Friday, July 31, 2009

A Video Game Helps Artificial Intelligences Learn to Learn


Ever wish you could play a game that tailors its strategy around your particular playing style? Thanks to a team of game programmers affiliated with the MIT Media Lab, and their project The Restaurant Game, that might be a reality sooner than you think.

One of the holy grails for programmers is to create artificial intelligence that's able to teach itself based on variables taken in on the fly. The Restaurant Game seeks to accomplish this by analyzing real interactions between a waiter and a customer, and figuring out which interaction combinations yield favorable results.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

World's First Computer May Be Even Older Than Thought

From New Scientist:

From Swiss Army knives to iPhones, it seems we just love fancy gadgets with as many different functions as possible. And judging from the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism, the desire to impress with the latest multipurpose must-have item goes back at least 2000 years.

This mysterious box of tricks was a portable clockwork computer, dating from the first or second century BC. Operated by turning a handle on the side, it modelled the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets through the sky, sported a local calendar, star calendar and Moon-phase display, and could even predict eclipses and track the timing of the Olympic games.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robot Model Hits the Runway

From Live Science:

What appeared to be petite woman in an elaborate wedding dress walked slowly down the runway in an Osaka fashion show earlier this week. The twist is that this was no blushing bride; this was the HRP-4C female robot.

Though encumbered by an elaborate wedding dress, HRP-4C easily navigated the ten meter runway at the fashion show. Developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, the female humanoid robot stands just 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs a mere 95 pounds - batteries included. The robot has highly realistic facial features, and is able to use facial motions and arm movements to indicate basic emotions, such as anger and surprise.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man

This personal robot plugs itself in when it needs a charge. Servant now, master later?
Ken Conley/Willow Garage

From The New York Times:

A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Read more ....

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Ratbot, This One with Bigger Whiskers


Encountering a swarm of genuine sewer-dwelling rats would send the average human screaming and jumping up onto the nearest chair, but there's nothing to fear -- and everything to admire -- about the latest plague of ratbots being developed in robotics labs around the world.

First came Psikharpax, the French ratbot with the fancy literary name, whose sensors simulated the function of three senses: vision, hearing, and touch. Now comes the less jazzily named SCRATCHbot (Spatial Cognition and Representation through Active TouCh) from England, who focuses only on the sense of touch.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Robo-Ethicists Want to Revamp Asimov’s 3 Laws

From Gadget Lab/Wired News:

Two years ago, a military robot used in the South African army killed nine soldiers after a malfunction. Earlier this year, a Swedish factory was fined after a robot machine injured one of the workers (though part of the blame was assigned to the worker). Robots have been found guilty of other smaller offenses such as an incorrectly responding to a request.

So how do you prevent problems like this from happening? Stop making psychopathic robots, say robot experts.

Read more ....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Artificial Brain '10 Years Away'

From The BBC:

A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, has already built elements of a rat brain.

He told the TED global conference in Oxford that a synthetic human brain would be of particular use finding treatments for mental illnesses.

Around two billion people are thought to suffer some kind of brain impairment, he said.

"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," he said.

"And if we do succeed, we will send a hologram to TED to talk."

Read more ....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Robot Rides Motorcycles Efficiently, Terrifyingly


Let me introduce you to Flossie, the creepy motorcycle-driving robot. She will drive through scorching heat and freezing cold without a complaint. She will shift perfectly every time. She will haunt your dreams.

Flossie was constructed by Castrol to be used in lubricant testing for just about any motorcycle. Flossie allows testers to monitor how lubricants function over time in a variety of situations, with Flossie the one constant, shifting and riding the bike perfectly each time. The most disturbing part of Flossie's design is that she learns, all by herself, how to get a feel for each bike and how to ride it. To what end, might you ask? Well, the obvious answer is: to become self-aware, evolve, and enslave us all.

In the video below you get a view of Flossie in action. The video ends ominously by calling Flossie "a safe rider". Let's hope we don't regret those words.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Helping Robots Get a Grip

Photo: Good grip: A new approach allows a complicated robotic hand to grab an object more easily.Credit: Matei Ciocarlie and Peter Allen, Dept. of Computer Science, Columbia University

From Technology Review:

A new approach lets dexterous robotic hands grasp easily.

