gundam project.

[ Gundam Factory ]

We present an interactive design system that allows users to create sculpting styles and fabricate clay models using a standard 6-axis robot arm. Given a general mesh as input, the user iteratively selects sub-areas of the mesh through decomposition and embeds the design expression into an initial set of toolpaths by modifying key parameters that affect the visual appearance of the sculpted surface finish. We demonstrate the versatility of our approach by designing and fabricating different sculpting styles over a wide range of clay models.

[ Disney Research ]

China’s Chang’e-5 completed the drilling, sampling and sealing of lunar soil at 04:53 BJT on Wednesday, marking the first automatic sampling on the Moon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced Wednesday.

[ CCTV ]

Red Hat’s been putting together an excellent documentary on Willow Garage and ROS, and all five parts have just been released. We posted Part 1 a little while ago, so here’s Part 2 and Part 3.

Parts 4 and 5 are at the link below!

[ Red Hat ]

Congratulations to ANYbotics on a well-deserved raise!

ANYbotics has origins in the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich, and ANYmal’s heritage can be traced back at least as far as StarlETH, which we first met at ICRA 2013.

[ ANYbotics ]

Most conventional robots are working with 0.05-0.1mm accuracy. Such accuracy requires high-end components like low-backlash gears, high-resolution encoders, complicated CNC parts, powerful motor drives, etc. Those in combination end up an expensive solution, which is either unaffordable or unnecessary for many applications. As a result, we found the Apicoo Robotics to provide our customers solutions with a much lower cost and higher stability.

[ Apicoo Robotics ]

The Skydio 2 is an incredible drone that can take incredible footage fully autonomously, but it definitely helps if you do incredible things in incredible places.

[ Skydio ]

Jueying is the first domestic sensitive quadruped robot for industry applications and scenarios. It can coordinate (replace) humans to reach any place that can be reached. It has superior environmental adaptability, excellent dynamic balance capabilities and precise Environmental perception capabilities. By carrying functional modules for different application scenarios in the safe load area, the mobile superiority of the quadruped robot can be organically integrated with the commercialization of functional modules, providing smart factories, smart parks, scene display and public safety application solutions.

[ DeepRobotics ]

We have developed semi-autonomous quadruped robot, called LASER-D (Legged-Agile-Smart-Efficient Robot for Disinfection) for performing disinfection in cluttered environments. The robot is equipped with a spray-based disinfection system and leverages the body motion to controlling the spray action without the need for an extra stabilization mechanism. The system includes an image processing capability to verify disinfected regions with high accuracy. This system allows the robot to successfully carry out effective disinfection tasks while safely traversing through cluttered environments, climb stairs/slopes, and navigate on slippery surfaces.

[ USC Viterbi ]

We propose the “multi-vision hand”, in which a number of small high-speed cameras are mounted on the robot hand of a common 7 degrees-of-freedom robot. Also, we propose visual-servoing control by using a multi-vision system that combines the multi-vision hand and external fixed high-speed cameras. The target task was ball catching motion, which requires high-speed operation. In the proposed catching control, the catch position of the ball, which is estimated by the external fixed high-speed cameras, is corrected by the multi-vision hand in real-time.

More details available through IROS on-demand.

[ Namiki Laboratory ]

Shunichi Kurumaya wrote in to share his work on PneuFinger, a pneumatically actuated compliant robotic gripping system.

[ Nakamura Lab ]

Thanks Shunichi!

Motivated by insights into the human teaching process, we introduce a method for incorporating unstructured natural language into imitation learning. At training time, the expert can provide demonstrations along with verbal descriptions in order to describe the underlying intent, e.g., “Go to the large green bowl’’. The training process, then, interrelates the different modalities to encode the correlations between language, perception, and motion. The resulting language-conditioned visuomotor policies can be conditioned at run time on new human commands and instructions, which allows for more fine-grained control over the trained policies while also reducing situational ambiguity.

[ ASU ]

Thanks Heni!

Gita is on sale for the holidays for only $2,000.

[ Gita ]

This video introduces a computational approach for routing thin artificial muscle actuators through hyperelastic soft robots, in order to achieve a desired deformation behavior. Provided with a robot design, and a set of example deformations, we continuously co-optimize the routing of actuators, and their actuation, to approximate example deformations as closely as possible.

