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Tuesday, October 29, 2013


"Making Robots More Like Us"

Wouldn't we be better off making robots like us more?  Has nobody here seen "Terminator"?

"On a recent morning Natanel Dukan walked into the Paris offices of the French robot maker Aldebaran and noticed one of the company’s humanoid NAO robots sitting on a chair. Mr. Dukan, an electrical engineer, could not resist. Bending over, he kissed the robot on the cheek. In response the NAO tilted its head, touched his cheek and let out an audible smack.

"It is certainly a very French application for a robot, but the intimate gesture by the $16,000, two-foot robot, now being used in academic research labs and robotic soccer leagues, also reflects a significant shift."

Why would you spend $16,000 to make a robot play soccer?  Or is it just that the thought of robots is so cool that they need to do something to reduce their sheer awesomeness?

". . . .Romeo, a five-foot humanoid robot, will soon be introduced by Aldebaran as a “big brother” to the pipsqueak, kissing NAO robot."

If you're going to build a kissing robot named "Romeo," you know you're asking for trouble, right?

"The key to this advance is the new robots’ form. Their humanlike appearance does more than satisfy science-fiction fantasies."

Riiiight. . . . Fantasies about "science fiction."  Like, robots flying spaceships. . . . Things like that.  Ahem.

"Roboticists also point out that humans have an affinity for their own shape, easing transitions and making collaboration more natural. Creating robots in humanoid form also simplifies training and partnerships in the workplace, and increases their potential in new applications like caregiving."

"Caregiving."  Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

"Rethink Robotics recently released a video of its robot, Baxter, making a cup of coffee with a Keurig coffee machine. The company said the humanoid robot, with tong-like hands and a computer-screen face, was trained to carry out a variety of preprogrammed coffee-making tasks in just several hours."

But what if I don't want to wait several hours for a cup of coffee?  Oh--the programming took several hours. . . . Got it.  Heh.

"At Carnegie Mellon University, Manuela M. Veloso, a professor of computer science, has developed a series of mobile robots she calls CoBots to perform tasks like delivering mail, guiding visitors to appointments and fetching coffee. She calls it “symbiotic autonomy,” since the robots also rely on humans. For example, because they don’t have arms, they can’t operate elevators, so they have been programmed to wait and ask for human assistance. If they get lost, they stop, call up a map of the building on their computer screens, interrupt a passing human and say, “I am lost, can you tell me where I am?”

The New York version of this robot has been programmed to respond accordingly when the passing human flips him off.

"To function in the real world and to be safe, robots must have a radically different design from factory robots, which are based on “stiff” actuators capable of moving with great speed to a precise position. The new robots have “compliant actuators,” which respond to external forces by yielding in a natural fashion."

Insert your own robot-sex joke here.

"Dr. Pratt recalled an incident when the researchers first realized that series elastic actuation was the key to freeing robots from their cages. While working on an early humanoid robot named COG, in a project led by Rodney Brooks, the founder of Rethink Robotics who was then director of the M.I.T. artificial intelligence lab, they were demonstrating how the robot could do tasks like writing with a pencil and paper. However, there was a bug in the software, causing the robot’s arm to repeatedly bang the table.

"Dr. Brooks decided it was an opportunity to demonstrate the safety of the technology. He placed himself between the table and the arm, which began spanking him."

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