kottke.org posts about robots

Chappie and the computing rights movementNov 04 2014

Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) is coming out with a new film in the spring, Chappie. Chappie is a robot who learns how to feel and think for himself. According to Entertainment Weekly, two of the movie's leads are Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord, who play a pair of criminals who robotnap Chappie.

Discussions of AI are particularly hot right now (e.g. see Musk and Bostrom) and filmmakers are using the opportunity to explore AI in film, as in Her, Ex Machina, and now Chappie.

Blomkamp, with his South African roots, puts a discriminatory spin on AI in Chappie, which is consistent with his previous work. If robots can think and feel for themselves, what sorts of rights and freedoms are they due in our society? Because right now, they don't have any...computers and robots do humanity's bidding without any compensation or thought to their well-being. Because that's an absurd concept, right? Who cares how my Macbook Air feels about me using it to write this post? But imagine a future robot that can feel and think as well as (or, likely, much much faster than) a human...what might it think about that? What might it think about being called "it"? What might it decide to do about that? Perhaps superintelligent emotional robots won't have human feelings or motivations, but in some ways that's even scarier.

The whole thing can be scary to think about because so much is unknown. SETI and the hunt for habitable exoplanets are admirable scientific endeavors, but humans have already discovered alien life here on Earth: mechanical computers. Boole, Lovelace, Babbage, von Neumann, and many others contributed to the invention of computing and those machines are now evolving quickly, and hardware and software both are evolving so much faster than our human bodies (hardware) and culture (software) are evolving. Soon enough, perhaps not for 20-30 years still but soon, there will be machines among us that will be, essentially, incredibly advanced alien beings. What will they think of humans? And what will they do about it? Fun to think about now perhaps, but this issue will be increasingly important in the future.

Ex MachinaOct 30 2014

The directorial debut of Alex Garland, screenwriter of Sunshine and 28 Days Later, looks interesting.

Ex Machina is an intense psychological thriller, played out in a love triangle between two men and a beautiful robot girl. It explores big ideas about the nature of consciousness, emotion, sexuality, truth and lies.

(via http://devour.com/)

Our robot future: R2-D2 or C-3PO?Oct 16 2014

Rex Sorgatz wonders what sort of robots we'll build, R2-D2s or C-3POs.

R2-D2 excels in areas where humans are deficient: deep computation, endurance in extreme conditions, and selfless consciousness. R2-D2 is a computer that compensates for human deficiencies -- it shines where humans fail.

C3-PO is the personification of the selfish human -- cloying, rules-bound, and despotic. (Don't forget, C3-PO let Ewoks worship him!) C3-PO is a factotum for human vanity -- it engenders the worst human characteristics.

I love the chart he did for the piece, characterizing 3PO's D&D alignment as lawful evil and his politics as Randian.

AutomataAug 22 2014

Automata is a film directed by Gabe Ibáñez in which robots become sentient and...do something. Not sure what...I hope it's not revolt and try to take over the world because zzzz... But this movie looks good so here's hoping.

Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

Automata will be available in theaters and VOD on Oct 10. (via devour)

Humans need not applyAug 15 2014

This video combines two thoughts to reach an alarming conclusion: "Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can't match" + "Economics always wins" = "Automation is inevitable."

That's why it's important to emphasize again this stuff isn't science fiction. The robots are here right now. There is a terrifying amount of working automation in labs and warehouses that is proof of concept.

We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different.

Horses aren't unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they're unemployable. There's little work a horse can do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own.

(via waxy)

Robots Gone WildJul 08 2014

Rejection

I've had this page of misbehaving robot animated GIFs up in a tab for a few days now and every time it pops up on my screen, I watch all of them and then I laugh. That's it. Instant fun. The garbage truck is my favorite, but what gets me laughing the most is how exuberantly the ketchup squirting robot sprays its payload onto that hamburger bun.

Micro robots!Apr 21 2014

SRI International and DARPA are making little tiny robots (some are way smaller than a penny) that can actually manufacture products.

They can move so fast! And that shot of dozens of them moving in a synchronized fashion! Perhaps Skynet will actually manifest itself not as human-sized killing machines but as swarms of trillions of microscopic nanobots, a la this episode of Star Trek:TNG. (via @themexican)

Amazing new robot dances to dubstepNov 01 2013

It's not up on their web site or YouTube yet, but I'm pretty sure this is a prototype of a new dancing robot built by Boston Dynamics, makers of the Big Dog, Cheetah, and Petman robots.

Looks similar to Atlas or Petman, but way more advanced...how did they pack all of the circuitry and power supplies into such a small yet realistic-looking housing? (via devour)

Amazing robot gymnastOct 24 2013

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this video of a robotic gymnast doing a routine on the high bar, but holy cow! I audibly gasped at the 33-second mark and again at 57 seconds.

