Hiro-chan is a very simple, inexpensive, and, er, faceless robotic baby doll designed to comfort elderly people. (Video below.) Unlike the very similar looking Amish dolls that lack faces for religious reasons, Hiro-chan's developers Vstone say that leaving the features up to the individual's imagination is an effective way to increase the emotional bond. From Evan Ackerman's article at IEEE Spectrum:
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Hiro-chan’s entire existence seems to be based around transitioning from sad to happy in response to hugs. If left alone, Hiro-chan’s mood will gradually worsen and it’ll start crying. If you pick it up and hug it, an accelerometer will sense the motion, and Hiro-chan’s mood will improve until it starts to laugh. This is the extent of the interaction, but you’ll be glad to know that the robot has access to over 100 utterance variations collected from an actual baby (or babies) to make sure that mood changes are fluid and seamless.
...Since the functionality of the robot depends on you getting it go from sad to happy, Vstone says that giving the robot a face (and a fixed expression) would make that much less convincing and emotionally fulfilling—the robot would have the “wrong” expression half the time. Instead, the user can listen to Hiro-chan’s audio cues and imagine a face. Or not. Either way, the Uncanny Valley effect is avoided (as long as you can get over the complete lack of face, which I personally couldn’t), and the cost of the robot is kept low since there’s no need for actuators or a display.
Softbank-funded unicorn Zume ran out of dough
Rodney Brooks (previously) is a distinguished computer scientist and roboticist (he's served as as head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and CTO of Irobot); two years ago, he published a list of "dated predictions" intended to cool down some of the hype about self-driving cars, machine learning, and robotics, hype that he viewed as dangerously gaseous.
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Robotics is tough business. “If you think 2018 was a tough year for robotics companies, 2019 wasn’t any better,” writes Peter Singer. Read the rest
[The moral of this story is buy a Roomba, they last longer and have better software.]
A man and a woman in Forsyth County, North Carolina, called for help just after midnight when they awoke to loud noises and crashing downstairs, and hid in their closet to dial 911. Read the rest
A classic robotics video from Boston Dynamics in 2015.
Think of how much more developed the robots are now!
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Roomba: [AUGHHHHHHH!!!!] Read the rest
Traditionally, people in Japan used personal seals called hanko for signing important documents. But increasingly banks and government bodies have permitted use of digital signatures instead. Some are dedicated to preserving hanko culture, leading to stories like this:
The official website of new Japanese information technology minister Naokazu Takemoto has been unviewable for the past few months, raising concerns among social media users over his ability to handle the portfolio, it was learned Friday.
In a news conference a day earlier, Takemoto said online administrative procedures and the country’s practice of using hanko (personal seals) should coexist.
The Diet in May enacted legislation that simplified procedures related to events such as changes of address, death certificates and property inheritance through online administrative procedures, rather than forcing citizens to go to government offices, fill out forms and stamp paperwork using hanko.
Takemoto, who heads a group of lawmakers working to protect the nation’s hanko culture, said: “The two should not be regarded as conflicting things. We have to think about how to let them flourish together.”
Now, Denso and Hitachi have announced a robot that can stamp documents:
The robot “COBOTTA”, which automatically signs contracts and electronic documents, contributes to the automation of office operations in response to customer needs for operational efficiency, labor savings, and productivity improvements.
I can't tell whether this hanko-bot is intended as a joke, but there are also robots for making dumplings:
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This video depicts a fish controlling a robot, which is to say the fish is in a tank on wheels and a computer moves it in whichever direction the fish is currently swimming. Here's another one:
The start of a revolution from r/AquaticAsFuck
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University of Tokyo engineers have taught a robot how to repair itself. Well, they taught it to tighten its own screws. And with that skill, it also was able to self-install a hook for hanging a tote bag from its shoulder. From IEEE Spectrum:
At the moment, the robot can’t directly detect on its own whether a particular screw needs tightening, although it can tell if its physical pose doesn’t match its digital model, which suggests that something has gone wonky. It can also check its screws autonomously from time to time, or rely on a human physically pointing out that it has a screw loose, using the human’s finger location to identify which screw it is. Another challenge is that most robots, like most humans, are limited in the areas on themselves that they can comfortably reach. So to tighten up everything, they might have to find themselves a robot friend to help, just like humans help each other put on sunblock.
And here is their technical paper: "Self-Repair and Self-Extension by Tightening Screws based onPrecise Calculation of Screw Pose of Self-Body with CAD Dataand Graph Search with Regrasping a Driver"
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Inspired by the way plants grow, MIT researchers designed a flexible robot appendage that can work in tight spaces but is rigid enough to support heavy parts or twist tight screws. From MIT News
The appendage design is inspired by the way plants grow, which involves the transport of nutrients, in a fluidized form, up to the plant’s tip. There, they are converted into solid material to produce, bit by bit, a supportive stem.
