An evening pause: This sequence from the animated film Robots (2005) is a very typical scene from almost every modern Hollywood film, whether real or animated (though the difference is getting harder to see as they put more and more CGI in every film). Regardless, it is fun, and takes the idea of a Rube Goldberg device to a very strange extreme.
As part of a publicity stunt to encourage investment, Saudi Arabia has given citizenship to a new robot, designed to show human emotions by facial expressions.
A humanoid robot took the stage at the Future Investment Initiative yesterday and had an amusing exchange with the host to the delight of hundreds of delegates. Smartphones were held aloft as Sophia, a robot designed by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, gave a presentation that demonstrated her capacity for human expression.
Sophia made global headlines when she was granted Saudi citizenship, making the kingdom the first country in the world to offer its citizenship to a robot.
Below the fold I have embedded the video of Sophia’s conversation with the host. It is obvious that most of the conversation was scripted. It is also obvious that robots still have a long way to go before their facial expressions appear natural to the human eye.
Posted north of Phoenix as we climb up onto the Colorado Plateau. Just saw the last saguaro in the cacti’s northern range limits. » Read more
The rise of the machines! When two bots of its artificial intelligence software (AI) began to communicate in a language humans could not understand, Facebook researchers put a stop to it.
At first, they were speaking to each other in plain old English. But then researchers realized they’d made a mistake in programming. “There was no reward to sticking to English language,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). As these two [robot] agents competed to get the best deal–a very effective bit of AI vs. AI dogfighting researchers have dubbed a “generative adversarial network”–neither was offered any sort of incentive for speaking as a normal person would. So they began to diverge, eventually rearranging legible words into seemingly nonsensical sentences.
…Facebook ultimately opted to require its negotiation bots to speak in plain old English. “Our interest was having bots who could talk to people,” says Mike Lewis, research scientist at FAIR. Facebook isn’t alone in that perspective. When I inquired to Microsoft about computer-to-computer languages, a spokesperson clarified that Microsoft was more interested in human-to-computer speech. Meanwhile, Google, Amazon, and Apple are all also focusing incredible energies on developing conversational personalities for human consumption. They’re the next wave of user interface, like the mouse and keyboard for the AI era.
The other issue, as Facebook admits, is that it has no way of truly understanding any divergent computer language. “It’s important to remember, there aren’t bilingual speakers of AI and human languages,” says Batra. We already don’t generally understand how complex AIs think because we can’t really see inside their thought process. Adding AI-to-AI conversations to this scenario would only make that problem worse.
The article makes some interesting points about the advantages of allowing this AI software to create its own language. For me, none of these arguments are very convincing.
The video at the link shows off SpotMini, of video of which I posted previously. However, the first robot shown is one they have named Handle and is something they admit could be “nightmare-inducing.” It walks upright on two legs, but instead of feetpods it has wheels, giving it the ability to move very fast. And for some reason, they put its arms on backwards so that the elbows bend inward instead of outward.
Watch the video. The robot design work here is truly breath-taking.
Link here. If you watch the video at the link, you will see that this small robotic bat can only fly for short distances before falling to the ground. Nonetheless, the engineering here is impressive, and is laying the groundwork for some really incredible future inventions.
I truly do question the usefulness of this robot in the house. However, its ability to maneuver and do some quite complicated tasks makes me immediately think this should be a rover we send to the Moon, Mars, Europa, and beyond.
Link here. The robot was developed in the 1960s to test spacesuits, though because it leaked oil it was never used.
In fact, this particular 1960s NASA project appears to be a perfect example of “engineers gone wild!” The website explains that the robot was an attempt to replace human test volunteers.
Unfortunately, pressure suits aren’t like coveralls. They’re complex pieces of engineering. A human can provide qualitative information about how (un)comfortable a suit is, but cannot gauge the forces involved with the precision and accuracy that an an engineer needs. In addition, testing pressure suits with volunteers can be grueling, unpleasant and even painful.
In the end, however, the robot didn’t work and the testing was done by humans, probably for a lot less than the $175,000 they spent (in 1960s dollars) to build two of these robots. One however is now being auctioned off, and could serve wonderfully as a great piece of interesting artwork in someone’s home.