[ Disney Research ]

Researchers and mountain rescuers in Switzerland are making huge progress in the field of autonomous drones as the technology becomes more in-demand for global search-and-rescue operations.

[ SWI ]

This short clip of the Ghost Robotics V60 features an interesting, if awkward looking, righting behavior at the end.

[ Ghost Robotics ]

Europe’s Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover has a younger ’sibling’, ExoMy. The blueprints and software for this mini-version of the full-size Mars explorer are available for free so that anyone can 3D print, assemble and program their own ExoMy.

[ ESA ]

The holiday season is here, and with the added impact of Covid-19 consumer demand is at an all-time high. Berkshire Grey is the partner that today’s leading organizations turn to when it comes to fulfillment automation.

[ Berkshire Grey ]

Until very recently, the vast majority of studies and reports on the use of cargo drones for public health were almost exclusively focused on the technology. The driving interest from was on the range that these drones could travel, how much they could carry and how they worked. Little to no attention was placed on the human side of these projects. Community perception, community engagement, consent and stakeholder feedback were rarely if ever addressed. This webinar presents the findings from a very recent study that finally sheds some light on the human side of drone delivery projects.

[ WeRobotics ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437864 Video Friday: Jet-Powered Flying ...

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!):

ICRA 2020 – June 1-15, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
RSS 2020 – July 12-16, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
ICUAS 2020 – September 1-4, 2020 – Athens, Greece
ICRES 2020 – September 28-29, 2020 – Taipei, Taiwan
ICSR 2020 – November 14-16, 2020 – Golden, Colorado
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

ICRA 2020, the world’s best, biggest, longest virtual robotics conference ever, kicked off last Sunday with an all-star panel on a critical topic: “COVID-19: How Can Roboticists Help?”

Watch other ICRA keynotes on IEEE.tv.

We’re getting closer! Well, kinda. iRonCub, the jet-powered flying humanoid, is still a simulation for now, but not only are the simulations getting better—the researchers have begun testing real jet engines!

This video shows the latest results on Aerial Humanoid Robotics obtained by the Dynamic Interaction Control Lab at the Italian Institute of Technology. The video simulates robot and jet dynamics, where the latter uses the results obtained in the paper “Modeling, Identification and Control of Model Jet Engines for Jet Powered Robotics” published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

This video presents the paper entitled “Modeling, Identification and Control of Model Jet Engines for Jet Powered Robotics” published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (Volume: 5 , Issue: 2 , April 2020 ) Page(s): 2070 – 2077. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1909.13296.pdf.​

[ IIT ]

In a new pair of papers, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came up with new tools to let robots better perceive what they’re interacting with: the ability to see and classify items, and a softer, delicate touch.

[ MIT CSAIL ]

UBTECH’s anti-epidemic solutions greatly relieve the workload of front-line medical staff and cut the consumption of personal protective equipment (PPE).

[ UBTECH ]

We demonstrate a method to assess the concrete deterioration in sewers by performing a tactile inspection motion with a sensorized foot of a legged robot.

[ THING ] via [ ANYmal Research ]

Get a closer look at the Virtual competition of the Urban Circuit and how teams can use the simulated environments to better prepare for the physical courses of the Subterranean Challenge.

[ SubT ]

Roboticists at the University of California San Diego have developed flexible feet that can help robots walk up to 40 percent faster on uneven terrain, such as pebbles and wood chips. The work has applications for search-and-rescue missions as well as space exploration.

[ UCSD ]

Thanks Ioana!

Tsuki is a ROS-enabled, highly dynamic quadruped robot developed by Lingkang Zhang.

And as far as we know, Lingkang is still chasing it.

[ Quadruped Tsuki ]

Thanks Lingkang!

Watch this.

This video shows an impressive demo of how YuMi’s superior precision, using precise servo gripper fingers and vacuum suction tool to pick up extremely small parts inside a mechanical watch. The video is not a final application used in production, it is a demo of how such an application can be implemented.

[ ABB ]

Meet Presso, the “5-minute dry cleaning robot.” Can you really call this a robot? We’re not sure. The company says it uses “soft robotics to hold the garment correctly, then clean, sanitize, press and dry under 5 minutes.” The machine was initially designed for use in the hospitality industry, but after adding a disinfectant function for COVID-19, it is now being used on movie and TV sets.

