Photo: Kagaku Chishiki Face Time: Makoto Nishimura [left] and his team designed Gakutensoku’s head so that it could express human affect. In 1923, a play featuring artificial humans opened in Tokyo. Rossum’s Universal Robots—or R.U.R., as it had become known—had premiered two years earlier in Prague and had already become a worldwide sensation. The play, written by Karel Čapek, describes the creation of enslaved synthetic humans, or robots—a term derived from robota, the Czech word for “forced labor.” Čapek’s robots, originally made to serve their human masters, gained consciousness and rebelled, soon killing all humans on Earth. In the play’s final scene, the robots reveal that they possess emotions just like we do, and the audience is left wondering whether they would also achieve the ability to reproduce—the only thing still separating robots from humans. The play was deeply disturbing for Makoto Nishimura, a 40-year-old professor of marine biology at the Continue reading The Short, Strange Life of the First Friendly Robot
When the group of high schoolers arrived for the coding camp, the idea of spending the day staring at a computer screen didn’t seem too exciting to them. But then Pepper rolled into the room. “All of a sudden everyone wanted to become a robot coder,” says Kass Dawson, head of marketing and business strategy at SoftBank Robotics America, in San Francisco. He saw the same thing happen in other classrooms, where the friendly humanoid was an instant hit with students.
A little over a decade ago, researchers at the University of Tehran introduced a rudimentary humanoid robot called Surena. An improved model capable of walking, Surena II, was announced not long after, followed by the more capable Surena III in 2015. Now the Iranian roboticists have unveiled Surena IV. The new robot is a major improvement over previous designs. A video highlighting its capabilities shows the robot mimicking a person’s pose, grasping a water bottle, and writing its name on a whiteboard. Surena is also shown taking a group selfie with its human pals.
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!): DARPA SubT Urban Circuit – February 18-27, 2020 – Olympia, Wash., USA HRI 2020 – March 23-26, 2020 – Cambridge, U.K. ICARSC 2020 – April 15-17, 2020 – Ponta Delgada, Azores ICRA 2020 – May 31-4, 2020 – Paris, France ICUAS 2020 – June 9-12, 2020 – Athens, Greece CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – Moscow, Russia Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.
Gif: Bob O’Connor/IEEE Spectrum With their jaw-dropping agility and animal-like reflexes, Boston Dynamics’ bioinspired robots have always seemed to have no equal. But that preeminence hasn’t stopped the company from pushing its technology to new heights, sometimes literally. Its latest crop of legged machines can trudge up and down hills, clamber over obstacles, and even leap into the air like a gymnast. There’s no denying their appeal: Every time Boston Dynamics uploads a new video to YouTube, it quickly racks up millions of views. These are probably the first robots you could call Internet stars. Spot Photo: Bob O’Connor 84 cm HEIGHT 25 kg WEIGHT 5.76 km/h SPEED SENSING: Stereo cameras, inertial measurement unit, position/force sensors ACTUATION: 12 DC motors POWER: Battery (90 minutes per charge) Boston Dynamics, once owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and now by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, has long been secretive about its designs. Few publications Continue reading How Boston Dynamics Is Redefining Robot Agility
Have you ever encountered a lifelike humanoid robot or a realistic computer-generated face that seem a bit off or unsettling, though you can’t quite explain why? Take for instance AVA, one of the “digital humans” created by New Zealand tech startup Soul Machines as an on-screen avatar for Autodesk. Watching a lifelike digital being such as AVA can be both fascinating and disconcerting. AVA expresses empathy through her demeanor and movements: slightly raised brows, a tilt of the head, a nod. By meticulously rendering every lash and line in its avatars, Soul Machines aimed to create a digital human that is virtually undistinguishable from a real one. But to many, rather than looking natural, AVA actually looks creepy. There’s something about it being almost human but not quite that can make people uneasy. Like AVA, many other ultra-realistic avatars, androids, and animated characters appear stuck in a disturbing in-between world: Continue reading What Is the Uncanny Valley?
MIT researchers have demonstrated a new kind of teleoperation system that allows a two-legged robot to “borrow” a human operator’s physical skills to move with greater agility. The system works a bit like those haptic suits from the Spielberg movie “Ready Player One.” But while the suits in the film were used to connect humans to their VR avatars, the MIT suit connects the operator to a real robot.
Last time we saw Agility Robotics’ Digit biped, it was picking up a box from a Ford delivery van and autonomously dropping it off on a porch, while at the same time managing to not trip over stairs, grass, or small children. As a demo, it was pretty impressive, but of course there’s an enormous gap between making a video of a robot doing a successful autonomous delivery and letting that robot out into the semi-structured world and expecting it to reliably do a good job. Agility Robotics is aware of this, of course, and over the last six months they’ve been making substantial improvements to Digit to make it more capable and robust. A new video posted today shows what’s new with the latest version of Digit—Digit v2.