Category Archives: Robotics

New DARPA Office Merges Biology And Technology

Elena Malykhina reports for Information Week:

bioThe Defense Advance Research Program Agency (DARPA) has created a division that merges biology, engineering, and computer science to advance technologies for national security.

The goal of the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) is to develop next-generation systems that are inspired by the life sciences. Biology is among the core sciences that represent the future of defense technology, DARPA said. The BTO will expand on the work already carried out by DARPA’s Defense Sciences (DSO) and Microsystems Technology (MTO) Offices, particularly in disciplines such as neuroscience, sensor design, and microsystems.

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More News Is Being Written By Robots Than You Think

Jason Dorrier writes for Singularity Hub:

robot-scribe-pens-gutenberg-bible (1)

Software is writing news stories with increasing frequency. In a recent example, an LA Times writer-bot wrote and posted a snippet about an earthquake three minutes after the event. The LA Times claims they were first to publish anything on the quake, and outside the USGS, they probably were.

The LA Times example isn’t special because it’s the first algorithm to write a story on a major news site. With the help of Chicago startup and robot writing firm, Narrative Science, algorithms have basically been passing the Turing test online for the last few years.

This is possible because some kinds of reporting are formulaic. You take a publicly available source, crunch it down to the highlights, and translate it for readers using a few boiler plate connectors. Hopefully, this makes it more digestible.

Indeed, Kristian Hammond, cofounder and CTO of Narrative Science, thinks some 90% of the news could be written by computers by 2030.

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Controversy Brews Over Role Of ‘Killer Robots’ In Theater of War

Cameron Scott writes for Singularity Hub:

MAARS-robot

Technology promises to improve people’s quality of life, and what could be a better example of that than sending robots instead of humans into dangerous situations? Robots can help conduct research in deep oceans and harsh climates, or deliver food and medical supplies to disaster areas.

As the science advances, it’s becoming increasingly possible to dispatch robots into war zones alongside or instead of human soldiers. Several military powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and China, are already using partially autonomous weapons in combat and are almost certainly pursuing other advances in private, according to experts.

The idea of a killer robot, as a coalition of international human rights groups has dubbed the autonomous machines, conjures a humanoid Terminator-style robot. The humanoid robots Google recently bought are neat, but most machines being used or tested by national militaries are, for now, more like robotic weapons than robotic soldiers. Still, the line between useful weapons with some automated features and robot soldiers ready to kill can be disturbingly blurry.

Whatever else they do, robots that kill raise moral questions far more complicated than those posed by probes or delivery vehicles. Their use in war would likely save lives in the short run, but many worry that they would also result in more armed conflicts and erode the rules of war — and that’s not even considering what would happen if the robots malfunctioned or were hacked.

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The First News Report on the L.A. Earthquake Was Written by a Robot

Will Oremus writes for Slate:

LAT QuakebotKen Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, was jolted awake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit “publish.” And that’s how the LAT became the first media outlet to report on this morning’s temblor. “I think we had it up within three minutes,” Schwencke told me.

If that sounds faster than humanly possible, it probably is. While the post appeared under Schwencke’s byline, the real author was an algorithm called Quakebot that he developed a little over two years ago. Whenever an alert comes in from the U.S. Geological Survey about an earthquake above a certain size threshold, Quakebot is programmed to extract the relevant data from the USGS report and plug it into a pre-written template. The story goes into the LAT’s content management system, where it awaits review and publication by a human editor.

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Humans Appear Programmed to Obey Robots, Studies Suggest

Jason Dorrier writes for Singularity Hub:

robot_traffic_cop_congo (1)

Two 8-foot robots recently began directing traffic in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa. The automatons are little more than traffic lights dressed up as campy 1960s robots—and yet, drivers obey them more readily than the humans previously directing traffic there. Maybe it’s because the robots are bigger than the average traffic cop. Maybe it’s their fearsome metallic glint. Or maybe it’s because, in addition to their LED signals and stilted hand waving, they have multiple cameras recording ne’er-do-wells.

“If a driver says that it is not going to respect the robot because it’s just a machine the robot is going to take that, and there will be a ticket for him,” Isaie Therese, the engineer behind the bots, told CCTV Africa. The Congolese bots provide a fascinating glimpse into human-robot interaction. It’s a rather surprising observation that humans so readily obey robots, even very simple ones, in certain situations. But the observation isn’t merely anecdotal—there’s research on the subject.

