AI

New 'Deep Learning' Technique Lets Robots Learn Through Trial-and-Error 64

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-killing-all-humans-didn't-work,-so-kill-all-humans-next-time dept.
jan_jes writes: UC Berkeley researchers turned to a branch of artificial intelligence known as deep learning for developing algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks through trial and error. It's a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence. Their demonstration robot completes tasks such as "putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and more" without pre-programmed details about its surroundings. The challenge of putting robots into real-life settings (e.g. homes or offices) is that those environments are constantly changing. The robot must be able to perceive and adapt to its surroundings, so this type of learning is an important step.
Google

Cute Or Creepy? Google's Plan For a Sci-Fi Teddy Bear 92

Posted by timothy
from the teddy-ruxpin-pinned-it-on-the-one-armed-man dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Time Magazine reports that Google has designed and patented an "anthropomorphic device" that could take the form of a "doll or toy" and interact both with people as well as tech gadgets echoing the "super toy" teddy bear featured in Stephen Spielberg's 2001 movie AI. This could be one of Google's creepiest patents yet — especially if movies like "Chuckie" still give you nightmares. The patent filing diagrams a stuffed teddy bear and a bunny rabbit outfitted with microphones, speakers, cameras and motors as well as a wireless connection to the internet. If it senses you're looking at it, the fuzzy toy will rotate its head and look back at you. Once it receives and recognizes a voice command prompt, you can then tell it to control media devices in your home (e.g. turn on your music or TV). According to the patent filing: "To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head, and/or focus its gaze on the user or object of its interest. To express curiosity, an anthropomorphic device may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm. To express boredom, an anthropomorphic device may defocus its gaze, direct its gaze in a downward fashion, tap its foot, and/or close its eyes. To express surprise, an anthropomorphic device may make a sudden movement, sit or stand up straight, and/or dilate its pupils."

The patent adds that making the device look "cute" should encourage even the youngest members of a family to interact with it. But Mikhail Avady, from SmartUp, said he thought it belonged in "a horror film", and the campaign group Big Brother Watch has also expressed dismay. "When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line," says Avady. "Children should be able to play in private and shouldn't have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy."
Businesses

Here Comes the Keurig of Everything 270

Posted by Soulskill
from the for-the-lazy-people-who-only-eat-4-things dept.
Tekla Perry writes: Keurig made a huge business out of single-serving coffee machines. Now, as more complex machinery shrinks in size and cost, many companies are trying to duplicate that success for other types of food and drink. Startups are introducing the Keurig of cocktails, the Keurig of Jell-O shots, and the Keurig of dinner (it makes stir fries, stews, and risottos). The question is: does having a single- or limited-purpose device make really make sense for consumables that aren't coffee? Counter space is not infinite, and most people want more variety out of their lunches, dinners, and nightcaps than they do for their morning pick-me-up. (Also, let's retire this metaphor before we get a Keurig for cats.)
The Almighty Buck

World's Rudest Robot Set To Simulate the Fury of Call Center Customers 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-thousand-different-kinds-of-angry dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A New Zealand-based company called Touchpoint Group has unveiled the world's angriest robot, which is designed to help train call center employees in the art of dealing with frustrated customers. The project, named Radiant, will involve one of Australia's biggest banks, which is providing researchers with recordings of real-life interactions with customers. Once finished Radiant will simulate hundreds of millions of angry customer interactions, helping companies better understand what triggers heated calls.
Technology

Ask Slashdot: After We're Gone, the Last Electrical Device Still Working? 402

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-the-robots-that-killed-us dept.
Leomania writes: After watching a post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi short on YouTube (there are quite a few) and then having our robot vacuum take off and start working the room, I just wondered what would be the last electric/electronic device still functioning if humans were suddenly gone. I don't mean sitting there with no power but would work if the power came back on; rather, something continuously powered, doing the task it was designed for. Are we talking a few years, decades, or far longer?
Transportation

Will Robot Cars Need Windows? 435

Posted by timothy
from the they-can-dream-without-them dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic has an article asking whether autonomous cars need windows. If there's no driver, will the passengers want to look outside? In the summer, will anyone want to endure the relentless heat from the sun? The robot cars offer us a great opportunity to rethink the platform which is largely devoted to supporting the driver. But if a computer is in charge and it sees with dozens of cameras ringing the car, what else can we change? What else don't we need? What can improve?
Intel

Mark and Joel Make Autonomous Drones in Their Spare Time (Video) 17

Posted by Roblimo
from the when-a-drone-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-that's-a-lawsuit dept.
Mark F. Brown and Joel Rozenweig build autonomous drones; that is, drones that don't need an operator every second. You tell the autonomous drone, "Pick up package # 941A at the loading dock and deliver it to 451 Bradbury St.' and off it goes. It's going to be a while yet before that happens, but one day....

