Watch a modded Hexbug perform autonomous tasks

Hexbugs are cute insect-like toys with a remote control. Brad Knox has created a mod that harnesses smartphone technology to make them autonomous, able to distinguish colors and navigate obstaccles. Read the rest

Robot outwits "I am not a Robot" Captcha

And so it begins... Read the rest

Animated robots trapped in a Vicious Cycle

Michael Marczewski's adorably trapped machines go about their mechanically-defined routines. When things speed up, things go wrong. The perfect music is by Marcus Olsson. Read the rest

What a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war in the job market

Our friend and frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson has a piece in the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine entitled "Rage Against the Machines." He explores the 19th century Luddite Revolution, the first rebellion against automation, comparing it to the upcoming robot workforce revolution.

I didn't know that pre-industrial textile workers were well-paid and had lots of free time. No wonder they fought so hard against textile automation!

At the turn of 1800, the textile industry in the United Kingdom was an economic juggernaut that employed the vast majority of workers in the North. Working from home, weavers produced stockings using frames, while cotton-spinners created yarn. “Croppers” would take large sheets of woven wool fabric and trim the rough surface off, making it smooth to the touch.

These workers had great control over when and how they worked—and plenty of leisure. “The year was chequered with holidays, wakes, and fairs; it was not one dull round of labor,” as the stocking-maker William Gardiner noted gaily at the time. Indeed, some “seldom worked more than three days a week.” Not only was the weekend a holiday, but they took Monday off too, celebrating it as a drunken “St. Monday.”

Croppers in particular were a force to be reckoned with. They were well-off—their pay was three times that of stocking-makers—and their work required them to pass heavy cropping tools across the wool, making them muscular, brawny men who were fiercely independent. In the textile world, the croppers were, as one observer noted at the time, “notoriously the least manageable of any persons employed.”

But in the first decade of the 1800s, the textile economy went into a tailspin.

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Why the FBI would be nuts to try to use chatbots to flush out terrorists online

Social scientist/cybersecurity expert Susan Landau (previously) and Cathy "Weapons of Math Destruction" O'Neil take to Lawfare to explain why it would be a dangerous mistake for the FBI to use machine learning-based chatbots to flush out potential terrorists online. Read the rest

Robots vs the middle class: everyone's endangered, white people less so

On Common Dreams, Paul Buchheit rounds up a ton of scholarly/economic papers on the ways that automation is coming to employment niches occupied by well-educated middle-class professionals, who face the same dilemma their "low-skilled" industrial colleagues have been living through for three decades and counting. 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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Prizewinning junkbots made from surplus robotics kit

Trossen Robotics challenged the roboticists whom it serves to make junkbots out of grab-bags of surplus parts they had lying around. The three winners are extremely impressive! Read the rest

Leonard Bernstein once owned this amazing cigarette-lighting Rube Goldberg machine

German sculptor Daniel Kühn created the "Light & Cigarette Machine," which plays Candide while lighting and extending a cigarette; it was later owned by Leonard Bernstein, and was auctioned off to a German collector after his death. Read the rest

Make: a Rick and Morty-inspired butter-passing robot

Andre was so impressed with the existential crisis of a butter-passing robot as depicted in the cartoon Rick and Morty that he created his own, and shows you how to make one for yourself. Read the rest

Watch a robot solve a Rubiks Cube in 0.637 seconds

Today, classic puzzles. Tomorrow, deep-dreamed enemies of freedom! Read the rest

Cubetto is a programmable robot for pre-schoolers

I had a chance to play with a Cubetto recently. It's a little, wooden, happy face robot on two wheels. You can control which way it goes by inserting colorful plastic chips on programming board (which also has a wood top). There are four kinds of chips: turn clockwise, turn counterclockwise, move forward, and call subroutine. You unfold a mat with a grid of colorful squares and illustrations and set the robot on top of it. An included booklet presents challenges to move the robot from one square on the grid to another.

My wife, 13-year-daughter, and I are not the intended users of Cubetto, but we spent a very fun hour going through the challenges in the booklet and then coming up with our own challenges. My guess is that a kindergartner or pre=schooler would love this and learn a lot from it.

The overall product design is gorgeous, too. I wish the manufacturer, Primo, made consumer technology for grown-ups.

Cubetto costs $225 and can be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Read the rest

Artoo-Deco, an art deco droid from author/maker Kurt Zimmerman

Kids' author/droid builder Kurt Zimmerman created "Artoo Deco," an Art Deco take on R2-D2, capable of movement under radio control, and with an in-built sound-system that makes cool, droidish noises. Read the rest

Alt-Right trolls argue for hours with Twitter bot

The internet's army of enraged anime avatars has a new enemy beyond their comprehension: a Twitter bot created by writer and activist Sarah Nyberg to make fools of them. Some lose themselves to hours of interaction, unaware they are ranting at a computer program. Read the rest

Robots 3D-printed with shock-absorber skins

MIT researchers developed a method to 3D print robots with soft, shock-absorbing materials that can be "programmed" to desired elasticity to protect bouncing bots, drones making hard landings, and eventually phones, shoes, helmets and other materials. From MIT News:

For example, after 3-D printing a cube robot that moves by bouncing, the researchers outfitted it with shock-absorbing “skins” that use only 1/250 the amount of energy it transfers to the ground.{? “That reduction makes all the difference for preventing a rotor from breaking off of a drone or a sensor from cracking when it hits the floor,” says (MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Daniela) Rus, who oversaw the project and co-wrote a related paper. “These materials allow us to 3-D print robots with visco-elastic properties that can be inputted by the user at print-time as part of the fabrication process...”

“It’s hard to customize soft objects using existing fabrication methods, since you need to do injection moulding or some other industrial process,” says Lipton. “3-D printing opens up more possibilities and lets us ask the question, ‘can we make things we couldn’t make before?”

Using a standard 3-D printer, the team used a solid, a liquid, and a flexible rubber-like material called TangoBlack+ to print both the cube and its skins. The PVM process is related to (CSAIL Director Daniela) Rus’ previous 3-D printed robotics work, with an inkjet depositing droplets of different material layer-by-layer and then using UV light to solidify the non-liquids.

The cube robot includes a rigid body, two motors, a microcontroller, battery, and inertial measurement unit sensors.

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Frisky robot opens door

Meet Ghost Robotics' adorable Minitaur quadruped robot.

Here's an excerpt from IEEE Spectrum's interview with Avik De and Gavin Kenneally, who are on the development team at Professor Dan Koditschek’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania:

How the heck did you manage to get Minitaur to open that door?

De: I don’t know if it’s clear from the video, but there’s a lot going on. The robot is jumping, it perceives that the door handle is there, retracts the leg, and manipulates the door handle.

Kenneally: Just to go over it in a little bit more detail: It jumps up on its front two legs, doing a handstand, and then jumps. The back left leg is waiting to feel the door handle, so it kind of sticks that leg out and waits until it senses contact. Again, all the sensing is through the motors, there’s no current sensors or force sensors. Once it perceives contact with the door knob, it retracts the leg, moves it over a little bit, and then extends it, and that actually all happens within 50 milliseconds, so it’s incredibly fast. And then once it’s done that, the other back leg, which is now also in the air, pushes against the door to crack it open a little bit, and it also helps push the robot so it pitches back down toward the ground, where it then retracts the leg back and catches itself before it falls. The door opening and stair/fence climbing were done with help from T.

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Andy Samberg asks Neil Degrasse Tyson three questions about ETs, time travel, and robot sex

Are we alone in the universe? Is time travel possible? If you have sex with a robot, does it count as cheating?

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