Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [2/27]

  • Weekly Robotics #95

    Issue 95

    I knew that there would be heaps of cool robotics projects, news etc. coming right around the time ICRA wraps up but I didn’t expect so many! As I’m putting this issue together I need to choose from 42 links. Now I’m wondering if this number is a coincidence. The most clicked last week was Fresh Consulting report on why robotics companies fail with 15.2% opens.

    1) We Can Do Better Than Human-Like Hands for Robots.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: Researchers at Stanford University have developed a robotic hand that instead of mimicking anthropomorphic fingers is using 3 actuated rollers that allow for various methods of object manipulation. The second iteration of this work is using balls instead of rollers. In the article you can see 2 videos showing these two concepts.

    2) UBR-1 Restoration Update.
    INFO: Since the last week’s issue Michael Ferguson has published two blog posts with updates on the restoration of his robot. In the post UBR-1 on ROS2 Michael describes how he ported his launch files and configuration to ROS2 and how he was able to run RVIZ with it. In the follow up post we can learn about porting controllers to ROS2.

    3) OpenSHC: A Versatile Multilegged Robot Controller.
    INFO: “Syropod High-level Controller (SHC) is a versatile controller capable of generating body poses and gaits for quasi-static multilegged robots. This ROS package implemented in C++ can be easily deployed on legged robots with different sensor, leg and joint configurations. SHC is designed to generate foot tip trajectories for a given gait sequence, step clearance, step frequency and input body velocity”. The library is open source with a CSIRO Open Source Software Licence (a variation of MIT/BSD). You can see a video showing some functionality of this library on YouTube.

    4) Continuum Robot Examples.
    INFO: “Continuum robots have elastic links which are capable of large-scale continuous deformations. This repo has example scripts to simulate continuum robots of various design paradigms. Each example is accompanied by a short write-up in PDF format”. This work has been open sourced by John Daniel Till. The repository also contains his PhD disseretation.

    5) Hoverbike Crash in Dubai!
    INFO: Here is a video I’ve very strong feelings about. Firstly why would put a unprotected spinning blades so close to a human and second of all why would a barometer failure cause the aircraft to start tilting, secondly saying “all safety systems worked well” in a crash like this indicates to me that there might not be too many safety systems implemented on these platforms. Luckily no one was injured this time!

    6) CARLA Talks 2020.
    INFO: The team behind CARLA, an open source simulator for autonomous driving research, had published a range of videos and slides showcasing some of their developments.

    7) ROS Study Group- Beginner
    INFO: Some folks at ROS discourse are joining forces to learn ROS together. I thought some of the readers could be interested in joining.

    Job Seekers

    In the issue #83 I’ve started this section to try to help out those looking for work in the times of pandemic. If you are currently looking for work then feel free to send me your details in the same format as you can see in the entries below.

    Name: Varadraj Bhat
    Location: Davis, CA, USA. Willing to relocate across USA
    Skills: Python, C,Embedded C, Ladder Logic, MATLAB/Simulink,ROS,RVIZ, Gazebo, PLC, Microcontrollers- INTEL 8051, INTEL 8086, ATMega328, TICC3200, MSP432 , Fusion360,Arduino IDE, Energia, CC studio, Studio 5000,500-Rockwell Automation, Repetier Host
    Profile: Robotics and Controls Engineer, Presently working on strawberry packing automation using the Baxter research robotic arm. Experienced in ROS, PLC, microcontroller. Looking for opportunities in Robotics, Controls and Autonomous systems
    Social Profiles: LinkedIn
    Email: vbhat@ucdavis.edu


    1) Dusty Robotics (Mountain View, CA, US) - Sr Robotics Software Engineer / VP of Engineering.
    INFO: Dusty Robotics is an early-stage venture-backed startup developing robotic automation for the construction industry.

    2) Dronistics (Lausanne, Switzerland) - Full-Stack Developer.
    INFO: At Dronistics you will have the unique opportunity to work with exciting technologies to develop the next generation of transportation drones. Working at Dronistics will provide you with hands-on experience in fields such as software development, UX Design, mechanical design, prototyping and field tests.

    3) Saga Robotics (Lincoln, 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.


    1) Computer Vision on Depth Cameras: Spatial AI.
    INFO: AlwaysAI is organizing a free workshop on computer vision with depth cameras. The event will take place online on July 1st. Time to dust off these Realsense cameras!

  • Weekly Robotics #94

    Issue 94

    It looks like the main part of ICRA 2020 has wrapped up - this means that we can expect to learn about a number of hugely interesting projects in the coming days - great news, especially if you happen to follow a robotic themed newsletter! The most clicked last week was a fast introduction to robotics v 2.0 with 13.9% opens.