A robot being tested by Russian engineers ended up on its own on a public street, baffling passersby and traffic.
“The robot was learning automatic movement algorithms on the testing ground, these functions will feature in the latest version of the Promobot.” The co-founder of the robot’s maker, Oleg Kivokurtsev, told ura.ru news agency. “Our engineer drove onto the testing ground and forgot to close the gates. So the robot escaped and went on his little adventure.” Kivokurtsev explained.
The team only noticed their brainchild was missing 45 minutes into the robot’s travel stint and by the time they located it, there was already a crowd of puzzled citizens and the police had arrived.
I have a suspicion that this was not really an accident, but instead a publicity stunt, but have no way to confirm this suspicion.
An evening pause: This short video demonstrates that all is possible if one combines flying drone capability with that of a road vehicle. I’m not sure if this has any practical value, but it sure is cool to see 1960s comic book engineering come to life.
After a two year hiatus, engineers have resumed experiments on ISS to demonstrate robotic servicing of satellites in space.
Known by its creative team as the “little ISS experiment that could,” RRM broke uncharted ground in 2011-2013 with a set of activities that debuted robotic tools and procedures to refuel the propellant tanks of existing satellites. Its second phase of operations, which took place in April and May and will resume again later in 2015, offers something entirely different and just as disruptive, says Reed. “We’ve outfitted the RRM module with new hardware so we can shift our focus to satellite inspection, instrument life extension, and even techniques for instrument swap-out,” says Reed. Such servicing technologies could open new possibilities for owners of spacecraft in low and geosynchronous Earth orbit, he says.
Many of the designs of this demo project are based on actual research satellites that need refueling or repair. Thus, if the robot can do the work on ISS, it is likely it can also do the work at the satellite itself.
More information here. It seems that on the dry run prior to the start of competition, not many robots fell over. Then on Day 1, when the competition was for real, a lot had problems standing up.
The impressive thing about these falls is that, although they look pretty bad, the robots were just fine (well, most of them). After humans got them back on their feet and gave them a reboot, the machines were ready to run again. Team IHMC’s Atlas fell twice during their run and it still scored 7 points (of a maximum of 8). Team MIT’s Atlas had a bad stumble out of the vehicle and also went on to complete most of the course. So it’s a good thing that robots are falling at the DRC Finals—that’s how we’re going to make them better.
Link here. The impression I get is of a very vibrant commercial industry now making a lot of money developing robots for a gigantic range of industrial and commercial uses. Most are industrial, but it is very clear that this technology is very steadily easing its way into public use.
While zipping around Earth several hundred miles above the planet’s surface, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano drove a 220-pound (100 kilograms) rover across a moon-mimicking landscape here at NASA’s Ames Research Center, even ordering the robot to deploy a simulated film-based radio telescope antenna.
Robot engineers have successfully built a fleet of small flying robot helicopters that can fly individually or as complex large arrays. With video.
Applying this biologically-inspired solution to swarms of robots could enable a wide range of applications. Swarms of robots could be used to explore other planets, or search a large area for a missing person. When a larger payload needs to be lifted, groups of robots would combine to make a larger flying platform and when that job was done, disperse into smaller groups that can cover a larger area. The advantage of distributed control in these scenarios is that there is no vulnerable central control unit which, if taken out, could bring down the entire mission.
A robotic refueling demo. designed and built by the same people who ran the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions, begins today on ISS, using Dextre.
This demo is designed to prove that a robot, operated from the ground, can refuel a satellite not designed for refueling. The demo satellite on ISS was built to match the design of several climate satellites already in orbit that will end up defunct in a few years if they can’t be refueled.
An evening pause: The robot obstacle course at the 2006 ROBO-ONE competition in Kawasaki, Japan. Very impressive, for a machine, though this does illustrate how difficult it is to artificially duplicate what life does so naturally.
The efforts to fix the cooling system on ISS has not only limited use of the humans inside the station. It has delayed the maintenance work of the Canadian-built robot Dextre on the outside of the station.