Weekly Robotics Newsletter Archive [9/16]

  • Weekly Robotics #31

    1) PathFinding.js.
    INFO: PathFindings.js is an open source project providing path finding algorithm for web based games. The page above provides an interactive visualization of some of the algorithms provided by the library.

    2) Robot Hand is Soft and Strong.
    INFO: MIT researchers created an origami shaped, vacuum-powered gripper that can lift objects that are up to 100 times heavier than its weight. You can see the gripper in action on YouTube.

    3) Autonomous Snowplow Makes Debut on Winnipeg Runway.
    CTV News
    INFO: Northstar Robotics developed an autonomous snow plower that is meant to be used at an airport. According to this post the machine is powered by ROS.

    4) Space Gateway.
    INFO: In 2020s the partners of the International Space Station will launch a Space Gateway - a staging post much higher than ISS that could be used as an intermediate point for astronauts before going on the missions deeper into space. The gateway will weight 40 tonnes and the astronauts will be able to occupy it for up to 90 days at a time.

    5) Jetson Nano.
    INFO: NVIDIA announced Jetson Nano, a 99$ single board computer for AI and Robotics. The board has dimensions of 70 x 45 mm and according to the above website the board will require up to 10 watts of power. Jetson Nano will be available from distributors worldwide from June 2019. If you get one and want to install ROS Melodic on it then you might like this tutorial by Stereo Labs.

    6) Robotic Dreams, Robotic Realities: Why Is It So Hard to Build Profitable Robot Companies?.
    INFO: This article from IEEE talks about how difficult it is to be profitable in robotics and how we should build realistic expectations for our products and avoid overselling.

    7) Publication of the week - Snapbot: a Reconfigurable Legged Robot (2017).
    Disney Research
    INFO: This paper introduces a modular legged robot design that can use up to 6 legs. The legs come at 2 DOF (roll-pitch or yaw-pitch) or 3 DOF (roll-yaw-pitch) variants, creating 700 possible robot configurations. The robot has snap-on connectors with 4 neodymium magnets and pogo-pin electrical connectors. The connector design combined with providing each servo with an ID allows for configuration discovery (performed every 100ms). The robot supports three types of motion: rowing, crawling and working, all depending on the leg configuration. You can see the video presenting the robot on YouTube.


    1) Latent Logic (Oxford, UK) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: Latent Logic’s mission is to use state-of-the-art A.I. to learn complex human behaviours from real demonstrations, such as video data, so that we can design autonomous systems which can work collaboratively alongside humans.

  • Weekly Robotics #30

    1) Why Anti-Poaching Drones Haven’t Worked Well.
    INFO: This post on DIY Drones by Chris Anderson highlights a discussion from ArduPilot Discourse on the topic of using drones for anti poaching efforts. The discussions are interesting both from the engineering and environmental perspective. As user Graham_Dyer says in one of his post: “From my experience I believe, that even with the best intentions and best technology, drones will never have more than a negligible effect on poaching. To put it in context, the Canine teams in the KNP’s best haul was 18 poachers apprehended in one week. Our drone team saw less than 8 poachers in TWO years of night flying, with not one apprehension. So if the drone is not CATCHING an average of 2-5 poachers a WEEK then it’s of no use. And note that poachers get around deterrents easily”.

    2) 3 New Chips to Help Robots Find Their Way Around.
    INFO: This article from IEEE highlights advances in systems-on-chip (SoC) that can perform robot navigation and path planning and even visual SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping). The systems described in the article were developed by engineers and researchers from Intel, University of Minnesota and University of Michigan.

    3) The MIT Super Mini Cheetah.
    INFO: In issue #28 we’ve presented MIT Mini Cheetah. The Super Mini Cheetah is another project from MIT Biomimetics Lab. Compared to the larger version the Super Mini is a low cost build that has simpler kinematics and in our opinion resembles a Cheetah a lot more than it’s bigger brother (it might have to do with the robot’s head).

    4) Supervised Racing.
    INFO: This blog post from January describes Donkeycar project (presented in Weekly Robotics #2) AI. We think that the post gives a nice big picture of how Donkeycar works. The team behind Markku recently open sourced a set of 3D designs that can be used for attaching the required hardware to the R/C car.

    5) A Rare Look at the Meltdown Inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
    INFO: This article from CNET shows how robots are used in cleaning up Fukushima nuclear power plant. Most of the work done there by robot is exploratory - giving technicians input on the conditions inside of the reactor. According to the article engineers are working on custom robotic systems that can be used in the high radiation level zones. The article contains many photos of the Fukushima plant, including photos taken at Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology, where Japan Atomic Energy Agency setup facilities for engineers to test robots designed to work at the nuclear site.

