Robots that fetch

December 1, 2008


Whether you would care to admit it or not, man / machine hybrids are already walking amongst us, and robots are doing everything from building cars to managing the BCS and the stock market. I, for one, welcome and embrace our new technological partners (Note: partners NOT masters – lets not get silly here).

It took Norma Margeson a few minutes to learn to control the skinny metal robot. But instead of viewing it as a machine, she soon warmed up to it as a companion. “Oh, I love it,” she said. “I think it is such a unique character. It has a personality all its own. It can be a friend, a very good friend.” Margeson, an artist from Marietta, Georgia, is learning how a health care robot dubbed El-E (pronounced “Ellie”) can help her accomplish some simple household tasks. El-E is being tested by Margeson and other patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Right now Kemp and his colleagues are focusing on programming El-E to locate and fetch common household items such as a hairbrush, a bottle of pills, a cell phone or a TV remote. El-E also can open doors. A robot with those skills could provide some independence for patients with motor impairments and a respite for caregivers. Kemp said he hopes his robots could help people in wheelchairs, the elderly and those with such diseases as arthritis and diabetes.

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Autosub 6000

September 18, 2008

Autosub6000, which was developed by British scientists, descended almost three miles below the surface to investigate a canyon north of the Canary Islands. The trough contains the deepest seabed volcanoes in the world. Its next mission is to investigate the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, one of Europe’s worst natural disasters, in which more than 10,000 people died. The successful first dive this week formed part of a research expedition investigating potential threats to Western European coasts from tsunamis, giant landslides and earthquakes.On its return to the surface, 24 hours after its launch, it provided scientists with three-dimensional images showing holes in the sea floor the size of Wembley Stadium – evidence of giant underwater avalanches in the past, and a potential cause of tsunamis in the future. Autosub6000, which was developed at the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton, can dive to a depth of 6,000 metres – nearly four miles – allowing it to reach 93 per cent of the world’s seabed. It is an exciting prospect as the deepest parts of the sea floor remain the last explored places on our earth.

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Robot Wars: Japan vs. S. Korea

June 22, 2008

Four leading Japanese robotic companies have joined forces to outcompete South Korea, which recently announced legislation to develop more robots for common household use.  Although Japan has long led the world in robo technology, so called intellegent service robots have been slow to penetrate the average home.  But some have high hopes, “We believe house hold robots will finally become common in the near future, within five years the number of robots will increase ten fold or more…”.  According to the Associated Press the South Korean government aims to put a robot in every household by 2020, and has mobilized companies and scientists to help integrate robots into Korean society.  Faced with low birth rates and long life spans both Japan and South Korea are turning to robots to replace workers.

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Yes, there’s ice on Mars

June 21, 2008

“Whoohoo! Was keeping my eye on some chunks of bright stuff & they disappeared! Sublimated! So it can’t be salt, it’s ice.” That’s the triumphant verdict of the Mars lander Phoenix, which yesterday boldly declared, after 24 Martian days of scratching the planet’s surface, that yes, there is ice on Mars.

Phoenix is constantly sending back information to Earth, which is posted by the mission team using the instant messaging software Twitter (written, in touchy-feely style, in the first person as if Phoenix itself is providing its own commentary on its labours). Twitter, the ‘microblogging’ phenomenon, can thus claim to have brought the watery news to Earthlings’ attention.

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Endeavour on way to international space station

March 13, 2008


In a rare middle-of-the-night launch, the shuttle blasted off with an almost blinding flash. But the darkness meant fewer pictures than usual to look for signs of possible damage to the spacecraft during the climb to orbit. NASA knew the nighttime launch would come at a photographic cost. But past successes at preventing the shuttle’s fuel tank from losing big chunks of foam insulation during liftoff and the accuracy of heat shield inspections convinced managers the night launch was a good choice. Putting together Dextre, the robot, will be one of the main jobs for the seven Endeavour astronauts, who are scheduled to blast off in the wee hours of Tuesday, less than three weeks after the last shuttle flight. They’re also delivering the first piece of Japan’s massive Kibo space station lab, a float-in closet for storing tools, experiments and spare parts. For the first time, each of the five major international space station partners will own a piece of the real estate. At 16 days, the mission will be NASA’s longest space station trip ever and will include five spacewalks, the most ever performed while a shuttle is docked there. Three of those spacewalks will feature Dextre, which is sure to steal the show.

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August 29, 2007

The SENSOPAC project will combine machine learning techniques and modelling of biological systems to develop a machine capable of abstracting cognitive notions from sensorimotor relationships during interactions with its environment, and of generalising this knowledge to novel situations. Through active sensing and exploratory actions the machine will discover the sensorimotor relationships and consequently learn the intrinsic structure of its interactions with the world and unravel predictive and causal relationships. Together with action policy formulation and decision making, this will underlie the machine’s abilities to create abstractions, to suggest and test hypotheses, and develop self-awareness. The project will demonstrate how a naïve system can bootstrap its cognitive development by constructing generalization and discovering abstractions with which it can conceptualize its environment and its own self. The continuous developmental approach will combine self-supervised and reinforcement learning with motivational drives to form a truly autonomous artificial system. Throughout the project, continuous interactions between experimentalists, theoreticians, engineers and roboticists will take place in order to coordinate the most rigorous development and testing of a complete artificial cognitive system.

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The Singularity Summit 2007

August 29, 2007

In futures studies, the singularity represents an “event horizon” in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence. Many futurists predict that after the singularity, humans as they exist presently won’t be the driving force in scientific and technological progress, eclipsed cognitively by posthumans, AI, or both, with all models of change based on past trends in human behavior becoming obsolete. While some regard the singularity as a positive event and work to hasten its arrival, others view the singularity as dangerous, undesirable, or unlikely. The most practical means for initiating the singularity are debated, as are how (or whether) the singularity can be influenced or avoided if dangerous. The Singularity Summit 2007 will explore these nuances. We invite you to join us.

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