Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Meet Ember, The Littlest Warbot


iRobot's lovable fighting machine can be toted in your pocket.

iRobot's multipurpose PackBot has helped lead the way among war-bots, disabling improvised explosives and carrying out recon missions for snipers. But soon paperback-sized robots such as the Ember prototype could join their larger cousins on the battlefield.

Ember's strength rests with numbers and disposability -- one soldier could theoretically carry around several of the bots and place them to create a networked mobile swarm. Each robot might carry several radios and sensors that make up a small part of the larger wireless network envisioned in the Army's now-gutted Future Combat Systems.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Air Force Looks For ‘Core Algorithms’ Of Human Thought

From The Danger Room:

The Defense Department is continuing its push to reduce human thought and human action to a few lines of code. The latest effort comes from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which is looking to build “mathematical or computational models of human attention, memory, categorization, reasoning, problem solving, learning and motivation, and decision making.” The ultimate goal, according to a recent request for research proposals, is to “elucidate core computational algorithms of the mind and brain.” Good luck with that, guys.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Impact of Computing : 78% More per Year, v2.0

(Click to Enlarge)

From The Futurist:

Anyone who follows technology is familar with Moore's Law and its many variations, and has come to expect the price of computing power to halve every 18 months. But many people don't see the true long-term impact of this beyond the need to upgrade their computer every three or four years. To not internalize this more deeply is to miss investment opportunities, grossly mispredict the future, and be utterly unprepared for massive, sweeping changes to human society. Hence, it is time to update the first version of this all-important article that was written on February 21, 2006.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

As Scientific Data Accumulates, Volume Can Overwhelm Understanding

From Seed Magazine:

In a recent article in Science, Cornell professor Hod Lipson and graduate student Michael Schmidt described a new computer system that can discover scientific laws. At first glance, it looks like a fulfillment of the dreams of “computational scientific discovery,” a small field at the intersection of philosophy and artificial intelligence (AI) that seeks to reverse-engineer scientific imagination and create a computer as skilled as we are at constructing theories. But if you look closer, it turns out that the system’s success at analyzing large, complicated data sets, formulating initial theories, and discarding trivial patterns in favor of interesting ones comes not from imitating people, but from allowing a very different kind of intelligence to grow in silico — one that doesn’t compete with humans, but works with us.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rutgers Attempts Robot Atlantic Crossing

From Slashdot:

"Rutgers University students and staff launched a Slocum glider AUV in an attempt to be the first such vehicle to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Progress so far is good, but it will be a long 6- to 9-month journey. Status as well as other information can be tracked here. Media links can be found in the lower left section of page, among images, and storyline blogs."

And Google Earth fans can track the vehicle's progress, too.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Real Soldiers Love Their Robot Brethren

Concept art shows a human resistance fighter facing off against a Hydrobot from the movie "Terminator Salvation." Credit: Warner Bros.

From Live Science:

Human warriors have long spoken of the bonds forged in combat and of becoming a "band of brothers." The fact that some of those fellow soldiers are made of metal has not discouraged human feelings toward them.

Thousands of robots now fight with humans on modern battlefields that resemble scenes from science fiction movies such as "Terminator Salvation." But the real world poses a more complex situation than humans versus robots, and has added new twists to the psychology of war.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Evolutionary Computing Developments Optimize Complex Problem Solving

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 21, 2009) — A group of researchers from the Department of Computer Systems Architecture and Technology (DATSI) at the UPM's School of Computing has for several years been working, in partnership with Madrid's Supercomputing and Visualization Centre (CeSViMa), on the design and implementation of an evolutionary computing platform capable of integrating classical and new techniques to together optimize complex problem solving.

The platform is based on evolutionary algorithms that optimize the search for solutions to complex scientific and engineering problems. These results are applicable to many fields, like molecular chemistry, materials resistance, robotics or games theory.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why 'Terminator' Is So Creepy

The movie "Terminator Salvation" tells of the human resistance struggling to defeat Skynet and its robot army. Credit: Warner Bros.

From Live Science:

Hollywood and robotics researchers have long struggled with the "uncanny valley," where a movie character or robot falls into the unsettling gap between human and not-quite-human. One psychologist likes to demonstrate this by holding up a plastic baby doll and asking audiences if they think it's alive. They say no.

Then she takes out a saw and starts cutting the doll's head off, but quickly stops upon seeing the uncomfortable audience reactions.

