Feed aggregator



The Big Picture features technology through the lens of photographers.

Every month, IEEE Spectrum selects the most stunning technology images recently captured by photographers around the world. We choose images that reflect an important advance, or a trend, or that are just mesmerizing to look at. We feature all images on our site, and one also appears on our monthly print edition.

Enjoy the latest images, and if you have suggestions, leave a comment below.

Figure From Fiction

For centuries, people in China have maintained a posture of awe and reverence for dragons. In traditional Chinese culture, the dragon—which symbolizes power, nobility, honor, luck, and success in business—even has a place in the calendar; every twelfth year is a dragon year. Flying, fire-breathing horses covered in lizard scales have been part of legend, lore, and literature since those things first existed. Now, in the age of advanced technology, an engineer has created his own mechatronic version of the mythical beast. François Delarozière, founder and artistic director of French street-performance company La Machine, is shown riding his brainchild, called Long Ma. The 72-tonne steel-and-wood automaton can carry 50 people on a covered terrace built into its back and still walk at speeds of up to 4 kilometers per hour. It will flap its leather-and-canvas-covered wings, and shoot fire, smoke, or steam from its mouth, nose, eyelids, and more than two dozen other vents located along its 25-meter-long body. Long Ma spends most of its time in China, but the mechanical beast has been transported to France so it can participate in fairs there this summer. It has already been featured at the Toulouse International Fair, where it thrilled onlookers from 9 to 18 April.

Alain Pitton/NurPhoto/AP

Body Area Network

Your social media accounts and your credit card information are not the only targets that are in cybercrooks’ crosshairs. Criminals will take advantage of the slightest lapse in the security even of electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, implantable insulin pumps, and neural implants. No one wants to imagine their final experience to be a hostile takeover of their life-saving medical device. So, researchers are brainstorming ideas for foiling cyberattacks on such devices that exploit security weak points in their wireless power or Internet connections. A team at Columbia University, in New York City, has developed a wireless-communication technique for wearable medical devices that sends signals securely through body tissue. Signals are sent from a pair of implanted transmitters to a pair of receivers that are temporarily attached to the device user’s skin. Contrast this with RF communication, where the device is continuously transmitting data waiting for the receiver to catch the signal. With this system, there is no security risk, because there are no unencrypted electromagnetic waves sent out into the air to hack. The tiny transmitter-receiver pair pictured here can communicate through the petal of a flower. Larger versions, say the Columbia researchers, will get signals from transmitters located adjacent to internal organs deep within the body to noninvasive external receivers stuck onto the skin.

Dion Khodagholy/Columbia Engineering

Sun in a Box

Anyone who has ever paid attention to how an incandescent lightbulb works knows that a significant amount of the energy aimed at creating light is lost as heat. The same is true in reverse, when solar panels lose some of the energy in photons as heat instead of it all being converted into electrons. Scientists have been steadily cutting these losses and ramping up the efficiency of photovoltaics, with the aim of bringing them to operational and economic parity with power plants that generate electricity via the spinning of turbines. The most efficient turbine-based generators convert only about 35 percent of the total theoretical energy contained in, say, natural gas into electrical charge, . And until recently, that was enough to keep them head and shoulders above solar cells. But the tide looks to be turning. A thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell developed by engineers at MIT has eclipsed the 40-percent-efficiency mark. The so-called "Sun in a Box" captures enough light energy that it reaches temperatures above 2,200 °C. At these temperatures, a silicon filament inside the box emits light in the infrared range. Those infrared photons get converted from light to charge instead of more heat, ultimately boosting the device’s overall conversion efficiency. The TPV’s creators and outside observers believe that such devices could operate at 50-percent efficiency at higher temperatures. That, say the MIT researchers, could dramatically lower the cost of electric power, and turn the fossil-fuel- and fission-fired power plants upon which we so heavily rely into quaint anachronisms. “A turbine-based power production system’s cost is usually on the order of [US] $1 per watt. However, for thermophotovoltaics, there is potential to reduce it to the order of 10 cents per watt,” says Asegun Henry, the MIT professor of mechanical engineering who led the team that produced the TPV cell.

Felice Frankel

One Large Rat, Hold the Droppings

Rats are irrepressible. They go where they want, eat what they want, and seem immune to our best efforts to eradicate them and the pathogens they carry. Scientists have now decided that, since we cannot beat them, the smart thing to do is to recruit them for our purposes. But training rodents to carry out our wishes while ignoring their own instinctive drives is not likely to be a successful endeavor. Therefore, researchers are making robotic rats that have real rodents’ physical features but can be remotely controlled. One of the first use cases is in disaster zones, where debris and unstable terrain make it too dangerous for human rescue workers to tread. The robotic rat pictured here is a product of a group of researchers at the Beijing Institute of Technology. They tried other designs, but “large quadruped robots cannot enter narrow spaces, while micro quadruped robots can enter the narrow spaces but face difficulty in performing tasks, owing to their limited ability to carry heavy loads,” says Professor Qing Shi, a member of the team that developed the automaton rodent. They decided to model their machine after the rat because of how adept it is at squeezing into tight spaces and turning on a dime, and its remarkable strength relative to its size.

Qing Shi



The Big Picture features technology through the lens of photographers.

Every month, IEEE Spectrum selects the most stunning technology images recently captured by photographers around the world. We choose images that reflect an important advance, or a trend, or that are just mesmerizing to look at. We feature all images on our site, and one also appears on our monthly print edition.

Enjoy the latest images, and if you have suggestions, leave a comment below.

