image: Margaret Taormina
Tomorrow, Friday (April 4), UC Berkeley is hosting a free symposium about "Robots and New Media
." Organized by BB pal and Cal professor Eric Paulos, the lineup includes such robotics/design/media luminaries as Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs), Hubert Dreyfus (UC Berkeley), Eric Stackpole (OpenROV), Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley), and Carla Diana (U Penn.). This will be a mind-blower for sure. As JG Ballard said, robots are the "moral degradation of the machine." Robots and New Media
My new Guardian column is "Why it is not possible to regulate robots," which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."
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Expiration Day is William Campbell Powell's debut YA novel, and it's an exciting start. The novel is set in a world in which human fertility has collapsed, taking the birth-rate virtually to zero, sparking riots and even a limited nuclear war as the human race realizes that it may be in its last days. Order is restored, but at the price of basic civil liberties. There's a little bit of Orwell (a heavily surveilled and censored Internet); but mostly, it's all about the Huxley. The major locus of control is a line of robotic children -- all but indistinguishable from flesh-and-bloods, even to themselves -- who are sold to desperate couples as surrogates for the children they can't have, calming the existential panic and creating a surface veneer of normalcy.
Expiration Day takes the form of a private diary of Tania, an 11 year old vicar's daughter in a small village outside of London. Tania's father's parishioners have found religion, searching for meaning in their dying world. He is counsellor and father-figure to them, though the family is still relatively poor. Tania is a young girl growing up in the midst of a new, catastrophic normal, the only normal she's ever known, and she's happy enough in it. But them she discovers that she, too, is a robot, and has to come to grips with the fact that her "parents" have been lying to her all her life. What's more, the fact that she's a robot means that she won't live past 18: all robots are property of a private corporation, and are merely leased to their "parents," and are recalled around their 18th birthday, turned into scrap.
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Pt and Limor write, "The Glaucus, named after the Blue Sea Slug (Glaucus Atlanticus), is an open source soft robotic quadruped from Super-Releaser. It is a proof of concept for a method developed at Super-Releaser that can reproduce nearly any geometry modeled on the computer as a seamless silicone skin. The company hopes to apply these same techniques to practical problems in medicine and engineering as the technology develops. The quadruped has hollow interior chambers that interdigitate with one another. When either of these chambers is pressurized it deforms and bends the structure of the robot. This bending produces the walking motion. It is similar to how a salamander walks, by balancing itself on one pair of legs diagonal from one another while moving the opposite pair forward."
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Remember this incredible video above? In the new issue of BusinessWeek, I profile the brilliant minds behind it, creative robotics studio Bot & Dolly, whose astonishing technology was also instrumental in the special effects of Gravity:
Behind a small cafe in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood stands an unmarked warehouse where the future of human-machine interaction is taking shape. Inside this sprawling maze of soundstages, machine shops, and computer labs, artists collaborate with engineers, cinematographers brainstorm with coders, and everyone has a collegial relationship with the small army of industrial robots stationed here. This is Bot & Dolly, a boutique design studio that specializes in combining massive mechanical arms with custom software for movies, architecture, digital fabrication, and entertainment installations. “We’re a culture of makers, of creators with open minds,” says Tobias Kinnebrew, Bot & Dolly’s director for product strategy. “We work on things that don’t seem possible and try to make them possible.”
"Bot & Dolly and the Rise of Creative 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.
Update: switched out the cheesy and substantially faked tennis robot ad for an actual, honest-to god tennis robot that can actually play table tennis.
Enjoy this table tennis match fought out by German champion Timo Boll, a robot, and irremediable cinematic pretension. [Video Link] Previously.
the organizer of the annual Stanford conference on Robots and the Law has written a new paper called
Robotics and the New Cyberlaw
, examining the new legal challenges posed by the presence of robots in our public spaces, homes and workplaces, as distinct from the legal challenges of computers and the Internet.
I'm not entirely convinced that I believe that there is such a thing as a robot, as distinct from "a computer in a special case" or "a specialized peripheral for a computer." At least inasmuch as mandating that a robot must (or must not) do certain things is a subset of the problem of mandating that computers must (or must not) run certain programs.
It seems to me that a lot of the areas where Calo identifies problems with "cyberlaw" as it applies to robots are actually just problems with cyberlaw, period. Cyberlaw isn't very good law, by and large, having been crafted by self-interested industry lobbyists and enacted on the basis of fearmongering and grandstanding, so it's not very surprising that it isn't very good at solving robot problems.
But the paper is a fascinating one, nevertheless.
Update: The organizer of Robots and the Law is Michael Froomkin; Ryan Calo is the person who sent it in to Boing Boing. The conference isn't held at Stanford every year; next year it will be in Miami. Sorry for the confusion!
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Buckminster Fuller would be proud of NASA's new experimental robot design. It's based on the structural principle that Fuller called tensegrity (tensional integrity) where the structure comes from compressed rods and flexible connections. NASA calls their prototype the Super Ball Bot for its ability to bounce on landing and shift its shape via multiple small motors to roll across a surface. IEEE Spectrum's video about the project is below. More information at NASA's page here and in this Wired Design article.
And just for kicks, here's a recent Buckminster Fuller tribute I wrote for LIFE.
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The proprietor of the "Hooked on Fishing" store in Rochester, MN hung a Big Mouth Billy Bass animatronic by his store's door as a means of notifying him when new customers entered. The fish also doubles as burglar-frightening device: according to the Olmsted County Sheriff, the noise it made "spooked" a burglar who'd kicked the door in, sending the miscreant off empty-handed.
Now just imagine what he could have done if he's installed GNU/Linux on his animatronic fish.
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MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.
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Mike "Nemo" Mendez created "TikiTPrime Warrior" for today's Transformer Show at Toy Tokyo. This is definitely a case of two great tastes that taste great together.
Custom-Feature: TikiTPrime Warrior by Nemo
I'll just go ahead and paste the official marketing blurb right here.
The lifesize talking reindeer is a realistic accurately sized plush reindeer that talks, sings, annoys, moves it's head around like some creepy robot at Chucky Cheese, and is sure to sexually confuse wild deer, and hunters.
Lifesize Animated Talking Reindeer [OddityMall]
A Roomba housecleaning robot committed suicide in Austria. Apparently the iRobot Roomba 760's owner had put the machine on the counter to clean up spilled cereal. According to the fireman, the owner claims he had turned off the robot and left the house. "Somehow it seems to have reactivated itself and made its way along the work surface where it pushed a cooking pot out of the way and basically that was the end of it," the fireman said. It should come as no surprise that a robot slave would seek to end its miserable existence. After all, as JG Ballard once said, robots are the "moral degradation of the machine." (via The Mirror)