The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.
Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.
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Transforming pop culture: Giant robots, such as those in Guillermo del Toro's blockbuster 'Pacific Rim' (above), have been big in Japan for decades.
About this Japan Times article he wrote, Matt Alt in Tokyo tells Boing Boing, "I interviewed several anime industry legends and combined it with some of my own research. The upshot: it's all about the toys. Sort of. The illustration is by my pal Hideo Okamoto, whose designs grace everything from the Gundam series to Pokemon. Unfortunately the digital version has none of the glory of the paper!" But you can click here to see a scan of the print version.
Human emotions and social interaction have a lot to do with body language — how our faces express what we're thinking and feeling, how our gestures are read by other people, and how we invade (or retreat from) each other's personal space. In fact, those movements and behaviors are so important that, if you map them onto an otherwise completely non-human, non-animal form, we'll start interpreting it as engaging with us — even if that form is nothing more than a moving stick.
This video, clips from a study that was published in 2011 by computer scientists at the University of Calgary, shows what test subjects did and said when they were left alone in a room with a stick-like robot, and asked to just think out loud and interact with the robot in whatever ways felt natural. Some people made friends. Others tried to fight it. And a few tried to talk it out of wanting to fight them.
Sculptor Nemo Gould sez, "I just finished up a new large scale kinetic sculpture made from found materials called Armed and Dangerous. It is a giant, mulit-armed, multi-faced, dual-zombie-powered, mercury-activated, electro-mechanical monster!"
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Jaimie Mantzel, creator of the Attacknid hexapod robot toys, is kickstarting a kit version that you build and decorate yourself. It looks like a really fun project, and there's an optional toolkit with soldering iron, screwdrivers, etc. The final robot is an RC attack-bot with all kinds of shooting stuff (darts, balls, etc) as well as a custom crane that isn't available for Attacknids. He needs a minimum order of 5,000 robot kits at $77 (and up, depending on options) to get into production.
Mantzel has also built a full-size, working spider tank out of scrap metal.
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The University of Pennsylvania's RHex robot is an all-terrain walker that has been in development for a decade. The robot's inventors have been programming obstacle-traversing strategies derived from parkour, getting it to do "double jumps, flips, and, through a combination of moves, even pull-ups:"
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Chorebot, one of my favorite RFF submissions
Boing Boing is proud to be a media sponsor of the Robot Film Festival's premier in San Francisco this weekend. Join us tomorrow at Bot & Dolly for a series of three film screenings, live performances, and the Botskers Award Ceremony. It's an all-day event starting at 11:30 with lunch and dinner included, so prepare for a massive overdose of robots!
Today is your last chance to get tickets. Check out the full schedule of events on the Robot Film Festival website. See you there!
This talented Japanese robot is able to do a multiple backflip off a wire with a completely amazing landing. I am increasingly convinced that humans are grossly inferior to machines in nearly every way.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Zack sez, "For a starting bid of a mere $40,000, you can own the adorable Roddy McDowell-voiced robot from the eerie, somewhat incomprehensible 1979 Disney SF flick THE BLACK HOLE. The full-sized model includes lights, an internal motor to make the robot's head move, and a certificate of authenticity from the Disney Company. Sadly, there is no word on the availability of Old B.O.B. or Maximillian."
Lot 620: Full-size, screen-used V.I.N.CENT the robot hero from The Black Hole.
When eight-year-old Grady Hoffman went into the hospital for a bone-marrow transplant and a two month recovery, he stayed in touch with his family by means of a telepresence robot
that rolled around the house, feeding him video and audio from home and his siblings, and letting him talk to them.
Behold, the magnificent coffeebot! Sounds like this was a timer-percolator with a thermos bottle or a hotplate, but man, what an illustration!
Last year, I reviewed
Madeline Ashby's smashing debut novel vN
, a novel about robots, perverts and power. Now I'm delighted to see that Madeline has a sequel out, iD
. She's written about it for John Scalzi's Big Idea
Readers of vN wanted to know more about New Eden Ministries, the church that developed the vN for post-apocalyptic mass production. Now they will. They wanted to know more about Mecha, the city in Japan built by and for robots. Now they will. They wanted to know how Amy thought she could just start orphanages for unwanted robots in the middle of the ocean, without any repercussions from the human world. They’ll see how that turned out.
The Big Idea: Madeline Ashby>
Culture Japan Network TV shows us the underground bicycle-parking robots of Shinagawa, Tokyo. These machines ingest RFID-tagged bicycles and whisk them into their bowels and set them lovingly into huge subterranean crypts, from which they are robotically disinterred when their owners are ready to ride. Each machine holds 200 bikes. The manufacturer's representative explains that storing bikes underground protects them from "pranks" and frees up surface area for better applications, but inexplicably the area around the robo-ingesters is a blank field of paving bricks of approximately the same area that the bikes would occupy on the surface.
