Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [9/27]

  • Weekly Robotics #70

    Issue 70

    Last week I’ve mentioned that I couldn’t find any video from the AlphaPilot AI drone race. Fortunately Martin Nievas had my back on twitter and shared this tweet that features a bit longer video that gives you an idea how the drone flew.

    I would like to wish a Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all of you reading this. If you’d like to get into christmas mood with some themed video then check out some from: ETH Zurich Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH Zurich Robotics Systems Lab, FZI Living Lab, ALTAIR Robotics Lab, Northern Robotics Laboratory, LAI Robotics, Technical University of Munich, Rozum Robotics. In hindsight I should have probably made a whole newsletter issue with these videos… Maybe next year! I bet I missed plenty of videos, feel free to share some with me on twitter and I’ll happily reshare them.

    1) Game of Drones at NeurIPS 2019: Simulation-based Drone-Racing Competition Built on AirSim.
    INFO: Coming back to the topic of drone racing for a bit: “at NeurIPS the AirSim research team is working together with Stanford University and University of Zurich to further democratize drone-racing research by hosting a simulation-based competition, Game of Drones. We are hosting the competition on Microsoft AirSim, our Unreal Engine-based simulator for multirotors. The competition focuses on trajectory planning and control, computer vision, and opponent drone avoidance”. AirSim is one of the many projects I featured in awesome-WR - a database highlighting some of the interesting robotics I covered in this robotics newsletter.

    2) First Drive Test of NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover.
    INFO: NASA’s MARS rover was tested earlier this week. I find it fascinating how many engineers are involved in these tests. I wonder how much data a test like this generates?

    3) Aeva Unveils Lidar on a Chip.
    Spectrum IEEE
    INFO: From time to time I hear about LiDARS on chips (or solid-state LiDARS), usually without much detail. According to the article Aeva’s solution should cost <500$ when mass produced and will offer a 120° horizontal and 30° vertical field of view and a range of up to 300 meters.

    4) Digit v2: Dynamic Obstacle Avoidance.
    INFO: Agility Robotics engineers are invading Digit’s personal space causing it to move away. I think the captions add a lot to this video.

    5) Mimic.
    INFO: Mimic is an open-source Maya plugin for controlling Industrial Robots developed by Autodesk Robotics Lab. For more information see the Mimic website - it seem to have a good amount of tutorials available. If you would like to see this plugin in action then this one year old video should give you a good idea how it works.

    6) Sarcos Demonstrates Powered Exosuit That Gives Workers Super Strength.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: “If you were to ask the question, What does 30 years and $300 million look like, you’re going to see it downstairs”. This IEEE Spectrum article covers Guardian XO, a 24 DoF, a full body exoskeleton allowing the user to weight up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds). I find the company’s business model interesting as they seem to offer a Robotics-as-a-service type of solution.

    7) Publication of the Week - Multi-Functional Soft-Bodied Jellyfish-Like Swimming (2019).
    INFO: I stumbled upon this article thanks to Reddit user SDSS-J1106-1939 and his post on /r/Robotics. In this work Researchers an untethered jellyfish inspired soft robot to study jellyfish locomotion. I highly recommend watching the video showing the robot in action - when you do pay attention to the scale of these robots.

  • Weekly Robotics #69

    Issue 69

    1) Ignition Citadel Released.
    INFO: A new version of Ignition, an open source simulator being developed by Open Robotics, has been released. It looks like the software stack is maturing and will at some point take over Gazebo that will reach end of life in 2025.

    2) ROSCon 2019 Videos.
    INFO: ROSCon Videos and slides are now published. If there are any talks that you particularly liked then please let me know, I’m yet to watch some of them.

    3) AlphaPilot — Lockheed Martin AI Drone Racing Innovation Challenge.
    Lockheed Martin
    INFO: MAVLab, a TU Delft laboratory, had won the AI Drone Racing Innovation Challenge. In the challenge the teams were developing AI that could fly DRL RacerAI drones. MAVLab team managed to complete the full circuit in 12 seconds, 3 seconds faster than the UZH Robotics & Perception team and 6 seconds slower than DRL Pilot Gabriel “Gab707” Kocher. I was only able to find this one video from the event.

    4) Finland to Invest in the Future Skills of Europeans – Training One percent of EU Citizens in the Basics of AI.
    INFO: In 2020 Finland will provide European Citizens free access to the Elements of AI, an online course on AI. Finland plans to offer the course in all European languages and have an ambitious goal to educate 1% of EU citizens in the basics of AI. Thanks Finland!