"I think that part of their brain is thinking the doll is alive, and you can't shut that off," said Thalia Wheatley, a psychologist at Dartmouth College.

Similar sensations abound in the movie "Terminator Salvation," which tells the story of the artificial intelligence Skynet and its army of robots threatening to wipe out humanity in 2018. The uncanny twist comes when Skynet begins disturbing experiments that combine human flesh with robotic strength.

Scientists have begun to understand what happens in the human brain when it encounters the uncanny valley. And like the post-apocalyptic future of "Terminator," it's not pretty — a murky landscape where conflict rages upon confronting a challenge to our human identity.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Video: iRobot Rolls Out One-Pound Machine, Ready to Swarm

From The Danger Room:

iRobot has built over 2,000 machines for the military. Most of ‘em are 50 pounds plus, and more than three feet long. But, lately, the company has been working on an itty-bitty version of its Packbot reconnaissance machine — one that weighs less than a pound, and is about the size of a paperback book.

The idea is for a soldier to dispatch a swarm of these “Ember” bots to scout out a possibly-hostile building, instead of sending a single, large Packbot. Once inside, the Embers would set up an ad-hoc wireless network, and then autonomously scurry around the floor (kind of like iRobot’s Roomba vaccum cleaning automaton). Tiny flippers will help them vault over objects. Cameras will beam the scene back to the G.I.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

'Chemical Robots' Swarm Together

These prototype "chobots" are less than a hair's breadth across

From The BBC:

In a pair of small laboratories in Prague, a swarm of tens of millions of robots is being prepared, to be set loose en masse.

It is only fitting that here, in the town where the word robot was coined by author Karel Capek, the next generation of robotics should be envisioned.

But these won't be typical robots with gears and motors; they will instead be made of carefully designed chemical shells-within-shells, with receptors on their surface.

Instead of software and processors to guide them, their instructions will be written into the chemistry of their constituent parts. They are chemical robots, or as the 1.6m euro project's title has it, chobots.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

March Of The Terminators: Robot Warriors Are No Longer Sci-Fi But Reality. So What Happens When They Turn Their Guns On Us?

Killing machine: The SWORD is mounted with either an
M240 machine-gun, a grenade or rocket launcher

From The Daily Times:

They can fly, they can swim, they can spit out 550 high-explosive shells a minute. And most terrifyingly of all, they'll soon be able to think for themselves.

A few minutes before nine in the morning, and the young soldiers have no idea of the horror that is about to strike them. They are taking part in a massive military training exercise, involving 5,000 troops, and are about to showcase the latest in robotic weapons technology.

The MK5 anti-aircraft system, with two huge 35mm cannons, is essentially a vast robotic weapon, controlled by a computer.

Read more ....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Progress Toward Artificial Tissue?

A team of Australian and Korean researchers led by Geoffrey M. Spinks and Seon Jeong Kim has now developed a novel, highly porous, sponge-like material whose mechanical properties closely resemble those of biological soft tissues. It consists of a robust network of DNA strands and carbon nanotubes. (Credit: Copyright Wiley-VCH)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 16, 2009) — For modern implants and the growth of artificial tissue and organs, it is important to generate materials with characteristics that closely emulate nature. However, the tissue in our bodies has a combination of traits that are very hard to recreate in synthetic materials: It is both soft and very tough.

A team of Australian and Korean researchers led by Geoffrey M. Spinks and Seon Jeong Kim has now developed a novel, highly porous, sponge-like material whose mechanical properties closely resemble those of biological soft tissues. It consists of a robust network of DNA strands and carbon nanotubes.

Read more ....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Robot Crosses City By Asking Directions

From New Scientist:

Robots are getting better at finding their way around unknown areas, and making their own maps as they explore. But robots lost in urban areas don't need to rely on their own faculties to get from place to place, German roboticists have shown.

Their mobile robot simply rolls up to any humans nearby and asks for directions. By using that strategy, their robot has become one of the first to be properly let loose in the real world, not just carefully controlled environments.

Martin Buss's team at the Technical University of Munich dumped their mobile robot outside the university and instructed it to find its way to the Marienplatz in the centre of Munich, some 1.5 kilometres away.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Robot With Artificial Skin To Improve Human Communication

Kaspar. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Hertfordshire)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2009) — Work is beginning on a robot with artificial skin which is being developed as part of a project involving researchers at the University of Hertfordshire so that it can be used in their work investigating how robots can help children with autism to learn about social interaction.

Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and her team at the University’s School of Computer Science are part of a European consortium, which is working on the three-year Roboskin project to develop a robot with skin and embedded tactile sensors.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

DARPA Trying To Validate New Theory of Intelligence

The Next Big Future:

Darpa’s latest venture, called “Physical Intelligence” (PI) is to prove, mathematically, that the human mind is nothing more than parts and energy. In other words, all brain activities — reasoning, emoting, processing sights and smells — derive from physical mechanisms at work, acting according to the principles of “thermodynamics in open systems.” Thermodynamics is founded on the conversion of energy into work and heat within a system (which could be anything from a test-tube solution to a planet). The processes can be summed up in formalized equations and laws, which are then used to describe how systems react to changes in their surroundings.

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My Comment: A fascinating read. DARPA is clearly examining artificial intelligence.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Send In The Rescue Robots

From Popsci.:

Testing emergency-response robots in Disaster City, Texas.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones -- disasters like these make the natural environment both unnavigable and dangerous for human search-and-rescue teams. That's when it's time for robots to come to our rescue.

Earthquakes are a recurring problem in Japan, an archipelago that rests on four tectonic plates. Japan also happens to be a hotbed of robotics research, so the two have come together in surprising ways.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Can Giant Robots Successfully Mine The Mile-Deep Seafloor?

Metal-rich "smoke" billows from a volcanic vent on the seafloor near the Galápagos Islands. UCSB/Univ S Carolina/NOAA/WHO

From Discover Magazine:

The economic collapse threatens the long-held dream of underwater mining.

After September 11, 2001, David Heydon was a dreamer in need of a dream, an entrepreneur in search of an enterprise. A native of Brisbane, Australia, he had transplanted himself to New York during the dot-com boom and had tried to flog a new kind of customer-relations software to airlines—an idea that did not survive the post-9/11 travel slump. Heydon slunk back to Brisbane. There he reconnected with Julian Malnic, an old friend from his student days at the University of New South Wales, and unexpectedly found himself on a whole new path.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Elegant" Robot Hand Grasps Eggs With A Light Touch

From National Geographic:

May 5, 2009—As far as robot dexterity goes, RAPHaEL may just have the upper hand.

The air-powered machine, created by undergraduate students at Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, can gently grasp a raw egg as successfully as the machine holds a heavy can of food—and is flexible enough for sign language.

RAPHaEL (Robotic Air-Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments) is connected to a compressed air tank. An operator controls the air pressure to manipulate the fingers.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flashback Friday: 2-XL Robot

From Toy Whimsy:

So, I know we kinda had a "flashback" blog yesterday, but I couldn't leave out another toy that I played with (and actually liked) when I was a kid: 2-XL (get it?). It was a "robot" that worked with cutting-edge 8-track tape technology. (A later version used cassettes instead.) Still, despite it's blockiness, it was kind of amusing and I did actually learn things from it. Check out this commercial from 1978 and you'll see why even Playboy Magazine loved it as much as I did. -- E. Christian Moore

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong (A Book Review)

From Metapsychology:

Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong is the first book-length discussion of issues arising in the nascent field of Machine Ethics, offered by two of its more veteran thinkers. The authors do an admirable job at using language accessible to an interdisciplinary audience, which also makes the book open to a more general public readership. It will be of interest to anyone concerned with the ethical, social, and engineering issues that accompany the quest to develop machines that can act autonomously out in the world.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Speck Of A Motor

Petite Power: The 0.14-inch-tall motor nearly fits on the tip of a pen Courtesy Brett Watson/Monash University


An engine for running medical microbots.

Doctors have miniaturized almost everything they need to send robots inside your brain's blood vessels to treat damaged tissue. But making a motor small enough to squeeze past blood cells has held things up. Now, engineers at Monash University in Australia have built a micromotor that brings bitty 'bots closer to reality.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Record Amount of Supercomputer Time Means New Science

From Wired Science:

The Department of Energy is releasing a record amount of supercomputing time, 1.3 billion processor hours, which has astrophysicists, biologists and everyone in between drooling in anticipation.

Starting in 2010, some of them will have the chance to run the biggest and most intricate simulations ever, creating experimental galaxies, plasma fusion reactors and global climates to help solve some of science’s most complex problems.

They’ll be competing for time on the Cray XT system “Jaguar” at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the IBM Blue Gene/P “Intrepid” at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, two of the most powerful supercomputer facilities in the world. Unlike many of the DOE’s big machines, they’re dedicated to open, unclassified research.

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