[ Presso ]

The next Mars rover launches next month (!), and here’s a look at some of the instruments on board.

[ JPL ]

Embodied Lead Engineer, Peter Teel, describes why we chose to build Moxie’s computing system from scratch and what makes it so unique.

[ Embodied ]

I did not know that this is where Pepper’s e-stop is. Nice design!

[ Softbank Robotics ]

State of the art in the field of swarm robotics lacks systems capable of absolute decentralization and is hence unable to mimic complex biological swarm systems consisting of simple units. Our research interconnects fields of swarm robotics and computer vision, and introduces novel use of a vision-based method UVDAR for mutual localization in swarm systems, allowing for absolute decentralization found among biological swarm systems. The developed methodology allows us to deploy real-world aerial swarming systems with robots directly localizing each other instead of communicating their states via a communication network, which is a typical bottleneck of current state of the art systems.

[ CVUT ]

I’m almost positive I could not do this task.

It’s easy to pick up objects using YuMi’s integrated vacuum functionality, it also supports ABB Robot’s Conveyor Tracking and Pickmaster 3 functionality, enabling it to track a moving conveyor and pick up objects using vision. Perfect for consumer products handling applications.

[ ABB ]

Cycling safety gestures, such as hand signals and shoulder checks, are an essential part of safe manoeuvring on the road. Child cyclists, in particular, might have difficulties performing safety gestures on the road or even forget about them, given the lack of cycling experience, road distractions and differences in motor and perceptual-motor abilities compared with adults. To support them, we designed two methods to remind about safety gestures while cycling. The first method employs an icon-based reminder in heads-up display (HUD) glasses and the second combines vibration on the handlebar and ambient light in the helmet. We investigated the performance of both methods in a controlled test-track experiment with 18 children using a mid-size tricycle, augmented with a set of sensors to recognize children’s behavior in real time. We found that both systems are successful in reminding children about safety gestures and have their unique advantages and disadvantages.

[ Paper ]

Nathan Sam and Robert “Red” Jensen fabricate and fly a Prandtl-M aircraft at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. The aircraft is the second of three prototypes of varying sizes to provide scientists with options to fly sensors in the Martian atmosphere to collect weather and landing site information for future human exploration of Mars.

[ NASA ]

This is clever: In order to minimize time spent labeling datasets, you can use radar to identify other vehicles, not because the radar can actually recognize other vehicles, but because the radar can recognize other stuff that’s big and moving, which turns out to be almost as good.

[ ICRA Paper ]

Happy 10th birthday to the Natural Robotics Lab at the University of Sheffield.

[ NRL ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437857 Video Friday: Robotic Third Hand Helps ...

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!):

ICRA 2020 – June 1-15, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
RSS 2020 – July 12-16, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
ICUAS 2020 – September 1-4, 2020 – Athens, Greece
ICRES 2020 – September 28-29, 2020 – Taipei, Taiwan
ICSR 2020 – November 14-16, 2020 – Golden, Colorado
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

We are seeing some exciting advances in the development of supernumerary robotic limbs. But one thing about this technology remains a major challenge: How do you control the extra limb if your own hands are busy—say, if you’re carrying a package? MIT researchers at Professor Harry Asada’s lab have an idea. They are using subtle finger movements in sensorized gloves to control the supernumerary limb. The results are promising, and they’ve demonstrated a waist-mounted arm with a qb SoftHand that can help you with doors, elevators, and even handshakes.

[ Paper ]

ROBOPANDA

Fluid actuated soft robots, or fluidic elastomer actuators, have shown great potential in robotic applications where large compliance and safe interaction are dominant concerns. They have been widely studied in wearable robotics, prosthetics, and rehabilitations in recent years. However, such soft robots and actuators are tethered to a bulky pump and controlled by various valves, limiting their applications to a small confined space. In this study, we report a new and effective approach to fluidic power actuation that is untethered, easy to design, fabricate, control, and allows various modes of actuation. In the proposed approach, a sealed elastic tube filled with fluid (gas or liquid) is segmented by adaptors. When twisting a segment, two major effects could be observed: (1) the twisted segment exhibits a contraction force and (2) other segments inflate or deform according to their constraint patterns.

[ Paper ]

And now: “Magnetic cilia carpets.”