Figure From Fiction

For centuries, people in China have maintained a posture of awe and reverence for dragons. In traditional Chinese culture, the dragon—which symbolizes power, nobility, honor, luck, and success in business—even has a place in the calendar; every twelfth year is a dragon year. Flying, fire-breathing horses covered in lizard scales have been part of legend, lore, and literature since those things first existed. Now, in the age of advanced technology, an engineer has created his own mechatronic version of the mythical beast. François Delarozière, founder and artistic director of French street-performance company La Machine, is shown riding his brainchild, called Long Ma. The 72-tonne steel-and-wood automaton can carry 50 people on a covered terrace built into its back and still walk at speeds of up to 4 kilometers per hour. It will flap its leather-and-canvas-covered wings, and shoot fire, smoke, or steam from its mouth, nose, eyelids, and more than two dozen other vents located along its 25-meter-long body. Long Ma spends most of its time in China, but the mechanical beast has been transported to France so it can participate in fairs there this summer. It has already been featured at the Toulouse International Fair, where it thrilled onlookers from 9 to 18 April.

Alain Pitton/NurPhoto/AP

Body Area Network

Your social media accounts and your credit card information are not the only targets that are in cybercrooks’ crosshairs. Criminals will take advantage of the slightest lapse in the security even of electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, implantable insulin pumps, and neural implants. No one wants to imagine their final experience to be a hostile takeover of their life-saving medical device. So, researchers are brainstorming ideas for foiling cyberattacks on such devices that exploit security weak points in their wireless power or Internet connections. A team at Columbia University, in New York City, has developed a wireless-communication technique for wearable medical devices that sends signals securely through body tissue. Signals are sent from a pair of implanted transmitters to a pair of receivers that are temporarily attached to the device user’s skin. Contrast this with RF communication, where the device is continuously transmitting data waiting for the receiver to catch the signal. With this system, there is no security risk, because there are no unencrypted electromagnetic waves sent out into the air to hack. The tiny transmitter-receiver pair pictured here can communicate through the petal of a flower. Larger versions, say the Columbia researchers, will get signals from transmitters located adjacent to internal organs deep within the body to noninvasive external receivers stuck onto the skin.

Dion Khodagholy/Columbia Engineering

Sun in a Box

Anyone who has ever paid attention to how an incandescent lightbulb works knows that a significant amount of the energy aimed at creating light is lost as heat. The same is true in reverse, when solar panels lose some of the energy in photons as heat instead of it all being converted into electrons. Scientists have been steadily cutting these losses and ramping up the efficiency of photovoltaics, with the aim of bringing them to operational and economic parity with power plants that generate electricity via the spinning of turbines. The most efficient turbine-based generators convert only about 35 percent of the total theoretical energy contained in, say, natural gas into electrical charge, . And until recently, that was enough to keep them head and shoulders above solar cells. But the tide looks to be turning. A thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cell developed by engineers at MIT has eclipsed the 40-percent-efficiency mark. The so-called "Sun in a Box" captures enough light energy that it reaches temperatures above 2,200 °C. At these temperatures, a silicon filament inside the box emits light in the infrared range. Those infrared photons get converted from light to charge instead of more heat, ultimately boosting the device’s overall conversion efficiency. The TPV’s creators and outside observers believe that such devices could operate at 50-percent efficiency at higher temperatures. That, say the MIT researchers, could dramatically lower the cost of electric power, and turn the fossil-fuel- and fission-fired power plants upon which we so heavily rely into quaint anachronisms. “A turbine-based power production system’s cost is usually on the order of [US] $1 per watt. However, for thermophotovoltaics, there is potential to reduce it to the order of 10 cents per watt,” says Asegun Henry, the MIT professor of mechanical engineering who led the team that produced the TPV cell.

Felice Frankel

One Large Rat, Hold the Droppings

Rats are irrepressible. They go where they want, eat what they want, and seem immune to our best efforts to eradicate them and the pathogens they carry. Scientists have now decided that, since we cannot beat them, the smart thing to do is to recruit them for our purposes. But training rodents to carry out our wishes while ignoring their own instinctive drives is not likely to be a successful endeavor. Therefore, researchers are making robotic rats that have real rodents’ physical features but can be remotely controlled. One of the first use cases is in disaster zones, where debris and unstable terrain make it too dangerous for human rescue workers to tread. The robotic rat pictured here is a product of a group of researchers at the Beijing Institute of Technology. They tried other designs, but “large quadruped robots cannot enter narrow spaces, while micro quadruped robots can enter the narrow spaces but face difficulty in performing tasks, owing to their limited ability to carry heavy loads,” says Professor Qing Shi, a member of the team that developed the automaton rodent. They decided to model their machine after the rat because of how adept it is at squeezing into tight spaces and turning on a dime, and its remarkable strength relative to its size.

Qing Shi

An advanced automatic calibration procedure and its versatile usage in the context of the adaptive robot welding technology are presented. The 3D scanner-based robot welding system calibration is composed of the measurement of the reference plate and numerical optimization of the hand-eye and intrinsic parameters by minimizing the deviation between the measured and reference plate. The measurements of the reference plate are acquired from various robot poses (typically 15). The shape features of the reference plate are then detected, and finally, the calculation of hand-eye and intrinsic parameters is performed using Powell’s optimization algorithm, where the merit function presents an average deviation between the measured and reference geometry. Validation experiments show appropriate system accuracy which is better than 0.06 mm perpendicular to the scanning direction. This calibration procedure’s important features are complete automation and fast execution times (approximately 90 s). This enables its implementation into a regular daily robot self-maintenance and monitoring plan. The universal use of such a robot welding system is demonstrated in multi-layer heavy-duty welding of thick pipes on cast machined hollow parts and in precise laser welding of thin sheet metal parts.

