If you fear the rise of intelligent, collaborative robots swarming together and gathering human prey for the battery tanks, look away now: the Nano Quadrotors have taken to the skies and they’re terrifyingly adept. The handiwork of researchers in the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, the latest-gen Quadrotors can not only handle being tossed, inverted or generally batted around without crashing, but fly in formation.

That means you can throw a Quadrotor into the air and have it automatically re-orient itself and hover, useful for deployment in less than stable conditions. However, the real magic – or horror, depending on your willingness to subjugate yourself to our airborne masters – comes when several of the ‘bots work together.

The so-called swarms can fly in formation, maintaining perfect distance from each other, but they can also hold transition between orientations in 3D, as well as shift their positions so as to navigate around obsticles. The figure-of-eight pattern in the video below is particularly mesmerizing.


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About a year ago, a micromouse managed to negotiate a maze in under five seconds. At the 2011 All Japan Micromouse Robot Competition in Tsukuba, the micromouse pictured above shaved an entire second off of that time, completing the maze in a scant 3.921 seconds. That’s fast.


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Sure, we’ve created interactive pool tables and digitally assisted billiards, but isn’t it time we completely outsourced our pool-playing to brutally efficient robots? The Germans obviously think so, using this year’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation to debut a dual-armed poolbot able to make “easier” shots about 80 percent of the time. Those misses sound a bit like hustling to us, and unlike Willow Garage’s friendly PR2 robot, the German version has a suitably intimidating, industrial look. It’s also a bit of a cheat, using an overhead camera to plan its shots.


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Pe Lang‘s mechanical artwork is something everyone has to see! It’s astounding to watch this machine in motion and the precision with which it arranges droplets of water on an omni-phobic surface.
From Triangulation:

Falling objects – positioning systems from 2009-2011 is a custom made machine that adds drops of water onto a special textured surface. Each drop forms into an almost perfect sphere through the surface tension of the water and the omniphobic material. The electronically controlled pipette wanders through a square grid of 21 x 21 drops to form a micro-matrix and returns to the beginning. After approximately 300 minutes, and when the water drops have evaporated, the same process starts again.


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Robots (if properly programmed) can be better at anything (motor/calculation wise) than humans. A new area of expertise is juggling. This is not to say that juggling is a particularly easy problem to tackle, because it’s not, but it’s a fun excuse to design a robot to demonstrate precision control and high-speed object tracking. The robot in the video below, for example, was built by three masters students from the Department of Control Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague. It uses three linear motors, including one for each arm and a third for a central ball deployment system, along with two pivoting “hands” to catch and toss up to five balls at once. The feedback loop is closed using data from encoders built in the motors, and a high-speed camera helps to fine-tune the trajectories of the balls.


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While the image of a small robotic ‘pirate’ scaling the side of a ship may seem absurd, the people at ReconRobotics thought it might be the perfect way to thwart real pirates. Their beer can-sized robot can be shot out of a gun, magnetically stick to a ship, and then climb up the ship’s side to its deck.

According to The Register, the pirate droid “is to be developed from the firm’s well-known “Throwbot”, designed to be hurled through windows, or over walls and then trundle about spying out the situation using its infrared camera, whose imagery is relayed back to the operator’s handset.”


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Is a robot really a robot if it refuses to act like a robot? That’s the question we were asking ourselves after stumbling upon this DIY machine, which may have just seized the crown for World’s Bitchiest Bot. Every time you flip the on switch, this little gremlin will partially emerge from its box to turn itself off with a vicious, whip-like gesture normally reserved for snooze buttons. Continue to rub it the wrong way and the petulant ingrate will eventually scurry away from you and start spinning around frantically, before completely withdrawing the switch and shutting itself off. Sensational video inside.


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Although we usually prefer our computers to be perfect, logical, and psychologically fit, sometimes there’s more to be learned from a schizophrenic one. A University of Texas experiment has doomed a computer with dementia praecox, saddling the silicon soul with symptoms that normally only afflict humans. By telling the machine’s neural network to treat everything it learned as extremely important, the team hopes to aid clinical research in understanding the schizophrenic brain — following a popular theory that suggests afflicted patients lose the ability to forget or ignore frivolous information, causing them to make illogical connections and paranoid jumps in reason. Sure enough, the machine lost it, and started spinning wild, delusional stories, eventually claiming responsibility for a terrorist attack.


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Last month the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute held a Geminoid summit at their offices in Nara, Japan, where Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro (the inventor of the Geminoids) along with Associate Prof. Henrik Scharfe, and an unnamed female model got together with their synthetic doppelgangers for a cool photo op. The first thing you’ll probably notice is that the Geminoids are much less convincing when seen next to their human counterparts (see: What’s not to love about the Geminoids? for more on that). In the video, Henrik mentions his observation that the three of them can’t seem to stop primping and adjusting their android doubles. They were sensitive to anything out of place, and wanted their android to look its best since its job is to look like them. It’s quite an interesting conundrum to have to groom your android… it must have truly felt like something out of a dream!


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Festo SmartBird

The geniuses at Festo’s Bionic Learning Network are well known for their fascination with robotic animals, and their latest creation is no exception. Dubbed the SmartBird, this autonomous bionic bird — modeled on herring gulls — graces the sky with its sophisticated two meter-long wings, which utilize a bending torso for lifelike directional control. What’s more, this robot is also capable of taking off and landing on its own, but it can also be controlled and monitored from afar using ZigBee radio. Amazingly, all of this round up to just one pound, meaning the SmartBird can happily float about with moderate flapping. See the video inside for some agile in-flight action, accompanied by an animation detailing the inner workings.


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