    6) OpenMV - Low Cost Machine Vision Module.
    INFO: “The OpenMV project is about creating low-cost, extensible, Python powered, machine vision modules and aims at becoming the “Arduino of Machine Vision“. Our goal is to bring machine vision algorithms closer to makers and hobbyists. We’ve done the difficult and time-consuming algorithm work for you leaving more time for your creativity”. The project is open sourced under MIT licence. On GitHub you will find both the hardware schematics and software.

    7) Publication of the week - Differential-Drive In-Pipe Robot for Moving Inside Urban Gas Pipelines (2005).
    INFO: This paper by Se-gon Roh and Hyouk Ryeol Choi introduces MRINSPECT IV, a differential-drive robot meant to be used for 10 cm (4 in) pipes inspection. The length of the robot is 150 mm (6 in), the minimum radial size it can achieve is 85 mm (3.3 in) and the maximum is 109 mm (4.3 in). The weight of the robot is 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) and it can travel at a speed of up to 0.15 m/s. The paper provides interesting insights on using a differential drive in complex geometric workspaces. In the paper the researchers focus on geometric analysis of the behaviour and wheel velocity control in branches and elbows.


    1) Maritime Robotics (Asker/Oslo, Norway) - Electrical Engineer.
    INFO: Maritime Robotics is a leading provider of innovative unmanned solutions for maritime operations in harsh environments. Our systems operate unmanned in the air and on the surface.

    2) Canonical (home based, US) - Robotics Engineer.
    INFO: Ubuntu is the operating system of choice for robotics. We at Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) want to make it even better, and we’re looking for talented developers to join the effort.

  • Weekly Robotics #29

    1) Google Summer of Code 2019.
    INFO: “Google Summer of Code is a global program focused on bringing more student developers into open source software development”. The Robotics and Space related projects students can contribute to this year are: ArduPilot, JdeRobot, RoboComp, Open Source Robotics Foundation, JSK Robotics Laboratory, Open Roberta, OpenCV, RTEMS Project, Libre Space Foundation, GNSS-SDR, BRL-CAD. If we’ve missed any projects please send us an e-mail and we will update the list.

    2) Drones At Sea: The Highs & Lows of a Parley SnotBot Expedition.
    INFO: This article from DroneLife talks about Ocean Alliance usage of drones for whale monitoring in a SnotBot expedition. Even though the team faced numerous challenges they managed to achieve the expedition objective of capturing over 50 biological samples.

    3) Optical Gyro Dwarfed by a Grain of Rice.
    INFO: Caltech engineers developed an optical gyroscope the size of a grain rice. From the article we’ve learned that the optical gyroscopes make us of Sagnac effect (Wikipedia, Simple simulation on YouTube and are usually the size of a golf ball.

    4) Bare Metal STM32 Programming and a Quadcopters Awakening.
    INFO: In this blog post Tim Schumacher describes his experience in programming an STM32 chip onboard Crazypony mini, a 100$ mini quadrotor. Even though the author only shows how to control a single LED this article can be a good entry point for anyone looking into programming embedded autopilots.

    5) Vehicle Path Planning.
    Razor Code
    INFO: This article on vehicle path planning by David Olsen talks a lot about heuristics of path planning and optimization. It also showcases an interesting vehicle model and approaches to path optimization.

    6) I Flew a Helicopter, and then the Helicopter Flew Me.
    The Verge
    INFO: Piloting a helicopter after 45 minutes of training on simulator? It is now possible with SARA (Sikorsky Autonomy Research Unit). The system is fit with a fly-by-wire system allowing the pilot to control the aircraft using two inceptors (a lever and a joystick). The system comes with an HMI (Human Machine Interface) in form of a screen with widgets, allowing the pilot to plan flight parameters that the aircraft will execute automatically.

    7) Publication of the week - Autonomous Drifting using Simulation-Aided Reinforcement Learning (2016).
    INFO: This paper by Mark Cutler and Jonathan P. How introduces a framework that combines simple and complex continuous state-action simulators with a real-world robot to efficiently find good control policies, while minimizing the number of samples needed from the physical robot. While many Reinforcement Learning Researchers use expert demonstration to initialize the models, the authors of this paper chose an approach in which they generate initial policies from simple models. On the car Researchers track velocities in x and y direction (the information is provided by a motion capture system), turn rate and wheel speed. By applying the algorithm shown in this paper combined with prior simulated information the R/C car was able to drift as it can be seen in this YouTube video. You can download additional material to the paper here.