Post-industrial areas in Europe, such as the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan region in Germany, include cultural heritage sites fostering local and regional identities with the industrial past. Today, these landmarks are popular places of interest for visitors. In addition to portable camera devices, low-budget ultra-lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles, such as micro quadcopter drones, are on their way to being established as mass photography equipment. This low-cost hardware is not only useful for recreational usage but also supports individualized remote sensing with optical images and facilitates the acquisition of 3D point clouds of the targeted object(s). Both data sets are valuable and accurate geospatial data resources for further processing of textured 3D models. To experience these 3D models in a timely way, these 3D visualizations can directly be imported into game engines. They can be extended with modern interaction techniques and additional (semantic) information. The visualization of the data can be explored in immersive virtual environments, which allows, for instance, urban planners to use low-cost microdrones to 3D map the human impact on the environment and preserve this status in a 3D model that can be analyzed and explored in following steps. A case example of the old wage hall of the Zeche “Bonifacius” (Essen, Germany) with its simple building structure showed that it is possible to generate a detailed and accurate 3D model based on the microdrone data. The point cloud which the 3D model of the old wage hall was based on represented partly better data accuracy than the point clouds derived from airborne laser scanning and offered by public agencies as open data. On average, the distance between the point clouds was 0.7 m, while the average distance between the airborne laser scanning point cloud and the 3D model was −0.02 m. Matching high-quality textures of the building facades brings in a new aspect of 3D data quality which can be adopted when creating immersive virtual environments using the Unity engine. The example of the wage hall makes it clear that the use of low-cost drones and the subsequent data processing can result in valuable sources of point clouds and textured 3D models.

When do we follow requests and recommendations and which ones do we choose not to comply with? This publication combines definitions of compliance and reactance as behaviours and as affective processes in one model for application to human-robot interaction. The framework comprises three steps: human perception, comprehension, and selection of an action following a cue given by a robot. The paper outlines the application of the model in different study settings such as controlled experiments that allow for the assessment of cognition as well as observational field studies that lack this possibility. Guidance for defining and measuring compliance and reactance is outlined and strategies for improving robot behaviour are derived for each step in the process model. Design recommendations for each step are condensed into three principles on information economy, adequacy, and transparency. In summary, we suggest that in order to maximise the probability of compliance with a cue and to avoid reactance, interaction designers should aim for a high probability of perception, a high probability of comprehension and prevent negative affect. Finally, an example application is presented that uses existing data from a laboratory experiment in combination with data collected in an online survey to outline how the model can be applied to evaluate a new technology or interaction strategy using the concepts of compliance and reactance as behaviours and affective constructs.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication skills including motor control, turn-taking, and emotion recognition. Innovative technology, such as socially assistive robots, has shown to be a viable method for Autism therapy. This paper presents a novel robot-based music-therapy platform for modeling and improving the social responses and behaviors of children with ASD. Our autonomous social interactive system consists of three modules. Module one provides an autonomous initiative positioning system for the robot, NAO, to properly localize and play the instrument (Xylophone) using the robot’s arms. Module two allows NAO to play customized songs composed by individuals. Module three provides a real-life music therapy experience to the users. We adopted Short-time Fourier Transform and Levenshtein distance to fulfill the design requirements: 1) “music detection” and 2) “smart scoring and feedback”, which allows NAO to understand music and provide additional practice and oral feedback to the users as applicable. We designed and implemented six Human-Robot-Interaction (HRI) sessions including four intervention sessions. Nine children with ASD and seven Typically Developing participated in a total of fifty HRI experimental sessions. Using our platform, we collected and analyzed data on social behavioral changes and emotion recognition using Electrodermal Activity (EDA) signals. The results of our experiments demonstrate most of the participants were able to complete motor control tasks with 70% accuracy. Six out of the nine ASD participants showed stable turn-taking behavior when playing music. The results of automated emotion classification using Support Vector Machines illustrates that emotional arousal in the ASD group can be detected and well recognized via EDA bio-signals. In summary, the results of our data analyses, including emotion classification using EDA signals, indicate that the proposed robot-music based therapy platform is an attractive and promising assistive tool to facilitate the improvement of fine motor control and turn-taking skills in children with ASD.

The current Covid-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented global challenge in the field of education and training. As we have seen, the lack of proper information about the virus and its transmission has forced the general population and healthcare workers to rapidly acquire knowledge and learn new practices. Clearly, a well-informed population is more likely to adopt the correct precautionary measures, thus reducing the transmission of the infection; likewise, properly educated healthcare workers are better equipped to manage the emergency. However, the need to maintain physical distancing has made it impossible to provide in-presence information and training. In this regard, new technologies have proved to be an invaluable resource by facilitating distance learning. Indeed, e-learning offers significant advantages because it does not require the physical presence of learners and teachers. This innovative method applied to serious games has been considered potentially effective in enabling rapid and large-scale dissemination of information and learning through content interactivity. We will review studies that have observed the development and use of serious games to foster information and practices about Covid-19 aimed at promoting behavioral changes in the population and the healthcare personnel involved on the front line.



Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIAIEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITYERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDSRoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOKIEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITYCLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today’s videos!

After four years of development, Flyability has announced the Elios 3, which you are more than welcome to smash into anything you like.

“The Elios 3 is the single biggest project that Flyability has ever undertaken,” said Adrien Briod, CTO of Flyability. “If you think of the Elios 2 as your classic flip phone, only designed to make phone calls, the Elios 3 is the smartphone. It’s made to be customized for the specific demands of each user, letting you attach the payload you need so you can use the tool as you like, and allowing it to grow and improve over time with new payloads or software solutions.”

[ Flyability ]

We get that Digit is good at walking under things, but if Agility wants to make the robot more relatable, it should program Digit to bump its head like 5 percent of the time. We all do it.

[ Agility ]

Skybrush is a drone-show management platform that’s now open source, and if drone shows aren’t your thing, it’s also good for coordinating multiple drones in any other way you want. Or you can make drone shows your thing!

We share Skybrush because we are proud of it, and because we envision a growing community around it, consisting of enthusiastic and motivated experts and users all around the world who can join our mission to create something great for the future. The drone industry is evolving at light speed, our team alone is too small yet to keep pace with it. But we have a core that is rock solid and we know for sure that great things can be built on top of it.

[ Skybrush ]

This happened back in the fall of 2021, but it’s still cool seeing the full video of a Gremlin launch, flight, and capture sequence.