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IBM’s Supercomputer Watson Is Now a Chef With His Own Food Truck

Olivia B. Waxman reports for Time:

IBM Food Truck

First, Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Ben Rutter got served by Watson, the IBM supercomputer. Now, Watson is serving up dishes from a food truck as part of a new partnership with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, NPR reports. The supercomputer made its debut as a chef at a Las Vegas tech conference last week, and so far has produced gourmet, fusion fare like a Swiss-Thai asparagus quiche, an Austrian chocolate burrito, and a pork belly moussaka. Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the supercomputer comes up with creative meals based on a series of algorithms, according to the company’s website.

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Japan: Robot to take top university exam

From BBC News:

Japanese scientist can now talk to robotsScientists in Japan are trying to create a computer program smart enough to pass the University of Tokyo’s entrance exam, it appears. The project, led by Noriko Arai at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, is trying to see how fast artificial intelligence might replace the human brain so that people can start training in completely new areas. “If society as a whole can see a possible change coming in the future, we can get prepared now,” she tells the Kyodo news agency.

But there’s also another purpose behind the Can A Robot Get Into The University of Tokyo? project, which began in 2011. If machines cannot replace human beings, then “we need to clarify what is missing and move to develop the technology,” says Noriko Arai. Last year, a robot passed a mock test for Japan’s most competitive university entrance exam – but fell short of a 50% score. In a recent interview with the Observer newspaper, Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, predicted computers would outsmart humans by 2029.

Driverless Trucks Will Keep Army Safe From IEDs

Photo: Lockheed MartinFrom Wired:

U.S. Army convoys will soon be able to roll into even the roughest of unfriendly foreign urban areas and combat zones without the worry of loss of life, thanks to new technology that will make large vehicles fully autonomous.

In demonstrations earlier this month at Fort Hood, Texas, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Lockheed Martin demonstrated the ability of the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS), which gives full autonomy to convoys to operate in urban environments. In tests, driverless tactical vehicles were able to navigate hazards and obstacles including pedestrians, oncoming traffic, road intersections, traffic circles and stalled and passing vehicles.

Under an initial $11 million contract in 2012, Lockheed Martin developed the multiplatform kit which integrates low-cost sensors and control systems with Army and Marine tactical vehicles to enable autonomous operation in convoys. According to Lockheed, AMAS also gives drivers an automated option to alert, stop and adjust, or take full control under user supervision.

[...] Not only do driverless convoys add a degree of safety under dangerous conditions, they also move the military closer its apparent goal of nearly total autonomous warfare.

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Swarms of drones could be the next frontier in emergency response

Laboratory of Intelligent Systems / EPFLFrom NBC News:

Robots that can buzz, whir, and clamber into some of the most dangerous crime scenes and disaster zones are coming to the aid of police officers and other first responders who put themselves in harm’s way.

In October 2013, a parolee barricaded himself in a Roseville, Calif., suburban home of a young couple and their toddler, taking mother and child hostage. A SWAT team from the local police station captured the alleged offender and took him in, but not before gunfire ripped through the one-story home and injured officers.

Law enforcement officers on the ground had help from bomb squad robots, that helped push aside the furniture the suspect had piled up as a barricade. But two detectives believe that a bit of unmanned aerial backup would have made a big difference.

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Google’s Schmidt warning on jobs

Eric Schmidt at the World Economic Forum, Davos, in 2013From BBC News:

Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, has warned the jobs problem will be “the defining one” for the next two-three decades.

He said given the constant development of new technology, more and more middle class workers would lose their jobs.

Speaking at a meeting at the World Economic Forum at Davos, he added that it was not clear if workers would have the right skills to be re-hired.

Mr Schmidt compared the situation to the industrial revolution.

He called for more industry-wide innovation.

“It’s a race between computers and people – and people need to win,” he said.

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US Army considers replacing thousands of troops with robots

Photo: ALAMYFrom The Telegraph:

The US Army is considering replacing thousands of soldiers with robots as it deals with sweeping troop cuts.

A senior American officer has said he is considering shrinking the size of the Army’s brigade combat teams by a quarter and replacing the lost troops with robots and remote-controlled vehicles.

The American military is still far from fielding armies of Terminator-type robotic killers though.

Ideas under discussion instead include proposals to see manned lorries and transporters replaced by supply trains of robots vehicles.

Generals are studying proposals as the US Army is to slim down from 540,000 to about 490,000 soldiers by the end of next year. Some reports suggest it could dip below 450,000 by the end of the decade.

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47% Of All Jobs Will Be Automated By 2034, And ‘No Government Is Prepared’ Says Economist

rise of the machines economistFrom The Huffington Post:

Almost half of all jobs could be automated by computers within two decades and “no government is prepared” for the tsunami of social change that will follow, according to the Economist.

The magazine’s 2014 analysis of the impact of technology paints a pretty bleak picture of the future.

