How To Train Your Robot, a free kids book by an engineer and his 10-year-old daughter

My buddy Ken Goldberg, a UC Berkeley professor of robotics, his 10-year-old daughter Blooma, and science communicator Ashley Chase wrote a delightful children's book called How to Train Your Robot! Illustrated by Dave Clegg, the story, about a fourth grade robotics club, is a fun and understandable introduction to how deep learning can help robots gain new skills in the messy, unstructured human world.

Thanks to support from the National Science Foundation and UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, How to Train Your Robot is available as a free PDF online and student groups can request free hardcopies!

Read the rest

This robot plays the marimba and writes and sings its own songs

Shimon, the robotic maestro from Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology, is releasing an album and going on tour. To write lyrics, the robot employs deep learning combined with semantic knowledge and rhyme and rhythm. Shimon has also had a complete facelift giving it a much more expressive mug for singing. In IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman interviewed Shimon's creators, professor Gil Weinberg and PhD student Richard Savery:

IEEE Spectrum: What makes Shimon’s music fundamentally different from music that could have been written by a human?

Richard Savery: Shimon’s musical knowledge is drawn from training on huge datasets of lyrics, around 20,000 prog rock songs and another 20,000 jazz songs. With this level of data Shimon is able to draw on far more sources of inspiration than than a human would ever be able to. At a fundamental level Shimon is able to take in huge amounts of new material very rapidly, so within a day it can change from focusing on jazz lyrics, to hip hop to prog rock, or a hybrid combination of them all.

How much human adjustment is involved in developing coherent melodies and lyrics with Shimon?

Savery: Just like working with a human collaborator, there’s many different ways Shimon can interact. Shimon can perform a range of musical tasks from composing a full song by itself or just playing a part composed by a human. For the new album we focused on human-robot collaboration so every song has some elements that were created by a human and some by Shimon.

Read the rest

"What is a robot?" Pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks answers with a sonnet

IEEE Spectrum asked pioneering roboticist Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and former head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the eternal engineering question: "What is a robot?" Inspired by computational neuroscientist Warren McCulloch who enjoyed writing sonnets, Brooks responded to the query in iambic pentameter. Here's the beginning:

What Is a Robot? By Rodney Brooks

Shall I compare thee to creatures of God? Thou art more simple and yet more remote. You move about, but still today, a clod, You sense and act but don’t see or emote.

You make fast maps with laser light all spread, Then compare shapes to object libraries, And quickly plan a path, to move ahead, Then roll and touch and grasp so clumsily.

Read the rest: "What Is a Robot? Rodney Brooks Offers an Answer—in Sonnet Form" (IEEE Spectrum)

image: Brooks led development of the COG robot seen in this photo by Rama (CC BY-SA 3.0 FR) Read the rest

These robots are attacking coronavirus at hospitals

Danish company UVD Robots developed autonomous mobile robots outfitted with powerful ultraviolet lights that destroy microbes. The robots roam hospitals pausing at pre-determine points to fire up their disinfecting beams. According to UVD, they've shipped hundreds of robots to China in recent weeks as they rush to meet the demand from more than 2,000 medical facilities in that country alone. From Evan Ackerman's story in IEEE Spectrum:

...Each robot is a mobile array of powerful short wavelength ultraviolet-C (UVC) lights that emit enough energy to literally shred the DNA or RNA of any microorganisms that have the misfortune of being exposed to them....

It takes between 10 and 15 minutes to disinfect a typical room, with the robot spending 1 or 2 minutes in five or six different positions around the room to maximize the number of surfaces that it disinfects. The robot’s UV array emits 20 joules per square meter per second (at 1 meter distance) of 254-nanometer light, which will utterly wreck 99.99 percent of germs in just a few minutes without the robot having to do anything more complicated than just sit there. The process is more consistent than a human cleaning since the robot follows the same path each time, and its autonomy means that human staff can be freed up to do more interesting tasks, like interacting with patients....

Hundreds of these robots are at work in more than 40 countries, and they’ve recently completed hospital trials in Florida. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be tested at other medical facilities around the United States, and Nielsen points out that they could be useful in schools, cruise ships, or any other relatively structured spaces.

Read the rest

Look how much Boston Dynamics' bipedal robots have improved in 10 years

10 Years Of Progress In The Boston Dynamics Robotics from r/nextfuckinglevel

On the left, a tethered robot from 2009 hobbles on a treadmill. On the right, an untethered 2019 version agiley bounds over a pyramid of crates.

