Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [3/17]

  • Weekly Robotics #58

    Issue 58

    For the past 4 weeks the RSS feed in the newsletter was broken when I was trying to optimize some bits and pieces. Apologies to those affected, everything should be back to normal now! I’ve listened to The New Republic’s How Boeing’s Managerial Revolution Created the 737 Max Disaster and can highly recommend it, especially to those of you working on safety critical projects.

    1) Drone Bubble Bursts, Wiping Out Startups and Hammering VC Firms.
    Bloomberg
    INFO: It looks like we might have reached the Trough of Disillusionment phase in the drone hype curve with the VCs not being so keen on funding new projects, companies scaling down or going bankrupt. In my opinion this is fine, it means that now we will start having realistic expectations about this area of robotics.

    2) Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot Dog Goes on Sale.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: You can now place an order for Spot Mini through the online form. At this stage the robot will be available to businesses only. Here you can find the launch video.

    3) When it Comes to Robots, Reliability May Matter More than Reasoning.
    Science Daily
    INFO: “New Army-led research finds that human confidence in robots decreases after the robot makes a mistake, even when it is transparent with its reasoning process”.

    4) Life at the Lab: Soft Robots.
    YouTube
    INFO: NASA is looking to use soft robotics in space, in this video you can see some of the mechanisms currently being tested by the researchers. If you are looking into having a go at these kinds of robots then soft robotics toolkit seems like a great place to start.

    5) evo - Python Package for the Evaluation of Odometry and SLAM.
    michaelgrupp.github.io
    INFO: Via the package description: “This package provides executables and a small library for handling, evaluating and comparing the trajectory output of odometry and SLAM algorithms”.

    6) Multi-Agent Hide and Seek.
    YouTube
    INFO: This video from OpenAI shows agents playing hike and seek and coming up with some interesting strategies through reinforcement learning. If you liked this video then back in issue #14 I’ve featured some examples of AI gaming the rules that you might find interesting.

    7) More Parkour Atlas.
    YouTube
    INFO: Atlas has apparently learned some new parkour tricks. At first I couldn’t believe this was not CGI.

    8) Publication of the Week - Mine Tunnel Exploration using Multiple Quadrupedal Robots (2019).
    arXiv
    INFO: This paper shows the detailed architecture of system for autonomous explorations of a tunnel using quadruped robots (Ghost Robotics Vision 60 to be precise). I like the level of detail this paper goes into, especially about the software and hardware architecture of the system.

    Announcements

    1) ROS-I EU Fall ’19 Tech Workshop.
    rosin-project.eu
    INFO: The next ROS-Industrial EU Tech Workshop will take place from Oct 9th to 10th 2019 in Stuttgart, Germany. The workshop will focus on the latest developments of MoveIt, security & skill oriented programming with ROS. The workshop is free for members of any ROS-Industrial Consortium or 500 Euro for individuals from other organizations.

  • Weekly Robotics #57

    Issue 57

    1) Construction Robotics Library.
    docs.google.com
    INFO: Brian Ringley had compiled a list of books on Construction Robotics. In the above link you will find a spreadsheet listing close to 60 titles.

    2) Robotic Collaboration in Timber Construction.
    ETH
    INFO: Speaking of construction robots have you seen this article from ETH Zurich showcasing a team of robots assembling timber constructions?

    4) Walking Truck.
    Wikipedia
    INFO: In 1965 General Electric developed a quadruped walking vehicle, weighing staggering 1,400 kg (3,000 lbs) and achieving speeds of up to 8 km/h (5 mph). The robot used hydraulic actuators that an operator inside of the machine would control through the movement of arms and legs. I highly recommend checking out this YouTube video showcasing the machine.

    3) SCUTTLE Mobile Robot.
    mxet.github.io
    INFO: SCUTTLE is an open source mobile robot designed to support teaching at Texas A&M University. The robot has a differential drive configuration, has a frame built using aluminium profiles and is using a Beaglebone as a processing unit. The currently available Bill of Materials prices the hardware used for the core platform at $309.