Underground Bicycle Parking Systems in Japan
For last summer's sock-hop, PJ and her daughter K made a Doctor Who themed poodle skirt, sporting K-9:
Now, K is a fan girl and not a girly girl at all, so though she wanted to wear a poodle skirt, she was not interested in some fluffy pink poodle on a pearl leash. Oh no. It had to be something fan related. Her first thought was a dalek skirt, with big yarn pom poms in lines all round and felt strips for the bars. Fabulous idea, too funny, but she decided that would be too obvious. She wanted it to be subtle.
She just wasn't sure what she wanted, so we picked a burgundy felt for the skirt, a wide black elastic for the waist, some shear black to make a scarf, and she picked out a bunch of felt rectangles, in a variety of colors for the decoration. My job was to make the skirt, which was the easy peasy part. Her job was the decoration.
Fan Girl + Sock Hop = Awesome!
At Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp posted a brief history of bird automata. And yes, I know that Bubo from Clash of the Titans, above, isn't real. But... Bubo! Clash of the Titans! From Smithsonian:
The earliest example (of an avian automaton) dates to 350 B.C.E. when the mathematician Archytas of Tarentum, who some credit with inventing the science of mechanics, is said to have created a mechanical wooden dove capable of flapping its wings and flying up to 200 meters, powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Archytas’ invention is often cited as the first robot, and, in light of recent technological advancements, perhaps we could even consider it to be the first drone; the very first machine capable of autonomous flight. Very few details are actually known about the ancient mechanical dove, but it seems likely that it was connected to a cable and flew with the help of a pulley and counterweight. This early wind-up bird was chronicled a few hundred years later in the pages of a scientific text by a mathematician, Hero of Alexandria.
"A Brief History of Robot Birds
Taiwanese design student Kaylene Kau created this motorized prosthetic tentacle for a class project: "For this project we were pushed by our Professor to push the boundaries of current upper-limb prosthetic design. Through extensive research I found that the prosthetic functioned as an assistant to the dominant functioning hand. The prosthetic needed to be both flexible and adjustable in order to accommodate a variety of different grips."
As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions
In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.
I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.
Many of these ideas came up in this Boing Boing post from January, which also touches on Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, a book that Vardi mentions in his interview.
The Job Market of 2045
Chinese inventor Tao Xiangli tinkers with a hand-made robot at his house in Beijing, May 15, 2013. Tao, 37, spent ¥150,000 ($24,400) to build it out of recycled scrap metal and electric wires found at second-hand markets. The robot, which took a year to complete, is 7ft tall and weighs about a quarter of a ton. [Photo: REUTERS/Suzie Wong]
Here's a quick and fascinating look at "Robot Self-Assembly by Folding: A Printed Inchworm Robot," presented at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The authors demonstrated a foldable inchworm robot that actually folds itself into shape. The goal is to have all the components placed on the robot's shrinky-dink surface using a robotic pick-and-place machine, so that the inchworm robots can be produced, assembled, and set a-inching on their way without human intervention.
The tricky part of the process is the folding of the robot itself: installing the battery and motor is trivial enough for a human to do, which means that a relatively simple pick and place robot should have no problems doing the same thing. This means that these robots have the potential to scale massively: they can be printed out of cheap materials, they fold themselves together, and another robot can plonk some hardware on them and they’re good to go.
This Crawling Inchworm Robot Can Be Printed Out and Folds Itself [Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum]
(via Beyond the Beyond)
A group of engineering students (with no stated manufacturing experience -- caveat emptor) are kickstarting a series of cute assemble-it-yourself junkbots called "D.Bug"s. You get a kit full of electronic components, instructions for soldering them into cute robots, and a display box for your complete project. They're on the pricey side ($35 for the cheapest), especially since they don't come with the tools you need to assemble them, but they're a cute and potentially fun entree to soldering and working with electronic components.
To assemble the kit, you solder together electronic components to form the body parts of the D.Bug.
Easy to assemble!Easy to assemble!
The manual includes step-by-step photo instructions, the background story for each D.Bug, a guide to identifying electronic parts, a tutorial for soldering, a harvesting guide for where to find the best parts, and insider tips on how to make your D.Bug look awesome.
D.Bug Model Kits - Art hacked from electronics
MC Frontalot sez, "At long last, here's the third of three videos from my album Solved that were funded by fans via Kickstarter. It was directed by Carly Monardo and features my nerdcore rap compatriots ZeaLouS1 and Dr. Awkward.
Lyrics and credits are on the youtube page. The single is out today, too, and it's free at frontalot.com.