It says that while innovation (aka “the elixir of progress”) has always resulted in job losses, usually economies have eventually been able to develop new roles for those workers to compensate, such as in the industrial revolution of the 19th century, or the food production revolution of the 20th century.

But the pace of change this time around appears to be unprecedented, its leader column claims. And the result is a huge amount of uncertainty for both developed and under-developed economies about where the next ‘lost generation’ is going to find work.

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Russia is developing ground drone army—including amphibious models

From Gizmodo:

Russia is developing ground drone army—including amphibious models

Russia is developing weaponized ground drones, including some big amphibious models like the one you can see here. Add the thousands of combat air drones from many nations already flying through the world and it’s not crazy to think in a full robotic war happening before 2020 somewhere in the world.

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A Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Will Kick Off the 2014 World Cup

A Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton Will Kick Off the 2014 World CupFrom Gizmodo:

It won’t be a superstar football player who takes the first kick of 2014′s Football World Cup in Brazil. Nope, instead, it will be a teenager, paralysed from the waist down, who will use the world’s most advanced mind-controlled exoskeleton to get things underway.

A small part of a large-scale international collaborative project called Walk Again, the exoskeleton technology in question supports the lower body, using brain activity to trigger movements in the suit. Brain waves are detected using electrodes on the scalp, beamed wirelessly to the exoskeleton, and processed into commands which produce movement.

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Nearly all cars to be autonomous by 2050

Self-Driving VehiclesFrom Autoblog:

Well, fellow humans, we’re going to obsolete soon. A new study by IHS Automotive claims that by 2025, a mere 11 years from now, there will be 230,000 self-driving cars on world’s roads. 10 years beyond that, the number will swell to 11.8 million, although only select models will do without any traditional means of human control by 2030. By the middle of the 21st century, nearly every vehicle on the road will be of the autonomous variety.

Now, this may only be a study, but it’s one that we think may hold some water. Multiple traditional manufacturers are embarking on autonomous-vehicle projects, and they’re being joined by the likes of tech giant Google along with any number of major industry suppliers.

As for what these numbers will mean for the industry, IHS is only predicting self-driving cars to make up two-tenths of a percent of sales in 2025, with price premiums of $7,000 to $10,000. By 2035, 9.2-percent of new vehicles sold will be autonomous, as prices are driven down to a mere $3,000 more than a traditionally controlled vehicle.

The effects of self-driving cars on society, meanwhile, will be more mixed. According to the study, 90-percent of traffic deaths are due to driver error, which means we should see a reduction in fatalities once humans are taken out of the equation. The bad news is, humans who drive for a living – whether it be over-the-road truckers or your friendly UPS driver – are likely to be among the first redundancies as autonomous commercial vehicles become more common.

New Pentagon blueprint sees bigger role for robot warfare

From Christian Science Monitor:

At a NASCAR racetrack in Miami earlier this month, teams from NASA, Google, and 14 other groups of engineering gurus put cutting-edge robots through some challenging paces.

The aim was to see how well the robots could tackle tasks that may sound simple, but are tricky for nonhumans – including, say, climbing a ladder, unscrewing a hose from a spigot, navigating over rubble, and steering a car.

The contest was dreamed up by the Pentagon’s futuristic experimentation arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and senior defense officials were watching it carefully – well aware that the Pentagon is growing increasingly reliant on robotics.

The Defense Department will become even more reliant on such devices in the decades to come. That’s the conclusion of a new blueprint quietly released by the Pentagon this week, which offers some telling clues about the future of unmanned systems – in other words, drones and robots.

The study, the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, is meant to provide the Pentagon with a “technological vision” for the next 25 years – a vision that will be “critical to future success” of the US military, according to its authors.

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Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

From The New York Times:

BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas have joined Google’s growing robot menagerie.

Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year. Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software.

The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.

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New Artificial Limbs Controlled By Thought

Google develops robots to replace people in manufacturing, retail

(FILES) AILA, or Artificial Intelligence Lightweight Android, presses switches on a panel it recognizes during a demonstration at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence GmbH stand at the 2013 CeBIT technology trade fair on March 5, 2013 in Hanover, Germany. (AFP Photo / Carsten Koall)

AILA, or Artificial Intelligence Lightweight Android, presses switches on a panel it recognizes during a demonstration at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence GmbH stand at the 2013 CeBIT technology trade fair on March 5, 2013 in Hanover, Germany. (AFP Photo / Carsten Koall)

From RT:

Now that the mystery surrounding the elusive Google barges in the San Francisco Bay reported last month has been brought to light, the Silicon Valley giant is announcing another new endeavor: robots.

