Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [4/20]

  • 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.

  • Weekly Robotics #62

    Issue 62

    1) ROSCon 2019.
    INFO: ROSCon is happening next week from October 31st to November 1st. The talks lineup is quite exciting and I’ll definitely be following it. Usually there is a livestream of the talks, check out the conference page for updates.

    2) LaMa - A Localization and Mapping Library.
    INFO: Feels like this newsletter will need a “SLAM Solution of the week section” if I keep learning about SLAM libraries at the current rate! Regarding this library there was an interesting discussion about it on ROS Discourse where the author of the library presented it to the community. The thing that caught my attention the most is how little resources this library uses. The GitHub repository description mentions that Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is the minimum viable computer to run it.

    3) Humanoid Robot Has Joints That Inspire.
    INFO: This article presents the LIMS2-AMBIDEX humanoid robot upper body developed by Researchers from IRIM Lab at Korea University of Technology and Education. The robot is driven using brushless motors and pulleys and I indeed found the wrist mechanism inspiring! In the comment a Hackaday user anil inverse provided a link to a GitHub repository that contains an stl model of the wrist mechanism that you can 3D print.

    4) Anki Patent Portfolio Is Now for Sale.
    The Robot Report
    INFO: Anki was a consumer robot manufacturer that close down earlier this year (as featured in Weekly Robotics #37). As reported in the article the patent portfolio of the company is now for sale. I’m still bummed about Anki closing down I had high hopes for it and wanted to experiment with it using vector_ros at one point.

    5) Robot Teaches Kids Hand Washing Skills in Rural India.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: Usually the robots I feature in this newsletter are a bit more sophisticated than the current version of Pepe shown in the article, however I believe it can have quite a positive impact. The experiment with this robot took only 3 days but throughout this time the hand washing rate of students increased by 40%.

    6) Robert Williams (Robot Fatality).
    INFO: Let’s take a dark turn. This Wikipedia page describes the death of Robert Willimas, who died in 1979 in one of the Ford plants and is the first known human to be killed by a robot. According to Wikipedia the second person to be killed by a robot was Kenji Urada who at the time worked at Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

    7) Publication of the Week - Mantis: A Scalable, Lightweight and Accessible Architecture to Build Multiform Force Feedback Systems (2019).
    INFO: This paper by Researchers from the University of Bristol presents Mantis, a system architecture for creating force feedback systems. I’ve learned multiple things from this paper - especially on motor selection, impedance vs admittance control and transmission systems. You can find a video of Mantis systems on YouTube.

    1) Webots Now Available from the Snap Store.
    INFO: Webots R2019b revision was just released on the snap store so that you can install it safely and easily on your favorite Linux distribution. That is probably the easiest way to install Webots since all the dependencies are included, including the C/C++/Java compilers, python 3, etc. Also snap packages are safe as they run in a protected sand-box on your Linux computer and hence cannot harm it, can be uninstalled easily and can handle different versions of the software.


    1) NVIDIA (Santa Clara, CA, US) - Senior Software Engineer - Robotics.
    INFO: The team around Project Isaac is building a robotics platform for developing the next generation of intelligent robots. Isaac is binding together high-fidelity visual and physical simulation, a high-quality developing platform, hundreds of optimized algorithms to tackle hard problems in computer vision and artificial intelligence, and a small and powerful computational platform to form the brain of intelligent machines.

    2) Space Application Serivces (Brussels, Belgium) - Robotics Software Engineer - Sensor Fusion & Simulation.
    INFO: Space Applications Services is a company based in the Brussels area (BE) that provides products and services for the space sector in many areas from Avionics, Robotics, Human Exploration, Science and Earth Observation.

    3) GIM Robotics (Espoo, Finland) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: GIM provides full-stack automation and intelligent sensor systems for logistics, mobility and maintenance. Focus on sensor fusion software for autonomous navigation in large outdoor areas.

  • Weekly Robotics #61

    Issue 61

    All the stickers I dedicated for the giveaway last week were claimed within 48 hours. There are now on their way to the 20 of you that expressed interest in them. I hope that in the future I will be able to repeat the giveaway! In other news this week I attended Robotics and ROS meetup in Zurich where I presented Weekly Robotics and had a chance to attend presentation of ANYbotics ANYmal C. I’ve learned a ton and the demo was amazing. ANYbotics has many open source repositories that I recommend you to check out, especially if you are working with ROS.

    1) Coanda Effect Hovercraft.
    INFO: Yet another interesting project log from Tom Stanton. This time he is building a hovercraft using Coandă Effect to create a cushion of air for the hovercraft to lift off the ground. You can find other Tom’s projects in issue #26 and issue #43.

    2) Assembler Robots Make Large Structures From Little Pieces.
    INFO: Benjamin Jenett, a PhD student at MIT had developed robots capable of assembling structures, while also in a way being a part of them. In the article this concept is called “relative robotics” and I can’t wait to see more projects like these.

    3) Kimera Library.
    INFO: Via the linked page: “Kimera is a C++ library for real-time metric-semantic simultaneous localization and mapping, which uses camera images and inertial data to build a semantically annotated 3D mesh of the environment. Kimera is modular, ROS-enabled, and runs on a CPU”. The ROS wrapper of this package contains launch files for a Realsense D435i camera. I’m really tempted to try it out.

    4) Stanford Engineers Develop New Tool for Designing Prosthetic Limbs.
    INFO: This video presents work done by Stanford Researchers with prosthesis emulators - a testbed for rapid prosthesis design and testing.

    5) PCB Thermal Management Techniques.
    All About Circuits
    INFO: This article from All About Circuits describes good design practices for Printed Circuit Board design and inspection when it comes to heat dissipation. Big thanks to Illia for the tip!

    6) LIPO Batteries Fail Explosion Compilation How Not to Burn Down your Home.
    INFO: I might have fallen into a YouTube rabbit hole of RC models crashing and what not and thought it would be a good idea to to talk safety again. I think being reminded every now and then that the LiPO batteries can catch fire if not handled properly is a good thing. Stay safe!

    7) Publication of the Week - Solving Rubik’s Cube With a Robot Hand (2019).
    INFO: This paper presents the work of OpenAI Researchers on creating a whole system capable of solving a Rubik’s cube with a humanoid robot hand that made the news this week. The setup for this project looks quite interesting, starting with Shadow Robot Dexterous Hand, a motion capture system to track the hand’s fingertips, RGB cameras for vision pose estimation and bluetooth enabled Rubik’s Cube. To train the model the Researchers used ADR (Automatic Domain Randomization) in simulation. My favourite part of the paper is when the AI gets annoyed: “We also observe that the policy appears more likely to drop the cube after being stuck on a challenging face rotation for a while”. You can find the video of the hand solving the cube on YouTube.

    1) Intel Realsense T265 Tracking Camera for Mobile Robotics - First Impressions.
    INFO: I’ve spent a fair bit of time working with T265 on Robosynthesis development platform. The above blog post summarizes my experience with this camera and provides some tips on how to set it up.


    1) ANYbotics (Zurich, Switzerland) - Various Positions.
    INFO: We provide solutions for robot applications with the most advanced mobility and autonomy requirements in challenging terrain.

    2) Magazino (Munich, Germany) - Performance & Quality Roboticist.
    INFO: Magazino develops and builds intelligent, mobile robots for intralogistics.