The Biggest Robotics Research Conference Is Now More Accessible Than Ever

If it wasn’t for COVID-19, we’d probably be in Paris right now, enjoying the beautiful weather, stuffing ourselves with pastries, and getting ready for another amazing edition of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), the world’s largest robotics research gathering. We’re not doing any of that, of course. Personally, I’ve barely left my house since March, and the in-person ICRA conference in Paris was quite sensibly cancelled a while ago.

The good news, however, is that ICRA is now a virtual conference instead, and the reason that it’s good news (and not just some sad pandemic-y compromise) is that the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) and the ICRA conference committees have put in an astonishing amount of work in a very short period of time to bring the entire conference online in a way that actually seems like it might work out pretty well for everyone.

In planet formation, it’s location, location, location

Astronomers are finding that planets have a tough time forming in the rough-and-tumble central region of the massive, crowded star cluster Westerlund 2. Located 20,000 light-years away, Westerlund 2 is a unique laboratory to study stellar evolutionary processes because it’s relatively nearby, quite young, and contains a large stellar population.

New ‘whirling’ state of matter discovered in an element of the periodic table

The strongest permanent magnets today contain a mix of the elements neodymium and iron. However, neodymium on its own does not behave like any known magnet, confounding researchers for more than half a century. Physicists have now shown that neodymium behaves like a so-called ‘self-induced spin glass,’ meaning that it is composed of a rippled sea of many tiny whirling magnets circulating at different speeds and constantly evolving over time.

Zipline Launches Long Distance Drone Delivery of COVID-19 Supplies in the U.S.

Eighteen months ago, we traveled to Rwanda to see how Zipline had made fast, dependable drone delivery a critical part of medical supply infrastructure on a national scale. But outside of Africa, Zipline’s long-distance delivery drones have had to contend with complex and crowded airspace, decades of stale regulation, and a healthcare system that’s at least (sort of) functional, if not particularly agile. 

Along with several other drone delivery companies, Zipline has been working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on small scale pilot projects over the past year or so to prove out the drone delivery concept, but progress has been slow. Now, though, COVID-19 has put enough additional stress on the U.S. healthcare system that the FAA has granted an emergency waiver to the Part 107 drone rules to allow North Carolina–based Novant Health to partner with Zipline on a beyond line-of-sight autonomous drone delivery service through controlled airspace—the first of its kind in the United States.

Clearpath Robotics Now Supporting ROS on Windows

Part of the appeal of the Robot Operating System, or ROS, is that it’s much faster and easier to get started with robots because so much of the difficult and annoying groundwork is already done for you. This is totally true, but for many people, getting started with ROS adds a bunch of difficult and annoying groundwork of its own, in the form of Linux. All kinds of people will tell you, “Oh just learn Linux, it’s not so bad!” But sometimes, it really kind of is so bad, especially if all you want is for your robot to do cool stuff.

Since 2018, Microsoft has been working on getting ROS to run on Windows, the operating system used by those of us who mostly just want our computers to work without having to think about them all that much (a statement that Linux users will surely laugh at). For that to be really useful to the people who need it, though, there needs to be robot support, and today, Clearpath Robotics is adding ROS for Windows support to their fleet of friendly yellow and black ground robots.

Computer vision and uncertainty in AI for robotic prosthetics

Researchers have developed new software that can be integrated with existing hardware to enable people using robotic prosthetics or exoskeletons to walk in a safer, more natural manner on different types of terrain. The new framework incorporates computer vision into prosthetic leg control, and includes robust artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that allow the software to better account for uncertainty.

Avalanche photodiode breaks performance record for LiDAR receivers

Electrical and computer engineers have developed an avalanche photodiode that achieved record performance and has the potential to transform next generation night-vision imaging and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) receivers. For LiDAR, the team’s low-noise, two-micrometer avalanche photodiode enables higher-power operation that is eye-safe.

World Turtle Day Celebrates Final Release of ROS 1

This past Saturday, May 23, was World Turtle Day, the day that celebrates the newest release of the turtle-themed Robot Operating System (ROS)—and also probably some actual turtles—and so we reached out to Open Robotics CEO Brian Gerkey and developer advocate Katherine Scott. We wanted to talk to them because this particular World Turtle Day also marked the release of the very last version of ROS 1: Noetic Ninjemys. From here on out, if you want some new ROS, it’s going to be ROS 2 whether you like it or not.

For folks who have robots that have been running ROS 1 for the last 4,581 days (which is when the very first commit happened), it might be a tough transition, but Open Robotics says it’ll be worth it. Below is our brief Q&A with Gerkey and Scott, where they discuss whether it’s really going to be worth all the hassle to switch to ROS 2, and also what life will be like for ROS users 4,581 days from now.