[ ETH Zurich ]

To adhere to government recommendations while maintaining requirements for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Yaskawa Motoman is now utilizing an HC10DT collaborative robot to take individual employee temperatures. Named “Covie”, the design and fabrication of the robotic solution and its software was a combined effort by Yaskawa Motoman’s Technology Advancement Team (TAT) and Product Solutions Group (PSG), as well as a group of robotics students from the University of Dayton.

They should have programmed it to nod if your temperature was normal, and smacked you upside the head while yelling “GO HOME” if it wasn’t.

[ Yaskawa ]

Driving slowly on pre-defined routes, ZMP’s RakuRo autonomous vehicle helps people with mobility challenges enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan.

RakuRo costs about US $1,000 per month to rent, but ZMP suggests that facilities or groups of ~10 people could get together and share one, which makes the cost much more reasonable.

[ ZMP ]

Jessy Grizzle from the Dynamic Legged Locomotion Lab at the University of Michigan writes:

Our lab closed on March 20, 2020 under the State of Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. For a 24-hour period, it seemed that our labs would be “sanitized” during our absence. Since we had no idea what that meant, we decided that Cassie Blue needed to “Stay Home, Stay Safe” as well. We loaded up a very expensive robot and took her off campus. On May 26, we were allowed to re-open our laboratory. After thoroughly cleaning the lab, disinfecting tools and surfaces, developing and getting approval for new safe operation procedures, we then re-organized our work areas to respect social distancing requirements and brought Cassie back to the laboratory.

During the roughly two months we were working remotely, the lab’s members got a lot done. Papers were written, dissertation proposals were composed, and plans for a new course, ROB 101, Computational Linear Algebra, were developed with colleagues. In addition, one of us (Yukai Gong) found the lockdown to his liking! He needed the long period of quiet to work through some new ideas for how to control 3D bipedal robots.

[ Michigan Robotics ]

Thanks Jesse and Bruce!

You can tell that this video of how Pepper has been useful during COVID-19 is not focused on the United States, since it refers to the pandemic in past tense.

[ Softbank Robotics ]

NASA’s water-seeking robotic Moon rover just booked a ride to the Moon’s South Pole. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been selected to deliver the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to the Moon in 2023.

[ NASA ]

This could be the most impressive robotic gripper demo I have ever seen.

[ Soft Robotics ]

Whiz, an autonomous vacuum sweeper, innovates the cleaning industry by automating tedious tasks for your team. Easy to train, easy to use, Whiz works with your staff to deliver a high-quality clean while increasing efficiency and productivity.

[ Softbank Robotics ]

About 40 seconds into this video, a robot briefly chases a goose.

[ Ghost Robotics ]

SwarmRail is a new concept for rail-guided omnidirectional mobile robot systems. It aims for a highly flexible production process in the factory of the future by opening up the available work space from above. This means that transport and manipulation tasks can be carried out by floor- and ceiling-bound robot systems. The special feature of the system is the combination of omnidirectionally mobile units with a grid-shaped rail network, which is characterized by passive crossings and a continuous gap between the running surfaces of the rails. Through this gap, a manipulator operating below the rail can be connected to a mobile unit traveling on the rail.

[ DLRRMC ]

RightHand Robotics (RHR), a leader in providing robotic piece-picking solutions, is partnered with PALTAC Corporation, Japan’s largest wholesaler of consumer packaged goods. The collaboration introduces RightHand’s newest piece-picking solution to the Japanese market, with multiple workstations installed in PALTAC’s newest facility, RDC Saitama, which opened in 2019 in Sugito, Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

[ RightHand Robotics ]

From the ICRA 2020, a debate on the “Future of Robotics Research,” addressing such issues as “robotics research is over-reliant on benchmark datasets and simulation” and “robots designed for personal or household use have failed because of fundamental misunderstandings of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI).”

[ Robotics Debates ]

MassRobotics has a series of interviews where robotics celebrities are interviewed by high school students.The students are perhaps a little awkward (remember being in high school?), but it’s honest and the questions are interesting. The first two interviews are with Laurie Leshin, who worked on space robots at NASA and is now President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Colin Angle, founder and CEO of iRobot.

[ MassRobotics ]

Thanks Andrew!

