Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [5/20]

  • Weekly Robotics #60

    Issue 60

    How do you like the stickers shown in the header image of this issue? Let’s do a giveaway! The first 20 readers that will send me an e-mail with their postal will get a sticker sent to them free of charge. As soon as your address makes it to the envelope it will be deleted to be never seen again.

    1) Imagineering in a Box.
    Khan Academy
    INFO: Disney has released a free course on Theme Park design that I found very inspiring and interesting to watch. In Lesson 3 starting with video on Armatures you can have a look into Animatronics at Disney’s theme parks. In exercise sections you can even design your own linkage system and actuate it.

    2) Drones as Detectives: Surveying Crime Scenes for Evidence.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: I’ve heard of a similar idea years ago in the context of using drones and photogrammetry for accident mapping (this article from PhotoModeler Technologies will give you an idea what I’m talking about). I’m not sure how useful drones would be on the crime scenes though given that a person can easily take photographs from multiple angles with a handheld camera.

    3) Xaxxon OpenLIDAR Sensor.
    INFO: This project is an open source lidar built using Garmin’s Lidar-Lite v3 distance sensor. The maximum range of the assembled LiDAR is 40 meters and it can rotate at 250 RPM (equal to 4.17 Hz full scan rate).

    4) Walmart’s Robot Army Has Arrived.
    Fast Company
    INFO: How to integrate robots into places full of people while signaling robot’s intent? That is one of the problems Bossa Nova has to tackle. I found this article to be a good inspiration to think about user interaction in Robotics.

    5) TRI Teaching Robots to Help People in their Homes.
    Toyota Research Institute
    INFO: I really like the design of this robot - a body of a humanoid robot torso attached to a robot manipulator that is rigidly connected to a mobile robot platform. I recommend watching this YouTube video about this R&D Project. Given that TRI is in the ROS2 Technical Steering Committee what are the chances of this platform running ROS2?

    6) Watch Astrobee’s First Autonomous Flight on the International Space Station.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: One of my all time favourite ROS projects (I covered Astrobee launch in #35, a paper on Astrobee Software in #39 and the first flight in #44) made its first fully autonomous flight!

    7) Publication of the Week - Design, Modeling and Control of a Robot Bat: From Bio-inspiration to Engineering Solutions (2019).
    Carnegie Mellon University
    INFO: This is a very interesting seminar on bio-inspired robot design by Seth Hutchinson. I’ve never realised how many Degrees of Freedom bats have! If you have a one hour of time to invest and you are interested in biologically inspired robots then I recommend watching this lecture. I’ve definitely learned something today.

  • Weekly Robotics #59

    Issue 59

    Have you seen this video of Waymo employees testing the self driving car on their commutes? According to the description in the video the feature tested at the time was similar to highway assist features (assuming not very close to full autonomy). I feel I agree with the point made in the description that “nothing short of full autonomy will do”; I’m starting to agree - most of us will most probably be too distracted if they are not fully engaged.

    0) Weekly Robotics Q3 Reports.
    Weekly Robotics
    INFO: Do you like numbers? I made a Q3 report summarizing the newsletter performance in the last quarter. Hope you like it!

    1) Unleash Your Smart-home Devices: Vacuum Cleaning Robot Hacking.
    INFO: Apparently smart vacuum cleaners made by Xiaomi run Ubuntu 14.04. I was hoping that the robot would run ROS however nothing I’ve seen in the video and project repository seems to indicate that they are using ROS. Using information from this GitHub repository and applying the things shown in the above video you can install a xiaomi_bridge and “rosify” your vacuum cleaner.

    2) Fictiv Teardowns.
    INFO: Big thanks to Illia for sending me these links! Apparently Fictiv does some teardowns of robots; in the above video you can see how a $300 iRobot Braava Robot Mop is built. On YouTube you can also find teardowns of Anki Vector, Neato Robot Vacuum and Roomba 650.

    3) mjbots quad A0.
    INFO: mjbots quad A0 is an open source quadruped robot, very similar to MIT mini cheetah] that you could read about in the issue #28. In the Hackaday project page you will find a video summarizing 1 year of author’s work on this robot that’s worth watching. The project is licensed under Apache 2.0.