Likewise, the robot consists of a “growing point,” or gearbox, that pulls a loose chain of interlocking blocks into the box. Gears in the box then lock the chain units together and feed the chain out, unit by unit, as a rigid appendage...
“The realization of the robot is totally different from a real plant, but it exhibits the same kind of functionality, at a certain abstract level,” (mechanical engineer Harry) Asada says.
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Greg Olijnyk works as a 2D graphic designer, but his hobby is creating unbelievably wonderful 3D science fictional cardboard sculptures that sport motors and lights that animate them (some use photovoltaic cells for power, too).
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Corridor produced this excellent parody of Boston Dynamics' robots and the style of its promotional videos. It could be the trailer for a new Neill Blomkamp or Paul Verhoeven movie, but where the satire is immediately transformed into stress because there's very little about it that seems unlikely or even beyond the fairly immediate future.
Bosstown Dynamics has a new robot in town. You'll see it in the army soon!
The unnerving way they abused the robots in early Boston Dynamics videos, I bet they regret that. Read the rest
Pittsburgh is now a hotbed of robotics and machine intelligence, and very likely the place the AIs will eventually sigh and commence the annihilation of humankind. 40 years ago it was just getting started. CMU Robotics:
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"From the Robotics Institute Archives in Honor of our 40th Anniversary, we've uploaded Ivan Sutherland talking about his 6 Legged Walking Machine. A wonderful piece of our early history."
Pushing forward on the vision of "programmable matter," MIT researchers demonstrated a new kind of assembly system based on robots that can collaboratively build complicated structures from small identical pieces. Professor Neil Gershenfeld, graduate student Benjamin Jenett, and their colleagues present their research in a scientific paper titled "Material–Robot System for Assembly of Discrete Cellular Structures." From MIT News:
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“What’s at the heart of this is a new kind of robotics, that we call relative robots,” Gershenfeld says. Historically, he explains, there have been two broad categories of robotics — ones made out of expensive custom components that are carefully optimized for particular applications such as factory assembly, and ones made from inexpensive mass-produced modules with much lower performance. The new robots, however, are an alternative to both. They’re much simpler than the former, while much more capable than the latter, and they have the potential to revolutionize the production of large-scale systems, from airplanes to bridges to entire buildings.
According to Gershenfeld, the key difference lies in the relationship between the robotic device and the materials that it is handling and manipulating. With these new kinds of robots, “you can’t separate the robot from the structure — they work together as a system,” he says. For example, while most mobile robots require highly precise navigation systems to keep track of their position, the new assembler robots only need to keep track of where they are in relation to the small subunits, called voxels, that they are currently working on.
OpenAI Inc. demonstrated a one-handed robot solving a Rubik's Cube. Apparently the real breakthrough in this milestone was teaching the system to do the task in simulation. “While the video makes it easy to focus on the physical robot, the magic is mostly happening in simulation, and transferring things learned in simulation to the real world," writes Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum:
The researchers point out that the method they’ve developed here is general purpose, and you can train a real-world robot to do pretty much any task that you can adequately simulate. You don’t need any real-world training at all, as long as your simulations are diverse enough, which is where the automatic domain randomization comes in. The long-term goal is to reduce the task specialization that’s inherent to most robots, which will help them be more useful and adaptable in real-world applications.
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Hunter Scott decided to design a bot to enter Twitter giveaways that asked for follow/like/retweets. He wrote a Python script that searched for and retweeted giveaways, and manually followed accounts when needed. Soon, the problem was not getting banned by Twitter:
They have rate limits which prevent you from tweeting too often, retweeting too aggressively, and creating “following churn”, by rapidly following and unfollowing people. Twitter doesn’t publish these numbers, so I had to figure them out by trial and error. Twitter also limits the total number of people you can follow given a certain number of followers. If you have below a few hundred followers, you cannot follow more than 2000 people. Since a lot of contests required following the original poster, I used a FIFO to make sure I was only following the 2000 most recent contest entries. That gave me long enough to make sure the person I unfollowed had already ended their contest and it kept the follow/unfollow churn rate below the rate limit.
Over the course of nine months, he entered 165,000 contests, winning around 1000. The most valuable prize was a trip to New York Fashion Week, which he did not accept. And his favorite prize was suitably random:
My favorite thing that I won was a cowboy hat autographed by the stars of a Mexican soap opera that I had never heard of. I love it because it really embodies the totally random outcome of these contests.
Eventually, he transformed his bot into one that sought out and retweeted accounts raising money for charity. Read the rest