This Week In Bots: Sorry, Goose, But It’s Time To Buzz A Tower

Healthy humans are generally better than robots at fancy flying maneuvers, walking, running, and rolling, too. But for how long?



Quadrocopters Landing On Quadrocopters … And So On Ad-Infinitum

We know quadrocopters are maneuverable in extremis, and we know that they can move in ever-smarter aerial ballets with other units, flying in unison…but the team at UPenn’s GRASP Lab has pulled off something rather amazing: They’ve designed a way for a smaller quadrocopter to land on a bigger one–which will act as a flying landing pad of sorts.

Impressive, no? But also amazingly useful for all sorts of future spy drone reconaissance missions, and even for tasks like exploring planets like Mars. 

Big Dog Growing Up


Boston Dynamics’ BigDog quadruped robot is among the most impressive and potentially useful for troops in the immediate future–it’s being developed to act as an autonomous drone assistant that’ll carry gear for soldiers crossing battlefield terrain. It’s loud, smart, and deft-legged enough to tackle some extraordinarily difficult terrain (in real time, unplanned) while all the while remaining on track to navigate itself to a pre-programmed drop-off point or to follow soldiers like a real dog. Now Boston Dynamics has released a new video of the droid in action, the first in a while, and shows just a few new nuggets of the machine–but also shows its development. 

Dare we imagine that BD is about to reveal some new information about how the marauding robot is getting ready for some real action?

Self-Flying Flybots

Microbots are likely to prove useful in all sorts of ways–from flying into restricted spaces in collapsed buildings in the aftermath of a disaster or an explosion to help survey for survivors to actual James Bond-like espionage. But among the challenges such tiny flying machines face is a big one, keeping stationary or navigating under their own power when they’re subject to the random gusts and blasts of wind currents. That’s something researchers at Harvard have tackled with a huge degree of success, albeit in one single diretion thus far: up. 


Their tiny 56-gram device can navigate along a trajectory and keep its position even if puffed by direct wind gusts, and it can lift up to 3.6 times its own weight.

Robo-Olympic Torch Bid

iCub is, possibly, about to undertake its biggest challenge yet–something far more unusual than the many other tasks the deliberately child-like intelligent machine has been used to research: There’s a bid to get iCub running a leg of the 2012 Olympic Torch rally through London. A British computer scientist is proposing the stunt to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, at least in part because the famous Turing test, proposed by the genius himself, is notionally how we try to measure how “human-like” an artificially intelligent machine really is. iCub already demonstrates a degree of intelligence, as you can see below:


There are quite a number of challenges to the bid, but there’s enough time for it to gain momentum.

Desk Tank Bots

Here’s one for fun, but it also shows how far smart robots have developed and penetrated into our daily life: It’s a tiny tank robot, remote controlled, and designed to interface with an app on your iOS and Android phone. It also operates autonomously, somehow managing to fit in a suite of IR sensors so it can navigate its way around your desk.

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


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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)