A Q&A with Cruise’s head of AI, Hussein Mehanna

AI engineers of all descriptions—the autonomous vehicle industry wants you In 2016, Cruise, an autonomous vehicle startup acquired by General Motors, had about 50 employees. At the beginning of 2019, the headcount at its San Francisco headquarters—mostly software engineers, mostly working on projects connected to machine learning and artificial intelligence—hit around 1000. Now that number is up to 1500, and by the end of this year it’s expected to reach about 2000, sprawling into a recently purchased building that had housed Dropbox. And that’s not counting the 200 or so tech workers that Cruise is aiming to install in a Seattle, Wash., satellite development center and a handful of others in Phoenix, Ariz., and Pasadena, Calif. Cruise’s recent hires aren’t all engineers—it takes more than engineering talent to manage operations. And there are hundreds of so-called safety drivers that are required to sit in the 180 or so autonomous test vehicles whenever Continue reading A Q&A with Cruise’s head of AI, Hussein Mehanna

Robots Have a Hard Time Grasping These “Adversarial Objects”

To make robot grasping more robust, researchers are designing objects that are as difficult as possible for robots to manipulate There’s been a bunch of research recently into adversarial images, which are images of things that have been modified to be particularly difficult for computer vision algorithms to accurately identify. The idea is that these kinds of images can be used to help design more robust computer vision algorithms, because their “adversarial” nature is sort of a deliberate worst-case scenario—if your algorithm can handle adversarial images, then it can probably handle most other things. Researchers at UC Berkeley have been extending this concept to robot grasping, with physical adversarial objects carefully designed to be tricky for conventional robot grippers to pick up. All it takes is a slight tweak to straightforward three-dimensional shapes, and a standard two-finger will have all kinds of trouble finding a solid grasp.

Squeezing Rocket Fuel From Moon Rocks

Here’s how lunar explorers will mine the regolith to make rocket fuel Illustration: John MacNeill The most valuable natural resource on the moon may be water. In addition to sustaining lunar colonists, it could also be broken down into its constituent elements—hydrogen and oxygen—and used to make rocket propellant. Although the ancients called the dark areas on the moon maria (Latin for “seas”), it has long been clear that liquid water can’t exist on the lunar surface, where it would swiftly evaporate. Since the 1960s, though, scientists have hypothesized that the moon indeed harbors water, in the form of ice. Because the moon has a very small axial tilt—just 1.5 degrees—the floors of many polar craters remain in perpetual darkness. Water could thus condense and survive in such polar “cold traps,” where it might one day be mined.