Looks like a home-built, just some guy in his garage. The robot has learned some new tricks since that video was made. Here's a quintuple backflip landing:

A double twist that it didn't quite land:

And it does floor exercises as well...here's a double back handspring:

(via @moth)

Robotics state-of-the-art in 2013Oct 22 2013

At In Focus, Alan Taylor surveys the state-of-the-art in robotics with a varied selection of photos. For example, here are two Big Dogs frolicking in the robot dog park:

Big Dogs Frolic

And better yet, Florian Lopes looks as though he's enjoying his new bionic hand:

Bionic Hand

The robot that does parkourJul 25 2013

Meet RHex. He's a robot built by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and he can do parkour.

They just have to get him jumping as high as the Sand Flea and they'll have something. (via digg)

Robot evolutionApr 15 2013

Starting with cubes of four simple materials (bone, tissue, 2 types of muscles) and one simple rule (faster bots have more offspring) results in a surprising amount of complexity among walking robots.

(via buzzfeed)

Lionel Messi vs. robot goalkeeperApr 08 2013

Someone built a robotic goalkeeper and then someone else had the bright idea to pit reigning best player in the world Lionel Messi against it:

Iker Casillas, your job is in jeopardy. But maybe not quite yet...by the final attempt, Messi seems to have figured out how to send the goalie the wrong way, at least for an instant. (via digg)

LEGO paper airplane folding machineMar 21 2013

It does what it says on the tin.

My favorite part is how it shoots the airplane out at the end. "Be gone, good sir, I am quite done with you!" (thx, Alex)

Cinder block throwing robotMar 04 2013

I don't want to stand in the way of all science, but I am completely on board with the banning of all research into the creation of a dancing dog robot that throws cinder blocks with ease. Oops, I am too late. And now this is happening.

This place isn't too far from me in Boston, so if anyone wants to meet up for a little Terminator 2 style future saving, let me know.

Chainsaw-wielding robotJan 28 2013

This robot with a chainsaw for an arm makes a few cuts into a log and, voila, chairs.

More info here. What's so terrifying about furniture making? Now imagine this robot with tiny chainsaws on its arms leading a army of BigDog-mounted noodle-slicing robots and sleep well tonight, suckers! (via @curiousoctopus)

NASA's Smart SPHERES, floating robot drones on the ISSJan 14 2013

NASA is testing something they call SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station...they are spherical robots that can fly around the station and perform simple tasks. They were inspired by the floating droid remote that Luke trains with in Star Wars. The most recent test was in December.

The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station's Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.

In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.

They are outfitting the Smart SPHERES with Android phones for data collection:

Each SPHERE Satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. When Miller's team first designed the SPHERES, all of their potential uses couldn't be imagined up front. So, the team built an "expansion port" into each satellite where additional sensors and appendages, such as cameras and wireless power transfer systems, could be added. This is how the Nexus S handset -- the SPHERES' first smartphone upgrade -- is going to be attached.

"Because the SPHERES were originally designed for a different purpose, they need some upgrades to become remotely operated robots," said DW Wheeler, lead engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. "By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. With the smartphone, the SPHERES will have a built-in camera to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, a powerful computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will use to transfer data in real-time to the space station and mission control."

Here's some video from a past test:

Chinese noodle-making robotAug 24 2012

Many of the food robots I've featured on the site look like machines. Not so this Chinese noodle -making robot:

Silvery, pulsing eyes...it looks like something out of a Tom Baker-era Doctor Who serial. Fantastic. (via @leesnelgrove)

Robot and Frank: a heist movie with a robot sidekickJun 28 2012

Well, this is something...an ex-jewel thief decides to unretire and rob people with help from his robot butler. I had to look this up on IMDB to make sure it wasn't something from Funny or Die or College Humor.

Best robotic sidekick since Mr. Spock. Now reboot Lethal Weapon with Donald Glover and a robot playing the Mel Gibson role. (Yes, I meant Donald. Danny is clearly too old for that shit.)

The robot that always wins rock/paper/scissorsJun 27 2012

The trick with the roshambot is that it waits until its opponent has made her choice and then chooses the winning throw in about 1 millisecond. I.e. it cheats.

I wonder what would happen if you put two of these robots against each other? (via @dens)

Cheese flipping robotsJun 14 2012

In the vast cheese warehouses of Europe, robots are employed to flip the cheeses as they age. Here's a Gruyere flipper:

Mushroom processing machineJun 08 2012

You're not going to believe me, but this mushroom processing machine is pretty fascinating. There's lots of deceptively simple engineering to mechanically manipulate the mushrooms...the auto-alignment and size-sorting bits are especially interesting.

