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This Week In Bots: Dino Robots, Fish Robots, And The Future Of Self-Driving Cars

Let's do the weekly electric boogaloo through a menagerie of mechanical wonderthings. No humans required.

robo dino

Bot Vid: Truss-Climber

Cornell boffins have put together an autonomous truss-climbing robot. It's not something you'll find navigating the inner clothing of William Shatner, instead being a demonstration of a machine that can climb up structures like scaffolding and actually reconfigure it as it goes. In the future swarms of robots like this may be useful for actually building the structure of habitable buildings. 

Bot Vid: Robo Fish

Scientists from the University of Montpellier and the Polytechnic Institute of New York have developed upon earlier research into swimming a robot fish among real ones, and discovered that they can actually interact with the school, influencing its behavior as their robot swims. The golden shiners actually seem to follow the larger robo fish, instead of using it as mere cover. Interesting biologically speaking, the technology has some very high-minded ultimate uses—like automatically steering fish away from the sites of sea-borne human disasters like oil spills.

Bot Vid: Drone Flights For Filming

As lawsuits develop seemingly at the same pace as the technology, filming from drone robots is becoming more common for people other than the military. As TechNewsDaily notes, there's some remarkable footage available from these endeavors, such as the aerial footage below—taken in Tallinn in Estonia this month during an anti-ACTA protest. The videos offer unique views on news events, and it won't be long before they start showing up in iReports on CNN, particularly if citizen journalists in war-torn locations start to use the tech.

Bot News

Drexel Uni shows off seven humanoid robots. At a culmination of years of planning, Drexel University this week showed off all seven of its Korean HUBO androids on stage—in what the university is calling a first of its kind event. The droids are 1.3-meter high fully articulated humanoid robots, designed to boost both robot design and human education through research, with developments in automated robot-human reactions and other important advances expected. 

Scientists printing out robot dinosaurs. In what's being dubbed a new frontier in paleontology, a scientist at Drexel University plans to use a 3-D printer to replicate dinosaur bones. The plastic parts, smaller, lighter and more bone-like than the rocky fossils they're based on (via 3-D scanning of the relics) will be used to build robotic dinosaurs for study. That's because a 100-inch-long diplodocus is easier to study than a 100-foot-long model—especially if you're talking about powering its joints and modeling musculature to try to work out how the dinos moved, ate, fought and even mated. It's Jurassic Park meets reality, via 21st century rapid prototyping.

Soldiers testing light robots for combat. The use of small, throwable robots in real combat situations took a step forward just recently as infantrymen and engineers tested four of the devices at the McKenna Urban Operations Complex—structures intended to help simulate the tricky, messy fighting that can happen when war zones happen on the ground in cities and towns. The Ultra Light Reconnaissance Robot experiment was about measuring how useful the tiny bots were for sending back video footage of threat situations, including combating IEDs. 

Bot Futures

Self-driving cars are coming. Starting next week on the first of March, if you see a car with a red license plate driving around on the open roads in Nevada the odds are it'll be driving itself (unless it's one of the millions of diplomatic cars around the world that use red and white license plate conventions) while its human passengers kick back and enjoy a beer or rather, conduct important research into the design and safety implications of robotic car tech.

The move is thanks to recent legislative changes in the state designed to promote the work of firms like Google, and is a (sadly?) necessary legal trick to enable the future of transport to be tested in meaningful ways—like in real traffic, with real pedestrians stepping out onto crossings and real cyclists to maneuver around safely. Once the robot driver tech is proven, Nevada will issue the vehicles with neon green plates—an indicator to everyone that the vehicle is automated and has proven its safety chops.

A lot of legal and social issues are exposed in this news alongside the technical ones, if you pause to think. Identifying robot cars clearly is probably important, but what will it actually result in: Should you behave differently if you're a pedestrian walking near one? Should you be wary of the robot's limitations if you encounter one at a four-way stop? And then there's the question of whether or not you could drink a beer when inside such a car...because technically you're not in control of it (although, at least at first, you're probably going to have to be ready to seize control in an emergency—meaning the beer issue is a few years away).

With headlines like the Nevada developments, and this one "Sebastian Thrun Will Teach You How To Build Your Own Self-Driving Car, For Free," and with technology developing very swiftly, it seems the legal and societal questions about self-driving cars are going to have to be tackled very fast. Not least because of the implications of slipups in the technology like Volvo's.

[Image: via Drexel University]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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