    4) Robotics Investments Recap: September 2019.
    The Robot Report
    INFO: This article from The Robot Reports shows robotics investments, mergers and acquisitions that happened in September.

    5) Controlling Robots Across Oceans and Space – No Magic Required.
    INFO: A signal from ISS to earth needs to make a round trip of 144 400 km. Assuming that the signal travels at a speed of light then we are dealing with 0.5 second delay. If you want to add haptic feedback to teleoperation I imagine it can be quite a tough issue to tackle, especially from user interface perspective. This article from ESA explores the history of robot control from space and introduces Meteron project experiment that will take in November this year. As part of this trial ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will operate a rover in Netherlands while onboard ISS. We will let you know when we learn any more information about the experiment.

    6) ROS 2 Navigation: Now We Are Getting Somewhere.
    Rover Robotics
    INFO: This article from Rover Robotics compares 5 different ROS 2 middlewares for launching a navigation stack. We are getting there!

    7) Publication of the Week - Report On Needs of the ROS 2 Community (2019)(PDF).
    PickNik Consulting
    INFO: Speaking of ROS 2 this 14 pages document from PickNik Consulting is a survey report on 15 robotics companies regarding their use and perception of ROS 1 and ROS 2. There are some interesting ideas on the required steps to make ROS 2 more appealing to companies and early adopters.

    1) Humble Book Bundle: Linux & UNIX by O’Reilly.
    Humble Bundle
    INFO: If you are working in Unix environment you might find this bundle of interest. I’m especially interested about the book on vi and vim and linux device drivers. By purchasing this bundle you can choose to support Code for America and Weekly Robotics.


    1) Pro-Drone (Lisbon/Alentejo, Portugal) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Pro-Drone is a tech start-up that is revolutionizing how assets are inspected worldwide by developing autonomous UAV inspection solutions.

    2) Neuralink (San Francisco, CA, US) - Software Engineer, Roboticist.
    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.

  • Weekly Robotics Q3 2019 report

    Winter is coming!

    3 months ago I started doing these quarterly reports. I found them to be a good way to give myself some perspective on how the newsletter is doing and at the same time I thought that some of the readers might find it interesting too.

    Email Subscribers

    We ended this quarter with 1162 e-mail subscribers, reaching a growth of 14.5% in the past 3 months.

    Mailchimp growth

    The growth is not as significant as in it was in the last quarter (47%) but I’m still happy it’s over 10%!

    Website Traffic

    Website visits

    This quarter we had 5.4k users with 7.3k sessions. On this chart you can clearly see when I was on holidays (3 weeks starting from mid-August) - I didn’t spend time promoting the newsletter.

    Time Spent on the Newsletter

    I spent 63 hours over the past 3 months working on the newsletter (compared to ~81 hours in the previous quarter). I rarely go below 4 hours spent working on Weekly Robotics in a week but one of these weeks I managed to compile a newsletter in under 2 hours.

    Time spent on Weekly Robotics

    Upgrades and future plans

    I didn’t do too many upgrades in the past quarter. The only one I can think of is the automation of newsletter numbering - before I had to specify the issue number in 3 places, now it’s only one place and I don’t need to change image generating script on every issue as it should now pick up the title automatically.

    This means that I didn’t met my goal described in the last report and didn’t set up the self-hosted email delivery platform. I wish I could promise I will finish it in Q4 but things are about to get very busy for me, so no promises.

    Long Term Goals

    Here are some of the long term goals that I’m hoping to achieve this calendar year with Weekly Robotics:

    • Website redesign - especially looking into the structure of the website menu and maybe adding a landing page (while keeping the newsletter archive intact)
    • Finding the first sponsor/contributor for the newsletter
    • Starting a discussion group - either some kind of forum or a Slack channel
    • Kicking off a secret WR project - you will hear about it when it’s ready

    Thanks a lot for being part of Weekly Robotics. I hope that you continue enjoying this newsletter! If you have any thoughts on this report don’t hesitate to reach out.


  • 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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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).
    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.


    1) ROS-I EU Fall ’19 Tech Workshop.
    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.