Back in the present, dronemaking is still a hobby for Mark and Joel, something they do for fun after spending their workdays as software engineers at Intel. Joel says there is 'remarkably little' crossover between their jobs and their hobby, and that (so far) Intel has contributed little beyond some Edison modules (which you can buy for less than $50) and travel to the Embedded Linux Conference, where they gave a talk accompanied by these slides. NOTE: We have a little bonus for you today. We try to keep videos to 10 minutes or less, but we have no such constraints on transcript length. So if you want the 'full' version of this interview, please read the transcript.
AI

Microsoft's AI Judges Age From Snapshots, With Mixed Results 80

Posted by timothy
from the are-humans-all-that-much-better? dept.
mikejuk writes: A Microsoft Research project that lets users upload photos and estimates their age and gender has attracted more attention than expected — not all of it complimentary. The How-Old.net site demonstrates of some of the capabilities of the Face API included in Microsoft's Project Oxford that was announced at Build. It may have been expected to be a source of amusement but instead it backfired when people started to upload their own photos and discovered just how wrong its estimates could be. It demonstrates not only that machine learning has a long way to go before it's good at estimating age, but also that machine learning may not be the most politically correct way to go about answering the question 'How Old Do I look'. It might be better to employ and algorithm that built in all the rules of how to make a polite answer to that request — such as always knock a decade off the age of anyone over 28. Perhaps this particular neural network needs to learn some social skills before pronouncing how old people look. However it is capable of telling some truths — a photo of Barak Obama in 2005 gives an estimated age of 46, close to his real age of 44, but just 9 years later in 2014 the age guessing robot places him at 65. It seems that Mr President aged 20 years in less than 10 years of office.
Robotics

Robots In 2020: Lending a Helping Hand To Humans (And Each Other) 46

Posted by timothy
from the never-show-them-weakness dept.
Lashdots writes: In the next five years, robots won't kill us (or drive our cars). But they will get better at helping us do routine tasks—and at helping each other too. Those are some of the predictions Fast Company gleaned from some of the robotics firms on its "most innovative" list, including Anki Robotics, robot-based genetic testing startup Counsyl, and Lockheed Martin, which has demonstrated a pair of unmanned aerial vehicles that work together to fight fires. I'm just waiting for drones that will simultaneously cut my lawn and deter burglars.
Businesses

Oculus Rift-Based System Brings True Immersion To Telepresence Robots 34

Posted by samzenpus
from the from-the-comfort-of-your-own-home dept.
An anonymous reader writes: University of Pennsylvania researchers have built an Oculus Rift-based telepresence system that attempts to bring true immersion to remotely operated robots. The system, called DORA (Dexterous Observational Roving Automaton), precisely tracks the motion of your head and then duplicates those motions on a mobile robot moving around at a remote location. Video from the robot's cameras is transmitted to the Oculus headset. One of the creators said that while using the system you "feel like you are transported somewhere else in the real world."
Robotics

Fetch Robotics Unveils Warehouse Robots 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the lift-bots dept.
gthuang88 writes: Warehouse automation has become a big business, with Amazon's Kiva robots leading the way. Now a startup called Fetch Robotics is rolling out a pair of new robots that can pick boxes off of shelves, pass them to each other, and carry the goods to a shipping station. Fetch, led by Willow Garage veteran Melonee Wise, is competing with companies like Amazon's Kiva Systems, Rethink Robotics, and Harvest Automation to develop dexterous, mobile robots for retail, distribution, and manufacturing.
Robotics

Researchers Mount Cyberattacks Against Surgery Robot 55

Posted by Soulskill
from the backseat-aortic-bypass dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A group of researchers from University of Washington have tested the security of a teleoperated robotic surgery system created by their colleagues, and have found it severely lacking. "Teleoperated surgical robots will be expected to use a combination of existing publicly available networks and temporary ad-hoc wireless and satellite networks to send video, audio and other sensory information between surgeons and remote robots. It is envisioned these systems will be used to provide immediate medical relief in under-developed rural terrains, areas of natural and human-caused disasters, and in battlefield scenarios," the researchers noted, and asked: "But what if these robotic systems are attacked and compromised?"
Robotics

Robots Step Into the Backbreaking Agricultural Work That Immigrants Won't Do 285

Posted by samzenpus
from the they-took-our-jobs dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Ilan Brat reports at the WSJ that technological advances are making it possible for robots to handle the backbreaking job of gently plucking ripe strawberries from below deep-green leaves, just as the shrinking supply of available fruit pickers has made the technology more financially attractive. "It's no longer a problem of how much does a strawberry harvester cost," says Juan Bravo, inventor of Agrobot, the picking machine. "Now it's about how much does it cost to leave a field unpicked, and that's a lot more expensive." The Agrobot costs about $100,000 and Bravo has a second, larger prototype in development. Other devices similarly are starting to assume delicate tasks in different parts of the fresh-produce industry, from planting vegetable seedlings to harvesting lettuce to transplanting roses. While farmers of corn and other commodity crops replaced most of their workers decades ago with giant combines, growers of produce and plants have largely stuck with human pickers—partly to avoid maladroit machines marring the blemish-free appearance of items that consumers see on store shelves. With workers in short supply, "the only way to get more out of the sunshine we have is to elevate the technology," says Soren Bjorn.