In this episode of the Voices from DARPA podcast, Dr. Timothy Chung, a program manager since 2016 in the agency’s Tactical Technology Office, delves into his robotics and autonomous technology programs – the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge and OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET). From robot soccer to live-fly experimentation programs involving dozens of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), he explains how he aims to assist humans heading into unknown environments via advances in collaborative autonomy and robotics.

[ DARPA ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437851 Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot Dog ...

Boston Dynamics has been fielding questions about when its robots are going to go on sale and how much they’ll cost for at least a dozen years now. I can say this with confidence, because that’s how long I’ve been a robotics journalist, and I’ve been pestering them about it the entire time. But it’s only relatively recently that the company started to make a concerted push away from developing robots exclusively for the likes of DARPA into platforms with more commercial potential, starting with a compact legged robot called Spot, first introduced in 2016.

Since then, we’ve been following closely as Spot has gone from a research platform to a product, and today, Boston Dynamics is announcing the final step in that process: commercial availability. You can now order a Spot Explorer Kit from the Boston Dynamics online store for US $74,500 (plus tax), shipping included, with delivery in 6 to 8 weeks. FINALLY!

Over the past 10 months or so, Boston Dynamics has leased Spot robots to carefully selected companies, research groups, and even a few individuals as part of their early adopter program—that’s where all of the clips in the video below came from. While there are over 100 Spots out in the world right now, getting one of them has required convincing Boston Dynamics up front that you knew more or less exactly what you wanted to do and how you wanted to do it. If you’re a big construction company or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or Adam Savage, that’s all well and good, but for other folks who think that a Spot could be useful for them somehow and want to give it a shot, this new availability provides a fewer-strings attached opportunity to do some experimentation with the robot.

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in that video, but we were told that the one thing that really stood out to the folks at Boston Dynamics was a 2-second clip that you can see on the left-hand side of the screen from 0:19 to 0:21. In it, Spot is somehow managing to walk across a spider web of rebar without getting tripped up, at faster than human speed. This isn’t something that Spot was specifically programmed to do, and in fact the Spot User Guide specifically identifies “rebar mesh” as an unsafe operating environment. But the robot just handles it, and that’s a big part of what makes Spot so useful—its ability to deal with (almost) whatever you can throw at it.

Before you get too excited, Boston Dynamics is fairly explicit that the current license for the robot is intended for commercial use, and the company specifically doesn’t want people to be just using it at home for fun. We know this because we asked (of course we asked), and they told us “we specifically don’t want people to just be using it at home for fun.” Drat. You can still buy one as an individual, but you have to promise that you’ll follow the terms of use and user guidelines, and it sounds like using a robot in your house might be the second-fastest way to invalidate your warranty:

SPOT IS AN AMAZING ROBOT, BUT IS NOT CERTIFIED SAFE FOR IN-HOME USE OR INTENDED FOR USE NEAR CHILDREN OR OTHERS WHO MAY NOT APPRECIATE THE HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH ITS OPERATION.

Not being able to get Spot to play with your kids may be disappointing, but for those of you with the sort of kids who are also students, the good news is that Boston Dynamics has carved out a niche for academic institutions, which can buy Spot at a discounted price. And if you want to buy a whole pack of Spots, there’s a bulk discount for Enterprise users as well.

What do you get for $74,500? All this!

Spot robot
Spot battery (2x)
Spot charger
Tablet controller and charger
Robot case for storage and transportation
FREE SHIPPING!

Photo: Boston Dynamics

The basic package includes the robot, two batteries, charger, a tablet controller, and a storage case.

You can view detailed specs here.

So is $75k a lot of money for a robot like Spot, or not all that much? We don’t have many useful points of comparison, partially because it’s not clear to what extent other pre-commercial quadrupedal robots (like ANYmal or Aliengo) share capabilities and features with Spot. For more perspective on Spot’s price tag, we spoke to Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics.

IEEE Spectrum: Why is Spot so affordable?

Michael Perry: The main goal of selling the robot at this stage is to try to get it into the hands of as many application developers as possible, so that we can learn from the community what the biggest driver of value is for Spot. As a platform, unlocking the value of an ecosystem is our core focus right now.

Spectrum: Why is Spot so expensive?