    5) Romanian Engineers Have Created a Fully Functional Flying Saucer.
    vice.com
    INFO: Two Romanian Engineers claim to have created, what they call ADIFO (All Directional Flying Object), a flying saucer capable of flying in all directions. It looks like the aircraft is in very early prototyping stage. In the video attached to the article we can only see what seems like a traditional quadcopter with ducted fans attached to one side of the saucer (according to the video the idea is to have jet engines in there in the future). I’m not fully sold on the idea based on what I’ve seen but as soon as any proper demonstrator come out I’ll update you.

    6) ExoMars - Moving on Mars.
    ESA
    INFO: I love physical simulations. In this video you can see how ESA engineers are testing various possible configurations of environment (obstacles, inclination) for the lander and rover. I find the sound the wheels occasionally make while on the ramp a bit unsettling!

    7) Publication of the Week - FaSTrack: Ensuring Safe Real-Time Navigation of Dynamic Systems (2017).
    BAIR
    INFO: “FaSTrack: Fast and Safe Tracking, is a tool that essentially “robustifies” fast motion planners like RRT or MPC while maintaining real time performance. FaSTrack allows users to implement a fast motion planner with simplified dynamics while maintaining safety in the form of a precomputed bound on the maximum possible distance between the planner’s state and the actual autonomous system’s state at runtime”. You can find the full paper on arXiv and a ROS package with the planner on GitHub.

    1) Hands on With slam_toolbox.
    msadowski.github.io
    INFO: I’ve recently worked quite a bit with slam_toolbox (covered in the previous issue). The above post summarizes my experience while working on it with Robosynthesis.

    Careers

    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) Amazon (Seattle, WA, US) - System Development Engineer.
    INFO: The AWS Robotics organization aims to simplify or eliminate the common undifferentiated heavy lifting that all robotics developers face when trying to build their robot applications. To date we have launched RoboMaker a service for development, hosted simulation and robot fleet management.

    Announcements

    1) TERRINet Open Call - 2nd Edition.
    TERRINet
    INFO: TERRINet is the European Robotics Research Infrastructure able to offer top quality infrastructures, excellent research services and training to a variety of users worldwide. TERRINet enables you to get FREE access to 15 European Robotics Research Infrastructures to explore your ideas within (joint) research projects. You will have a great opportunity to get in contact with leading and creative scientists, technologists, experts and industrial representatives who will inspire you. You can apply to participate in this call until 30th of September.

  • Weekly Robotics #56

    Issue 56

    As I’m writing this newsletter I’m at EPFL Open Days 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was quite cool to see some of the projects researchers work on at EPFL and in other Swiss organizations. Finally I was able to see ANYmal in action live! In other news every now and then I update the awesome weekly robotics list and as I’m writing this issue the list has over 70 entries!

    1) Meet The 20 Finalists In The 2019 Hackaday Prize.
    Hackaday
    INFO: Hackaday announced 20 finalists of the Hackaday Prize. Among them we can find projects related to robotics such as 3D printed prosthesis with CV, BCI and EMG, Bobble-Bot (WR #38), SmallKat, Axiom: 100+kW Motor Controller and Blackbird Bipedal Robot. I can also see myself using OPEN Power at some point in the future if they ever start selling those.

    2) Slam Toolbox.
    GitHub
    INFO: slam_toolbox is a ROS package for 2D lifelong mapping and localization in potentially massive maps developed by Steve Macenski. I started setting it up this week with Robosynthesis and if you are doing SLAM with ROS I highly recommend checking it out. My experience so far is that if you have a odom->base_link transform and a semi decent LiDAR then this package can work very well pretty much out of the box.

    3) EU Long-term Dataset with Multiple Sensors for Autonomous Driving.
    epan-utbm.github.io
    INFO: Engineers from Université De Technologie De Belfort-Montbéliard released a number of datasets containing data from various sensors mounted on a car. Among the sensors used we can find 2 stereo cameras, 3 lidars, radar, GNSS receiver with RTK base station, IMU and 2 RGB cameras. The datasets are provided in the form of ROS bagfiles.

    4) Russia Terminates Robot Fedor After Space Odyssey.
    Phys.org
    INFO: Skybot F-850 (featured in issues #53 and #54) completed his mission and according to the article it won’t be coming back to the ISS any time soon. Apparently using legs in space is no easy feat!

    5) Water Jet Powered Drone Takes Off With Explosions.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: Researchers from Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London had developed a ‘fying fish’ fixed-wing UAV that is propelled by gas explosions. The gas is created from the reaction of calcium carbide with water (you can see some experiments on that on YouTube) and when ignited the water forced out of the combustion chamber generates 51 N of thrust, launching the robot as high as 21 meters up. You can see the drone in action in this video.