Plus there's a trance soundtrack. See also how crayons are made, the robotic pancake sorter, and the salami sorting robot. (via @kdern)

Low-resolution 3D printingMay 21 2012

Dirk van der Kooij is a designer who uses a low-resoution 3D printer of sorts to print out plastic furniture with plastic recovered from recycled refrigerators.

Images of the finished product are available on his web site as are the chairs themselves, for €840. (via @curiousoctopus)

Look how high this robot can jump!Mar 30 2012

I followed a link to this video from Twitter. "Oh, a small jumping robot," I thought, "I bet it hops over a chair or something." Not even close. Check this out:

Boston Dynamics is at it again...they did the Big Dog and cheetah robots as well. What are the odds that they change their name to Cyberdyne Systems in the next few years? (via @jcn)

Update: I did a quick calculation...if a 6-ft-tall human could jump as high as this robot relative to its height, they could jump 315 feet into the air, high enough to land on the roof of a 30-story building. (If you ignore the scaling issues, that is.)

A day in the life of a warehouse robotMar 28 2012

Amazon announced recently that they bought a company named Kiva for $775 million. In cash. Kiva makes robots for fulfillment warehouses, of which Amazon has many. When I heard this news, I was all, robots are cool, but $775 million? But this short video on how the Kiva robots work made me a believer:

Also, pro-tip, it's pronounced ro-butt. (via ★interesting)

The fastest land robot in the worldMar 06 2012

Flesh and blood cheetahs are the fastest land animals, capable of traveling at more than 70 mph for shorts periods of time. This robotic cheetah can only do 18 mph but could probably go forever and ever until everything on the Earth has been caught and consumed by its steely jaws.

For reference, Usain Bolt's average speed over 100 meters is ~23 mph, so at least he's safe...for a little while. (via ★interesting)

Robot more human than human?Nov 01 2011

You remember the BigDog robotic prototype constructed by Boston Dynamics? Now they have a human robot that can run, do push-ups, and just generally acts pretty human.

Take this robot, some super-realistic human masks, and a Siri-powered iPhone 4S, and we're in Terminator territory. (via ★interesting)

Robot rides bicycleOct 27 2011

Watch until at least 45 seconds in.

I wanna see three of these riding a team sprint in a tiny velodrome.

The amazing pen-spinning, phone-catching, rope-tying robotic handJun 14 2011

I think I've featured this robot on the site before (yep, here it is), but she seems to have acquired some new skills. Throwing the mobile phone into the air and catching it is flat-out unbelievable but I liked the quiet deftness of the hand's rice tweezing.

See also the universal gripper, the salami sorter, the robot who considers towels, and the pancake sorter. (via ★mouser)

Robot beanbag hand can grip anythingOct 28 2010

I am unclear on exactly how this works, but it does work amazingly well.

The gripper uses the same phenomenon that makes a vacuum -- packed bag of ground coffee so firm; in fact, ground coffee worked very well in the device. But the researchers found a new use for this everyday phenomenon: They placed the elastic bag against a surface and then removed the air from the bag, solidifying the ground coffee inside and forming a tight grip. When air is returned to the bag, the grip relaxes.

(thx, phil)

Salami sorting robotApr 30 2010

It's no secret that I could watch food-sorting robots all day. This salami sorter is no exception:

The good stuff starts around 55 seconds.

The robot who considers towelsApr 13 2010

Who knew that watching a towel-folding robot could be so funny and fascinating?

I found this on Mike Migurski's site and I cannot improve upon his description of the video:

There is so much here. The "previously-unseen towel" part of the title, the slightly-femmy movements of the robot, the way the 50X speed-up makes it look like a Svankmajer film, the diligent care with which it smooths out each towel when it's done, and the palpable shock when it returns to the towel table and there aren't any left to fold.

Robotic pancake sorterSep 28 2009

This robot can sort pancakes at a rate of over 400 ppm (pancakes per minute).

The action gets going at about 1:15...don't miss the explanation of the pancake buffer shelf about 2/3s of the way through. (via eat me daily)

High speed robotic handsAug 04 2009

Wow. I had no idea that robots could move that quickly. (via justin blanton)

Giant fire-breathing robotMar 31 2009

Sure, it looks like Astro Boy with heartburn, but Kenji Yanobe's Giant Torayan is not the kind of toy you leave with just any kid.

This GIANT TORATAN doll is the ultimate child's weapon, as it sings, dances, breathes fire, and follows only those orders given by children.