[ Dynetics ]

NASA’s InSight lander touched down in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars in November of 2018. During its time on the Red Planet, InSight has achieved all its primary science goals and continues to hunt for quakes on Mars.

[ Insight ]

This kite-powered drone is blowing my mind.

[ Kite Propulsion ]

A friendly reminder that Tertill is anxious to massacre the weeds in your garden.

[ Tertill ]

I am not a fan of this ElliQ commercial.

[ ElliQ ]

We are excited to announce that the 2022 edition of the Swiss Drone Days will take place on 11–12 June in Dubendorf/Zurich. The event will feature live demos including autonomous drone racing...in one of the largest drone flying arenas in the world, spectacular drone races by the Swiss drone league, presentations of distinguished speakers, [and] an exhibition and trade fair.

[ Drone Days ]

Enjoy 8 minutes of fast-paced, extremely dramatic, absolutely mind-blowing robot football highlights.

[ RoboCup ]

This week’s GRASP on Robotics seminar is from Katherine Kuchenbecker at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, on haptics and physical human-robot interaction.

“A haptic interface is a mechatronic system that modulates the physical interaction between a human and their tangible surroundings. Such systems typically take the form of grounded kinesthetic devices, ungrounded wearable devices, or surface devices, and they enable the user to act on and feel a remote or virtual environment. I will elucidate key approaches to creating effective haptic interfaces by showcasing several systems my team created and evaluated over the years.”

[ UPenn ]

This Lockheed Martin Robotics Seminar is from Xuesu Xiao from The Everyday Robot Project at X, on Deployable Robots that Learn.

“While many robots are currently deployable in factories, warehouses, and homes, their autonomous deployment requires either the deployment environments to be highly controlled, or the deployment to only entail executing one single preprogrammed task. These deployable robots do not learn to address changes and to improve performance. For uncontrolled environments and for novel tasks, current robots must seek help from highly skilled robot operators for teleoperated (not autonomous) deployment. In this talk, I will present three approaches to removing these limitations by learning to enable autonomous deployment in the context of mobile robot navigation, a common core capability for deployable robots. Building on robust autonomous navigation, I will discuss my vision toward a hardened, reliable, and resilient robot fleet which is also task-efficient and continually learns from each other and from humans.”

[ UMD ]



Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIAIEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITYERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDSRoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOKIEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITYCLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today’s videos!

After four years of development, Flyability has announced the Elios 3, which you are more than welcome to smash into anything you like.

“The Elios 3 is the single biggest project that Flyability has ever undertaken,” said Adrien Briod, CTO of Flyability. “If you think of the Elios 2 as your classic flip phone, only designed to make phone calls, the Elios 3 is the smartphone. It’s made to be customized for the specific demands of each user, letting you attach the payload you need so you can use the tool as you like, and allowing it to grow and improve over time with new payloads or software solutions.”

[ Flyability ]

We get that Digit is good at walking under things, but if Agility wants to make the robot more relatable, it should program Digit to bump its head like 5 percent of the time. We all do it.

[ Agility ]

Skybrush is a drone-show management platform that’s now open source, and if drone shows aren’t your thing, it’s also good for coordinating multiple drones in any other way you want. Or you can make drone shows your thing!

We share Skybrush because we are proud of it, and because we envision a growing community around it, consisting of enthusiastic and motivated experts and users all around the world who can join our mission to create something great for the future. The drone industry is evolving at light speed, our team alone is too small yet to keep pace with it. But we have a core that is rock solid and we know for sure that great things can be built on top of it.

[ Skybrush ]

This happened back in the fall of 2021, but it’s still cool seeing the full video of a Gremlin launch, flight, and capture sequence.

[ Dynetics ]

NASA’s InSight lander touched down in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars in November of 2018. During its time on the Red Planet, InSight has achieved all its primary science goals and continues to hunt for quakes on Mars.

[ Insight ]

This kite-powered drone is blowing my mind.

[ Kite Propulsion ]

A friendly reminder that Tertill is anxious to massacre the weeds in your garden.

[ Tertill ]

I am not a fan of this ElliQ commercial.

[ ElliQ ]

We are excited to announce that the 2022 edition of the Swiss Drone Days will take place on 11–12 June in Dubendorf/Zurich. The event will feature live demos including autonomous drone racing...in one of the largest drone flying arenas in the world, spectacular drone races by the Swiss drone league, presentations of distinguished speakers, [and] an exhibition and trade fair.

[ Drone Days ]

Enjoy 8 minutes of fast-paced, extremely dramatic, absolutely mind-blowing robot football highlights.

[ RoboCup ]

This week’s GRASP on Robotics seminar is from Katherine Kuchenbecker at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, on haptics and physical human-robot interaction.

“A haptic interface is a mechatronic system that modulates the physical interaction between a human and their tangible surroundings. Such systems typically take the form of grounded kinesthetic devices, ungrounded wearable devices, or surface devices, and they enable the user to act on and feel a remote or virtual environment. I will elucidate key approaches to creating effective haptic interfaces by showcasing several systems my team created and evaluated over the years.”

[ UPenn ]

This Lockheed Martin Robotics Seminar is from Xuesu Xiao from The Everyday Robot Project at X, on Deployable Robots that Learn.

“While many robots are currently deployable in factories, warehouses, and homes, their autonomous deployment requires either the deployment environments to be highly controlled, or the deployment to only entail executing one single preprogrammed task. These deployable robots do not learn to address changes and to improve performance. For uncontrolled environments and for novel tasks, current robots must seek help from highly skilled robot operators for teleoperated (not autonomous) deployment. In this talk, I will present three approaches to removing these limitations by learning to enable autonomous deployment in the context of mobile robot navigation, a common core capability for deployable robots. Building on robust autonomous navigation, I will discuss my vision toward a hardened, reliable, and resilient robot fleet which is also task-efficient and continually learns from each other and from humans.”