Perry: Expensive is relative, but compared to the initial prototypes of Spot, we’ve been able to drop down the cost pretty significantly. One key thing has been designing it for robustness—we’ve put hundreds and hundreds of hours on the robot to make sure that it’s able to be successful when it falls, or when it has an electrostatic discharge. We’ve made sure that it’s able to perceive a wide variety of environments that are difficult for traditional vision-based sensors to handle. A lot of that engineering is baked into the core product so that you don’t have to worry about the mobility or robotic side of the equation, you can just focus on application development.

Photos: Boston Dynamics

Accessories for Spot include [clockwise from top left]: Spot GXP with additional ports for payload integration; Spot CAM with panorama camera and advanced comms; Spot CAM+ with pan-tilt-zoom camera for inspections; Spot EAP with lidar to enhance autonomy on large sites; Spot EAP+ with Spot CAM camera plus lidar; and Spot CORE for additional processing power.

The $75k that you’ll pay for the Spot Explorer Kit, it’s important to note, is just the base price for the robot. As with other things that fall into this price range (like a luxury car), there are all kinds of fun ways to drive that cost up with accessories, although for Spot, some of those accessories will be necessary for many (if not most) applications. For example, a couple of expansion ports to make it easier to install your own payloads on Spot will run you $1,275. An additional battery is $4,620. And if you want to really get some work done, the Enhanced Autonomy Package (with 360 cameras, lights, better comms, and a Velodyne VLP-16) will set you back an additional $34,570. If you were hoping for an arm, you’ll have to wait until the end of the year.

Each Spot also includes a year’s worth of software updates and a warranty, although the standard warranty just covers “defects related to materials and workmanship” not “I drove my robot off a cliff” or “I tried to take my robot swimming.” For that sort of thing (user error) to be covered, you’ll need to upgrade to the $12,000 Spot CARE premium service plan to cover your robot for a year as long as you don’t subject it to willful abuse, which both of those examples I just gave probably qualify as.

While we’re on the subject of robot abuse, Boston Dynamics has very sensibly devoted a substantial amount of the Spot User Guide to help new users understand how they should not be using their robot, in order to “lessen the risk of serious injury, death, or robot and other property damage.” According to the guide, some things that could cause Spot to fall include holes, cliffs, slippery surfaces (like ice and wet grass), and cords. Spot’s sensors also get confused by “transparent, mirrored, or very bright obstacles,” and the guide specifically says Spot “may crash into glass doors and windows.” Also this: “Spot cannot predict trajectories of moving objects. Do not operate Spot around moving objects such as vehicles, children, or pets.”

We should emphasize that this is all totally reasonable, and while there are certainly a lot of things to be aware of, it’s frankly astonishing that these are the only things that Boston Dynamics explicitly warns users against. Obviously, not every potentially unsafe situation or thing is described above, but the point is that Boston Dynamics is willing to say to new users, “here’s your robot, go do stuff with it” without feeling the need to hold their hand the entire time.

There’s one more thing to be aware of before you decide to buy a Spot, which is the following:

“All orders will be subject to Boston Dynamics’ Terms and Conditions of Sale which require the beneficial use of its robots.”

Specifically, this appears to mean that you aren’t allowed to (or supposed to) use the robot in a way that could hurt living things, or “as a weapon, or to enable any weapon.” The conditions of sale also prohibit using the robot for “any illegal or ultra-hazardous purpose,” and there’s some stuff in there about it not being cool to use Spot for “nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons proliferation, or development of missile technology,” which seems weirdly specific.

“Once you make a technology more broadly available, the story of it starts slipping out of your hands. Our hope is that ahead of time we’re able to clearly articulate the beneficial uses of the robot in environments where we think the robot has a high potential to reduce the risk to people, rather than potentially causing harm.”
—Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics

I’m very glad that Boston Dynamics is being so upfront about requiring that Spot is used beneficially. However, it does put the company in a somewhat challenging position now that these robots are being sold. Boston Dynamics can (and will) perform some amount of due-diligence before shipping a Spot, but ultimately, once the robots are in someone else’s hands, there’s only so much that BD can do.

Spectrum: Why is beneficial use important to Boston Dynamics?

