Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [10/27]

  • Weekly Robotics #66

    Issue 66

    Have you heard of paradox of automation? It says that the more efficient and automated the system the more crucial is human contribution of the operators. I liked how this concepts was presented in The Personal MBA.

    1) Luca Aces Telerobotic Lunar Geology Test Drive.
    INFO: The first ESA experiment I reported in the Issue #59 took place this week. In the experiments Luca Parmitano took command of a rover in Netherlands while being on-board ISS. In the experiment Luca drove the rover along the obstacle course and collected a rock sample. The robot’s interface in this experiments provides haptic feedback to the user, which sounds to me like quite a challenge given the involved latency.

    2) ROS2 Eloquent Elusor Had Been Released.
    INFO: The fifth release of ROS2 occured on 22nd of November. The End Of Life for this release is November 2020 (for contrast the Dashing Diademata, a previous release, is going to be supported until May 2021). It’s good to see ROS2 maturing!

    3) Caltech and JPL Firing Quadrotors Out of Cannons.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: SQUID is a prototype folding multirotor developed by researchers that weighs 530g and can be launched from a baseball pitching machine, reaching a velocity of 15m/s.

    4) Robobee Powered by Soft Muscles.
    Wyss Institute
    INFO: After the article: “Researchers at SEAS and Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a resilient RoboBee powered by soft artificial muscles that can crash into walls, fall onto the floor, and collide with other RoboBees without being damaged. It is the first microrobot powered by soft actuators to achieve controlled flight”. I found using Ride of the Valkyries quite fitting to the video presenting RoboBees in action.

    5) Aquatic Rover Goes for a Drive under the Ice.
    INFO: I think BRUIE is one of the most interesting rover concepts I have seen since I started working on this newsletter. This rover is meant to be deployed underwater, and use buoyancy to drive on the ice. You can see how this rover works in this YouTube video from 2015.

    6) Mobile Robot Programming Toolkit.
    INFO: Mobile Robot Programming Toolkit (MRPT) is a collection of mobile robotics application and libraries. The project is open source, with a BSD licence. If you happen to use ROS then MRPT also has some ROS ready packages that you can find on GitHub.

    7) Publication of the Week - The Architecture of Open Source Applications: FreeRTOS.
    INFO: In this chapter of AOSA book Christopher Svec covers the architecture of FreeRTOS - a real-time operating system kernel for embedded devices. If you are looking into Real Time systems then this book chapter might be a great start.


    1) Neuralink (San Francisco, CA, US) - Electrical Engineer, Robotics.
    INFO: Neuralink is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. We are building a team of multidisciplinary experts passionate about making a world-changing impact.

    2) Nuro (Mountain View, CA, US) - Robotics Reliability Engineer.
    INFO: Nuro is developing a self-driving vehicle for local goods transportation.


    1) Arm AIoT Dev Summit.
    INFO: Arm AIoT Dev Summit is a developer-focused conference to cast vision and share actionable technical knowledge to developers, data scientists, product managers, and all engineers and architects in IoT, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Attendees will connect with industry leaders who will conduct deep-dive training, facilitate hands-on workshops, and share real-world use cases and solutions you can use to equip your teams with the most cutting-edge development strategies available. Use code ARMWEEKLYROBOTICS to bring your ticket price down to $49!

  • Weekly Robotics #65

    Issue 65

    This weekend I’m attending Zoohackathon thinking how we can use technology to improve anti-poaching efforts. As we’ve learned in Weekly Robotics #30 just using drones does not necessarily solve the problem. Do you have experience using Robotics in conservation efforts? I’d love to hear from you.

    1) WABOT-2.
    INFO: Reddit user LiesGround submitted the picture of Wabot-2 on /r/robotics asking if anyone has any visual materials of the robot. Maybe you can help? WABOT-2 is an anthropomorphic robot playing musical instruments developed by Researchers from Waseda University in the 1980s. The robot contained subsystems responsible for: limb control, vision, conversation, singing voice tracking and supervision. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about WABOT-2 that was in English and was not a paywalled research paper (if you however have an access to it it’s quite informative but personally I wouldn’t pay $30 for accessing it).

    2) Core XY Explained.
    INFO: I didn’t realize I was so far behind in the 3D printing tech. I found the video to be quite a good overview of various 3D printer types kinematics and the part I found particularly useful is the CoreXY kinematics explanation with all the advantages and disadvantages.

    3) Wyss Institute Researchers Create a Fast Multimaterial 3D Printer.
    INFO: While we are on the topic of 3D printing; Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering Researchers had developed a 3D printing method that allows switching the printing material at up to 50 times a second. This technique can be especially useful for rapid development of soft-robotics thanks to having materials with different stiffness. The linked article has a video that explains the concept behind this 3D printing method.

    4) Harvard’s UrchinBot Is One of the Weirdest Looking Robots We’ve Ever Seen.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: I hold similar views to Evan Ackerman: in my case this is the weirdest looking robot I’ve seen as well.

