ROBOTICS NEWS: What's Trending in May 2021

Welcome to the 20th installment in our monthly series, What's Trending in Robotics News! We cover all the breaking news, hot issues, trending stories, and cool stuff that's happening—or has happened—in the robotics industry.

There were plenty of amazing things happening in the robotics industry throughout May. Let's see what caught our attention this month in robotics!

Life on Mars

We're heading to the "red planet" for our first story. Covered in Digital Trends, The Verge, Engadget, IEEE Spectrum, Technology Review, the BBC, and Gizmodo, China's newest "Zhurong" rover is the latest visitor to Mars. It's only the third nation ever to land a rover on the planet. This is huge news for two major reasons: first, it's yet another opportunity to learn more about our closest planetary neighbor. Second, it's another example of the democratization of space exploration, as yet another country journeys throughout the universe. What country (or private entity) will be next?

Ready for the Salon

As anyone with long hair knows, those tangles can be a serious pain. How about a robot to help you out? From Hackaday, SlashGear, MIT News, TechXplore, and Mashable comes the story of a new MIT robot that can brush all of those tangles out of your hair. This is something that a lot of parents around the world are hoping for! Would you allow one of these robots to smooth out your hair or the hair of your children?

Thumbs Up

Here's a fascinating story covered in Gizmodo, UCL, Scientific American, and Science Daily about the mental aftermath of having another "robotic thumb" installed onto your hand. The result? The brain thinks of it as another tool, NOT an extension of the hand itself. Be sure to read the articles for some more in-depth insight into this discovery. It's an interesting thing to keep in mind as robotic science progresses to provide more materials for the human body.

Searching for Treasure

Indiana Jones would love this. As seen in Engadget, The Robot Report, TechExplorist, and Science Daily, the new MIT "Digger Finger" can search through the material to find buried objects. Please take a look at the amazing included video to see how it works. What kind of real-world applications could you see for this remarkable new technology? Will it make taking a radar detector to the beach completely obsolete?

Robots for the Moon

NASA's robots are taking moon exploration to a whole new level. Covered in Gizmodo, The Robot Report, SlashGear, and Digital Trends, the new "VIPER" robot (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) will hunt water at its South Pole. It's fascinating to read this story the same month when another rover lands on the Moon's neighbor of Mars. The story shows that even though there are other worlds out there to explore, our nearest celestial neighbor still has plenty of discoveries left in it.

What's New in the Industry?

How about some quick hits from around the industry: 

  • Check out the collaborative efforts of these "dumb" robots named BOBbots (though they look pretty smart to us) in Futurity, SlashGear, and Science Daily.
  • Talk about micro-machines. As covered in cNet, Futurity, and The Spoon, this soft paper gripper from Boston University can pick up a single grain of sand. Incredible, isn't it?

What's to Come?

There is a lot of news out there—but these are the stories that caught our eyes this month. If we could give one big theme for the month, it would be "universal." Not only do we see robots ready to prowl the surface of the moon to search for water, we see their reach extending to the "red planet" of Mars with a rover landing from a brand-new planet. It shows that the reach of robots is not only extending throughout the universe, but it's also coming from different entities and countries right here on earth. That's something to be proud and hopeful of.

One more thing, readers—if you have anything that we should add for the next edition, let us know! What caught your attention in the robotics world throughout May? Comment below, and we might feature it in our next issue!

Picture Credit: MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab / Dynamic Robotics Laboratory/Oregon State University / Dani Clode
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