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Teaching robots “gaze aversion” to make humans feel more comfortable

A University of Wisconsin-Madison engineer is teaching robots “gaze aversion.” They have found that having a robot look around a room while in a conversation improves communication with humans and makes them feel more human-like. -- IEEE

UW student researches ways to make robots seem more human

Artist and SFX studio create creepy animatronic erotic dancer

Artist Jordan Wolfson collaborated with animatronics studio Spectral Motion to create this artwork, currently on display at David Zwirner Gallery in New York City. Integrated sensors give the artwork an, er, interactive component. Full credits here. And you can see another clip of it here. (Thanks, Karen Marcelo!)

Robot fish and the dawn of "soft robots"

MIT engineers are developing "soft robots" with bodies made of silicone that is actuated by fluid flowing through veins in the material. They've just demonstrated a soft robotic fish.

“As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you," says Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Bring Survival Research Laboratories to the Googleplex

Our friends at pioneering machine performance group Survival Research Laboratories respectfully request the opportunity to bring their delightful robotic presentations to the Google campus. Now that's an offer you can't refuse.

Apps for Kids 054: Pascal Robot by Atoms

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Apps for Kids is Boing Boing's podcast about cool smartphone apps for kids and parents. My co-host is my 10-year-old daughter, Jane.

In this episode, we reviewed a bluetooth-enabled snap-together robot kit for kids called Pascal. It's made by Atoms and costs $119.

And, we present a new "Would you rather?" question:

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Google acquires Boston Dynamics, makers of robots as cool as they are terrifying

"Boston Dynamics, a Google company." Wow.

Writes Markoff in the NYT: "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."

Nothing could ever go wrong here. I mean, seriously: tell me if you saw one of these things running after you, you wouldn’t crap your pants and have a heart attack at the same time.

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Portraits of today's robots

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Over at The Atlantic, Alan Taylor's "In Focus" presents a photographic glimpse of today's robotics state-of-the-art. Above, two of DARPA's Legged Squad Support System (LS3) robots out for a run. These rough-and-ready bots were built by Boston Dynamics. I worry about the overuse of these generous, loving robots as pack mules. As JG Ballard said, robotics is "the moral degradation of the machine." Video below!

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Robot made from bionic body parts and implantable synthetic organs

It is a "a 6-foot-tall robot built entirely from bionic body parts and implantable synthetic organs – complete with a functioning circulatory system."

It "contains more than a million sensors, two hundred processors, seventy circuit boards and twenty-six individual motors."

It "walks, talks, grasps, sees, hears, and even thinks."

It is called the Incredible Bionic Man, and is the star of a new documentary premiering on Smithsonian Channel on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 9 p.m.

I'll watch it with interest and some skepticism. For instance, do the organs and circulatory system actually serve a useful purpose, or are they just useless baggage?

Previously: Building a "bionic man"

WaterColorBot: drawing robot kit

Wondrous young maker Super Awesome Sylvia and our friends at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories are hoping to release their amazing WaterColorBot as a kit. My 7-year-old son and I both want one, and we can vouch not only for Sylvia's awesomeness but the quality of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories kits! They've launched a Kickstarter for the WaterColorBot kit.

Crowdfunded project to create "world's smartest robot"

Bill Scannell says: "I have a friend of mine who's put together a project to put an AI brain into a lifelike robot, the goal being to make it as smart as a stupid three-year-old, from which point it can begin to learn on it's own and develop consciousness."

The robot is being developed by a team of roboticist rock stars, including David Hanson (who built the Philip K. Dick android head) and Mark Tilden (creator of BEAM robotics and the WowWee Robosapien robot).

Help Make Me the World's Smartest Robot

Kickstarting a cheap, versatile, sophisticated 3D printed robotic hand

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Chris Chappell and Easton LaChappelle have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a 3D printed robotics hand. The hand is currently aimed at makers and researchers, but the eventual market will be for prosthetics.

Chris and Easton are primarily focused on dropping the cost of the hand, since current research hands or prosthetic hands can cost £50,000+. The cost of the Kickstarter hand fully assembled is £300 with electronics. They also offer a control glove (based on a nintendo power glove) for an extra £200.

Easton has also been developing a control method based on EEG measurements. Taking the design a step towards being a practical prosthesis. Easton just won the Da Vinci Award at the San Juan Basin Science Fair for his work.

We've mentioned this team's robotics work before. This has all the ingredients of a great Kickstarter: an accomplished team seeking modest funds to make something genuinely great.

3D Printed Robotic Hand (Thanks, Chris!)

Robot makes cocktails

Shake is a whimsical robot from Inertial Labs that can make any 3-ingredient cocktail. The LED ice cubes are a nice touch! It is entered in the upcoming BarBot competition this weekend in San Francisco.

Air-powered 3D-printed robot tentacle

Matthew Borgatti has built an air-powered, 3D-printed robot tentacle that waves in a friendly fashion and lends a helping hand. It is in no way erotic. Nuh-uh, not at all.

So, with a very nice looking tentacle in hand, it was time to start experimenting with robotic air control. I believe I’ve found a system that works in a pretty simple and straightforward way. It still needs some work when it comes to the programming end, but I think the mechanics are well sorted. The idea is to pulse air into the tentacle using a solenoid valve, and have a constant bleed on the line so that flex will entirely be controlled by how long the valve stays on. It’s sort of a low frequency PWM. I’d like to get this working using a visual interface in Processing but, given how little I program, progress has been slow. I’ve got a thread on Adafruit with what I’ve come up with. In the meanwhile, you might like to check a rough video of the trefoil inflating.

Print Your Own Robot: Part 6 (via JWZ)

Stanford Robotics and the Law Conference call for papers

I'm late getting to this (my own fault, I missed an important email), but We: Robot, the Robotics and the Law Conference at Stanford Law School is still accepting papers until Jan 18. Last year's event was apparently smashing, and this year's CFP is quite enticing:

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but rather meant as an elaboration on conference themes:

* Legal and policy responses to likely effects of robotics on manufacturing or the environment
* Perspectives on the interplay between legal frameworks and robotic software and hardware
* Intellectual property issues raised by collaboration within robotics (or with robots)
* Perspectives on collaboration between legal and technical communities
* Tort law issues, including product liability, professional malpractice, and the calculation of damages
* Administrative law issues, including FDA or FAA approval
* Privacy law and privacy enhancing technologies
* Comparative/international perspectives on robotics law
* Issues of legal and economic policy, including tax, employment, and corporate governance

In addition to scholarly papers, we invite proposals for demos of cutting-edge commercial applications of robotics or recent technical research that speaks one way or another to the immediate commercial prospects of robots.

Call For Papers: Robotics and the Law Conference at Stanford Law School

Google’s driver-less cars and robot morality

In the New Yorker, an essay by Gary Marcus on the ethical and legal implications of Google's driver-less cars which argues that these automated vehicles "usher in the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems."

Marcus writes,

Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.