MC Frontalot - I'll Form The Head [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
Bright-colored robotic space rhinoceri
that we pilot — why? 'Cause they're in supply.
Plus, we heed the cry of our planet's population
to defend them. We report to battle stations!
Split screen — ready! — and our rhinos are rocket ships
with fully articulated tusk, jaws, and hips.
They come equipped with individual special attacks,
none with a lack (but a couple a little bit slack).
I'm not naming any pilot specifically,
but we're all color coded so you notice that typically
I (in the gold) lead the charge, do the most damage
to whatever very giant space invader managed
to threaten the globe in yet another of our episodes.
This week? Malevolent galactic nematode!
Already beat up the squad when we faced him.
I'm calling it: let's form a giant robot and waste him.
BB pal Scott Matthews points us to Jack Conte's "Pedals," a terrific celebration of music gear (and robots). The lyrics:
Hog Pog Vox Wah Ocatave Multiplexer
Big Muff Memory Man Boss Chromatic Tuner
Polyphase MicroSynth Frequency Analyzer
Voice Box Electric Mistress Freeze Tube Zipper
Check out the behind-the-scenes video below!
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Back in September 2012, I posted about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, a fantastic YA graphic novel about robotics, cheerleaders, and school council elections adapted by Faith Erin Hicks (a favorite of mine, thanks to great comics like Zombies Calling, Friends With Boys) from a YA novel by Prudence Shen. Hicks and her publisher, the ever-excellent FirstSecond, serialized the comic on the Web through much of 2012/13, and now they've published the book between covers.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a beautifully told story about a pair of unlikely friends: Charlie, a jock who is nevertheless rather uncompetitive, and Nate, a high-strung roboticist and head of the school robots team. The story kicks off with a conflict: the cheerleaders and the robots kids are squaring off to convince the student council to allocate crucial budget to each of them, and there's only enough for one. Nate decides he's going to solve the problem directly by getting himself elected council president. The cheerleaders retaliate by running Charlie against him, bulldozing him into the job with their military discipline and formidable organization. After the elections shenanigans get out of hand, they make an uneasy peace, predicated on the idea that if the robotics kids use some of the cheerleaders' money to militarize their prized robot, they can win enough at the robot games to pay for both teams' necessaries.
What follows is the most epic robot battle in comics history. Seriously. Screw the Transformers. Hicks's illustrated robot war makes use of every one of the comics creator's tricks to accomplish something genuinely pulse-pounding. It's like a killer mecha ate a copy of Understanding Comics.
Woven into all this is a series of relationship stories that are well-told, and provide richness and texture and depth to the story, reaffirming Hicks's position as an awesomesauce dispenser of great skill and reliability.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Charlie Warzel: "THIS is what google's self driving car can see. So basically this thing is going to destroy us all." [via Matt Buchanan]
about cat memes are on record. But then there's this
: a cat in a shark-suit riding a Roomba chasing a baby duck.
Paul sez, "This past semester, three engineering grad students at the University of Toronto (myself and two others) created an Android app for a course project that allows for wireless and intuitive control of a robotic arm from an Android-powered smartphone. We're pretty proud of the results (the link is to a demo we put together) and have released the code open source."
Android Robotic Manipulator Demo
Last month, I blogged a review of the kids' instructional comic book Welcome to Your Awesome Robot:
Welcome to Your Awesome Robot is a fantastic book for maker-kids and their grownups. It consists of a charming series of instructional comics showing a little girl and her mom converting a cardboard box into an awesome robot -- basically a robot suit that the kid can wear. It builds in complexity, adding dials, gears, internal chutes and storage, brightly colored warning labels and instructional sheets for attachment to the robot's chassis.
More than that, it encourages you to "think outside the box" (ahem), by adding everything from typewriter keys to vacuum hoses to shoulder-straps to your robot, giving the kinds of cues that will set your imagination reeling. For master robot builders, it includes a tear-out set of workshop rules for respectfully sharing robot-building space with other young makers, and certificates of robot achievement. I read this one to Poesy last night at bedtime, and today we're on the lookout for cardboard boxes to robotify. It's a fantastic, inspiring read!
You can get a great preview of the book at NoBrow.
As of today, it's available in the US!
Welcome to your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz [NoBrow]
Welcome to your Awesome Robot [Amazon]
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Designed by Bitcraze
, the Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter is an open source development kit to make your own tiny drones. It's $173 from Seeed Studio Depot and looks like great fun to make and fly! "Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter Kit 10-DOF with Crazyradio
This spectacular C3PO junkbot assemblage was made by junk artist Gabriel Dishaw, and sells for $800. Worth every penny, too. Mr Dishaw's got plenty of other wonderful pieces for sale, too.