Have you ever wondered why the Celtic Sea is home to so many marine predators? No? Well, scientists at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre have. This month they set about finding out, using a long-endurance autonomous surface vehicle known as the C-Enduro.
“The process begins with a robotic arm and a set of five plastic cubes with motors inside. Each cube features a unique ‘genome’ made up of a combination of between one and five genes. This genome gives each cube its own set of attributes, relating to its shape, construction and motor commands.”
“Based on what we've seen at DARPA's Robotics challenge finals, most humanoid machines are still stiff and hilariously clumsy. MIT's new robot named ‘Hermes,’ however, moves a bit more gracefully and has human-like reflexes -- because it's hooked up to a human controller.”
“So what's important about FLI's letter, if not its content, or its most prominent signatories? It's that virtually every major player in AI and robotics has endorsed it. The growing army of signatories signatories currently includes more than 50 Google engineers and researchers, many of who are from DeepMind, the AI firm that Google acquired last year for $400M. Also on the list are Yann LeCun, director of AI research for Facebook, and Yoshua Bengio, an AI researcher from the University of Montreal.”
“The auto insurance industry is having its Napster moment. Like record companies at the dawn of online music file sharing, Allstate, Geico, State Farm, and others are grappling with innovations that could put a huge dent in their revenue. As carmakers automate more aspects of driving, accidents will likely plunge and car owners will need less coverage.”
Earlier this week NASA brought together “a broad international and U.S. audience of government and civilian representatives including leaders from industry, and academia to discuss, understand, and define the UAS impact and challenges ahead.”
John Payne's insight:
YouTube user TilTuli has assembled a playlist of the event:
“Facebook has revealed its first full-scale drone, which it plans to use to provide internet access in remote parts of the world. Code-named ‘Aquila’, the solar-powered drone will be able to fly without landing for three months at a time, using a laser to beam data to a base station on the ground.”
Operating between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, Facebook's drone will follow a flight path much like that of the submersible robots that glide between shallow and deep water by altering their buoyancy, but do it in the air, above the altitudes used by commercial airliners, and on a daily cycle driven by the availability of sunlight for power.
“Our founders share the story of the creation of Anki, bringing artificial intelligence and robotics into everyday life with consumer robotics products. We are excited about taking technology previously restricted to science labs and research institutes, and making it accessible to everyone.”
John Payne's insight:
My intuition says this is a company that can't be judged by their initial products. They plainly have ambitions that reach far beyond what they've chosen as a means of bootstrapping a solvent enterprise.
“John Leonard’s group in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering specializes in SLAM, or simultaneous localization and mapping… Last week, at the Robotics Science and Systems conference, members of Leonard’s group presented a new paper demonstrating how SLAM can be used to improve object-recognition systems… The system uses SLAM information to augment existing object-recognition algorithms. … Despite working with existing SLAM and object-recognition algorithms, however, and despite using only the output of an ordinary video camera, the system’s performance is already comparable to that of special-purpose robotic object-recognition systems that factor in depth measurements as well as visual information.”
“One of the holy grails of robotic surgery is the ability to perform minimally invasive procedures guided by real-time scans from a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine. The problem is the space inside MRI scanners is tight for a person, let alone a person and a robot. What’s more, these machines use very strong magnetic fields, so metal is not a good thing to place inside of them, a restriction that is certainly a problem for robots. Now researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are developing a MRI-compatible robotic surgery tool that can overcome those limitations. Their system isn’t made of metal, but instead has plastic parts and ceramic piezoelectric motors that allow it to work safely inside an MRI.”
As drought strikes broad regions of the world, farmers are focusing on the crops that can feed people—not the crops that can power their cars. But what if there was an energy crop that could grow where traditional crops can’t? Even in a drought? Enter the cactus.
John Payne's insight:
There's no obvious connection to robotics here, until you look at the problem of harvesting the seeds. Solve that and the rest is easy.
“The complexity involved with real-time pedestrian detection is staggering, especially considering the range of settings, movements, other objects in a particular scene can rapidly change, interact and not just move, but in what manner pedestrians move. … At 15 frames per second, the Google team set a dramatic record that does not sacrifice either speed or accuracy against benchmarks like the Caltech Pedestrian detection metric, which is based on one of a few very large public datasets that leverages a bank of 50,000 “labeled pedestrians” and is comprised of data collected from a color dashboard camera with both rural and urban scenes.”
There's no knowing, going into a project like this, just which genes might turn out to be useful. You bring together varieties which each exhibit one or more of the traits you're looking for and put them together, maybe even making sure that they cross by applying pollen from one to the pistils of another, collect the seed, use it to plant the next crop, select plants from it that seem to be headed in the right direction, collect their seed, and so forth, iterating until you have all of those target traits combined in individual plants. It's time-consuming, tedious work, perfectly suited for robots!
“Researchers in Tokyo noticed that young children, primarily those in kindergarten to fifth grade, had a tendency to inflict abuse upon the machine, ranging from simple taunts to outright physical harm. … When faced with this threat, the robot would alter its course to a more densely populated area, or if it detected an adult nearby, would head towards that direction.”
The whiskers that help rats find their way around dingy sewers has inspired a tactile sensor that could be used for navigating all manner of dark conditions. The deviceis able to generate images of obscured environments and could find its way into biomedical applications.
For any of the VR headsets coming to market to succeed, there needs to be VR content to immerse ourselves in. Nokia is hoping to fill this burgeoning need with Ozo, the world's first commercially available VR camera aimed at content creation professionals.
John Payne's insight:
A likely early application for this device is on telepresence robots, but before long they'll probably also be used to provide sensory data for mapping and navigation. They'll probably be at their best suspended from balloons in still air.
“To jump, a water strider rises upward while smoothly pushing the water surface downward and closing four of its legs inward… The 68 milligram robot (with a 2-cm body) that the researchers designed to mimic this behavior is based closely on real water strider: the wire legs are coated with a superhydrophobic material, and curve up at the toes, just like the real insect.”
A startup called Deep Genomics plans to use deep learning to usher in a new era of personalized medicine by building a huge database that identifies gene variants and mutations never before observed or studied and determines how these link to various diseases.
“This study’s primary purpose was to assess the feasibility of new approaches for achieving our national goals in space. NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an 'Evolvable Lunar Architecture' (ELA) that leverages commercial capabilities and services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term. We evaluated an ELA concept that was designed as an incremental, low-cost and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon in a manner that directly supports NASA’s long-term plan to send humans to Mars. The ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars.”
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