    5) Quadruped Robots Can Climb Ladders Now.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: At IROS 2019 Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University and Okayama University had presented this quadruped robot that can climb vertical ladders. According to the article only 1 in 5 climbs was successful with the current hardware used, however the Researchers hope to improve their setup to reduce the amount of failures and to be able to climb any ladder without prior training. If you watch the video shown in the article pay attention to the time rate shown in the lower left corner; it looks like the task is quite consuming at the moment.

    6) Your First Robot: A Beginner’s Guide to Ros and Ubuntu Core [1/5].
    INFO: The linked article is the first in a blog post series on setting up an inexpensive (~$95) robot with Raspberry Pi and ROS. If you’ve never used ROS before this series might be a good practical start!

    7) Publication of the Week - Building an Aerial-Ground Robotics System for Precision Farming (2019).
    INFO: The thing I like the most about precision agriculture is that it can drastically reduce the use of chemicals when farming. This paper introduces the Flourish project that aims at creating a precision farming solution comprised of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for performing aerial surveys and an UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) to perform interventions in the field. The UAV used in the project is a DJI Matrice 100 multirotor. The UGV is BoniRob Farming Robot created by Bosch (for more details about this platform you can check this excellent IEEE Spectrum article). For those of you interested in mobile robots I highly recommend reading the section on navigation and using crop rows to aid localization.

  • Weekly Robotics #64

    Issue 64

    I’ve been thinking recently of how we perceive robotics systems and tend to compare them to our own abilities. Every time I see a robot performing a task I’m subconsciously thinking how I’d perform this task. In unconstrained environments I’d be probably faster in most of the tasks, assuming the weights involved are low enough for me to handle. What I’m thinking is that it might be OK for the robots to be slower than us in tasks like produce picking or pick and place, after all they can do it for a full day or we can just add more robots to the system. I have this image in my head of a small mobile robot casually strolling down a raspberry field and slowly picking up fruits, while humming some relaxing robot tune.

    1) Self-Transforming Robot Blocks Jump, Spin, Flip, and Identify Each Other.
    INFO: M-Blocks are self assembling modular robots, using magnets to attach to one another. The momentum required to make a block jump is created by applying a break to a flywheel which rotates at 20,000 RPM. The potential future use case described in the article of building a temporary staircase of such robots in a fire scenario sounds like something straight out of science-fiction books - can’t wait!

    2) This MIT Robot Wants to Use Your Reflexes to Walk and Balance.
    Spectrum IEEE
    INFO: MIT Researchers propose a teleoperation system that is capable of dynamically synchronizing the motion of the robot with the motion of the operator. I like how small is the delay between the movement of the human and the corresponding reaction of the robot.

    3) Pymanoid.
    INFO: While we are at bipedal robots this repository contains an open source (GPL v.3.0 licenced) humanoid prototyping environment based on OpenRAVE. If you would like to test this library then I recommend looking at this tutorial as it sounds like a good way to get started.

    4) UK’s 1st Moon Rover to Launch in 2021.
    INFO: This rover developed by Spacebit is a quadruped destined to moon in 2021. The body of the robot is built using standardized cubesat parts. The plan for this robot is to only walk at least 10 meters (33 feet). I would be very curious to see a power budget for a robot like this in a lunar environment.

    5) Technique Helps Robots Find the Front Door.
    INFO: MIT engineers are using semantic techniques to teach a robot to navigate to front door or a garage. According to the article this approach is 189% faster than the classical navigation algorithms. In the video shown in the article we can see the algorithm in action in a simulated environment.

    6) Perler Printer Pushes Pixel-Art Like No Sprite Artist Could.
    INFO: This article contains one of the most satisfying video I’ve seen to date while working on this newsletter. This project is a ‘Perler Beads printer’ - a delta robot laying down beads to turn pixel art into physical objects.

    7) Apple Co-Founder: ‘I’ve Really Given Up’ on Level 5.
    Automotive News
    INFO: Steve Wozniak is reportedly having doubts about humanity reaching Level 5 automation (for an overview of the automation levels you can check this Wikipedia article) in autonomous cars in his lifetime. In the article Wozniak is quoted saying “What we’ve done is we’ve misled the public into thinking this car is going to be like a human brain to be able to really figure out new things and say, ‘Here’s something I hadn’t seen before, but I know what’s going on here, and here’s how I should handle it”, a perfect opening for our Publication of the Week.

    8) Publication of the Week - NTSB Report on Deadly Uber Crash (2019)(PDF).
    INFO: NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) released a report about the deadly crash involving Uber Autonomous car and a woman walking a bicycle that occured in March last year. The report is quite technical and if you work with autonomous systems then I can recommend reading it. Below are some quotes from the report:

    if the perception system changes the classification of a detected object, the tracking history of that object is no longer considered when generating new trajectories. For such newly reclassified object, the predicted path is dependent on its classification, the object’s goal;

    When the system detects an emergency situation, it initiates action suppression. This is a one-second period during which the ADS suppresses planned braking while the (1) system verifies the nature of the detected hazard and calculates an alternative path, or (2) vehicle operator takes control of the vehicle.

