In the future, demolition robots like this will destroy everything

Husqvarna's remote-controlled demolition robots remind me of the machine art performances that Survival Research Laboratories has staged since 1977.

Husqvarna bills its machines as "remote workmates ready to tackle your heaviest, most challenging jobs."

Compare that to what Survival Research Laboratories founder Mark Pauline told me in a 1993 interview:

"The real message of machines isn't that they're helpful workmates," Pauline said. "Like any extension of the human psyche, machines are scary things," he says. When you take the scary human psyche and magnify it hundreds or thousands of times with technology, it's really nightmarish."

(via Uncrate) Read the rest

This LEGO robot cooks eggs and bacon

From The Brick Wall:

"My father cooks breakfast every Saturday and Sunday- it is 104 times a year! He deserved this present."

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Rodney Brooks on the present and future of robotics & AI

Rodney Brooks is the father of the Roomba, the founder of iRobot, and the creator of both the Baxter and Sawyer product lines from Rethink Robotics. He’s arguably the world’s most accomplished roboticist. And if he’s not – and I personally can’t think of who could challenge him for that crown – he’s definitely the top roboticist to be profiled in an Errol Morris documentary (1997’s Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control).

When Rodney left Australia for the region that would later become known as Silicon Valley, there were quite literally 3 mobile robots of consequence on the entire planet. Years later, he founded a company which has since brought tens of millions of these critters into the world. His products have saved countless lives. They have also liberated thousands of acres of carpeting from dust crumbs, dog hair, and other detritus.

Amazingly, Rodney’s tenure and credentials are every bit as significant in a second high tech field: artificial intelligence. He founded the leading developer of AI coding tools throughout the 80s and early 90s. And somehow he squeezed his robotics and AI entrepreneurship in while building a storied academic career – largely at MIT, where he spent a decade running one of the two largest and most prominent AI centers in the world.

Rodney is my guest in this week's edition of the After on Podcast. You can listen to our interview by searching “After On” in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:

As you’ll hear, Rodney diverges from fashionable narratives on several tech-related topics. Read the rest

Earwigs' incredible "origami" wings inspire robotic gripper design

Earwigs can fly but they mostly live underground, intricately folding their wings into a surface area that's 10 times smaller than when they're opened up. According to new research, the folds "cannot be sufficiently described by current origami models." The earwigs manage the marvelous by incorporating a bit of stretch into the joints where the creases occur, leading to a new design for a robotic gripper. From Science News:

(The earwig's wings are) an example of a bistable structure — something like the slap bracelets, popular in the 1980s and 1990s, which switch from a flat conformation to a curved one when whacked against a wrist, says study coauthor André Studart, a materials scientist at ETH Zürich. When locked open, earwig wings store energy in the springy resilin joints. When that strain is released, the wings rapidly crumple back to their folded position.

Such constructions can inform robotics design. Inspired by the wings, the researchers created a prototype gripper. Its rigid pieces are held together by rubbery, strategically placed joints. Within fractions of a second, the structure can snap from its mostly flat conformation to one that can grip a small object and hold it without constant external force.

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Watch this robotic fish frolic in the deep

MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MITCSAIL) created this graceful fishbot that can swim around a lot like a regular fish. Read the rest

Super Monster Wolf protects crops in Japan

Ordinary scarecrows cower in fear at the Super Monster Wolf, an animatronic beast invented to protect rice and chestnut crops from wild boar. The Super Monster Wolf has proven its value during trails near Kisarazu City in Japan. When an animal approaches, sensors on the Monster Wolf trigger its creepy eyes and hellish howl. From BBC News:

The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives say that crop losses have noticeably decreased in areas where the Super Monster Wolf has been present. Beforehand, farmers around Kisarazu were resigned to giving up at least part of their crops to wild boar every year.

Speaking to the Chiba Nippo news website, Chihiko Umezawa of the agricultural cooperative says that the device has an effective radius of about one kilometre, suggesting it is more effective than an electric fence.

Now, the robot wolf is going into mass production, with units costing about 514,000 yen ($4,840; £3,480) each, but there are options for farmers to pay a far cheaper monthly lease on a wolf instead.

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Japanese inn with "self-driving" robotic slippers and other autonomous amenities

Nissan, to show off its autonomous parking tech, outfitted an inn in Hakone, Japan with "self-parking slippers," autonomous floor cushions that tidy themselves, and a TV remote control that straightens itself on the coffee table. While obviously a marketing gimmick, self-knolling anything is quite appealing to me. ProPILOT Park Ryokan (Nissan)

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This tiny, magnetic robot could roll, walk, and swim through the terrain of the human body

This millimeter-scale robot designed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems could enable "applications in microfactories such as the construction of tissue scaffolds by robotic assembly, in bioengineering such as single-cell manipulation and biosensing, and in healthcare such as targeted drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery" with bots inside the body controlled by magnets. From their scientific paper in Nature:

Here we demonstrate magneto-elastic soft millimetre-scale robots that can swim inside and on the surface of liquids, climb liquid menisci, roll and walk on solid surfaces, jump over obstacles, and crawl within narrow tunnels. These robots can transit reversibly between different liquid and solid terrains, as well as switch between locomotive modes. They can additionally execute pick-and-place and cargo-release tasks.

