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Video Friday: Google Delivery Drones, Strange Robot Game, and Humanoid Does Ice Bucket Challenge

by IEEE SpectrumAugust 29, 2014

Yesterday Google announced that it is developing flying robots to deliver stuff, and a video they’ve released shows an unusual drone design choice. We have that vid, plus (of course) all the rest of Video Friday.

We know that Google is obsessed with robots and that they’re working on a range of projects, from widely publicized ones like their self-driving robot cars to highly secretive programs probably based on the many robot startups the company has acquired. Now Google has unveiled another of its robot efforts, called Project Wing, and it involves delivery drones.

The video reveals some interesting things about Google’s drones: Unlike Amazon, which is apparently using conventional rotor-based drones (a questionable choice for a delivery aerial vehicle), Google chose instead a winged design that flies like a plane but takes off vertically, an approach with many benefits like faster speeds and extended rangeThe Atlantic has an in-depth story on the project:

During this initial phase of development, Google landed on an unusual design called a tail sitter, a hybrid of a plane and a helicopter that takes off vertically, then rotates to a horizontal position for flying around. For delivery, it hovers and winches packages down to the ground. At the end of the tether, there’s a little bundle of electronics they call the “egg,” which detects that the package has hit the ground, detaches from the delivery, and is pulled back up into the body of the vehicle.

Project Wing is part of Google[x], the company’s secret R&D arm in Silicon Valley, but tests are happening in Australia (probably because of FAA’s unreasonably restrict restrictions). Here’s the youtube description: 

Project Wing is a Google[x] project that is developing a delivery system that uses self-flying vehicles. As part of our research, we built a vehicle and traveled to Queensland, Australia for some test flights. There, we successfully delivered a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats, and water to a couple of Australian farmers. We’re only just beginning to develop the technology to make a safe delivery system possible, but we think that there’s tremendous potential to transport goods more quickly, safely and efficiently.

Another interesting thing is that Google is “looking for partners who can help us bring this technology to the world.” Interested? The company suggests you fill out this form. 

[ Google ] and [
The Atlantic
]

 


 

Robots that walk, and the very few robots that run, depend on sophisticated and expensive sensing and lots of computing power to keep them from falling over. With high speed cameras, you can do away with the sensors completely, and still get a little robot to run super fast. It’ll even do a somersault, sort of:

[ Ishikaka Watanabe Lab ]

 


 

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is still in full swing. Here’s one way to do it with a robot:

And here’s a much better way to do it with a robot:

 


 

Boeing’s QF-16 is an old F-16 that’s been turned into a full-size robotic fighter jet. It won’t be shooting at anybody, though: it exists solely as a target drone, to be shot at by humans and other robots who need practice:

[ Boeing QF-16 ]

 


 

At Automatica 2014, the research results of the EU Project TAPAS are shown. Two mobile robots are working in cooperation in an industrial environment similar to the actual production site at Grundfos in Denmark. The Little Helper assembles rotor cores from rotor shafts and caps and drops them into small load carrier (SLC). After the assembly, the quality of the rotor core parts is inspected. The omniRob delivers subassembly parts from storage to the Little Helper and returns assembled rotor cores. Here, the robot motions are planned autonomously based on information of a previously recorded 2D map and 3D models of the workstations.

[ TAPAS ]

 


 

I have no idea what this game is, but I like it:

 


 

Neurala has been secretly training flying robots to charge at what looks to be a red sleeping bag, because awesome (although the video isn’t):

[ Neurala ]

 


 

Turtlebot! Fetch me a drink!

[ Yujin ]

 


 

Last thing for this week: I’m based around San Francisco, and we had a nasty little earthquake on Sunday. It was super early in the morning, and it woke me up just enough to get annoyed at it that it woke me up before I went back to sleep. Up in Napa, though, things were more serious:

The guy who took this video posted the following comment to it:

You may notice I was very cautious while flying this quadcopter. I did not fly over any large crowds, and kept the device close to me at all times to maximize my control. Often I first asked if it would be ok if I filmed. The only time I was asked not to film was at Target(for some reason?), so I stopped. Of the 300-400 people around me during the 5 hours of off and on filming, not a single person objected to it’s use, and many people were fascinated by the tool.

That’s all very nice, but it doesn’t necessary make it legal to do this. And you can kinda understand why, because the drone is getting quite close to structures that look very unstable. It’s a useful tool, that’s for sure, but humans are fallible. Let’s just make all of these flying robots autonomous, or at least autonomous enough to keep themselves from running into stuff when we suck at flying them, and then I’m sure nobody will be able to object to their use.

[ YouTube ]

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