One of the main things preventing robots from lending a hand with everyday tasks is a simple lack of manual dexterity. New research from a team at Columbia University NY could help robots--and robotic prosthetics--get a better grip on all kinds of objects.

Peter Allen, a professor at Columbia University and director of its Robotics Group, and colleague Matei Ciocarlie developed a simpler way to control a dexterous robotic hand by drawing on research in biology. They realized that while human hands have about 20 degrees of freedom (20 joints that can each bend), each joint is not capable of moving completely independently; instead, its movements are linked to those of other joints by muscles or nerves.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Human-like Vision Lets Robots Navigate Naturally

An inside view of VisGuide with the electronic circuits on main board. The video signals are sent via cables to a light- weight micro-PC that is carried for the user. (Credit: Decisions in Motion Project (

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 17, 2009) — A robotic vision system that mimics key visual functions of the human brain promises to let robots manoeuvre quickly and safely through cluttered environments, and to help guide the visually impaired.

It’s something any toddler can do – cross a cluttered room to find a toy.

It's also one of those seemingly trivial skills that have proved to be extremely hard for computers to master. Analysing shifting and often-ambiguous visual data to detect objects and separate their movement from one’s own has turned out to be an intensely challenging artificial intelligence problem.

Read more ....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

19 Of The Top 20 Supercomputers In The World Are Running Some Form Of Linux

From Pingdom:

Operating systems on supercomputers used to be custom-made affairs, but this has changed. These days, Linux has become a popular choice for supercomputers. But how popular? You may be surprised. maintains a list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. A new list was published yesterday (it happens twice a year), so we took the opportunity to go through the list and find out what OS the top 20 supercomputers are using.

It took some work, but the results are interesting.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Quantum Computer Closer: Optical Transistor Made From Single Molecule

From Gizmag:

Researchers from ETH Zurich have recently managed to create an optical transistor from a single molecule in what is yet another important achievement on the road to quantum computing.

Quantum photonics is a particularly attractive field to scientists and engineers alike in that it could, once some core issues have been resolved, allow for the production of integrated circuits that operate on the basis of photons instead of electrons, which would in turn enable considerably higher data transfer rates as well as dramatically reduced heat dissipation.

Read more ....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Darpa's Self-Feeding Sentry Robot Is Not A Man-Eater, Company Protests

EATR Robot: Don't let that chainsaw fool you. The EATR robot is being designed for a strictly vegetarian diet. Robotic Technology Inc.


"We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission," says CEO.

There hasn't been such a scare over the future of green since Soylent Green. But a DARPA-funded robot that forages for biomass will only consume plant matter, as opposed to dead bodies or wayward pets, its creators assure us.

The makers of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) have issued a statement saying that "this robot is strictly vegetarian," after news outlets ranging from Fox News to CNET pounced on the flesh-eating potential of the bot.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Robots Could Replace Teachers

Research at the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences shows that infants can learn foreign speech sounds when they interact with a live human being in a social setting. But infants under 1-year-old do not seem to learn language when they are read to over TV. The children stare at the TV and even point to it. They seem visually attentive to the images that flow past, but learn no language. Scientists think that social interaction with a live human being is crucial for learning to take place in children under 1 year. Credit: University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

From Live Science:

In the future, more and more of us will learn from social robots, especially kids learning pre-school skills and students of all ages studying a new language.

This is just one of the scenarios sketched in a review essay that looks at a "new science of learning," which brings together recent findings from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, machine learning and education.

The essay, published in the July 17 issue of the journal Science, outlines new insights into how humans learn now and could learn in the future, based on various studies including some that document the amazing amount of brain development that happens in infants and later on in childhood.

Read more ....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Robotic "Spiderman" Device Unveiled

From Technology Review:

Today, at the International Conference on Field and Service Robotics here in Cambridge, MA, robotics professor and prolific inventor Shigeo Hirose, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, presented a grappling-hook system designed to help robots get over difficult terrain.

Hirose says that he was inspired by Batman's grappling hook and the way that Spiderman stays in constant motion using a repetitive tether-and-swing action.

Read more ....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twendy-One Nursebot Says Sit Up And Eat Your Jell-O

Gentle Giant: Courtesy Sugano Laboratory/Waseda University


At 245 pounds, Japan's Twendy-One is sturdy enough to lift its elderly patients clear off the ground, and force sensors in its fingertips and humanlike joints mean it can do it without crushing them.