    6) This Adorable Baby T-Rex AI Learned To Dribble.
    YouTube
    INFO: This video from Two Minute Papers shows using AI to compose complex motions from the sum of elementary movements. Even though this paper demonstrates the solution for 3D animations, I can see how it could be utilized on robots with complex kinematic chains. Big thanks to Artur for the tip about this video!

    7) Publication of the Week - ShapeBots: Shape-changing Swarm Robots (2019).
    arXiv
    INFO: Each ShapeBot is equipped with 2.5 cm thin reel-based linear actuator that can extend to 20 cm (~7.9 in) both horizontally and vertically The work presented in the paper is the result of collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Tokyo. The robots are relatively simple with ESP8266 microcontroller used as the brains of the robot and BOM summing up to 20-25 USD. I found the ShapeBots simulator to be very satisfying to experiment with and nicely showing the concept of these robots being used in a swarm setting. You can find the video showcasing the bots in action on YouTube.

    Careers

    1) Parkopedia (London, UK) - Robotics Software Engineer.
    INFO: Parkopedia was founded with the mission of being able to answer any parking question, anywhere in the world. In the Autonomous Driving team we’re creating Highly Autonomous Driving (HAD) indoor parking maps and testing those maps on our autonomous car to ensure that they are suitable for localisation and navigation.

    2) Apex.AI (Palo Alto, CA, USA) - Senior Field Application Engineer.
    INFO: We envision a world of seamless and safe autonomous mobility. Pursuing this vision, we have built a team of the best engineers in their field working together focussed on enabling our customers to take automated mobility applications to production.

    Announcements

    1) The Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2.
    Nine Sights
    INFO: As NASA moves forward with plans to support human exploration of the solar system, a critical need arises to supply basic materials such as oxygen (O2) and water (H2O), food, propellants, and other materials (radiation shielding, clothing, etc.). As mankind ventures farther from Earth and for greater periods of time, it becomes imperative to develop technologies and mission architectures that utilize local resources, such as those found in lunar regolith, to provide supplies needed for human exploration. The objective of SRC Phase 2 is to find solutions to allow a heterogeneous, multi-robot team to autonomously complete tasks envisioned for a lunar in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) mission. This challenge will require competitors to develop software that allows a virtual team of robotic systems (i.e. virtual robotic team) to operate autonomously to successfully achieve these tasks. The application deadline is the 20th of December this year.

  • Weekly Robotics #55

    Issue 55

    Reading an article on 15 years of Hackaday made me realize just how quickly technology is advancing these days. 15 years is just a half of my life and around half life ago my computer was still running a 351 MHz Pentium II processor. Thinking that right now I can get a Raspberry Pi Zero that is smaller than a business card and has 1 GHz processor is simply unbelievable. As cheesy as it sounds, we live in the future.

    1) A Car Phone — No, Not That Kind.
    Hackaday
    INFO: Deeprc is a project by Piotr Sokólski that can be considered a google cardboard for RC cars. The brain of the device is the phone that fits in the chassis and connects to the steering servo and a brushless motor. A mirror angled at 45 degrees allows to use the phone camera as a vision sensor. You can learn more about DeepRC Robot Car on the project page.

    2) XIVO: X Inertial-aided Visual Odometry and Sparse Mapping.
    GitHub
    INFO: XIVO is a library for visual-inertial odometry/mapping developed by UCLA researchers. The library can work either as a standalone project or it can be used with ROS. Currently the licence allows to use it for academic/research purposes, however a commercial licence is available.

    3) The Robot Ship Set to Cross the Atlantic and Change the World.
    Daily Beast
    INFO: This article covers Maxlimer, an unmanned surface vehicle developed by SEA-KIT. The vessel can autonomously deliver up to 2.5 tonnes of cargo. We need to point out that the article mentions that the Maxlimer is posed to become the first unmanned surface vessel to cross the Atlantic. As far as I know this feat was already accomplished by Sailbuoy and Saildrone.

