Phillip K. Dick Resurrected via BoingBoing
Officially, this is as creepy and ironic as science fiction gets: a robot of a human being who's most famous novel adaptation talks about robots developing humanity yet being trapped in a robotic body, and who's works "addressed themes in which science, technology and robotics challenge and twist human identity." Granted, that'd be a good plot for a science fiction story in of itself. Ah well.
So, it seems for Wired's NextFest, someone's going to show a Phillip K. Dick robot, which will use voice recognition, facial recognition, identity/behavior perception, AI, and a whole slew of things to create a human-like appearance. This seriously sounds fantastic, and I'm absolutely seething that I can't be in Chicago this weekend.
Wasn't this a bad movie starring Peter Weller? The Japanese have developed a guard and robot called Guardrobo D1. The robot is intended to guard offices, shopping malls, and banks, so if we can't get at least two good movies out of this ("DeathBot Mall?" "Robbing the Robot?"), we're not trying.
While Roomba's intent was really to announce a new Roomba, one which you can control a little better the times ones of these things goes off, that's not the big news. Finally, Roomba's gotten the idea to allow people to hack up their own robots:
Meanwhile, the company will open up the application programming interfaces for the vacuum so that third parties can make cameras or other attachments and, ideally, grow the overall market for personal robots, said CEO Colin Angle in an interview.
Sweet! Now we can hook up all sorts of cool stuff to the Roomba, like the suggested camera... or that pump action Nerf gun to torture friends...
|Nothing like musical robots. A group is doing installation pieces involving robots which create music (mp3 link). I've heard worse from rap metal bands by far, and they're definitely not boring. It's also interesting to see the mix of mechanical, digital, and musical.|
What a cool idea. The site is a membership-based observatory. Through group participation, you can choose objects in the sky to observe real time, using a robot controlled observatory. Membership also includes access to "storytelling", which is an audio stream discussion the history, mythology and science of the object being observed with astronomers. Finally, you can get 15 minutes of time where you direct the telescope per year, and can purchase additional 15 minute blocks for $20.
Somedays, you just can't win...
Today, for some reason, I got into a discussion with a group of people from work about Scientology and the Bible code. The consensus of everyone else was that I should be a little more respectful of Scientology, and should consider the Bible Code as a possibility. These are engineers and technical designers, all of whom have gone to engineering schools or worked with science for years. Extremely smart groups of people.
So, when I explained that Scientology is, in my opinion, not exactly an upright religion, the consensus at the meal was that I was being intolerant. I explained that Scientology has the basic belief that we're all aliens trapped in human bodies, and that we need to be corrected in our emotions, which only the church can do. Which is, in my opinion, a little wacky. And, combining that with a very controversial past, a somewhat odd past that L. Ron Hubbard, the founder, had with both authority, and statements by L. Ron like "the only way to make money at science fiction is to invent a religion", it's not likely that Scientology is the most upright religion ever.
Now, maybe I should have stressed that Scientology has as much right in the US to exist as any other church. Freedom of religion is built into the constitution. But that does not mean I cannot say anything bad about a religion. That's also in the Constitution, and keeps religions honest by giving critics a voice. Tolerance of a goofy religion, great. Silence about a goofy reigion, bad. Big difference.
And then, the Bible Code came up...
You'd think basic mathematical concepts like how random distributions work would be a basic point in classes. If that weren't the case, some basic history of the bible might indicate some of the problems with this concept. But not really; somehow, I was being told that the Bible contained secret codes of information about the future.
So here goes: the modern bible is a very, very heavily translated and edited book. There's at least 5 major versions in English today; that's not counting the hundreds of revisions prior to that through Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German and English, all of which were sources for the modern English versions. So "codes" inside of the book would have gotten lost unless every version was rewritten both to make sense and keep the code in place -- a very unlikely task, almost to the point of impossibility.
