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Picks of the Week - Sept 07

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole. Last updated on May 05, 2016 4:28 PM
Posted on Sep 08, 2015 10:26 PM. 4 min read time

Picks of the Week - Sept 07

From important news, videos, and information you simply can't miss, to hidden gems and a little humor, each week I scour the Internet to bring you my picks for the best robotics-related stories.


Image by marekuliasz/Shutterstock

“California to Ban Flying a Drone Over Someone’s Property Without Permission” (Slate)

Legislation and regulation to govern the use of drones is arriving thick and fast, with much of the conversation being driven by privacy concerns.

In August, the California legislature passed California SB 142 making it a trespassing violation to operate a drone at altitudes below 350 feet without prior consent of the landowner.

“The California bills and others are efforts to fill the regulatory void left by the federal government,” writes Justin Peters.

Regulatory voids could have negative implications for the development and successful commercialization of a wide range of robotic technologies, from care assistant robots to telepresence devices used in remote workplaces.

Does a lack of regulation and legislation hamper the development of innovative technologies by forcing companies to operate in a legal vacuum? Or does regulation stifle innovation?

I'll return to these questions in an upcoming blog post.

But in the meantime, consider the unequivocal joint statement issued by Brian Wynne, president and CEO, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA):

“California SB 142 is an unnecessary, innovation-stifling and job-killing proposal.“

Do you agree with their assessment?

"Paralyzed man walks with help of robotic exoskeleton at UCLA" (Los Angeles Times)

The story of how Irish motivational speaker Mark Pollock --who has been blind for 16 years and paralyzed from the waist down since 2010-- regained voluntary control of his legs using a non-invasive robotic exoskeleton developed by Ekso Bionics

His heart rate increased. He felt perspiration burst from his brow. And he felt another sensation he had missed for four years: tension in his legs, which turned to tingling as his legs "joined in with the movement" of the Ekso, he said."It felt, like, right," said Pollock. "It felt like it used to feel."

Ekso Bionics has garnered lots of positive press for its (mechanical) industrial exoskeleton recently, but it is transformative advances like their robotic exoskeleton that really tap into the excitement around the merging of human and machine.


Do you think of robotic exoskeletons as a “cyborg” technology?

I spoke with Ekso Bionic's CEO, Russ Angold, in February. During our interview he eloquently outlined the ways in which robotic exoskeletons combine “the things humans are good at” --perception, mapping cluttered environments, balance, et al.-- with the “hardiness and strength" of robots.

It struck me that throughout our conversation, Angold had not used the word cyborg once.

So, I asked: “Do you shy away from using the word 'cyborg'?”

“Cyborgs are people with implanted technology,” said Angold. “Whereas these exoskeletons you can slip on and off.”

Do you agree with Angold? Does a technology have to be invasive for it to be considered truly 'cyborg'-enabling?

The Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies in the Maritime Environment: Testing the Waters,” UNDIR, (PDF)

The latest report on autonomous, weaponized maritime robots from The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNDIR) begins:
“Recent attention among governments, civil society organizations and the media has focused on technical, military, legal and ethical issues of the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies. Experts have suggested that fully autonomous weapons are likely to first appear in the relatively “uncluttered” maritime environment. Yet, policy-makers have directed relatively little attention to the specific issues and challenges in this environment that might be different or more acute than on land or in the air. This paper aims to shed light on these issues in order to inform the broader debate on the weaponization of increasingly autonomous technologies.”
The paper certainly achieves its stated aim. Along the way, it provides a fascinating and comprehensive summary of the risks and policy considerations raised by the weaponization of maritime robots. These include:

  • risk of technology diffusion into new environments
  • increasing actors and objects in the maritime environment
  • accidental attacks and unintended interactions
  • proliferation flashpoints
  • environmental protection

Issues around “dual-use” technology controls, potential countermeasures, and quality control issues are also summarized. An essential read for anyone interested in the debate around weaponized robots.

And finally....

monkey-drone-zooCredit: Royal Burger's Zoo


"Not on my watch: Chimp swats film crew's drone" (PhysOrg); "UT Arlington Patent Allows Real-Time Learning Based On Previous Decisions" (Press Release); "Drones to deliver mail in Finland on trial basis" (WPXI News, Pittsburgh).



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Emmet Cole
Written by Emmet Cole
A freelance robotics writer since 2006, Emmet is an Economist contributor, and a regular contributor to Robotics Business Review and Robotics Trends. His writing on robots has also appeared in Wired, BBC Future, BBC Focus magazine, Space Quarterly, and numerous other outlets.
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