"Small-scale soft-bodied robot with multimodal locomotion" (Nature)

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This weird crawling robot baby is used to study dirt and bacteria inhalation

Purdue University researchers built this bizarre crawling robot baby to study how real infants kick up dirt and bacteria from carpet that they then inhale. Engineer Brandon Boor and his colleagues ran the robot over carpet samples removed from people's homes and then analyzed the particulates that were stirred up. Turns out that the particle concentration is as much as 20 times greater than higher up in the room where we adults breathe. That isn't necessarily bad though, Boor says.

"Many studies have shown that inhalation exposure to microbes and allergen-carrying particles in that portion of life plays a significant role in both the development of, and protection from, asthma and allergic diseases," says Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. "There are studies that have shown that being exposed to a high diversity and concentration of biological materials may reduce the prevalence of asthma and allergies later in life."

(Purdue University)

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Collecting all the ethical principles for robots, from Asimov to the trade union movement

Robohub is creating a series of "robotics and AI ethics" posts, starting with a roundup of all the rules for AIs and robots of note, starting with Asimov's Three Laws and moving through rules published by scholarly and technical groups like ACM and IEEE, trade union groups like UNI, and multistakeholder groups like the Montréal Declaration for Responsible AI draft principles. Read the rest

Amputee monkeys learn mind control methods to manipulate robotic arm

Neuroscientist Nicho Hatsopoulous and his team taught monkeys that lost limbs through accidents how to control a robotic arm. The work has profound implications on what they call the brain-machine interface.

Via University of Chicago

“That's the novel aspect to this study, seeing that chronic, long-term amputees can learn to control a robotic limb,” said Nicho Hatsopoulos, PhD, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at UChicago and senior author of the study. “But what was also interesting was the brain’s plasticity over long-term exposure, and seeing what happened to the connectivity of the network as they learned to control the device.”

Here's the basic setup in a similar lab with non-amputee monkeys. The monkey gets juice or some other treat for successfully completing the tasks.

Here's a detailed lecture on the current work in the field:

Changes in cortical network connectivity with long-term brain-machine interface exposure after chronic amputation (via University of Chicago) Read the rest

San Francisco put the kibosh on delivery robots for now

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to restrict delivery robots to areas with very minimal foot traffic and only for research purposes. From Wired:

Unlike self-driving cars, or at least self-driving cars working properly, these bots roll on sidewalks, not streets. That gives them the advantage of not dealing with the high-speed chaos of roads, other than crossing intersections, but also means they have to deal with the cluttered chaos of sidewalks. Just think about how difficult it can be for you as a human to walk the city. Now imagine a very early technology trying to do it. (Requests for comment sent to three delivery robot companies—Dispatch, Marble, and Starship—were not immediately returned.)...

The legislation will require delivery robots to emit a warning noise for pedestrians and observe rights of way. They’ll also need headlights, and each permittee will need to furnish proof of insurance in the forms of general liability, automotive liability, and workers’ comp.

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Robot takes an elevator

From YouTube description: "This video shows ongoing research towards using the feet of a legged robot for simple manipulation tasks. In this example, ANYmal makes use of its large range of motion to reach up to press an elevator button. The button is localized with help of a QR tag."

[via Bruce Sterling] Read the rest

Tiny RoboBee flies, swims, and launches itself out of water back into the air

The millimeter-scale RoboBee can fly, dive into water, swim around, and then take off into the air again. At just 175 milligrams, it's 1,000 times lighter than any other aerial-to-aquatic robot. Designed at Harvard's microrobotics laboratory, the RoboBee is outfitted with four tiny "floaties" and a chamber that converts water into oxyhydrogen, fuel that combusts to propel the robot out of the water.

“The RoboBee represents a platform where forces are different than what we – at human scale – are used to experiencing,” says researcher Robert Wood. “While flying the robot feels as if it is treading water; while swimming it feels like it is surrounded by molasses. The force from surface tension feels like an impenetrable wall. These small robots give us the opportunity to explore these non-intuitive phenomena in a very rich way.”

From Harvard:

The gas increases the robot’s buoyancy, pushing the wings out of the water and the floaties stabilize the RoboBee on the water’s surface. From there, a tiny, novel sparker inside the chamber ignites the gas, propelling the RoboBee out of the water. The robot is designed to passively stabilize in air, so that it always lands on its feet.

“By modifying the vehicle design, we are now able to lift more than three times the payload of the previous RoboBee,” said (researcher Yufeng) Chen. “This additional payload capacity allowed us to carry the additional devices including the gas chamber, the electrolytic plates, sparker, and buoyant outriggers, bringing the total weight of the hybrid robot to 175 miligrams, about 90mg heavier than previous designs.

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This little one-legged jumping robot is a real charmer

Salto is a jumping robot from UC Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. It has aerodynamic thrusters to ensure it lands on its foot.

[via Bruce Sterling] Read the rest

Industrial robots playing traditional instruments

Nigel Stanford enlisted the talents of a number of Kuka industrial robots to perform "Automatica."

Here's a video of the robot testing:

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Tiny robots in a mouse's stomach help heal an ulcer

Tiny micromotors about the width of a human hair traveled through a mouse's stomach delivering antibiotics to treat a stomach ulcer. The motors are powered by bubbles. According to the researchers from the University of California San Diego, the microrobot-based treatment proved more effective than regular doses of the medicine. From New Scientist:

The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released...

The next steps are to look at a larger animal study, followed by eventual trials in humans. “There is still a long way to go, but we are on a fantastic voyage,” says (researcher Joseph) Wang.

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