A robot that walks like an ostrich designed to “be the standard for legged autonomy”

Cassie is a two-legged robot that walks like an ostrich. It was developed by Agility Robotics.

From Quartz:

The legs are only the beginning. Eventually, Cassie will get arms and sensors to help it better interact with the world, and to help it get up if it topples over. Cassie’s descendants—equipped perhaps with torsos and other body parts that make them a bit less terrifying—could be employed on delivery runs, search-and-rescue missions, or even as prosthetic limbs. Shelton says Agility wants Cassie to “be the standard for legged autonomy.”

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Robotic drone bee pollinates flowers

Japanese researchers demonstrated how a tiny remote-controlled drone could help bees pollinate flowers in areas where bees populations have been reduced due to pesticides, climate change, and other factors. Eijiro Myako and his colleagues at the Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology hope that eventually robotic bees could handle their share of the work autonomously. From New Scientist:

The manually controlled drone is 4 centimetres wide and weighs 15 grams. The bottom is covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel, then rub off on the next flower visited.

In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). Moreover, the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers...

“We hope this will help to counter the problem of bee declines,” says Miyako. “But importantly, bees and drones should be used together.”

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Watch a translucent gel robot catch and release a live fish

Clear hydrogel robots that can quickly move and exert measurable force were inspired by glass eels, "tiny, transparent, hydrogel-like eel larvae that hatch in the ocean and eventually migrate to their natural river habitats." Read the rest

Watch a Marie Antoinette automaton play the dulcimer

In 1784, cabinetmaker David Roentgen (1743-1807) made this astonishing automaton of Marie Antoinette playing a dulcimer as a gift for King Louis XVI to give to his queen. This fantastic contraption is in the collection of the Musée des arts et métiers de Paris. From Atlas Obscura:

When wound up, the music box mechanism moves the figure’s head and arms, making them dance across the strings and chime out a ping-y tune. The player has a repertoire of eight songs...

It’s said that the beautiful lace dress was made from fabric of one of Marie Antoinette’s dresses, and that mannequin even has some of her real hair.

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Beyond the Trolley Problem: Three realistic, near-future ethical dilemmas about self-driving cars

MIT Professor Emeritus of Robotic Rodney Brooks has published a thought-provoking essay on the most concrete, most likely ethical questions that will be raised by self-driving cars; Brooks is uninterested in contrived questions like the "Trolley Problem" (as am I, but for different reasons); he's more attuned to the immediate problems that could be created by selfish self-drivers who use their cars to get an edge over the people who drive themselves, and pedestrians. Read the rest

Obama's robot fist-bump photo has a great back story

One of Obama's last posts while in office showed him fist-bumping a robotic arm. It's actually a prosthetic robotic arm belonging to Nathan Copeland, who can control it with his mind and sense touch with it. Read the rest

This robotic arm's cleanup task is bloody endless

The Guggenheim has Sun Yuan & Peng Yu’s installation "Can’t Help Myself" on display through March. The robot arm monitors and attempts to contain a viscous blood-red liquid as it spreads out from the base of the arm, spattering more liquid around its enclosure. Read the rest

Are you ready for robots skinned with sensitive hairs?

Biomimicry in robotics has led to robots that can climb, fly, and swim better. Now researchers have developed hair-like filaments for robots that allow them to have more fine-grained senses of touch, sensing even forces as delicate as coming in contact with a piece of tissue. Read the rest

Boston Dynamics Christmas video: 3 robot reindeer pulling Ms. Santa's sleigh

Elite engineering and robotics design firm Boston Dynamics released this holiday video for the holiday 2015 season, and it holds up well in the weird year that followed.

[via Laughing Squid] Read the rest

One small step for a robot, one giant leap for robotkind

The Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) developed a control algorithm enabling Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid robot to walk across a short stretch of rocky terrain. It's much harder than you might think.

"After each step the robot explores the new foothold by shifting its weight around its foot," IMHC explains. "To maintain balance we combine fast, dynamics stepping with the use of angular momentum (lunging of the upper body)."