    5) Café X Opens Robot Coffee Bar at San Jose Airport .
    Robotics Business Review
    INFO: If you’d like to try a coffee served by an industrial robot arm then soon you might have a chance to try it in San Jose Airport. Hope these robots come with small-talk functionality enabled by default!

    6) ESA Commissions World’s First Space Debris Removal.
    INFO: Clean Space initiative is kicking off, with the ClearSpace-1 planned launch in 2025. “The ClearSpace-1 mission will target the Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) upper stage left in an approximately 800 km by 660 km altitude orbit after the second flight of ESA’s Vega launcher back in 2013. With a mass of 100 kg, the Vespa is close in size to a small satellite, while its relatively simple shape and sturdy construction make it a suitable first goal, before progressing to larger, more challenging captures by follow-up missions – eventually including multi-object capture”. The ‘chaser’ vehicle will grab the second stage using a quartet of robotics arms and then slow it down, so that both spacecrafts burn in atmosphere. For some more information about space cleaning initiatives you can see issue #4 and issue #21.

    7) Publication of the Week - KRAKsat Satellite Mission - Lessons Learned (2019).
    INFO: KRAKsat nanosatellite project aim was to test Ferrofluid Reaction Wheel as an orientation and rotation control system. The mission started on the 3rd of July 2019 and this report contains lessons learned during the mission. I like how honest is this report about all the issues encountered by the team that lead to project failure. We all need to start somewhere!


    1) Tractonomy Robotics (Kortrijk, Belgium) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: We are building the next generation of cost-effective, cooperative mobile manipulation robots for intra-logistics applications. Our aim is to build and extend our core platform, the Omnit to enable high-throughput object picking and transport for manufacturing tasks.

    2) Han’s Robot Germany GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) - Computer Vision Engineer.
    INFO: We are a young robotics company which is poised to redefine the state of the art for collaborative robots via innovations in the field of mechanics, environment perception, human machine interaction, control and artificial intelligence.

  • Weekly Robotics #68

    Issue 68

    1) GLUON丨Modular Desktop Collaborative Robotic Arm by SCA.
    INFO: Have you heard of this desktop robot arm that has been live on Kickstarter for quite a while now? The company managed to beat the funding goal over 40 times (as I’m writing this over 366k Euro had been pledged, with the funding goal being only 9k Euro). The robot is using BLDC motors, the 6-axis model can handle a payload of 0.5 kg and an advertised precision of 0.1mm. You can see a review of this robot arm by Skyentific on YouTube. Big thanks to Krzysztof for letting me know about this campaign.

    2) Skydio 2 Review: This Is the Drone You Want to Fly.
    IEEE Spectrum
    INFO: This article is an in-depth review of Skydio 2, an autonomous tracking drone equipped with six 4K cameras feeding information to the system running on NVIDIA Jetson TX2. I found this short behind the scenes video to be a good watch, especially the camera calibration process (you will find it at 20s timestamp). I so wish these drones came with an API we could interface to!

    3) The Zebracorn’s TileRunner Nano Tutorial.
    Google Docs
    INFO: Zebracorns, a FIRST® Robotics Competition team, had prepared a tutorial on deploying ROS on a TileRunner mobile robot chassis. At 47 pages the document is going to a good amount of depth.

    4) Quadcopter Programming Part 2: Using the CMSIS Library and First Takeoff.
    INFO: Back in Weekly Robotics #29 I had posted the first tutorial from Tim on bare metal STM32 programming of a quadrotor. This is the second post in the series where you actually get to take off.

    5) cozmo_ros2_ws.
    INFO: It looks like Anki Cozmo can run ROS2 now. If you would like to try this out but don’t have Cozmo then you might want to hurry up, while some shops still have these robots in stock since Anki had closed last year (as I reported in #37).

    6) What Went Down at ROSCon 2019.
    INFO: Are you like me and missed the whole ROSCon 2019? If you are looking for some succinct notes then this article is a good start.

    7) Publication of the Week - The Robots are Coming – to Your Farm! AKA: Autonomous and Intelligent Robots in Unstructured Field Environments (2019).
    Carnegie Mellon University
    INFO: I love these CMU seminars. I learn so much from every one of them (the last one I posted was in October). In this one Girish Chowdhary talks about automation in unstructured environments plant monitoring. The robots presented are quite small and are deployed in corn fields but due to the canopy occlusion the GPS was not precise enough and hence the team decided to use a LiDAR. The second half of the talk focuses on using AI for robotics.