But in any random distribution of numbers, patterns will occur naturally. Somewhere in the digits of pi -- I forget where -- there are seven sevens in a row. This doesn't have meaning beyond what we place on it. And it's a much simpler explanation of why certain names would occur in the Bible with significance.
Eventually, this came down to me stating a lie: "Well, I guess you never know."
Actually, sometimes you do know. You just don't want to hurt other people.
If you're in Chicago, and you're not going to WIRED's NextFest, I'm very sorry, you need to leave the gene pool now. Looks like a stunning lineup of technology, including a couple of things of major interest to robots and robotics...
HUBO, a humanoid robot from Korea that is equipped with state- of-the-art voice recognition and vision-tracking software... Brainball, a game that lets you control a ball with your mind... PEBBLES, a tool to connect seriously ill children to the classroom. For those who are unable to attend school, the system uses a telepresence robot to virtually place them in their class. The robot is designed to mimic the movement and interaction of an actual student in a classroom.... Northrop Grumman's Killer Bee, a small unmanned airborne system; iRobot innovations, such as R-Gator, that are the latest in military robotics technology, many protecting soldiers in Iraq today.... a Mars rover and space suit from NASA; "Stinky," the robot created by the students from Carl Hayden High School, which went on to beat the heavily favored MIT team's robot at an underwater robot competition; a lobster robot that navigates underwater autonomously....Dang it, where's my frequent flyer miles... I know they're around here somewhere...
Interesting robotic artwork. Each robot is a sculpture created from found objects, shaped to resemble robots. Many of the original objects are created out of recognizable objects, which makes the robotic feel of these all the more interesting. The image is of "Watts", using a electrical meter; lots of fun, especially with that 50s alien vibe. Check out "Detector", made from those old 70s era gauges, which resemble something right out of any nuclear power plant meltdown horror movie; along with the sealed detector, it makes for an interesting image.
Well, don't let it be said that people don't latch onto a new idea. A company in Germany is building a new Roomba-like vacuum cleaner; the major difference is in how they vacuum. Roomba uses a pattern until it encounters an object, then deflects and randomly changes direction. The SmartCarpet system uses RFID chips embedded into the carpet to figure out what's been covered.
I just have two words: spilled drinks. The first one will put that idea out of someone's head.
I've been in Atlanta for several years, but prior to that, I lived in St. Louis, with a kick-ass NPR affiliate. KWMU was one of the best NPR stations I've had the pleasure to listen to, and I listened to it throughout college. Why?
Check out the lineup: 1-3, Talk Of The Nation. 3-4, Fresh Air. 4-6:30, All Things Considered. 6:30-7, Marketplace. 7-12, Repeats of Talk Of The Nation, Fresh Air, and usually another program. And then at midnight, BBC World Service overnight. Weekends had pretty much everything you could want: My Word, Car Talk, Whadda Ya Know, and a ton of other entertaining, fun programs, much of it local. I was in hog heaven.
This morning, I got up and once again cursed the fact I live in Atlanta, purely on the existence of Lois Reitzes on our NPR station. Why?
Let's start with the fact that she trills.
Yes: trills. There is no other accurate word for it. She sounds precisely like someone who has decided that she must educate all us heathens on the wonderfulness of Bach (pronounced "Bac...hHHHH"). Her voice reminds me of a matron of an upper class crust household with nothing better to do than "give back to the poor, benighted little people". It literally makes me want to toss the radio across the room, I'm so besotted with condescending good will. (And it doesn't help when the person whom I'm linking to says "... and her job is to save us from ourselves.")
Then, there's the number of hours: "Six hours of classical music, back to back." That's six hours from 9-3. There's more after 8, and overnight it's all classical.
For chrissakes, I can stand six hours straight of only a few things. Six hours of classical music is nuts. I've got nothing against classical music, really. It's not my cup of tea, but I do love some pieces: "Rodeo" has always stirred me into a reverie, and Mozart's Fifth still gives me chills. Six hours of it would kill me.