Yes, robots. Speaking to the New York Times for an article published this week, Google exec and former Android CEO Andy Rubin revealed that the search engine company’s next big project is predictably another space-age effort that, if history is any precedent, is sure to transcend the realm of science fiction and soon be as commonplace as, say, the cell phone.

His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets,” Google CEO Larry Page told USA Today this week. “It is still very early days for this, but I can’t wait to see the progress.”

According to Wednesday’s article in the Times, Rubin and company are indeed exploring with robotics, and not exactly starting from scratch, either. Google has rather secretly acquired seven new technology companies during the last six month, the paper’s John Markoff reported, and in doing so have added the names of some rather impressive robotics professionals to their portfolio.

Don’t freak out just yet, though: Google isn’t necessarily assembling an army of robo-overlords. Markoff reported that while Google isn’t saying much about what they’re working on, it will be a project not aimed at consumers. Instead, Google is expected to use their new robotics teams to dabble in manufacturing in order to compete with another big internet name that so-far has been largely unscathed by Google wrath on the web: Amazon.

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This crime-predicting robot aims to patrol our streets by 2015

From CNET:

A scene in the 2004 film “I, Robot” involves an army of rogue NS-5 humanoids establishing a curfew and imprisoning the citizens of Chicago, circa 2035, inside their homes. That’s not how Knightscope envisions the coming day of deputized bots.

In its far less frightful future, friendly R2-D2 lookalikes patrol our streets, school hallways, and company campuses to keep us safe and put real-time data to good use. Instead of the Asimov-inspired NS-5, Knightscope, a Silicon Valley-based robotics company, is developing the K5.

Officially dubbed the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, the 300-pound, 5-foot-tall mobile robot will be equipped with nighttime video cameras, thermal imaging capabilities, and license plate recognition skills. It will be able to function autonomously for select operations, but more significantly, its software will provide crime prediction that’s reminiscent, the company claims, of the “precog” plot point of “Minority Report.”

“It can see, hear, feel, and smell and it will roam around autonomously 24/7,” said CEO William Santana Li, a former Ford Motor executive, in an interview with CNET.

At the moment, the K5 is only a prototype, and Knightscope next year will launch a beta program with select partners. But the company is shooting to have the K5 fully deployed by 2015 on a machine-as-a-service business model, meaning clients would pay by the hour for a monthly bill, based on 40-hour weeks, of $1,000. The hourly rate of $6.25 means the cost of the K5 would be competitive with the wages of many a low-wage human security guard.

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US Army robots will outnumber human soldiers 10 to 1 by 2023

From Gizmodo:

Talking at a US Army demonstration of autonomous weaponized robots at Fort Benning, Georgia, experts said that “ten years from now, there will probably be one soldier for every 10 robots. Each soldier could have one or five robots flanking him, looking for enemies, scanning for land mines.”

Those are the words of Scott Hartley, co-founder of 5D Robotics, who demonstrated his companies’ machines along with Northrop Grumman, QinetiQ, HDT Robotics and other robotics corporations catering to the US military. Harley also added that “robots can save lives.” And indeed they can, helping soldiers survive in a hostile environment and making their lives easier. But, obviously, they are also making them to kill.

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Killer Robots With Automatic Rifles Could Be on the Battlefield in 5 Years

From Wired:

Four robotics companies — HDT Robotics, iRobot, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ — recently ran their M240 machine gun-armed robots through a live-fire demo at Fort Benning in what has been dubbed the “Robotic Rodeo.” The point was to give the brass a chance to see just how viable such systems are.

The Army, which issued a favorable assessment of the technology last week, doesn’t see our armed robotic overlords as weapons taking the place of boots on the ground, but rather as combatants working alongside troops in the field.

“They’re not just tools, but members of the squad. That’s the goal,” Lt. Col. Willie Smith, chief of Unmanned Ground Vehicles at Fort Benning told Computerworld. “A robot becoming a member of the squad, we see that as a matter of training.”

Senior Army officers attending the rodeo appeared satisfied with the robots after seeing them accurately hit targets 500 feet away, and they hope to see battle ‘bots in action within five years.

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Empathy for military robots could affect outcomes on the battlefield

From PBS:

That’s the conclusion of Julie Carpenter, a Ph.D. in education at the University of Washington. Carpenter interviewed 23 explosive ordnance disposal personnel who regularly used robots on the job. She found that the soldiers often anthropomorphized their robots, assigned them human attributes such as genders and names, and even displayed a kind of empathy toward the machines.