    4) A Gentle Grip on Gelatinous Creatures.
    The Harvard Gazette
    INFO: The researchers had created grippers capable of safely capturing some of the most delicate animals on the planet. “The gripper’s six “fingers” are composed of thin, flat strips of silicone with a hollow channel inside bonded to a layer of flexible but stiffer polymer nanofibers. The fingers are attached to a rectangular, 3D-printed plastic “palm” and, when their channels are filled with water, curl in the direction of the nanofiber-coated side. Each finger exerts an extremely low amount of pressure — about 0.0455 kPA.”

    5) Drone Crowdfunding Status Updated.
    Google Docs
    INFO: Charles Blouin on DIY Drones forum updated an original spreadsheets by Chris Anderson that lists some of the crowdsourced Drone projects and their status. It’s interesting to see how many of these projects are delayed but still seemingly active. Hope the companies can deliver!

    6) Reach Robotics Shuts Down Consumer Robotics Business.
    The Robot Report
    INFO: Reach Robotics, that sold consumer entertainment hexapod robots shut down earlier this week. This is yet another proof that doing consumer robotics is difficult.

    7) Publication of the Week - ASSURE UAS Ground Collision Severity Evaluation Final Report 2017-2019.
    assureuas.org
    INFO: This document is an 830 pages collection of reports developed by the ASSURE team. “The goal for this team was to assess injury potential of various SUAS of different material properties and construction. The team conducted fixed wing and multirotor SUAS failure flight testing and aerodynamic modeling, full anthropomorphic test device (ATD) impact testing, simplified head and neck only ATD impact testing, ATD and human‐body model impact simulations, Post Mortem Human Surrogate (PMHS) impact testing, and high-fidelity head and neck only impact simulations. During this project, researchers collected data on over 41 flight test points, 155 simplified impact tests, 133 ATD impact tests, 41 PMHS impact tests, over 100 full-ATD and human-body model impact simulations, and 15 high-fidelity head and neck simulations. Tests were conducted with 16 different multi-rotor and fixed-wing SUAS and objects (payloads, wood blocks and batteries) with weights ranging from 0.75 - 13.2 lbs”.

    Careers

    1) Caressoma (Winterthur, Switzerland) - Chief Technical Officer.
    INFO: Caressoma builds a robotic tool for soft tissue monitoring. It is our mission to reduce the number of soft-tissue injuries, support injury recovery and help track the evolution of soft-tissue diseases.

    2) Astrobotics (Pittsburgh, PA) - Various Positions.
    INFO: At Astrobotic, we’re in the business of bringing space within everyone’s reach. If you have a genuine passion for space robotics, a desire to build real hardware, and are among the best in your field, we’re looking for you.

    3) LG ( Santa Clara, CA, US) - Sr. Embedded Engineer (ROS).
    INFO: At LG we make products and services that make lives better, easier and happier through increased functionality and fun. Put simply, we offer the latest innovations to make “Life Good” – from home appliances, consumer electronics, vehicle components and mobile communications to business innovations in digital signage, air conditioning, solar and LED lighting.

    4) RightHand Robotics (Somerville, MA, US) - Various Positions
    INFO: RightHand Robotics (RHR) is a leader in providing end-to-end solutions that reduce the cost of e-commerce order-fulfillment of electronics, apparel, grocery, pharmaceuticals, and countless other industries. Unlike traditional factory robots that can be complex to set up and are singly purposed, RHR solutions are simple to integrate and adaptable to improve the utilization of many different customer workflows, such as sorting batch-picked items, picking items from an ASRS, inducting items to a belt sorter, and order quality assurance.

    Announcements

    1) ESMERA Open Call.
    esmera-project.eu
    INFO: The EU funded robotics project ESMERA (European SMEs Robotics Applications) has opened its second open call. Within that call, industrial end users have defined specific challenges that are to be solved by introducing a robotics solution. The challenges come from the areas of Manufacturing, Energy, Construction, Agriculture, Food Processing, Retail, Healthcare and Emergency Response. Until December 2nd, European SMEs can now apply to solve one or more of these challenges by developing a robotics application and receive funding of up to 200.000 Euros.

    2) ESA Open Day 2019.
    ESA
    INFO: Registrations are now open for ESA’s Open Day in the Netherlands on Sunday 6 October – your chance to meet astronauts, space experts and see behind the scenes of Europe’s space adventure at ESA’s largest establishment. You can register for a visit using this link.