I'd complain about the strange attitude that anything post-1960 is contemporary (one morning I heard a list of 5 movie scores, and was shocked to hear that this was Ms. Reitzes' way of being "with it".) but in classical music terms, I suppose it is. Think about this, though: three were done before I was born, and the other two were made before I went to school.
And then add to the fact that she's the programming director as well? Yes, I can do without Lois Reitzes.
This is not a battle. Less people are listening to classical; more want news. So in the end, when the pledges don't come in because people like me won't send in cash to be told, as if I were five, how wonderful six hours of music I can't stand will be, things will change.
An interesting, if a tad harsh, article on how the US robotics field is filled with a lot of companies who want to build robots, but don't have a successful business proposal for the product (iRobot being the exception).
Calling it adolescent is being kind. Robotics has been around for decades, but the idea of it having any serious business potential (aside from the big strides made in industry) is a relatively new concept. I would argue that it wasn't until the surprising success of iRobot's Roomba that people began to wonder openly about when the next big thing or army of things would arrive.
Take, for example, robotic helicopters. Make:blog posted on a cheap, open source UAV that uses current technology cheaply. Cheap is not the problem. The problem is, this is kind of useless. What do you need a UAV for? Crop dusting? Delivery of messages?
At this point, it's not technology that's holding us back, it's practical applications. We need ideas for practical things that robots can do, more than we need people building robots.
Fantastic! I just finished watching Firefly on DVD after missing it on TV. Now, the series is back -- and let me tell you, WELL worth it. Seriously, it's some of the best TV I've seen in years. I haven't been this excited since the second season of X-Files. Sci-Fi Channel alone is making me wonder if I shouldn't get cable...
Very interesting article on Japan's focus on children's education and technology, with a special emphasis on robotics. One interesting aspect is that while teachers and students want to learn robotics, teachers usually don't have a lot of robotics training, so they're learning along with the kids.
One problem is that the two teachers are far from robot experts and are learning along with the students.I've noticed that quite a bit of Japanese pop culture shows robots & robotics as part of their future-mythos (the general idea of the future that most people at a given time hold: so, the United States 1950s future-mythos involved flying cars.) We strange Americans tend not to see robotics as much, but tend towards informational helpers rather than physical helpers: we see global information networks, but don't usually imagine robots building skyscrapers.
An official from Japanese robot-maker Vstone Co Ltd is a guest but he is no education expert and his presentation is heavy on jargon. The students look puzzled. When the robot's arm finally moves a fraction of a centimetre, relief spreads across their faces.
So it's not surprising that while the US sees the same math & science deficit in our schools, we tend to focus on computers rather than robotics. How cool is it to see a different approach!
Of course, the image that goes with the article still reminds me of a giant walking egg.
Robots walking is definitely one of the harder things to accomplish in humanoid robotics. The human walk is a constant controlled fall broken by a series of sudden stops and rebalances: we fall forward, then move our leg to offset that fall by moving the body forward, upward, and away from the leg we just used; then, we fall again until the leg does the same.
So walking is a pain: you have to risk the chance a leg doesn't work. Then, there's shifts in ground, sidereal vectors, and a ton of other factors (speeding up and slowing down). We humans do this, albeit imperfectly, using experience and a rapid control over our own systems unsurpassed.
Robots have to be programmed to do these same things. So, to have a walking robot which can compensate for this is pretty amazing -- and they're just getting started. Running, walking with loads, and other bipedal motion tasks are on the list as well.
A robot malfunctioned at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, ignoring commands to go away.
Waldo shot past the pharmacy and barged uninvited into the examination room in the radiation oncology department, where -- according to an anonymous caller -- a doctor was examining a cancer patient.
According to the caller, Waldo wouldn't leave, and the startled doctor and patient felt obliged to flee the room.
Try this: the robot passed out medicines. It's noticed that a certain medicine in combination with radiation causes a higher percentage of people to eventually die of cancer. It finds out that this drug's been administered to the patient... and goes to stop the doctor.