    1) Saildrone (Alameda, CA, US) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Saildrone’s mission is to create the highest resolution ocean data set in the world and use it to make global processes such as weather forecasting, carbon cycling, global fishing, and climate change more predictable, visible, and actionable. We’ve linked to their Unmanned Surface Vehicle and Arctic mission in Weekly Robotics #28.

    2) Remy Robotics (Barcelona, Spain / Moscow, Russia) - Various Positions.
    INFO: Remy Robotics is using robotic technology to take the routine and inefficiency out of cooking, creating a ‘robot chef’ that can help cook any cuisine or any dish in the world.

    3) Samsung (Mountain View, CA, US) - Robotics Open Source Engineer.
    INFO: Open Source Group (OSG) under Samsung Research is the corporate Open Source Program office for all open source activities in Samsung.

  • Weekly Robotics #28

    1) MIT Mini Cheetah Quadruped Robot.
    INFO: MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab showcased a robotic cheetah weighting just 9 kg (20 pounds) capable of running at up to 2.45 m/s speed, doing backflips and performing recovery behaviours. We especially liked the end of the video where the team shows some of the mistakes they made while working on the robot.

    2) NASA, SpaceX Launch First Flight Test of Space System Designed for Crew.
    INFO: On 2nd of March NASA and SpaceX successfully launched the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. For this demonstration the spacecraft was unmanned and carries 400 pounds (180 kg) of supplies that will be delivered to ISS. For operational missions the spacecraft will be able to carry 4 crew members and 220 pounds of cargo. The spacecraft will depart the ISS on 8th of March.

    3) Zephyr Project.
    INFO: Zephyr is an open source RTOS (Real Time Operating System) project that has a chance to become safety certified (according to the website it’s an active consideration). At present the project supports multiple boards the supported architectures are x86, ARM, ARC, NIOS II, XTENSA, RISCV32.

    4) PlotJuggler.
    INFO: PlotJuggler is an open source application to display time series in plots. The project has a very intuitive interface, is available for Windows and Ubuntu and works with ROS. The latest release added support for PX4 autopilot ULog format.

    5) BPS.space Falcon Heavy.
    INFO: The BPS.space Falcon Heavy is a 1/48 scale model of SpaceX rocket aiming to showcase the advancement possible at the model scale and recreate the functionality of the original. The above page contains quite a lot of technical information about the project, including videos with test results. If you like the project then you can consider supporting the author on Patreon.

    6) What Is a Saildrone, and Why Is It Sailing Around Antarctica?
    INFO: Saildrone is an 7 meter (23 feet) long unmanned surface vehicle (USV) sailing entirely by wind power at an average speed of 2.5 to 4.5 knots (3-5 mph / 5-8 km/h). In January this year two saildrones departed New Zealand on a mission to complete the first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica, aiming to collect information about the amount of CO2 algae in that region are absorbing. You can see the mission updates on the project site.

    7) Publication of the week - How I Built the Flying Cart (1960).
    INFO: This DIY tutorial from Popular Science issue published in 1960 shows the steps a Hubert Luckett had taken to create a flying cart (hovercraft?) capable of lifting 200 pound (90 kg) load. Author’s design was propelled by a 5 HP chainsaw engine and an airboat propeller. The total weight of the cart was 80 pounds (36 kg).

    1) MIT Robo-AI Exchange Conference.
    INFO: The MIT Robo-AI Exchange (March 9, 2019) will bring together business leaders from across a number of industries to share specific cases, strategies, and outcomes related to their adoption of Robotics and AI. In doing so, the event attracts business executives, corporate strategists, product and project managers, university students, entrepreneurs, technologists and academics to learn from our world-class keynote speakers and panelists, and of course, one another. Use code BNT982 for 20% off professional tickets!


    1) RightHand Robotics (Somerville, MA, US) - Various Positions.
    INFO: RightHand Robotics is a robotics solutions provider bringing to market fully integrated picking robots for online order fulfilment.

    2) Microdrones (Rome, NY, US) - Software Developer.
    INFO: Microdrones develop various multirotor UAV platforms and systems.

    3) iRobot (Bedford, MA, US) - Software Manager, Robot Applications.
    INFO: iRobot is a global consumer robot company, designing and building robots that empower people to do more, both inside and outside of the home.