Zipline Deploys Medical Delivery Drones with U.S. Military

We usually don’t toss around the word “disrupting” in a technology context without some serious eye roll. But Zipline really has been disrupting medical supply delivery in Africa by using drones to bypass busy roads and hilly terrain to deliver medical supplies to hospitals and clinics in minutes rather than hours. We visited Zipline in Rwanda last year, and the system it has for delivering blood, blood products, and medication is versatile, reliable, and even (in some cases) more affordable than any other delivery method available.  It’s not at all surprising that the unique capabilities Zipline offers have caught the attention of the U.S. military, which (at least in terms of personnel ratios) is primarily a massive logistics and support organization and secondarily a fighting force. For the past year or so, the Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has been working with Zipline to evaluate how their technology could be used Continue reading Zipline Deploys Medical Delivery Drones with U.S. Military

A Path Towards Reasonable Autonomous Weapons Regulation

Editor’s Note: The debate on autonomous weapons systems has been escalating over the past several years as the underlying technologies evolve to the point where their deployment in a military context seems inevitable. IEEE Spectrum has published a variety of perspectives on this issue. In summary, while there is a compelling argument to be made that autonomous weapons are inherently unethical and should be banned, there is also a compelling argument to be made that autonomous weapons could potentially make conflicts less harmful, especially to non-combatants. Despite an increasing amount of international attention (including from the United Nations), progress towards consensus, much less regulatory action, has been slow. The following workshop paper on autonomous weapons systems policy is remarkable because it was authored by a group of experts with very different (and in some cases divergent) views on the issue. Even so, they were able to reach consensus on a Continue reading A Path Towards Reasonable Autonomous Weapons Regulation

UAV-Based LiDAR Can Measure Shallow Water Depth

World’s first small-scale topographic and bathymetric scanning LiDAR ASTRALiTe’s edge™ is the world’s first small-scale topographic and bathymetric scanning LiDAR that can detect small underwater objects, measure shallow water depth, and survey critical underwater infrastructure from a small UAV platform. The edge™ can see beneath the water surface at depths from 0-5 meters and is completely self-contained with its own Inertial Navigation System with GNSS, battery, and onboard computer. It weighs about 5 kg and is designed for deployment on UAV systems for faster, safer, and more accurate bathymetric surveys. This patented 2-in-1 topographic and bathymetric LiDAR offers a centimeter-level depth resolution. There are numerous possible applications for this LiDAR, such as coastal mapping and surveying, infrastructure inspection, or even military logistics.  Importance of geo-referencing and motion stabilization “We needed a motion and navigation solution for our LiDAR. Our requirements included high accuracy along with low size, weight, and power” Continue reading UAV-Based LiDAR Can Measure Shallow Water Depth

Video Friday: Transferring Human Motion to a Mobile Robot Manipulator

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!): ARSO 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Beijing, China ROSCon 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Macau IROS 2019 – November 4-8, 2019 – Macau Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Skydio’s Dock in a Box Enables Long-Term Autonomy for Drone Applications

The word “autonomy” in the context of drones (or really any other robot) can mean a whole bunch of different things. Skydio’s newest drone, which you can read lots more about here, is probably the most autonomous drone that we’ve ever seen, in the sense that it can fly itself while tracking subjects and avoiding obstacles. But as soon as the Skydio 2 lands, it’s completely helpless, dependent on a human to pick it up, pack it into a case, and take it back home to recharge. For consumer applications, this is not a big deal. But for industry, a big part of the appeal of autonomy is being able to deliver results with a minimum of human involvement, since humans are expensive and almost always busy doing other things. Today, Skydio is announcing the Skydio 2 Dock, a (mostly) self-contained home base that a Skydio 2 drone can snuggle Continue reading Skydio’s Dock in a Box Enables Long-Term Autonomy for Drone Applications

OpenAI Teaches Robot Hand to Solve Rubik’s Cube

In-hand manipulation is a skill that, as far as I’m aware, humans in general don’t actively learn. We just sort of figure it out by doing other, more specific tasks with our fingers and hands. This makes it particularly tricky to teach robots to solve in-hand manipulation tasks because the way we do it is through experimentation and trial and error. Robots can learn through trial and error as well, but since it usually ends up being mostly error, it takes a very, very long time. Last June, we wrote about OpenAI’s approach to teaching a five-fingered robot hand to manipulate a cube. The method that OpenAI used leveraged the same kind of experimentation and trial and error, but in simulation rather than on robot hardware. For complex tasks that take a lot of finesse, simulation generally translates poorly into real-world skills, but OpenAI made their system super robust by introducing a Continue reading OpenAI Teaches Robot Hand to Solve Rubik’s Cube

Labrador Systems Developing Affordable Assistive Robots for the Home

Developing robots for the home is still a challenge, especially if you want those robots to interact with people and help them do practical, useful things. However, the potential markets for home robots are huge, and one of the most compelling markets is for home robots that can assist humans who need them. Today, Labrador Systems, a startup based in California, is announcing a pre-seed funding round of $2 million (led by SOSV’s hardware accelerator HAX with participation from Amazon’s Alexa Fund and iRobot Ventures, among others) with the goal of expanding development and conducting pilot studies of  “a new [assistive robot] platform for supporting home health.”

Agility Robotics Unveils Upgraded Digit Walking Robot

Last time we saw Agility Robotics’ Digit biped, it was picking up a box from a Ford delivery van and autonomously dropping it off on a porch, while at the same time managing to not trip over stairs, grass, or small children. As a demo, it was pretty impressive, but of course there’s an enormous gap between making a video of a robot doing a successful autonomous delivery and letting that robot out into the semi-structured world and expecting it to reliably do a good job. Agility Robotics is aware of this, of course, and over the last six months they’ve been making substantial improvements to Digit to make it more capable and robust. A new video posted today shows what’s new with the latest version of Digit—Digit v2.

Video Friday: This Humanoid Robot Will Serve You Ice Cream

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!): Northeast Robotics Colloquium – October 12, 2019 – Philadelphia, Pa., USA Ro-Man 2019 – October 14-18, 2019 – New Delhi, India Humanoids 2019 – October 15-17, 2019 – Toronto, Canada ARSO 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Beijing, China ROSCon 2019 – October 31-1, 2019 – Macau IROS 2019 – November 4-8, 2019 – Macau Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Watch Astrobee’s First Autonomous Flight on the International Space Station

NASA’s Astrobee robots have come a long, long way since we first met them at NASA Ames back in 2017. In fact, they’ve made it all the way to the International Space Station: Bumble, Honey, and Queen Bee are up there right now. While Honey and Queen Bee are still packed away in a case (and quite unhappy about it, I would imagine), Bumble has been buzzing around, getting used to its new home. To be ready to fly solo, all Bumble needed was some astronaut-assisted mapping of its environment, and last month, the little robotic cube finally embarked on its first fully autonomous ISS adventure.