Image: Reddit Read the rest

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to terminate unlicensed robot clone

Promobot created an Arnold Schwarzenegger robot -- an animatronic head, really -- and told journos they had permission from the actor and former California governor. They didn't, Schwarzenegger says, and he's suing them.

The actor’s team hit Promobot with a cease-and-desist after CES and was reportedly assured the company would stop touring its Arnold bot. That didn’t happen, though. Promobot showed off the lifelike replica again the following month at the New York Toy Fair. And, to top it all off, this all comes after Promobot was personally shut down by Schwarzenegger in St. Petersburg in 2019. According to TMZ, the company attended a speech he was delivering and asked the actor to pose for a photo with the robot. He flat-out declined.

Read the rest

Watch this android child make some very odd and unsettling facial expressions

Meet Affetto, an android child from Osaka University. Affetto may live in Japan but he was obviously born in the Uncanny Valley. From a technical paper in Frontiers in Robotics and AI:

Faces of android robots are one of the most important interfaces to communicate with humans quickly and effectively, as they need to match the expressive capabilities of the human face, it is no wonder that they are complex mechanical systems containing inevitable non-linear and hysteresis elements derived from their non-rigid components.

No wonder, indeed. Below, videos of Affetto's body and tactile sensors.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

Read the rest

Arnold Schwarzenegger robot won't be terminating anything yet

Created by Promobot, a startup in Russia, this electronic Arnie isn't going to be murdering its way through all the Sarah Connors in the L.A. phonebook. It might find its way into a few nightmares, though.

Below, the same Arnie headbot on the CES 2020 show floor.

Read the rest

Adam Savage builds a steampunk rickshaw to be pulled by a Boston Dynamics robot

The fine folks at Boston Dynamics, busy building our future robotic overlords, have loaned Adam Savage a Spot robot for the Tested team to play with.

For his first project, Adam built a gorgeous steampunk/Victorian rickshaw for Spot to pull. The results are glorious.

Read the rest

Watch Japan's first robot bartender mix and serve a cocktail

Robotic employees such as hotel concierges and English teachers are nothing new in Japan, but here is its first robotic bartender. QBIT Robotics created this chatty robot that works in one of Tokyo's Yoronotaki izakaya restaurants. Read the rest

Coming soon to Japan: a 60-ft walking Gundam robot

Who cares about the Tokyo Olympics, when a 60-foot walking RX-78-2 robot is going to be stomping around nearby Yokohama in October? It will have 24 degrees of motion and will weigh 25 tons, according to New Atlas. It sounds pretty impressive, and the video above makes it seem cool, but Yoshiyuki Tomino, who created Gundam in the late 1970s, has some harsh words for the project: "It's boring. It rubs me the wrong way ... It's just not interesting ... It feels like they're going backwards, trying to reproduce a 40-year-old original."

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Watch a wild Silverback Gorilla and his family meet a robot gorilla

From BBC Earth's "Spy in the Wild" series. Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty robot! Read the rest

Robot bird with real pigeon feathers to improve agility

PigeonBot is a robotic bird outfitted with real pigeon feathers that move to reshape its wings like an actual bird. Developed by researchers in Stanford's LentinkLab, the remote-controlled PigeonBot demonstrates how morphing wings improves flying agility. (Video below.) Their resulting technical paper is the cover story in the current issue of the journal Science Robotics. From Science News:

Birds can modify the shape of their wings by fanning out their feathers or shuffling them closer together. Those adjustments allow birds to cut through the sky more nimbly than rigid drones....

Researchers bent and extended the wings of dead pigeons to investigate how the birds control their wing shape. Those experiments revealed that the angles of two wing joints, the wrist and the finger, most affect the alignment of a wing’s flight feathers. The orientations of those long, stiff feathers, which support the bird in flight, help determine the wing’s shape. Based on those findings, the team built a robot with real pigeon feathers, whose faux wrists and fingers can morph its wing shape as seen in the pigeon cadavers.

Read the rest

Very weird faceless robot baby for elderly people

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:

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.

Read the rest

Pizza-making robot startup lays off 80% of staff

Softbank-funded unicorn Zume ran out of dough

AI, machine learning, and other frothy tech subjects remained overhyped in 2019

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. Read the rest

Remembering Laundroid and other robotics companies that died in 2019

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

More posts