[ UMD ]

Human–agent teaming (HAT) is becoming more commonplace across industry, military, and consumer settings. Agents are becoming more advanced, more integrated, and more responsible for tasks previously assigned to humans. In addition, the dyadic human–agent teaming nature is evolving from a one–one pair to one–many, in which the human is working with numerous agents to accomplish a task. As capabilities become more advanced and humanlike, the best method for humans and agents to effectively coordinate is still unknown. Therefore, current research must start diverting focus from how many agents can a human manage to how can agents and humans work together effectively. Levels of autonomy (LOAs), or varying levels of responsibility given to the agents, implemented specifically in the decision-making process could potentially address some of the issues related to workload, stress, performance, and trust. This study sought to explore the effects of different LOAs on human–machine team coordination, performance, trust, and decision making in hand with assessments of operator workload and stress in a simulated multi-unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) task. The results of the study can be used to identify human factor roadblocks to effective HAT and provide guidance for future designs of HAT. Additionally, the unique impacts of LOA and autonomous decision making by agents on trust are explored.

A large number of transfemoral amputees living in low-income countries could not access a much-needed prosthesis. Hence, affordable semi-active prosthetic knees have been designed in recent years. As the swing phase of the gait cycle is unstable as compared to the stance phase, these designs could not perfectly mimic this phase of a healthy human being. In contribution toward such a gap, this study proposes the modeling and design of a robust controller for magnetorheological (MR) damper-based semi-active prosthetic knee. A dynamic model representation for the swing phase of the single-axis knee is derived first. Subsequently, an MR damper valve model is developed. Then, a higher-order sliding mode controller is designed and evaluated for its stability and performance. The numerical simulation results show that the super twisting sliding mode controller improves the semi-active prosthetic knee’s tracking efficiency. The design exhibited the finest performance, providing a low normalized mean square error as compared to previous designs. The variable speed performance and robustness evaluation for this controller also showed its ability to continue providing excellent performance in the presence of disturbances.



Eight-ish years ago, back when drone delivery was more hype than airborne reality (even more so than it is now), DHL tested a fully autonomous delivery service that relied on drones to deliver packages to an island 12 kilometers off Germany’s North Sea coast. The other alternative for getting parcels to the island was a ferry. But because the ferry didn’t run every day, the drones filled the scheduling gaps so residents of the island could get important packages without having to wait.

“To the extent that it is technically feasible and economically sensible,” DHL said at the time, “the use of [drones] to deliver urgently needed goods to thinly populated or remote areas or in emergencies is an interesting option for the future.” We’ve seen Zipline have success with this approach; now, drones are becoming affordable and reliable enough that they’re starting to make sense for use cases that are slightly less urgent than blood and medication deliveries. Now, thinly populated or remote areas can benefit from drones even if they aren’t having an emergency. Case in point: The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail has announced plans to establish more than 50 new postal drone routes over the next three years.

The drones themselves come from Windracers Group, and they’re beefy, able to carry a payload of 100 kilograms up to 1,000 km with full autonomy. Pretty much everything on it ensures redundancy: a pair of engines, six separate control units, and backups for the avionics, communications, and ground control. Here’s an overview of a pilot (pilotless?) project from last year:

Subject to CAA approval and the ongoing planned improvement in UAV economics, Royal Mail is aiming to secure more than 50 drone routes supported by up to 200 drones over the next three years. Island communities across the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, and the Hebrides would be the first to benefit. Longer term, the ambition is to deploy a fleet of more than 500 drones servicing all corners of the U.K.

“Corners” is the operative word here, and it’s being used more exclusively than inclusively—these islands are particularly inconvenient to get to, and drones really are the best way of getting regular, reliable mail delivery to these outposts in a cost-effective way. Other options are infrequent boats or even more infrequent large piloted aircraft. But when you consider the horrific relative expense of those modes of transportation, it’s hard for drones not to be cast in a favorable light. And when you want frequent service to a location such as Fair Isle, as shown in the video below, a drone is not only your best bet but also your only reasonable one—it flew 105 km in 40 minutes, fighting strong winds much of the way:

There’s still some work to be done to gain the approval of the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority. At this point, figuring out those airspace protections and safety regulations and all that stuff is likely more of an obstacle than the technical challenges that remain. But personally, I’m much more optimistic about use cases like the one Royal Mail is proposing here that I am about drone delivery of tacos or whatever to suburbanites, because the latter seems very much like a luxury, while the former is an essential service.



Eight-ish years ago, back when drone delivery was more hype than airborne reality (even more so than it is now), DHL tested a fully autonomous delivery service that relied on drones to deliver packages to an island 12 kilometers off Germany’s North Sea coast. The other alternative for getting parcels to the island was a ferry. But because the ferry didn’t run every day, the drones filled the scheduling gaps so residents of the island could get important packages without having to wait.

“To the extent that it is technically feasible and economically sensible,” DHL said at the time, “the use of [drones] to deliver urgently needed goods to thinly populated or remote areas or in emergencies is an interesting option for the future.” We’ve seen Zipline have success with this approach; now, drones are becoming affordable and reliable enough that they’re starting to make sense for use cases that are slightly less urgent than blood and medication deliveries. Now, thinly populated or remote areas can benefit from drones even if they aren’t having an emergency. Case in point: The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail has announced plans to establish more than 50 new postal drone routes over the next three years.

The drones themselves come from Windracers Group, and they’re beefy, able to carry a payload of 100 kilograms up to 1,000 km with full autonomy. Pretty much everything on it ensures redundancy: a pair of engines, six separate control units, and backups for the avionics, communications, and ground control. Here’s an overview of a pilot (pilotless?) project from last year:

Subject to CAA approval and the ongoing planned improvement in UAV economics, Royal Mail is aiming to secure more than 50 drone routes supported by up to 200 drones over the next three years. Island communities across the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, and the Hebrides would be the first to benefit. Longer term, the ambition is to deploy a fleet of more than 500 drones servicing all corners of the U.K.