In the movies, entrusting human life to robot helpers and sophisticated machines inevitable ends in fire, destruction and death. But in reality, the automatons are actually saving lives. We featured six Machines that Heal in our July issue, one of which is Twendy-One, a Japanese robot nurse straight out of the comic books built to assists the elderly.

Read more ....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cyclone Biomass Engine Takes Next Step In Powering DARPA's EATR Bot, A Hungry Hungry Sentinel

LIGHT MY FIRE: Harry Schoell shows the uncovered combustion chamber in his steam engine. John B. Carnett.


A waste heat engine would allow a robot to feed off grass, furniture, and dead bodies.

A DARPA-funded robot that refuels itself on wood, grass--even decaying biomatter--whatever it can consume has met its perfect match--a biomass engine system called the Cyclone which we featured last year in our annual Invention Awards. Cyclone has just completed trials of their engine that will eventually digest EATR's foraged meals into power, just like Mr. Fusion.

The Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) is a prototype military reconnaissance 'bot that could keep going and going, except that it's not dependent on long-lasting batteries. The robot would instead use a waste heat engine developed by Cyclone Power Technologies to continually fuel itself on plants and other biomass from the surrounding environment.

Read more ....

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Freaky Robot Is A Real Einstein

Some of the facial expressions that the new Einstein robot has learned through a process of self-guided learning. Credit: UCSD

From Live Science:

Albert Einstein is practically alive and smiling in the guise of a new robot that looks eerily like the great scientist and generates facial expressions that take robotics to a new level.

"As far as we know, no other research group has used machine learning to teach a robot to make realistic facial expressions," said Tingfan Wu, a computer science graduate student from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

To teach this, the team connected tiny motors via strings to about 30 of the robot's facial muscles. Programmers then directed the Albert Einstein head to twist and turn its face in numerous directions, a process called "body babbling," which is similar to the random movements that infants use when learning to control their bodies and reach for objects.

Read more ....

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Meet Lemur IIa, The Autonomous Space Handyman Robot

Swiss Army Knife for Space Vehicles: Astronauts can add tools to the limbs of the Lemur IIa robot Thomas Slager


Versatile robots will rule the heavens, or at least ensure that they run efficiently.

Lemur IIa is a robot designed to autonomously inspect and maintain in-orbit space equipment such as the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Shown below on a model space telescope, the Lemur IIa was envisioned as an orbital Swiss Army knife. Each limb has four degrees of freedom and a "quick connect” feature, allowing astronauts to swap in different repair tools as needed.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

This Is How a Robot Will Crawl Through Your Veins


Virob will twitch through your circulatory system performing microsurgery; a fantastically creepy voyage

There's something magnificently creepy about this tiny bot, just one millimeter wide, developed at Israel's Technion University. Maybe it's the resemblance to a twitching tick or flea, or the fact that it's so small there could be insectile bots all around you right now and you'd hardly notice. (The robot, called Virob, has no internal power source--it derives its power from external magnetic fields.

Read more ....

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Memristor Minds: The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

Slime mould feeding on the surface of an almond. These cunning organisms could be the missing link in memory circuits (Image: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library

From The New Scientist:

EVER had the feeling something is missing? If so, you're in good company. Dmitri Mendeleev did in 1869 when he noticed four gaps in his periodic table. They turned out to be the undiscovered elements scandium, gallium, technetium and germanium. Paul Dirac did in 1929 when he looked deep into the quantum-mechanical equation he had formulated to describe the electron. Besides the electron, he saw something else that looked rather like it, but different. It was only in 1932, when the electron's antimatter sibling, the positron, was sighted in cosmic rays that such a thing was found to exist.

Read more ....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Robo-bats With Metal Muscles May Be Next Generation Of Remote Control Flyers

The skeleton of the robotic bat uses shape-memory metal alloy that is super-elastic for the joints, and smart materials that respond to electric current for the muscular system. (Credit: Gheorghe Bunget, North Carolina State University)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2009) — Tiny flying machines can be used for everything from indoor surveillance to exploring collapsed buildings, but simply making smaller versions of planes and helicopters doesn't work very well. Instead, researchers at North Carolina State University are mimicking nature's small flyers – and developing robotic bats that offer increased maneuverability and performance.

