Video Friday: Space Station’s New Robot Helper, 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!): Robotic Arena – January 12, 2019 – Wrocław, Poland RoboDEX – January 16-18, 2019 – Tokyo, Japan Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

New Class of Metamaterials Changes Physical Properties in Seconds

Mechanical metamaterials can have their rigidity tuned, offering a new approach to soft robotics Metamaterials seem like a technology out of science fiction. Because of the way these materials affect electromagnetic phenomena and physical attributes of materials, they can render objects invisible, leaving the observer in disbelief. While invisibility cloaks are a gee-whiz application, metamaterials now offer real-world commercial applications such as new antenna technologies for mobile phones. To get to the point where metamaterials are not just a curiosity, but also a viable commercial technology, they have had to evolve a new set of tricks . One example is the work of a team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the University of California San Diego (UCSD).  They have used so-called mechanical metamaterials—which exhibit unique mechanical properties that do not exist in nature—to create a novel material that can change from rigid to flexible in response to a magnetic Continue reading New Class of Metamaterials Changes Physical Properties in Seconds

DeepMind Achieves Holy Grail: An AI That Can Master Games Like Chess and Go Without Human Help

AlphaZero, a general-purpose game-playing system, quickly taught itself to be the best player ever in Go, chess and Shogi DeepMind, the London-based subsidiary of Alphabet, has created a system that can quickly master any game in the class that includes chess, Go, and Shogi, and do so without human guidance. The system, called AlphaZero, began its life last year by beating a DeepMind system that had been specialized just for Go. That earlier system had itself made history by beating one of the world’s best Go players, but it needed human help to get through a months-long course of improvement. AlphaZero trained itself—in just 3 days. Illustration: Science AlphaZero, playing White against Stockfish, began by identifying four candidate moves. After 1,000 simulations, it rejected the moves marked in red; after another 100,000 simulations, it chose the move marked in green over the one marked in orange. AlphaZero went on to win, thanks in large part to having opened the diagonal for its bishop. The research, published today Continue reading DeepMind Achieves Holy Grail: An AI That Can Master Games Like Chess and Go Without Human Help

IHMC Teaches Atlas to Walk Like a Human

Humans walk with straight legs and most robots don’t, but IHMC is teaching Atlas to do better Humanoid robots have a very distinctive walk. Knees bent, torso as stationary as possible. Even Boston Dynamics’ own Atlas uses this crouching sort of squat-walk to get around, because those perpetually bent legs are how it keeps from falling over. This sort of gait is so common with humanoid robots that it’s become the “normal” robot gait, but it’s also not at all the way that humans walk. We walk with straight legs, locking our knees with each stride, because it’s much easier to support our weight that way. You can try it for yourself: that bent knee “bipedal robot” walk gets tiring to keep up, because your leg muscles always have to be engaged.  At IHMC, roboticists are busy solving this problem by teaching Atlas to walk more like we do. In addition Continue reading IHMC Teaches Atlas to Walk Like a Human

This Plant Is Driving Its Own Robot

A robot that can detect a plant’s electrochemical signals goes where the plant wants it to go Cybernetics usually refers to humans enhancing themselves with robotic parts. Sometimes, we heard about animal-robot cyborgs, or insect-robot cyborgs. It’s not all that often that we hear about plant-robot cyborgs, because what’s a plant going to do with a robot, right? But you could argue that plants have the most to gain from robotic enhancements, because otherwise (with a few totally cool exceptions) plants aren’t capable of mobility or manipulation at all. It’s straightforward to see how mobility and manipulation could be useful for plants, but the real question is, How do you get a plant to tell its robotic parts what to do? At the MIT Media Lab, Harpreet Sareen is trying to figure this out, and Elowan the mobile cybernetic plant is just the first in “a series of plant-electronic hybrid Continue reading This Plant Is Driving Its Own Robot

Jibo Is Probably Totally Dead Now

The pioneering social robot company has sold its IP and assets, meaning that this is pretty much the end In some very sad but not at all surprising news considering how things have been going for social robots lately, The Robot Report is, er, reporting that Jibo Inc. has completed the sale of its assets and intellectual property to a New York–based investment management firm, which I suspect is not going to be using Jibo’s IP to build robots. Sigh.

Video Friday: InSight Mars Lander, 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!): Robotic Arena – January 12, 2019 – Wrocław, Poland RoboDEX – January 16-18, 2019 – Tokyo, Japan Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

In the Coming Automated Economy, People Will Work for AI

A new role for humans: prepping data so AI can learn to do our jobs In Texas, a company called Alegion is helping disabled veterans take part in the new digital economy. The vets’ job: preparing data so that an artificial intelligence (AI) system can learn from it.  “There’s a whole new industry sprouting on the shoulders of AI,” says Alegion CEO Nathaniel Gates in an interview with IEEE Spectrum. “We are employing people.” When people talk about AI, they’re often referring to software that gets very good at a particular task via a technique called deep learning. With this method, AI systems are given vast amounts of labeled data, and as they run through it, they learn to draw conclusions. For example, an AI tasked with classifying photos of animals would look at millions of images labeled cat, dog, hedgehog, and so forth, and would learn on its own which Continue reading In the Coming Automated Economy, People Will Work for AI

Occipital Announces Availability of Structure Core 3D Sensor

Depth sensing and 6-DoF spatial awareness for $400 When Microsoft’s Kinect came out, it’s probably fair to say that it revolutionized robotics. As soon as folks figured out that they could get halfway decent 3D vision for cheap, Kinects started to get kludged on to every robot that moved (or didn’t), even if that robot already had a much fancier and more expensive 3D vision system on it (I’m looking at you, PR2). But Kinect was a gaming sensor—not only was it not optimized for robotics even a little bit, Microsoft seemed to be not all that interested in supporting the robotics industry, and as the Kinect got older, people were forced to lurch painfully over to whatever else happened to be available, like PrimeSense (acquired by Apple) or Asus Xtion sensors. Or, they just stuck with the Kinect, which you still see robots using today. There’s clearly a need for high Continue reading Occipital Announces Availability of Structure Core 3D Sensor

North Sea Deployment Shows How Quadruped Robots Can Be Commercially Useful

ANYmal spends a week doing inspection tasks on an offshore platform As much as we like writing about quadrupedal robots, it’s always been a little bit tricky to see how they might be commercially useful in the near term outside of specialized circumstances like disaster response. We’ve seen some hints of what might be possible from Boston Dynamics, which has demonstrated construction inspection with SpotMini, but that’s not necessarily a situation where a robot is significantly better than a human. In September, ANYbotics brought one of their industrial quadrupeds, ANYmal, to an offshore power distribution platform in the North Sea. It’s very remote, and nothing much happens there, but it still requires a human or two to wander around checking up on stuff, a job that nobody wants.