“Corners” is the operative word here, and it’s being used more exclusively than inclusively—these islands are particularly inconvenient to get to, and drones really are the best way of getting regular, reliable mail delivery to these outposts in a cost-effective way. Other options are infrequent boats or even more infrequent large piloted aircraft. But when you consider the horrific relative expense of those modes of transportation, it’s hard for drones not to be cast in a favorable light. And when you want frequent service to a location such as Fair Isle, as shown in the video below, a drone is not only your best bet but also your only reasonable one—it flew 105 km in 40 minutes, fighting strong winds much of the way:

There’s still some work to be done to gain the approval of the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority. At this point, figuring out those airspace protections and safety regulations and all that stuff is likely more of an obstacle than the technical challenges that remain. But personally, I’m much more optimistic about use cases like the one Royal Mail is proposing here that I am about drone delivery of tacos or whatever to suburbanites, because the latter seems very much like a luxury, while the former is an essential service.

Untethered soft robots that locomote using electrothermally-responsive materials like shape memory alloy (SMA) face challenging design constraints for sensing actuator states. At the same time, modeling of actuator behaviors faces steep challenges, even with available sensor data, due to complex electrical-thermal-mechanical interactions and hysteresis. This article proposes a framework for in-situ sensing and dynamics modeling of actuator states, particularly temperature of SMA wires, which is used to predict robot motions. A planar soft limb is developed, actuated by a pair of SMA coils, that includes compact and robust sensors for temperature and angular deflection. Data from these sensors are used to train a neural network-based on the long short-term memory (LSTM) architecture to model both unidirectional (single SMA) and bidirectional (both SMAs) motion. Predictions from the model demonstrate that data from the temperature sensor, combined with control inputs, allow for dynamics predictions over extraordinarily long open-loop timescales (10 min) with little drift. Prediction errors are on the order of the soft deflection sensor’s accuracy. This architecture allows for compact designs of electrothermally-actuated soft robots that include sensing sufficient for motion predictions, helping to bring these robots into practical application.



Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIAIEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITYERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDSRoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOKIEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITYCLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today's videos!

ABB Robotics has collaborated with two world-renowned artists—8-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital-design collective Illusorr—to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. ABB’s award-winning PixelPaint technology has, without human intervention, perfectly recreated Advait’s swirling, monochromatic design as well as Illusorr’s tricolor geometrical patterns.

[ ABB ]

Working closely with users and therapists, EPFL spin-off Emovo Care has developed a light and easy-to-attach hand exoskeleton for people unable to grasp objects following a stroke or accident. The device has been successfully tested in several hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

This is pretty amazing, because it’s not just a research project—it’s actually a product that's helping patients. If you think this might be able to help you (and you live in Switzerland), Emovo is currently offering free trials.

[ Emovo Care ] via [ EPFL ]

Thanks, Luca!

Uh, I don’t exactly know where this research is going, but the fact that they’ve got a pair of robotic legs that are nearly 2 meters tall is a little scary.

[ KIMLAB ]

The most impressive thing about this aerial tour of AutoX’s Pingshan RoboTaxi Operations Center is that AutoX has nine (!) more of them.

[ AutoX ]

In addition to delivering your lunch, Relay+ will also magically transform plastic food packaging into more eco-friendly cardboard. Amazing!

[ Relay ]

Meet Able Mabel, the incredible robotic housekeeper, whose only function is to make your life more leisurely. Yours for just £500. Too good to be true? Well, in 1966 it is, but if Professor Thring at the department of mechanical engineering of Queen Mary College has his way, by 1976 there could be an Able Mabel in every home. He shows us some of the robotic prototypes he has been working on.

This clip is from “Tomorrow's World,” originally broadcast 16 June 1966.

[ BBC Archive ]

I find the sound effects in this video to be very confusing.

[ AgileX ]

The first part of this video is extremely satisfying to watch.

[ Paper ] via [ AMTL ]

Thanks to this unboxing video of the Jueying X20 quadruped, I now know that it’s best practice to tuck your robot dog in when you’ve finished playing with it.

[ Deep Robotics ]

As not-sold as I am on urban drone delivery, I will grant you that Wing is certainly putting the work in.

[ Wing ]

GlobalFoundries, a global semiconductor manufacturer, has turned to Spot to further automate their data collection for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Manufacturing facilities are filled with thousands of inspection points, and adding fixed sensors to all these assets is not economical. With Spot bringing the sensors to their assets, the team collects valuable information about the thermal condition of pumps and motors, as well as taking analog gauge readings.

[ Boston Dynamics ]

The Langley Aerodrome No. 8 (LA-8) is a distributed-electric-propulsion, vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft that is being used for wind-tunnel testing and free-flight testing at the NASA Langley Research Center. The intent of the LA-8 project is to provide a low-cost, modular test bed for technologies in the area of advanced air mobility, which includes electric urban and short regional flight.

[ NASA ]

As social robots become increasingly prevalent in day-to-day environments, they will participate in conversations and appropriately manage the information shared with them. However, little is known about how robots might appropriately discern the sensitivity of information, which has major implications for human-robot trust. As a first step to address a part of this issue, we designed a privacy controller, CONFIDANT, for conversational social robots, capable of using contextual metadata (for example, sentiment, relationships, topic) from conversations to model privacy boundaries.

[ Paper ]

The Shenzhen Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Society (AIRS) is hosting a series of special talks on modular self-reconfigurable robots, starting with Mark Yim and Kirstin Petersen.

Subscribe to the AIRS YouTube channel for more talks over the next few weeks!

[ AIRS ]

Thanks, Tin Lun!



Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIAIEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITYERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDSRoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOKIEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITYCLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today's videos!

ABB Robotics has collaborated with two world-renowned artists—8-year-old Indian child prodigy Advait Kolarkar and Dubai-based digital-design collective Illusorr—to create the world’s first robot-painted art car. ABB’s award-winning PixelPaint technology has, without human intervention, perfectly recreated Advait’s swirling, monochromatic design as well as Illusorr’s tricolor geometrical patterns.

