Sphero’s New RVR Robot Is More Hackable Than Ever

RVR is rugged, affordable, expandable, and easy to program Sphero is introducing a new robot today on Kickstarter. Called RVR, which can either be pronounced just like it’s spelled or like “rover,” the robot is a development platform designed to be a bridge between educational robots like Sphero and more sophisticated and expensive platforms like Misty. It’s mostly affordable, very expandable, and comes from a company with a lot of experience making robots. 

Can Machine Learning Teach Us Anything?

Games, Computers, and Humans Illustration: Edmon DeHaro The breathless headline caught my eye: “Computer Shows Human Intuition—AI Breakthrough!” (or words to that effect). I was intrigued but skeptical. Reading further, I learned that a computer program, AlphaZero, developed by a team at DeepMind, in London, had beaten other champion chess-playing programs, as well as (of course) humans. That wasn’t the interesting news, as we take that kind of dominance for granted these days. What fascinated me was how the program had been constructed. Instead of being tuned by expert players, AlphaZero initially knew nothing more than the rules of chess. It learned how to play, and to win, by playing against itself. Soon it got so good it could beat everyone and everything. But, I wondered, isn’t this what humans have been doing for centuries—learning by playing chess against ourselves? What, if anything, has the computer learned so quickly that we Continue reading Can Machine Learning Teach Us Anything?

Video Friday: Final Goodbye to Opportunity Rover, and More

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!): HRI 2019 – March 11-14, 2019 – Daegu, Korea RoboSoft 2019 – April 14-18, 2019 – Daegu, Korea Nîmes Robotics Festival – May 17-19, 2019 – Nîmes, France ICRA 2019 – May 20-24, 2019 – Montreal, Canada 2nd Annual Robotics Summit & Expo – June 4-6, 2019 – Boston, Mass., USA Energy Drone Coalition Summit – June 12-13, 2019 – Woodlands, Texas, USA Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

For Micro Robot Insects, Four Wings May Be Better Than Two

An extra pair of wings makes robot insects much easier to control In 2013, some folks from Rob Wood’s lab at Harvard, including then-postdoc Sawyer Buckminster Fuller, published a paper in Science introducing a (mostly) controllable version RoboBee, an insect-size flying robot that could lift itself, hover, and move around a bit using two flapping wings. Since then, there have been several more generations of RoboBee, including this nutty explosive diving one. The problem with robots at this scale, and especially flying robots at this scale, is energy storage. It takes a lot of oomph to lift off of the ground and stay there, which means that high power is necessary, which means a relatively big battery to provide that power for a significant amount of time, which means a heavier robot over, which means more power is required to lift off, and you can see what the problem is. Continue reading For Micro Robot Insects, Four Wings May Be Better Than Two

Robot Attempts to Navigate As Well As a Tiny Desert Ant

Desert ants can navigate remarkably well with the aid of the sun, a skill that robots are trying to duplicate Insects in general are unfailingly impressive with how intelligent and capable they are, with an absolute minimum of sensing and computing power. Where things start to get really interesting is when insects have to get clever in order to manage particularly challenging environments. Desert ants are a great example of this: While most ants rely on pheromone trails to navigate (they retrace their smell trails to get back to the nest), the heat of the desert means that pheromones don’t last very long. Instead, desert ants rely on a variety of techniques, including step counting, optic flow, landmarks, and most notably solar navigation. These techniques seem like they could come in handy for small, inexpensive robots exploring out in the solar system, where GPS isn’t available and sophisticated sensors come Continue reading Robot Attempts to Navigate As Well As a Tiny Desert Ant

4 Experts Respond to Trump’s Executive Order on AI

The new “American AI Initiative” is heavy on bombast, light on specifics Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing the American AI Initiative, with the aim of “accelerating our national leadership” in artificial intelligence. The announcement framed it as an effort to win an AI arms race of sorts:  “Americans have profited tremendously from being the early developers and international leaders in AI. However, as the pace of AI innovation increases around the world, we cannot sit idly by and presume that our leadership is guaranteed.” While extremely light on details, the announcement mentioned five major areas of action: Having federal agencies increase funding for AI R&D Making federal data and computing power more available for AI purposes  Setting standards for safe and trustworthy AI Training an AI workforce Engaging with international allies—but protecting the tech from foreign adversaries IEEE Spectrum asked four experts for their take on the Continue reading 4 Experts Respond to Trump’s Executive Order on AI

Robot Melts Its Bones to Change How It Walks

Joints that are reconfigurable on the fly help this small robot avoid obstacles Different animals are optimized for different things, and this optimization is reflected in the structures of their bodies. It’s especially evident in the skeletons of animals designed to move around on land, where there’s a crazy diversity of limbs and joints and feet. There are some generalizable structures that tend to work well, like having hips and knees and ankles and feet, but if you look at the difference between the skeleton of an ostrich and the skeleton of an elephant, you’ll get a sense of just how much wiggle room there is. Unfortunately for animals, optimization means that while they’re excellent at some things, they struggle with other things, because they’re not able to redesign and re-optimize their skeletons on the fly, because how on earth would that even work, right? But robots suffer no such Continue reading Robot Melts Its Bones to Change How It Walks

Video Friday: Robotic Gecko Gripper, and More

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!): HRI 2019 – March 11-14, 2019 – Daegu, Korea RoboSoft 2019 – April 14-18, 2019 – Daegu, Korea Nîmes Robotics Festival – May 17-19, 2019 – Nîmes, France ICRA 2019 – May 20-24, 2019 – Montreal, Canada 2nd Annual Robotics Summit & Expo – June 4-6, 2019 – Boston, Mass., USA Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Remotely Operated Home Robot Can Do Your Laundry

In Japan, you’ll be able to rent a home robot that someone else occasionally inhabits to fold your clothes Laundry is way, way, way up there on the list of things that people really wish robots could do for them. It’s a very hard problem, though—we’ve (sort of) seen some amount of laundry cycle success in a research environment, and there are robots out there that will fold some of your clothes while taking up a lot of space and probably not working very well, all things considered. The challenge, as always, is that complex manipulation tasks are very hard for robots, especially when vision is involved and everything gets wrapped up in a semi-structured, non-optimized environment. From that perspective, laundry is a fantastic example of tasks that humans are ideal for but that robots struggle with. A solution to this problem is to just let humans help the robots Continue reading Remotely Operated Home Robot Can Do Your Laundry

Pictionary-Playing AI Sketches the Future of Human-Machine Collaborations

As either “guesser” or “drawer,” the Allen Institute’s new AI cooperates with a human player What do the games of chess, Jeopardy!, Go, Texas Hold’em, and StarCraft have in common? In each of these competitive arenas, an AI has resoundingly beat the best human players in the world. These victories are astounding feats of artificial intelligence—yet they’ve become almost humdrum. Another day, another triumph over humans.  At the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), in Seattle, researchers set out to do something different. Their AllenAI collaborates with a human player in a Pictionary-style drawing and guessing game, which is won through human-AI cooperation.  Want to see for yourself? Go play it. AI2 has just launched a public version of the game, a simplified version of Pictionary that it calls Iconary. The current version of AllenAI has limited abilities—but as it engages with a diverse set of players, with different aptitudes Continue reading Pictionary-Playing AI Sketches the Future of Human-Machine Collaborations