“They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add ‘poor little guy,’ or they’d say they had a funeral for it,” Carpenter said. “These robots are critical tools they maintain, rely on, and use daily. They are also tools that happen to move around and act as a stand-in for a team member, keeping Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel at a safer distance from harm.”

“You don’t want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool,” she said. “If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making.”

Carpenter will publish her findings in a future book on human-robot interactions.

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Robot face lets slime mould show its emotional side

From New Scientist:

Slime mould is clever stuff. It finds the quickest path between food and has even shown signs of having memory – despite not having a brain. Now we know what faces it might pull.

A human-like robot face has been hooked up so that its expressions are controlled by the electrical signals produced when yellow slime mould shies away from light, or moves eagerly towards food.

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Brent Council hire a hologram as their new receptionist

From The Independent:

A virtual receptionist has been hired instead of a human member of staff to greet visitors who arrive at Brent’s Town Hall.

The hologram, played by actress Shanice Stewart-Jones, will be projected onto a screen at the £90 million civic centre, to make Shanice appear to be seated behind a desk

The hologram can respond to questions about locations in the building, such as where to register births or where to head to apply for a marriage certificate.

It will also have a touch screen function where visitors can type in the reason for their visit and be given information on where to go or what kind of paperwork they require.

[...] Installing the hologram has cost Brent Council £12,000, but they argue that it will save £17,000 in comparison to hiring a real receptionist.

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Greek Scientists Create Robot Octopus

From Scientific American:

Researchers in Greece, however, have made a robot octopus that can propel itself through the water using only its eight arms.

Their prototype, announced earlier this summer, has mastered a handful of different swim strokes—including some even the octopus itself can’t pull off.

The robot octopus, initially outfitted with stiff limbs, can move all of its arms in and out in unison, slowly propelling the body along in the water. It can also perform a straight-armed technique in which each arm moves in and out independently

U.S. Army foresees robots becoming squad members

large vehicular robotFrom Computer World:

In 20 to 40 years, humanoid robots, using human tools, could precede soldiers into dangerous areas, performing tasks such as turning a wrench to open valves, opening doors and climbing ladders. Some day, the Army might send autonomous robots into battle to physically engage with the enemy.

While that scenario is likely decades away, the Army is working on semi-autonomous vehicles that can lead convoys and scan for IEDs (improvised explosive devices), robotic exoskeletons that can help soldiers move faster and longer, and wheeled robots that can carry soldiers’ heavy packs, freeing troops to be more agile and less fatigued.

FULL ARTICLE @ COMPUTER WORLD

Robots Are Starting To Take Over Fast Food Jobs ~ Business Insider

robot chefsBusiness Insider

[...] Fast food chains in Japan, China and Great Britain have begun piloting the use of robots to cook meals. And while robots have been emerging in recent years as a boon for completing menial tasks like dispensing medicines in hospitals, these fast food robots are capable of preparing full sushi rolls or noodle dishes for Asian food outlets. In many cases, customers complete their orders through a touchscreen, which then alerts the robot how to prepare the meal. No humans needed.

[...] This is just the beginning, too. A report by the McKinsey & Company consulting group says that robots will occupy about one out of every eight commercial service jobs by 2025. And for fields like manufacturingpackingconstruction and maintenance, the figure is roughly one in four. To reach those numbers, companies will have to invest roughly $1.4 trillion, according to McKinsey.

FULL ARTICLE @ BUSINESS INSIDER

Robots to revolutionize farming, ease labor woes ~ Seattle Times

by Gosia Wozniacka and Terence Chea
The Seattle Times

On a windy morning in California’s Salinas Valley, a tractor pulled a wheeled, metal contraption over rows of budding iceberg lettuce plants. Engineers from Silicon Valley tinkered with the software on a laptop to ensure the machine was eliminating the right leafy buds.

The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can “thin” a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand.

The thinner is part of a new generation of machines that target the last frontier of agricultural mechanization – fruits and vegetables destined for the fresh market, not processing, which have thus far resisted mechanization because they’re sensitive to bruising.

FULL ARTICLE @ THE SEATTLE TIMES

MEET DARPA’S HUMANOID ROBOT THAT COULD SOMEDAY SAVE YOU FROM A CRUMBLING BUILDING ~ Fast Company

Fast Company

[...] Compared to the bumbling, tottering, and slow humanoid robots that have hit the media before, you may be shocked at how resilient Atlas is. The machine has sophistication that approaches the stuff of science fiction. It can cope with unexpected trip hazards, survive being knocked off balance by a 20-pound weight, and if the tricks of its developmental predecessor, Petman, are anything to go by, it can climb over obstacles and autonomously navigate to a certain degree.

FULL ARTICLE @ FAST COMPANY