Small flyers, or micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs), have garnered a great deal of interest due to their potential applications where maneuverability in tight spaces is necessary, says researcher Gheorghe Bunget. For example, Bunget says, "due to the availability of small sensors, MAVs can be used for detection missions of biological, chemical and nuclear agents." But, due to their size, devices using a traditional fixed-wing or rotary-wing design have low maneuverability and aerodynamic efficiency.

Read more ....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Physicists Find Way To Control Individual Bits In Quantum Computers

Optical lattices use lasers to separate rubidium atoms (red) for use as information "bits" in neutral-atom quantum processors -- prototype devices which designers are trying to develop into full-fledged quantum computers. NIST scientists have managed to isolate and control pairs of the rubidium atoms with polarized light, an advance that may bring quantum computing a step closer to reality. (Credit: NIST)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (July 7, 2009) — Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have overcome a hurdle in quantum computer development, having devised a viable way to manipulate a single "bit" in a quantum processor without disturbing the information stored in its neighbors. The approach, which makes novel use of polarized light to create "effective" magnetic fields, could bring the long-sought computers a step closer to reality.

A great challenge in creating a working quantum computer is maintaining control over the carriers of information, the "switches" in a quantum processor while isolating them from the environment. These quantum bits, or "qubits," have the uncanny ability to exist in both "on" and "off" positions simultaneously, giving quantum computers the power to solve problems conventional computers find intractable – such as breaking complex cryptographic codes.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Robot Invented To Crawl Through Veins

From PC Authority:

With a diameter of just one millimeter, a tiny robot has been unveiled that will crawl through the body to diagnose artery blockage

Scientists from Israel's Technion University have unveiled a tiny robot, made using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, purportedly able to crawl through a person's veins in order to diagnose and potentially treat artery blockage and cancer.

The little robot - with a diameter of just one millimeter - has neither engine nor onboard controls, instead being propelled forward by a magnetic field wielded on it from outside the patient's body.

Read more ....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Robot Rescue 'Rat' Feels Its Way Through Rubble

From New Scientist:

A new robot with artificial whiskers could one day be used to locate survivors of natural disasters, or people trapped in burning buildings.

Developed by a team led by Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield and Anthony Pipe from the University of Bristol, both in the UK, SCRATCHbot mimics the way a rat senses its environment.

Long plastic whiskers at the side of the robot's head move back and forth up to 5 times per second to detect nearby objects. If a whisker touches something, control software determines the location of the obstacle and orients the robot's head and body so that shorter bristles on its nose can make contact with it.

While many robots use touch sensors to supplement cameras, SCRATCHbot relies solely on its whiskers to feel its way around.

Read more ....

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Emotional Robots: Will We Love Them Or Hate Them?

From New Scientist:

SUNDAY, 1 February 2009, and 100 million Americans have got only one thing on their minds - the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to battle the Arizona Cardinals in the most popular televised sporting event in the US. In a hotel room in New York, 46 supporters gather to watch the game, munching burgers and downing beers. Nothing strange about that, of course, aside from the machines that are monitoring these sports fans' every move and every breath they take.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Darpa's First Robotic Ornithopter Hovers, Flies Like a Hummingbird

From Popular Science:

The creepy, tiny wing-flapping UAV, designed for indoor flight, is modelled on hummingbirds

A few years from now, bird-watchers may be in for a double take: that flapping creature in the distance? Nope, not a bird. Mutant dragon fly? Nope--it's Darpa's latest unmanned aerial robo-sentinel, inspired by the flight mechanics of birds.

Read more ....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Laser Light Switch Could Leave Transistors In The Shade

This experimental set-up was used to show that it is possible to make a transistor that acts using laser beams, not electric currents (Image: Martin Pototschnig)

From New Scientist:

An optical transistor that uses one laser beam to control another could form the heart of a future generation of ultrafast light-based computers, say Swiss researchers.

Conventional computers are based on transistors, which allow one electrode to control the current moving through the device and are combined to form logic gates and processors. The new component achieves the same thing, but for laser beams, not electric currents.

A green laser beam is used to control the power of an orange laser beam passing through the device.

Read more ....