[ ABB ]

Working closely with users and therapists, EPFL spin-off Emovo Care has developed a light and easy-to-attach hand exoskeleton for people unable to grasp objects following a stroke or accident. The device has been successfully tested in several hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

This is pretty amazing, because it’s not just a research project—it’s actually a product that's helping patients. If you think this might be able to help you (and you live in Switzerland), Emovo is currently offering free trials.

[ Emovo Care ] via [ EPFL ]

Thanks, Luca!

Uh, I don’t exactly know where this research is going, but the fact that they’ve got a pair of robotic legs that are nearly 2 meters tall is a little scary.

[ KIMLAB ]

The most impressive thing about this aerial tour of AutoX’s Pingshan RoboTaxi Operations Center is that AutoX has nine (!) more of them.

[ AutoX ]

In addition to delivering your lunch, Relay+ will also magically transform plastic food packaging into more eco-friendly cardboard. Amazing!

[ Relay ]

Meet Able Mabel, the incredible robotic housekeeper, whose only function is to make your life more leisurely. Yours for just £500. Too good to be true? Well, in 1966 it is, but if Professor Thring at the department of mechanical engineering of Queen Mary College has his way, by 1976 there could be an Able Mabel in every home. He shows us some of the robotic prototypes he has been working on.

This clip is from “Tomorrow's World,” originally broadcast 16 June 1966.

[ BBC Archive ]

I find the sound effects in this video to be very confusing.

[ AgileX ]

The first part of this video is extremely satisfying to watch.

[ Paper ] via [ AMTL ]

Thanks to this unboxing video of the Jueying X20 quadruped, I now know that it’s best practice to tuck your robot dog in when you’ve finished playing with it.

[ Deep Robotics ]

As not-sold as I am on urban drone delivery, I will grant you that Wing is certainly putting the work in.

[ Wing ]

GlobalFoundries, a global semiconductor manufacturer, has turned to Spot to further automate their data collection for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Manufacturing facilities are filled with thousands of inspection points, and adding fixed sensors to all these assets is not economical. With Spot bringing the sensors to their assets, the team collects valuable information about the thermal condition of pumps and motors, as well as taking analog gauge readings.

[ Boston Dynamics ]

The Langley Aerodrome No. 8 (LA-8) is a distributed-electric-propulsion, vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft that is being used for wind-tunnel testing and free-flight testing at the NASA Langley Research Center. The intent of the LA-8 project is to provide a low-cost, modular test bed for technologies in the area of advanced air mobility, which includes electric urban and short regional flight.

[ NASA ]

As social robots become increasingly prevalent in day-to-day environments, they will participate in conversations and appropriately manage the information shared with them. However, little is known about how robots might appropriately discern the sensitivity of information, which has major implications for human-robot trust. As a first step to address a part of this issue, we designed a privacy controller, CONFIDANT, for conversational social robots, capable of using contextual metadata (for example, sentiment, relationships, topic) from conversations to model privacy boundaries.

[ Paper ]

The Shenzhen Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Society (AIRS) is hosting a series of special talks on modular self-reconfigurable robots, starting with Mark Yim and Kirstin Petersen.

Subscribe to the AIRS YouTube channel for more talks over the next few weeks!

[ AIRS ]

Thanks, Tin Lun!



The relatively simple and now quite pervasive quadrotor design for drones emphasizes performance and manufacturability, which is fine, but there are some trade-offs—namely, endurance. Four motors with rapidly spinning tiny blades suck up battery power, and while consumer drones have mitigated this somewhat by hauling around ever-larger batteries, the fundamental problem is one of efficiency in flight.

In a paper published this week in Science Robotics, researchers from the City University of Hong Kong have come up with a drone inspired by maple seeds that weighs less than 50 grams but can hold a stable hover for over 24 minutes.

Maple seed pods, also called samaras, are those things you see whirling down from maple trees in the fall, helicopter style. The seed pods are optimized for maximum air time through efficient rotating flight, thanks to an evolutionary design process that rewards the distance traveled from the parent tree, resulting in a relatively large wing with a high ratio of wing to payload.

Samara drones (or monocopters, more generally) have been around for quite a while. They make excellent passive spinny gliders when dropped in midair, and they can also achieve powered flight with the addition of a propulsion system on the tip of the wing. This particular design is symmetrical, using two sizable wings, each with a tip propeller. The electronics, battery, and payload are in the center, and flight consists of the entire vehicle spinning at about 200 rpm:

The bicopter is inherently stable, with the wings acting as aerodynamic dampers that result in passive-attitude stabilization, something that even humans tend to struggle with. With a small battery, the drone weighs just 35 grams with a wingspan of about 60 centimeters. The key to the efficiency is that unlike most propellerized drones, the propellers aren’t being used for lift—they’re being used to spin the wings, and that’s where the lift comes from. Full 3D control is achieved by carefully pulsing the propellers at specific points in the rotation of the vehicle to translate in any direction. With a 650-milliampere-hour battery (contributing to a total vehicle mass of 42.5 g), the drone is able to hover in place for 24.5 minutes. The ratio of mass to power consumption that this represents is about twice as good as other small multirotor drones.

You may be wondering just how fundamentally useful a platform like this is if it’s constantly spinning. Some sensors simply don’t care about spinning, while other sensors have to spin themselves if they’re not already spinning, so it’s easy to see how this spinning effect could actually be a benefit for, say, lidar. Cameras are a bit more complicated, but by syncing the camera frame rate to the spin rate of the drone, the researchers were able to use a 22-g camera payload to capture four 3.5 fps videos simultaneously, recording video of every direction at once.

