Wiggly Wheels Could Help Keep Rovers from Dying on Mars

Eleven years ago this week (or very nearly), the Spirit rover was noodling around in Gusev Crater on Mars when it drove over a thin hard crust of soil and broke through into a layer of soft sand underneath. The rover was already a little bit hobbled (understandable, since Spirit was something like 2,000 days into what was originally planned as a 90-day mission), and after months of trying, it became clear that Spirit wasn’t likely to move again. Unable to reach a position where its solar panels could be tilted toward the sun, Spirit froze to death during the Martian winter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech This animation shows NASA’s Spirit rover trying to drive through soft sand. Stuck in this location and unable to reach a position where its solar panels could be tilted toward the sun, Spirit lost power and its hardware froze during the Martian winter.  Larger rovers like Continue reading Wiggly Wheels Could Help Keep Rovers from Dying on Mars

Dogs Obey Commands Given by Social Robots

One of the things that sets robots apart from intermittently animated objects like toasters is that humans generally see robots as agents. That is, when we look at a robot, and especially a social robot (a robot designed for human interaction), we tend to ascribe some amount of independent action to them, along with motivation at varying levels of abstraction. Robots, in other words, have agency in a way that toasters just don’t.  Agency is something that designers of robots intended for human interaction can to some extent exploit to make the robots more effective. But humans aren’t the only species that robots interact with. At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2020), researchers at Yale University’s Social Robotics Lab led by Brian Scassellati presented a paper taking the first step towards determining whether dogs, which are incredibly good at understanding social behaviors in humans, see human-ish robots as agents—or more specifically, Continue reading Dogs Obey Commands Given by Social Robots