Think about it; why do we assume that if the robot wasn't unknowingly doing this, it was doing it maliciously?
Repliee Q1 (at left in both pictures) appeared yesterday at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, where she gestured, blinked, spoke, and even appeared to breathe.... [Q1] has 31 points of articulation in its upper body... Internal sensors allow the android to react "naturally."... But it's the little, "unconscious" movements that give the robot its eerie verisimilitude: the slight flutter of the eyelids, the subtle rising and falling of the chest, the constant, nearly imperceptible shifting so familiar to humans.
Well, nothing like a little hyperbole to excite people. (Ever get the feeling robotics is a lot of hype and not nearly as much proof as you might think?) Article from the Scotsman gets Make all a'lather; except the use of the term "clay" tends to skip over the fact that these things are not made or make clay.
Now that I've killed off the joy of the Play-doh/robotic fanatics had, let's see what it is: nano/atomic-sized robots which can mold themselves into shapes, a very cool idea. Of course, the writer goes a little hog-wild:
The new science of claytronics, which will use nanotechnology to create tiny robots called catoms, should enable three-dimensional copies of people to be "faxed" around the world for virtual meetings.
And it's all the better to know that this whole thing... is years too early.
However, progress been slow. So far, the group has been able to get four catoms - or claytronic atoms - to act together, but at more than 4cm in diameter, they are considerably larger than the nano-sized robots required to make the clay.
Japan unveils "robot suit" that enhances human power - Yahoo! News via Technorati/robots
The 15-kilogram (33-pound) battery-powered suit, code-named HAL-5, detects muscle movements through electrical-signal flows on the skin surface and then amplifies them.
Just what everyone was waiting for: a ballroom dancing robot. As a technical feat, it's pretty impressive; the robot predicts the human partner's body movement, and then matches it's movement to coordinate with the anticipated move -- which also goes well with teaching men how to lead, as if they lead wrong, the robot will go wrong. But, as a social thing... I can remember at least a few Jetsons episodes that involve just this scenario. They don't end well for George.
Nothing I can say would improve on this.
On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres. Then they let him into the United States.OK, maybe if I had audio: Ethel Merman singing "God Bless America", with the last part melding into a high-pitched whine of a table saw...
I wandered onto craigslist in the early '90s, when it first started up; it was hip, cool, and fun, actually. I wandered away eventually (not living in SF, it only occasionally touched on my world, so...). But since then, it's become a very large, large land of strangeness. And as I pondered one of the latest masterpieces, Mexican Wanted For Help With Food Shopping, sent by my friend Mathisha, I found that Craigslist had a Best-of Page... which just had me howling at times. Defintely take a page through. I particularly recommend this one, which is practically a romantic comedy in of itself.
What's most interesting about this is the Pegasus Team, one of the groups working on the DARPA Grand Challenge, is using Python; the code itself isn't really hugely interesting, but they've pointed out (and I've been seeing myself) how easy Python is to learn compared to a lot of other languages. The code itself is a "watch for a press key and send the right command to someplace" type of code. But they published it... it's a start.
Taking a cue from Issac Asimov's robot stories, NASA is starting to develop robots which act, learn and collaborate with humans, as well as build reasoning systems similar to humans.
There are three main areas that Nourbakhsh's team will develop. One is called 'collaborative control,' during which the human being and the robot will speak to one another and work as partners. "A key benefit of collaborative control is that the robot is able to ask questions of the human in order to compensate for (the robot's) limitations," Nourbakhsh explained.It will be interesting to see if collaboration and the ability to learn will develop the robot's logic systems in interesting ways. But of more direct benefit is seeing how humans directly interact with robots and seeing how the -- for lack of a better term -- user interface of robots needs to change to work with humans more efficiently & smoothly.