American farmers have in recent years resorted to bringing hundreds of thousands of workers in from Mexico on costly, temporary visas for such work. But the decades-old system needs to be replaced because "we don't have the unlimited labor supply we once did," says Rick Antle. "Americans themselves don't seem willing to take the harder farming jobs," says Charles Trauger, who has a farm in Nebraska. "Nobody's taking them. People want to live in the city instead of the farm. Hispanics who usually do that work are going to higher paying jobs in packing plants and other industrial areas." The labor shortage spurred Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods, one of the country's largest vegetable farmers, to buy a Spanish startup called Plant Tape, whose system transplants vegetable seedlings from greenhouse to field using strips of biodegradable material fed through a tractor-pulled planting device. "This is the least desirable job in the entire company," says Becky Drumright. With machines, "there are no complaints whatsoever. The robots don't have workers' compensation, they don't take breaks."
Robotics

Tiny Robots Climb Walls Carrying More Than 100 Times Their Weight 19

Posted by samzenpus
from the carrying-a-heavy-load dept.
schwit1 writes: Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves. The super-strong bots — built by mechanical engineers at Stanford — will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington. The secret is in the adhesives on the robots' feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.
Robotics

Learn About FIRST's New Embedded Linux Controller (Video) 26

Posted by Roblimo
from the rocking-and-socking-more-powerfully-than-ever dept.
Our interviewee today is Mike Anderson, an adviser to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Team 116 at Herndon High School in Virginia. He's here to tell us about the new embedded Linux controller FIRST is using this year. It is apparently a bit short of documentation at this stage, so team 116 and others have been posting what they learn at Chief Delphi, which is 'the' FIRST online discussion forum (and fun to read to keep up with all things FIRST). We've talked about FIRST before. We've taken you to FIRST competitions, and looked behind the scenes at the building of a FIRST robot, and will no doubt keep covering a selection of FIRST activities in the future.
Robotics

Robot Workers' Real Draw: Reducing Dependence on Human Workers 289

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-can-do-your-job-and-won't-complain-about-the-coffee dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Zeynep Tufekci writes in an op-ed at the NY Times that machines are getting better than humans at figuring out who to hire, who's in a mood to pay a little more for that sweater, and who needs a coupon to nudge them toward a sale. It turns out most of what we think of as expertise, knowledge and intuition is being deconstructed and recreated as an algorithmic competency, fueled by big data. "Machines aren't used because they perform some tasks that much better than humans, but because, in many cases, they do a "good enough" job while also being cheaper, more predictable and easier to control than quirky, pesky humans," writes Tufekci. "Technology in the workplace is as much about power and control as it is about productivity and efficiency."

According to Tufekci technology is being used in many workplaces: to reduce the power of humans, and employers' dependency on them, whether by replacing, displacing or surveilling them. Optimists insist that we've been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. Tufekci points out that one historical example is no guarantee of future events. "Confronting the threat posed by machines, and the way in which the great data harvest has made them ever more able to compete with human workers, must be about our priorities," concludes Tufekci. "This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another."
Robotics

Drought and Desertification: How Robots Might Help 124

Posted by timothy
from the droids-you're-looking-for dept.
Hallie Siegel writes Groundwater levels in California's Central Valley are down to historic lows and reservoirs have been depleted following four consecutive years of severe drought in the state. California is set to introduce water rationing in the coming weeks, and though the new rationing rules will focus on urban areas and not farms for the time being, they serve as a warning bell to farmers who will inevitably need to adapt to the effects of climate change on food production. John Payne argues that long term solutions are needed to help make agriculture drought resistant and looks at some of the ways that robotics might help.
Robotics

John Hawley Talks About UAV Controls (Video) 20

Posted by Roblimo
from the monocopter-bicopter-tricopter-quadcopter dept.
John 'Warthog9' Hawley was the boss sysadmin on kernel.org before he jumped to Intel in April, 2014, as an open hardware technical evangelist. He last showed up on Slashdot in June, 2014, with his Dr. Who-inspired Robot K-9. Now he's talking about flight computers for quadcopters, specifically ones based on MinnowBoards. Last month (April 2015) he was speaking at the Embedded Linux Conference + Android Builders Summit. That's where he and Timothy Lord had this conversation about flight controllers for UAVs, which makes it a fitting sequel to yesterday's video, which was also about controlling drones with real-time Linux.
United Kingdom

UK Company Wants To Deliver Parcels Through Underground Tunnels 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the mole-mail dept.
Zothecula writes Drones flown by Amazon aren't the only way we could be getting our parcels delivered in the near future. UK firm Mole Solutions is exploring the possibility of using small robot trains running on underground tracks to manage deliveries, and it's just received funding from the British government to help test the viability of the proposal.