    1) Granular Boots for Bots.
    INFO: “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”. This is the first time I’ve seen jamming mechanisms applied to a moving robot, usually you could see it applied to robotic grippers. You can find a PDF with a paper describing this concept in detail here.

    2) Robotic Third Arm Can Smash Through Walls.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: “Researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada developed a waist-mounted hydraulic arm that can help you with all kinds of tasks”. I recommend taking a look at the project video. At the end of the article you find an interview with Catherine Véronneau - it was interesting to learn about compensating for the arm movement and about the inspiration for this project.

    3) Restoring a UBR-1.
    Robot & Chisel
    INFO: Michael Ferguson recently purchased a UBR-1 robot off Craigslist. UBR-1 was developed by Unbounded, where Michael used to be a CTO. From the article it seems it took Michael no time to upgrade this Robot to the latest version of ROS and get it running. To learn a bit more about UBR1 and Unbounded you can check out Melonee Wise’s website.

    4) Kuka Milling Robot Used to Manufacture Film Props.
    Robotics and Automation News
    INFO: Robocarv is an UK based company that uses robots to manufacture movie props. The company’s portfolio has many interesting projects. I didn’t expect drilling polystyrene can look so satisfying (here is the video).

    5) Salto Jumping Robot Masters Pinpoint Landings.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: Salto that you could have seen in issue #9 and #40 of this newsletter. With the latest improvements the Salto can now stably land where you tell it to. Looking forward to seeing what happens with this project in the future!

    6) Next-Generation Cockroach-Inspired Robot Is Small but Mighty.
    Wyss Institute
    INFO: “PC-MEMS (short for printed circuit microelectromechanical systems) is a fabrication process in which the robot’s components are etched into a 2D sheet and then popped out in its 3D structure”. In this work Researchers scaled down an existing robot design to recreate a robot with the same functionality as its predecessor. You can see a video presenting this concept in detail on YouTube.

    7) Dead Robots: Jibo.
    INFO: Conrad Gray had published another article in his Dead Robots series, this time featuring Jibo. Similarly to the previous article Conrad had made a well researched post. Looking forward to the next articles!

    8) Publication of the Week - Why Robotics Companies Fail (2020) [PDF].
    Fresh Consulting
    INFO: Fresh Consulting had published a 40 page white paper on why robotics companies fail. The document features many success and failure stories across 5 main causes that can kill a Robotics company.

  • Weekly Robotics #93

    Issue 93

    Jordan, one of the readers has won AWS JPL Open Source Rover Competition (featured in the issue 68). Congrats! If you happen to be hiring bright minds then you know what to do! The most clicked last week was the Weekly Robotics YouTube channel with 13.8% opens.

    1) Rethinking Cruise’s AV Development Loop During COVID-19.
    INFO: Here is yet another interesting blog post from Cruise. This time Tom Boyd discusses how using simulation is useful in Cruise’s workflow, especially when they can’t deploy their cars due to a pandemic. I didn’t realize how important Magic Tire Formula was for realistic simulations - if you’d like to learn more about it then I found racer.nl description very good!

    2) [Hello World!] - Simulation.
    INFO: While we are on the subject of autonomous cars and simulation: StreetDrone has released their robotics Renault Twizy Gazebo simulation setup. Twizy is a lightweight electric car, making it autonomous is a very interesting idea, especially that they are relatively cheap. I’ll be definitely looking out for more news about StreetDrone’s progress on these cars.

    3) ros-ydlidar-x4-docker.
    INFO: Patrick, one of the readers of Weekly Robotics, had created a repository with a docker image of ydlidar ROS driver. This repo can be a good starter if you are looking to use docker with ROS.

    4) Spherical Quadruped Arduino Robot.
    INFO: This instructable contains instructions and a gallery of a spherical quadruped robot that you can build yourself. Each leg of this quadruped is controlled by 2 servos, bringing the total amount of servos used to 10 (there is one servo used for head movement and one used for doors). This build looks like a good weekend project!

    5) A Fast Introduction to Robotics (v 2.0).
    INFO: Harsh Maithani has put together a huge list of robotics resources: books, mailing lists, journals, conferences, tools etc. I’m super grateful Weekly Robotics is a part of this list and I’ve already included Harsh’s list in Awesome Weekly Robotics repo.

    6) Mech Suit Field Trials - Episode 1 - Giant Mech Crushes a Car.
    INFO: If you liked the story of MegaBots that I’ve featured last week then you might like this giant mech “prosthesis” from Furrion Exo-Bionics. There are not many details on this robot but it weighs 8k lbs (~3.5k kg) and it seems to be powered by LiOn battery packs. Big thanks to Julius for the information about this video!