    Although the ADS sensed the pedestrian nearly 6 seconds before the impact, the system never classified her as a pedestrian—or predicted correctly her goal as a jaywalking pedestrian or a cyclist—because she was crossing the N. Mill Avenue at a location without a crosswalk; the system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians. Instead, the system had initially classified her as an other object which are not assigned goals. As the ADS changed the classification of the pedestrian several times—alternating between vehicle, bicycle, and an other—the system was unable to correctly predict the path of the detected object.


    1) Intermodalics (Leuven, Belgium) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Intermodalics is a robotics software development firm, working for businesses world-wide, from our offices in Leuven, Belgium. We assist our customers in their product development journey, from technology exploration to product launch and beyond.

    2) TerraClear (Bellevue, WA / Grangeville, ID, US) - Robotics Systems Engineer / AI and Machine Vision Software Research Engineer.
    INFO: We are integrating advanced technologies such as aerial sensing, machine vision, high-accuracy GPS, and advanced robotics into our end-to-end rock picking solution.

    3) Saga Robotics Ltd (Lincoln / Maidstone, UK) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Saga Robotics are developing robotic solutions for soft fruit production, and are involved in several exciting projects world wide, including Norway, UK, and USA. The company works closely with universities as well as industry leaders in robotics and fruit production to create autonomous robots for farmers.

  • Weekly Robotics #63

    Issue 63

    I work on this newsletter in phases. Phase 1 is going through my news feed and shortlisting the articles I found interesting (currently I use bookmarks for that). The second phase is going through the shortlisted webpages and selecting the ones that will appear in the next issue. This week I broke the record with 38 webpages shortlisted (!). The third phase is selecting the 7 top features. If a page doesn’t make it to the top I either add it to the next issue or I delete it. I was thinking that in the future I might add the links that ‘did not make it’ to the newsletter.

    1) Saildrone USV Completes First Atlantic Crossing East to West.
    INFO: I’ve covered the first Atlantic crossing by Saildrone in the issue #28. This time Saildrone was the first Unmanned Surface Vehicle to pass the Atlantic East to West and thus becoming the first unmanned vessel to make a roundtrip of the Atlantic (it traveled the first leg of the journey in August this year).

    2) The Spacex Starship Is a Very Big Deal.
    INFO: This is a very thorough blog post about how SpaceX BFR/Starship is a game changer in space vehicles. In the blog post you will also find a video in which Elon Musk explains how Starship will perform landing on earth.

    3) Build Your Own Thrust Vectored Rockets For Vertical Landings Like SpaceX.
    INFO: While we are at SpaceX rockets: in the above article Joe Barnard shares his experience building reusable rockets.

    4) Can Autonomous Wheels Disrupt Indoor Mobility?
    The Robot Report
    INFO: In this article Olivier Mitchell introduces wheel.me, an Oslo based company working on autonomous wheels (they were hirigin back in May). I really like the idea and I can’t wait to see this technology applied somewhere. Apart from technology the curious thing I found about this article is the wheel.me business model, which is described as indoor-mobility-as-a-service. I’m really curious to see how Robots-as-a-service evolves in the future. Will try to keep you posted!

    5) Helping Autonomous Vehicles See around Corners.
    INFO: MIT Researchers are working on a camera that uses computer vision techniques to detect and classify changes of shadows on the ground. According to the article the system was able to detect a car turning around a pillar 0.72 seconds faster than a LiDAR in the controlled environment the experiments were done in.

    6) It’s Official: Bionicopter Is the Biggest Flying Robotic Insect.
    Automation World
    INFO: The robot has a wingspan of 63 cm (24.8 in), length of 44 cm (17.3 in) and weighs only 175 g (6.2 oz), which is impressive given that the robot has 13 degrees of freedom. You can learn more about the project and see the video demonstrating the robot in action on Festo Bionicopter page.

    7) Publication of the Week - Risley Prism Scanner: Application Note (PDF).
    INFO: Risley Prism Scanner uses two rotating prisms to create a circular scanning pattern using a single laser scanner. This application note by ThorLabs discusses the principle of this technology and shows how to build a scanner like this.


    1) Franka Emika (Munich, Germany) - Mechatronics Engineer / Control Engineer Mechatronics
    INFO: Franka Emika is a dynamic company that develops robotics technology for everyone, with a goal to overcome one of the biggest challenges of the modern society, relieving an entire generation of tedious, potentially dangerous, vastly time-consuming, and monotonous labor.

    2) Andøya Space Center (Andenes, Norway) - Project Engineer.
    INFO: The Andøya Spaceport project is developing a launch capability for small satellites at a new site on Andøya in Norway. Side note: I took part in a student rocket campaign at Andøya Space Center in 2014.