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Madeline Gannon's Mimus examines robot-human interdependence

The Design Museum in London just unveiled Mimus, Madeline Gannon's newest exploration of robot-human interdependence. From its enclosure, Mimus senses visitors and interacts with them. Read the rest

What does it mean to be human in an age of machines?

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In his 1854 book, Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Thoreau’s assertion is as valid today as it was when he made it over one hundred and sixty years ago. Whenever we shape technology, it shapes us, both as individuals and as a society. We created cars, and cars turned us into motorists, auto mechanics, and commuters.

Over the centuries we’ve populated our world with machines that help us do things we can’t or don’t want to do ourselves. Our world has become so saturated with machines that they’ve faded into the background. We hardly notice them. We are reaching a new threshold. Our machines are getting networked, and enabling new forms of human machine symbiosis. We’re entering a new era where fifty billion machines are in constant communication, automating and orchestrating the movement and interactions among individuals, organizations, and cities.

Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a non-profit think tank in Silicon Valley, that helps organizations and the public think about long term future plans to make better decisions in the present. Mark Frauenfelder, a research director at IFTF interviewed Rod Falcon, IFTF’s Director of the Technology Horizons Program, which combines a deep understanding of technology and societal forces, to identify and evaluate these discontinuities and innovations in the near future. Rod discussed Tech Horizon’s recent research into how machine automation is becoming an integrated, embedded, and ultimately invisible part of virtually every aspect of our lives. Read the rest

Artificial intelligence won't destroy the human race anytime soon

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), funded by billionaire Paul Allen's, is developing projects like an AI-based search engine for scientific papers and a system to extract "visual knowledge" from images and videos. According to Scientific American, another goal of AI2 is "to counter messages perpetuated by Hollywood and even other researchers that AI could menace the human race." SciAm's Larry Greenemeier interviewed AI2 CEO and computer scientist Oren Etzioni:

Why do so many well-respected scientists and engineers warn that AI is out to get us?

It’s hard for me to speculate about what motivates somebody like Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk to talk so extensively about AI. I’d have to guess that talking about black holes gets boring after awhile—it’s a slowly developing topic. The one thing that I would say is that when they and Bill Gates—someone I respect enormously—talk about AI turning evil or potential cataclysmic consequences, they always insert a qualifier that says “eventually” or this “could” happen. And I agree with that. If we talk about a thousand-year horizon or the indefinite future, is it possible that AI could spell out doom for the human race? Absolutely it’s possible, but I don’t think this long-term discussion should distract us from the real issues like AI and jobs and AI and weapons systems. And that qualifier about “eventually” or “conceptually” is what gets lost in translation...

How do you ensure that an AI program will behave legally and ethically?

If you’re a bank and you have a software program that’s processing loans, for example, you can’t hide behind it.

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Watch spiderbots weave a hammock-like web

Maria Yablonina developed a system for wall-climbing robots to weave fibers into useful structures on vertical surfaces, like this hammock-like web that can support a human. The bots can even trade the threaded bobbin between units. Read the rest

Robot stitches a grape back together

Here's a da Vinci Surgical System robot performing a delicate operation on a grape. Read the rest

Adorable doglike robot can climb fences and open doors

The Ghost Minitaur is the latest iteration of terrifyingly cute agile legged robots. I for one welcome our doglike robot overlords. Read the rest

See this odd "ouroboros" robot roll right along

Researchers from Germany's University of Bielefeld presented their OUROBOT, a "Self-Propelled Continuous-Track-Robot for Rugged Terrain," at the recent IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From their technical paper:

Adapting the concept of continuous tracks that are propelled and guided by wheels, a self-propelled continuous-track-robot has been designed and built. The robot consists of actuated chain segments, thus enabling it to change its form, independent of guiding mechanisms. Using integrated sensors, the robot is able to adapt to the terrain and to overcome obstacles. This allows the robot to “roll” and climb in two dimensions. Possible extensions of the concept to three-dimensional navigation are presented as an outlook.

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