Despite the advantages of these samara-inspired designs, we haven’t seen them make much progress out of research contexts, which is a real shame. The added complication seems to be enough that at least for most consumer and research applications, it’s just easier to build traditional quadrotors. Near-term applications might be situations in which you need lightweight, relatively long-duration, functional-aerial-mapping, or surveillance systems.

A bioinspired revolving-wing drone with passive attitude stability and efficient hovering flight,” by Songnan Bai, Qingning He, and Pakpong Chirarattananon from the City University of Hong Kong, is published in Science Robotics.



The relatively simple and now quite pervasive quadrotor design for drones emphasizes performance and manufacturability, which is fine, but there are some trade-offs—namely, endurance. Four motors with rapidly spinning tiny blades suck up battery power, and while consumer drones have mitigated this somewhat by hauling around ever-larger batteries, the fundamental problem is one of efficiency in flight.

In a paper published this week in Science Robotics, researchers from the City University of Hong Kong have come up with a drone inspired by maple seeds that weighs less than 50 grams but can hold a stable hover for over 24 minutes.

Maple seed pods, also called samaras, are those things you see whirling down from maple trees in the fall, helicopter style. The seed pods are optimized for maximum air time through efficient rotating flight, thanks to an evolutionary design process that rewards the distance traveled from the parent tree, resulting in a relatively large wing with a high ratio of wing to payload.

Samara drones (or monocopters, more generally) have been around for quite a while. They make excellent passive spinny gliders when dropped in midair, and they can also achieve powered flight with the addition of a propulsion system on the tip of the wing. This particular design is symmetrical, using two sizable wings, each with a tip propeller. The electronics, battery, and payload are in the center, and flight consists of the entire vehicle spinning at about 200 rpm:

The bicopter is inherently stable, with the wings acting as aerodynamic dampers that result in passive-attitude stabilization, something that even humans tend to struggle with. With a small battery, the drone weighs just 35 grams with a wingspan of about 60 centimeters. The key to the efficiency is that unlike most propellerized drones, the propellers aren’t being used for lift—they’re being used to spin the wings, and that’s where the lift comes from. Full 3D control is achieved by carefully pulsing the propellers at specific points in the rotation of the vehicle to translate in any direction. With a 650-milliampere-hour battery (contributing to a total vehicle mass of 42.5 g), the drone is able to hover in place for 24.5 minutes. The ratio of mass to power consumption that this represents is about twice as good as other small multirotor drones.

You may be wondering just how fundamentally useful a platform like this is if it’s constantly spinning. Some sensors simply don’t care about spinning, while other sensors have to spin themselves if they’re not already spinning, so it’s easy to see how this spinning effect could actually be a benefit for, say, lidar. Cameras are a bit more complicated, but by syncing the camera frame rate to the spin rate of the drone, the researchers were able to use a 22-g camera payload to capture four 3.5 fps videos simultaneously, recording video of every direction at once.

Despite the advantages of these samara-inspired designs, we haven’t seen them make much progress out of research contexts, which is a real shame. The added complication seems to be enough that at least for most consumer and research applications, it’s just easier to build traditional quadrotors. Near-term applications might be situations in which you need lightweight, relatively long-duration, functional-aerial-mapping, or surveillance systems.

A bioinspired revolving-wing drone with passive attitude stability and efficient hovering flight,” by Songnan Bai, Qingning He, and Pakpong Chirarattananon from the City University of Hong Kong, is published in Science Robotics.



Robots are well known for having consistency and precision that humans tend to lack. Robots are also well known for not being especially creative—depending I suppose on your definition of “creative.” Either way, roboticists have seized an opportunity to match the strengths of humans and robots while plastering over their respective weaknesses.

At CHI 2022, researchers from ETH Zurich presented an interactive robotic plastering system that lets artistic humans use augmented reality to create three-dimensional designs meant to be sprayed in plaster on bare walls by robotic arms.

Robotic fabrication is not a new idea. And there are lots of examples of robots building intricate structures, leveraging their penchant for precision and other robot qualities to place components in careful, detailed patterns that yield unique architectures. This algorithmic approach is certainly artistic on its own, but not quite as much as when humans are in the loop. Toss a human into the mix, and you get stuff like this:

I’m honestly not sure whether a human would be able to effectuate something with that level of complexity, but I’m fairly sure that if a human could do that, they wouldn’t be able to do it as quickly or repeatably as the robot can. The beauty of this innovation (besides what ends up on the wall) is the way the software helps human designers be even more creative (or to formalize and express their creativity in novel ways), while offloading all of the physically difficult tasks to the machine. Seeing this—perhaps naively—I feel like I could jump right in there and design my own 3D wall art (which I would totally do, given the chance).

A variety of filter systems can translate human input to machine output in different styles.

And maybe that’s the broader idea here: that robots are able to slightly democratize some tasks that otherwise would require an impractical amount of experience and skill. In this example, it’s not that the robot would replace a human expert; the machine would let the human create plaster designs in a completely different way with completely different results from what human hands could generate unassisted. The robotic system is offering a new kind of interface that enables a new kind of art that wouldn’t be possible otherwise and that doesn’t require a specific kind of expertise. It’s not better or worse; it’s just a different approach to design and construction.

Future instantiations of this system will hopefully be easier to use; as a research project, it requires a lot of calibration and the hardware can be a bit of a hassle to manage. The researchers say they hope to improve the state of play significantly by making everything more self-contained and easier to access remotely. That will eliminate the need for designers to be on-site. While a system like this will likely never be cheap, I’m imagining a point at which you might be able to rent one for a couple of days for your own home, so you can add texture (and perhaps eventually color?) that will give you one-of-a-kind walls and rooms.

Interactive Robotic Plastering: Augmented Interactive Design and Fabrication for On-site Robotic Plastering, by Daniela Mitterberger, Selen Ercan Jenny, Lauren Vasey, Ena Lloret-Fritschi, Petrus Aejmelaeus-Lindström, Fabio Gramazio, and Matthias Kohler from ETH Zurich, was presented at CHI 2022.

Pages