    1) FarmWise (San Francisco, CA, US) - Various Positions.
    INFO: FarmWise builds autonomous farming devices that help solve the labor shortage encountered by many farmers in the US and we also drastically reduce the amount of chemical used in the farming process.

    2) Liquid Robotics (Sunnyvale, CA, US) - Senior Software Engineer.
    INFO: Liquid Robotics builds autonomous, wave- and solar- powered maritime sensor vehicles that return real-time data from the open ocean to customers on shore.

    3) Dyson (Malmesbury, UK) - VR Software Engineer, Embedded Software Engineer.
    INFO: Dyson’s Robotics Research Software Team specialises in creating early stage proof-of-concept systems that utilise state-of-the-art software algorithms, frameworks, techniques, and tooling.


    1) Join the AWS JPL Open-Source Rover Challenge.
    INFO: AWS and JPL announced a challenge where teams will use machine learning to autonomously operate JPL’s Open Source Rover (I had featured this project in the first issue of this newsletter). In the challenge participants will use AWS RoboMaker for the simulation and Amazon SageMaker to build and train RL models. The competition is open until the 21st of February 2020.

  • Weekly Robotics #67

    Issue 67

    1) Hi Honey! NASA’s Second Astrobee Wakes Up in Space.
    INFO: It looks like Luca Parmitano gets to play with Robots quite a lot while onboard ISS. Just last week I reported on him controlling a ground robot from space. This time Luca got to perform some initial tests on the second Astrobee. Since the hardware on both robots is identical Honey will get to use the map already created for Bumble. As always I will keep you posted on this project.

    2) SmallKat: An Adorable Dynamics Oriented Robot Cat.
    INFO: This Hackaday project features an open-source small quadruped cat robot. The 16 degrees of freedom are achieved using MG92b Micro Servos. For more information you can see the project repository. If you would like to have one then please consider buying it from creators on tindie and help support the project.

    3) Hease Robotics Shuts Down After Fire Destroys Business.
    The Robot Report
    INFO: Sad news from France. Hease Robotics, a company that was developing service robots, shut down on November 7th. According to the article, the main reason for shutdown was the fire that burned the company’s offices, production facilities and stockpiles.

    4) Using Swarms of Drones to Map and Help Fight Wildfires.
    INFO: Engineers from University of Michigan developed UAVs that can map the boundaries of fires and provide real-time estimates to the ground crew.

    5) NASA’s Latest Software Catalog Offers New Codes, Easier Way to Download Free Software.
    INFO: NASA had released the 2019-2020 software catalog. If you browse the database you will find lots of open source projects and some open only to US citizens or federal employees. Some interesting projects I found are AprilNav, PX4 Autopilot Simulink Interface and Vehicle Sketch Pad.

    6) 6 Autonomous Mobile Robot Trends to Watch.
    The Robot Report
    INFO: This article by Eugene Demaitre covers some trends in mobile robotics. I found the first one about accuracy to be on point.

    7) Publication of the Week - Mechanical and Control Design of an Industrial Exoskeleton for Advanced Human Empowering in Heavy Parts Manipulation Tasks (2019).
    INFO: I found this publication on the r/robotics reading thread. Huge thanks to Chestergc for sharing it! This paper discusses mechanical design consideration for an affordable 2 DOF industrial exoskeleton to assist factory workers in lifting tasks. The paper is easy to follow, I just wished a practical implementation was described too.

    1) Giving LaMa a Shot.
    INFO: I’ve recently had a chance to work a bit with iris_lama, a ROS package for SLAM. The above blog post describes my experience with it and compares it to slam_toolbox. Spoiler alert: iris_lama is very lightweight on CPU, with my laptop I was seeing 14% of CPU usage while mapping my office.


    1) Airnamics (Ljubljana, Slovenia) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Airnamics mission is to create the most advanced autonomous robotics systems by integrating proprietary virtual simulation environment with cutting edge mechatronic components. Our model based and AI driven design process is optimised for safety, performance and ease of use.

    2) ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland) - Technical Lead Robotics Platform.
    INFO: In 2019, ETH hast started an initiative for a Center for Robotics. The goal of this cross-departmental initiative of MAVT, ITET, INFK, USYS, MATL, ARCH, BAUG, and HEST is to develop the strong competences of ETH in robotics into a joint research and educational platform.

    3) Tesla (Fremont, CA, US) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: Tesla is accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. We design, manufacture, sell and service the world’s best solar technology, energy storage systems, and electric vehicles, providing customers the opportunity to generate, store and consume energy entirely sustainably.