A second area that NASA Ames researchers will develop is to build robots that have reasoning mechanisms that work similarly to human reasoning. "Of primary interest is making the human and robot understandable to each other," Nourbakhsh said. "We believe that by building robots with reasoning mechanisms and representations that are similar to what humans use, we can make human-robot interaction more natural and human-like," Nourbakhsh explained.
Thirdly, the researchers will conduct field tests of people and robots working together.
The Christian Science Monitor has tripped over the concept of swarming robots, and does a pretty good job of discussing them in this pop-sci article. It goes over the possible uses of swarms (military usage, massive coordinated searches, multiple robots coordinating activity), and talks briefly about swarming's animal behavior roots. Yeah, it's a slow day.
Short -- too short, really -- description of what's going on at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology's Intelligent Robotics Research Center. They're building some neat stuff, including robots with deductive reasoning -- trick yet critical advances in robotics. Another interesting point is their goal, similar to Sony's: home robotics. The director's prediction was three years for non-humanoid, 10 years for humanoid. I still think that's a very optimistic goal, but seeing the attached picture fascinates me enough to start asking what if...
Well, nothing's perfect. A nice guy named Oren Levy mentioned that he'd been having problems using the oft-mentioned Bluetooth-to-GPRS hack that made the rounds last year with Mac OS X Tiger. I've been using the hack on my newly-Tiger-ized laptop as part of my regular day at work, and had noticed a problem a few times, but discounted it to the Stevko Error Exaggeration Field™.
Sidenote: I became good at computers out of defense, not out of skill. I have the unique capability of causing computers that I come in contact with to suddenly develop problems which no normal human being could get out of them if they tried. This has since been labeled the Stevko Error Exaggeration Field™. Case in point: I've been getting two separate issues with Ecto on two different machines with the same versions of software, both of which cause the nice little workflow I have to fall apart. To quote Adrian Monk: "It's a gift. And a curse. More of a curse, really."
The issue goes something like this: when I start up my laptop, with the location set to something that has no Bluetooth available, and without my D-Link Bluetooth DBT-120 dingus (it's smaller than a dongle, but I'm not calling it a donglette. "That", I say in my most stentorian tones, "would sound ridiculous.") in the computer on startup, then I switch it to my Bluetooth location setting, and *then* stick my Bluetooth dingus into the USB port, it fails to work. Yeah, I know, it's obscure. But "failure" means "won't work until a restart", so it's not a tiny failure.
The best solution so far: plug in the DBT-120 prior to startup always, and this doesn't happen. Works like a charm.
Scientists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign using large arrays of simple and low-cost sensors to allow robots to detect surface textures. This would, in theory, give robots a pseudo-sense of touch, which can help with detecting how much pressure an object can handle, allowing robots to handle both more pressure-sensitive objects like eggs, and a wider array (if it can handle eggs, it can handle much less fragile objects as well.)
Each sensor resembles a little drum head about 200 microns in diameter with a tiny bump in the center,” Engel said. “On the surface of the drum head, we deposit a thin-metal strain gauge that changes resistance when stretched. Pressure on the sensor is converted into digital data that is sent to a computer and analyzed with a signal-processing algorithm.”
Ever get the feeling someone's trying to put you on when they call something art? It appears that a company in Japan called Roborior has developed a blue lump of gel molded into the lower half of a cartoon character, called it interior decor because they couldn't think of any other way to get people to buy it... and then added some usefulness in the form of a motion sensitive and infrared video camera with realtime streaming and cellular phone capabilities. The technology actually is interesting, in essence combining nanny cameras with cellphone technology, making real-time assessment a little more practical than it's been in the past. Handy, especially when you get the urge to watch as someone breaks into your house, starts to burgle, and then falls over laughing at your incredibly strange taste in interior decor.
Even cooler would be a neat Dashboard app to do this.... hmmmm....
Another cool concept would be adapting a clicker for a phone, so that you have a morse code handset handle, that presses into a key on the phone. Weird, but doable...