Perry: One of the key things that we’ve highlighted many times in our license and terms of use is that we don’t want to see the robot being used in any way that inflicts physical harm on people or animals. There are philosophical reasons for that—I think all of us don’t want to see our technology used in a way that would hurt people. But also from a business perspective, robots are really terrible at conveying intention. In order for the robot to be helpful long-term, it has to be trusted as a piece of technology. So rather than looking at a robot and wondering, “is this something that could potentially hurt me,” we want people to think “this is a robot that’s here to help me.” To the extent that people associate Boston Dynamics with cutting edge robots, we think that this is an important stance for the rollout of our first commercial product. If we find out that somebody’s violated our terms of use, their warranty is invalidated, we won’t repair their product, and we have a licensing timeout that would prevent them from accessing their robot after that timeout has expired. It’s a remediation path, but we do think that it’s important to at least provide that as something that helps enforce our position on use of our technology.

It’s very important to keep all of this in context: Spot is a tool. It’s got some autonomy and the appearance of agency, but it’s still just doing what people tell it to do, even if those things might be unsafe. If you read through the user guide, it’s clear how much of an effort Boston Dynamics is making to try to convey the importance of safety to Spot users—and ultimately, barring some unforeseen and catastrophic software or hardware issues, safety is about the users, rather than Boston Dynamics or Spot itself. I bring this up because as we start seeing more and more Spots doing things without Boston Dynamics watching over them quite so closely, accidents are likely inevitable. Spot might step on someone’s foot. It might knock someone over. If Spot was perfectly safe, it wouldn’t be useful, and we have to acknowledge that its impressive capabilities come with some risks, too.

Photo: Boston Dynamics

Each Spot includes a year’s worth of software updates and a warranty, although the standard warranty just covers “defects related to materials and workmanship” not “I drove my robot off a cliff.”

Now that Spot is on the market for real, we’re excited to see who steps up and orders one. Depending on who the potential customer is, Spot could either seem like an impossibly sophisticated piece of technology that they’d never be able to use, or a magical way of solving all of their problems overnight. In reality, it’s of course neither of those things. For the former (folks with an idea but without a lot of robotics knowledge or experience), Spot does a lot out of the box, but BD is happy to talk with people and facilitate connections with partners who might be able to integrate specific software and hardware to get Spot to do a unique task. And for the latter (who may also be folks with an idea but without a lot of robotics knowledge or experience), BD’s Perry offers a reminder Spot is not Rosie the Robot, and would be equally happy to talk about what the technology is actually capable of doing.

Looking forward a bit, we asked Perry whether Spot’s capabilities mean that customers are starting to think beyond using robots to simply replace humans, and are instead looking at them as a way of enabling a completely different way of getting things done.

Spectrum: Do customers interested in Spot tend to think of it as a way of replacing humans at a specific task, or as a system that can do things that humans aren’t able to do?

Perry: There are what I imagine as three levels of people understanding the robot applications. Right now, we’re at level one, where you take a person out of this dangerous, dull job, and put a robot in. That’s the entry point. The second level is, using the robot, can we increase the production of that task? For example, take site documentation on a construction site—right now, people do 360 image capture of a site maybe once a week, and they might do a laser scan of the site once per project. At the second level, the question is, what if you were able to get that data collection every day, or multiple times a day? What kinds of benefits would that add to your process? To continue the construction example, the third level would be, how could we completely redesign this space now that we know that this type of automation is available? To take one example, there are some things that we cannot physically build because it’s too unsafe for people to be a part of that process, but if you were to apply robotics to that process, then you could potentially open up a huge envelope of design that has been inaccessible to people.

To order a Spot of your very own, visit shop.bostondynamics.com.

A version of this post appears in the August 2020 print issue as “$74,500 Will Fetch You a Spot.” Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437845 Video Friday: Harmonic Bionics ...

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!):

ICRA 2020 – May 31-August 31, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
RSS 2020 – July 12-16, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
ICUAS 2020 – September 1-4, 2020 – Athens, Greece
ICRES 2020 – September 28-29, 2020 – Taipei, Taiwan
ICSR 2020 – November 14-16, 2020 – Golden, Colorado
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

Designed to protect employees and passengers from both harmful pathogens and cleaning agents, Breezy One can quickly, safely and effectively decontaminate spaces over 100,000 square feet in 1.5 hours with a patented, environmentally safe disinfectant. Breezy One was co-developed with the City of Albuquerque’s Aviation Department, where it autonomously sanitizes the Sunport’s facilities every night in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

[ Fetch Robotics ]

Harmonic Bionics is redefining upper extremity neurorehabilitation with intelligent robotic technology designed to maximize patient recovery. Harmony SHR, our flagship product, works with a patient’s scapulohumeral rhythm (SHR) to enable natural, comprehensive therapy for both arms. When combined with Harmony’s Weight Support mode, this unique shoulder design may allow for earlier initiation of post-stroke therapy as Harmony can support a partial dislocation or subluxation of the shoulder prior to initiating traditional therapy exercises.

