Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [8/23]
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.
We ended this quarter with 1162 e-mail subscribers, reaching a growth of 14.5% in the past 3 months.
The growth is not as significant as in it was in the last quarter (47%) but I’m still happy it’s over 10%!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2) Robotic Collaboration in Timber Construction.
INFO: Speaking of construction robots have you seen this article from ETH Zurich showcasing a team of robots assembling timber constructions?
4) Walking Truck.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
1) TERRINet Open Call - 2nd Edition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
1) The Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2.
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.