    7) CPP Optimizations Diary.
    CPP Optimizations INFO: Davide Faconti, an author of such packages as PlotJuggler (seriously if you ever have to plot any ROS or PX4 data look no further, this is the best graphing tool I’ve ever used) and BehaviorTree.CPP, had created a blog with examples of C++ code optimizations. Definitely worth checking out if you happen to be writing code for robots!

    8) Publication of the Week - OmniTact - A Multi-Directional High-Resolution Touch Sensor (2020).
    UC Berkeley
    INFO: Researchers from UC Berkeley are developing an optical tactile sensor that uses 5 micro cameras to observe deformation of a gel skin coating in multiple directions. Since the cameras used provide a resolution of 400x400 pixels the resulting images seem to be very detailed and a 360° horizontal and 270° vertical field of view should provide good feedback all around the sensor. You can see a 10 minute video that nicely summarizes the paper on YouTube.


    1) Small Robot Company (Salisbury, UK) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: Small Robot Company is reimagining farming with robotics and artificial intelligence. Our vision is to make food production sustainable, reducing farming’s impact on the environment and increasing farm outputs globally. Our farmbots Tom, Dick and Harry will plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste.

    2) Amazon (Berlin, Germany) - Applied Scientist, Robotics.
    INFO: The Robotics AI team at Amazon is building high-performance, real-time robotic systems that can perceive, learn and act intelligently alongside humans, at Amazon scale.

  • Weekly Robotics #92

    Issue 92

    I’ve started a WeeklyRobotics YouTube channel that I kicked off with an Astrobee teaser video. Is a video like this something that you would find interesting? My idea for this mini project is to create a series of < 1 minute videos highlighting interesting things about some robotics projects and as always providing a heaps of links for further research. If you love or hate this idea then I’d like to hear from you! You can send me an e-mail at mat@weeklyrobotics.com. The most clicked last week was fastbook.ai notebooks with 13.8% opens.

    1) Dead Robots - MegaBots.
    INFO: Conrad Gray, the author of H+ Weekly had created a new series telling stories of failed robots and companies behind them. In this article Conrad tells the story of MegaBots - a company that was building giant fighting robots. I like how well researched this article is!

    2) Use Articulation Bodies to Easily Prototype Industrial Designs with Realistic Motion and Behavior.
    INFO: Unity, a 3D game engine, is becoming more and more robotics friendly. In the next release Unity will support articulated joints, making it easier to create realistic robot arm simulations. If you happen to work with ROS then ROS# is a set of libraries, maintained by Siemens, that you can use to bridge ROS and Unity3D.

    3) Self-reconfiguring Modular Robot.
    INFO: Julius pointed out to me that the Wikipedia page on self-reconfiguring modular robots is a very good read with many examples of physical systems created (among them Roombots, about which I chatted during my interview with Auke Ijspeert).

    4) Patent approved for Posable Hubs for Robotic Platforms.
    INFO: These posable hubs for mobile robots allow to change the chassis pose using actuators attached to the wheel rim.

    5) Porting a Project from ROS1 to ROS2 — Our Experience.
    INFO: In this post Łukasz Mitka from Husarion describes the issues they’ve solved when looking to support ROS2 in their GUI tool.

    6) Inspired by Cheetahs, Researchers Build Fastest Soft Robots yet.
    INFO: Looking at the video this galloping robot was way faster than I was expecting based on all the soft robots I’ve seen up to date. I’m curious how a design like this can be scaled to perform any of the functions mentioned in the article (search and rescue, industrial manufacturing).

    7) Publication of the Week - Design and Autonomous Stabilization of a Ballistically Launched Multirotor (2019).
    INFO: This is a paper is an update to the “Caltech and JPL Firing Quadrotors Out of Cannons” article that you might have seen in issue 66. In this iteration of the project SQUID is a 3.3kg hexacopter that can be launched from a T-Shirt cannon at 12m/s. Researchers calculated that the aircraft experiences 21g acceleration on launch (the IMU used saturated at 16g) and the maximum height achieved with this system was 32m (104 feet). ROVIO is used for active stabilization using the onboard camera and the IMU - the steps that need to get the VIO readings are interesting - you’ll find more info about it in section IV. You can find the videos with launches on YouTube.


    1) Hackaday Prize 2020.
    INFO: Hackaday Prize 2020 is on! Hackaday Prize is a worldwide hardware design challenge focused on globally impactful innovation. This year, we are partnering with leading nonprofits to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems across conservation, disaster relief, renewable resources, and assistive devices. The Hackaday Prize connects you to engineers, expert mentors, and other powerful resources to develop dynamic solutions for those who need it most. You can enter the competition until August 31st.