Masterminded at Nagoya Institute of Technology, its Command Device uses voice-recognition technology to differentiate between instructions given by adults versus those given by younger evil geniuses.

Half-dragon, half-Mary Poppins, all awesome.

Robots!Mar 05 2009

The Big Picture collects a number of photos of robots...particularly robots interacting with humans. (The third one is particularly freaky/awesome.) I'm wondering how these photos will look 50/60/70 years from now when (presumably) robots are smart & capable enough that they are thought of a new sentient life form (rather than as machines) and are entitled to the rights that humans have.

Best robotsFeb 05 2009

The best robots of 2008, including soccer players, humanoid bots, and a self-healing robotic chair.

Robot densityDec 11 2008

The world's robot density is highest in Europe, although Japan makes use of robots at twice the rate of any other country.

There are now 1 million industrial robots toiling around the world, and Japan is where they're the thickest on the ground. It has 295 of these electromechanical marvels for every 10000 manufacturing workers -- a robot density almost 10 times the world average and nearly twice that of Singapore (169), South Korea (164), and Germany (163).

When the war with the machines starts, Africa will be humanity's last stronghold.

Driving simulator for fruit fliesNov 18 2008

Roboticists have turned fruit flies into "flyborgs" who can drive little cars around an obstacle course.

First, a fruit fly is tethered to a rod with a cylindrical LED display around it. The display shows geometric patterns that are known to make a fruit fly move left or right - a kind of virtual reality simulator for flies. Since the fly is tethered, it can't actually move, but it tries to anyway. "The fly's pretty dumb," says roboticist Brad Nelson, who created the "flyborg" with colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

The patterns on the display are triggered by images transmitted from a camera mounted on a miniature robotic car. If the car approaches an obstacle, the display shows the appropriate pattern and the fly reacts accordingly. As it does so, another camera detects minute changes in the movements of its wings. "We measure the lift force and kinematics in real time," says Nelson.

The goal is to figure out how the fly makes decisions about movement so that those decisions can be replicated by a computer.

Dancing six-legged robotNov 04 2008

Big Dog is cool and all but this is a video of a robot with 6 legs and a goateed humanoid head wearing sunglasses and a fedora dancing to Lou Bega's Mambo No. 5. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Big Dog robotMar 18 2008

Robots are getting better...the Big Dog robot can recover itself from slipping on ice, walk in the deep snow, and keep its balance when kicked hard in the side.

Great video. (via mouser)

It looks like humans are just asMar 05 2008

It looks like humans are just as capable of forming bonds with robots as they are with dogs. Perhaps the robot dogs will comfort us while we propagate memes for our machine overlords.

The 2007 robot of the year is aDec 31 2007

The 2007 robot of the year is a mechanical arm made by Fanuc Ltd. and used for packaging. The arm is capable of grabbing 120 items per minute from a conveyor belt.

Swiveling frenetically, they analyzed digital images of items scattered randomly on a swiftly moving conveyor belt and picked up the items using suction cups that blow air in and out at their tips. They then worked together to place line up the items in rows inside boxes.

Here's a video of three of these babies in action.

iRobot, the makers of the Roomba roboticOct 18 2007

iRobot, the makers of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, also makes a pool cleaning robot.

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan,May 14 2007

On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, robots are fast becoming part of the US military family. "The colonel just could not stand the pathos of watching the burned, scarred and crippled machine drag itself forward on its last leg. This test, he charged, was inhumane." (via cd)

Ken Graney's Roomba has broken the threeApr 16 2007

Ken Graney's Roomba has broken the three laws of Roombotics. "The first law states that the device 'must not suck up jewelry or other valuables, or through inaction, allow valuables to be sucked up.' The second law prescribes that Roomba 'must obey vacuuming orders given to it by humans except when such orders would conflict with the first law.' The third and final law authorizes a Roomba to 'protect its own ability to suction dust and debris as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.'"

The top movie robots of all time,Dec 14 2005

The top movie robots of all time, including #5 and the Iron Giant.

Buried treasure worth $10 billion (!!!) is found onSep 28 2005

Buried treasure worth $10 billion (!!!) is found on the Robinson Crusoe Island by a robot invented by a Chilean company. The loot is comprised of gold and jewels stolen from the Incans by Spanish conquistadors. The estimated 2004 GDP of Chile is $169.1 billion. (via mm)

Robot LucyJul 20 2005

Robotics research suggests that Lucy walked upright like humans. Lucy, discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia, is a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton.

The World Series of Poker..........RobotsJul 13 2005

The World Series of Poker..........Robots. Robots make anything cooler.

Sony Aibo dances to a Daft Punk songJun 23 2005

Sony Aibo dances to a Daft Punk song.

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