Harmony's Preprogrammed Exercises promotes functional treatment through patient-specific movements that can enable an increased number of repetitions per session without placing a larger physical burden on therapists or their resources. As the only rehabilitation exoskeleton with Bilateral Sync Therapy (BST), Harmony enables intent-based therapy by registering healthy arm movements and synchronizing that motion onto the stroke-affected side to help reestablish neural pathways.

[ Harmonic Bionics ]

Thanks Mok!

Some impressive work here from IHMC and IIT getting Atlas to take steps upward in a way that’s much more human-like than robot-like, which ends up reducing maximum torque requirements by 20 percent.

[ Paper ]

GITAI’s G1 is the space dedicated general-purpose robot. G1 robot will enable automation of various tasks internally & externally on space stations and for lunar base development.

[ GITAI ]

Malloy Aeronautics, which now makes drones rather than hoverbikes, has been working with the Royal Navy in New Zealand to figure out how to get cargo drones to land on ships.

The challenge was to test autonomous landing of heavy lift UAVs on a moving ship, however, due to the Covid19 lockdown no ship trails were possible. The moving deck was simulated by driving a vehicle and trailer across an airfield while carrying out multiple landing and take-offs. The autonomous system partner was Planck Aerosystems and autolanding was triggered by a camera on the UAV reading a QR code on the trailer.

[ Malloy Aeronautics ]

Thanks Paul!

Tertill looks to be relentlessly effective.

[ Franklin Robotics ]

A Swedish company, TikiSafety has experienced a record amount of orders for their protective masks. At ABB, we are grateful for the opportunity to help Tiki Safety to speed up their manufacturing process from 6 minutes to 40 seconds.

[ Tiki Safety ]

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute is not messing around with ARMstrong, their robot for nuclear and radiation emergency response.

[ KAERI ]

OMOY is a robot that communicates with its users via internal weight shifting.

[ Paper ]

Now this, this is some weird stuff.

[ Segway ]

CaTARo is a Care Training Assistant Robot from the AIS Lab at Ritsumeikan University.

[ AIS Lab ]

Originally launched in 2015 to assist workers in lightweight assembly tasks, ABB’s collaborative YuMi robot has gone on to blaze a trail in a raft of diverse applications and industries, opening new opportunities and helping to fire people’s imaginations about what can be achieved with robotic automation.

[ ABB ]

This music video features COMAN+, from the Humanoids and Human Centered Mechatronics Lab at IIT, doing what you’d call dance moves if you dance like I do.

[ Alex Braga ] via [ IIT ]

The NVIDIA Isaac Software Development Kit (SDK) enables accelerated AI robot development workflows. Stacked with new tools and application support, Isaac SDK 2020.1 is an end-to-end solution supporting each step of robot fleet deployment, from design collaboration and training to the ongoing maintenance of AI applications.

[ NVIDIA ]

Robot Spy Komodo Dragon and Spy Pig film “a tender moment” between Komodo dragons but will they both survive the encounter?

[ BBC ] via [ Laughing Squid ]

This is part one of a mostly excellent five-part documentary about ROS produced by Red Hat. I say mostly only because they put ME in it for some reason, but fortunately, they talked with many of the core team that developed ROS back at Willow Garage back in the day, and it’s definitely worth watching.

[ Red Hat Open Source Stories ]

It’s been a while, but here’s an update on SRI’s Abacus Drive, from Alexander Kernbaum.

[ SRI ]

This Robots For Infectious Diseases interview features IEEE Fellow Antonio Bicchi, professor of robotics at the University of Pisa, talking about how Italy has been using technology to help manage COVID-19.

[ R4ID ]

Two more interviews this week of celebrity roboticists from MassRobotics: Helen Greiner and Marc Raibert. I’d introduce them, but you know who they are already!

[ MassRobotics ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots