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What's New in Robotics this Week - Oct 30

Emmet Cole
by Emmet Cole on Oct 30, 2015 7:00:00 AM

Robots teach each other new tricks; Versatile construction bots; Leeds to employ robot utility inspectors and workers; Drone's Hollywood Mishap; Robopocalypse Now! and more...    

robots-mit

Robots Can Now Teach Each Other New Tricks (MIT Technology Review

Researchers at Brown University and Cornell have successfully transferred robot learning from a PR2 research robot to the industrial co-worker robot, Baxter.

The research --which builds on the Robobrain project-- could enable different types of robots to learn from each other and adapt quickly to new situations.

Ashutosh Saxena, who led the development of TellMeDave and RoboBrain, said that robots will increasingly share information in the future. “We are trying to make robots to learn and share knowledge,” he said. “Different robots can push and pull knowledge from the [RoboBrain] database.”

The key challenge in transferring learning between the robots at Cornell and Brown was that they are physically completely different, which means that low-level commands, such as those specifying the position each joint needs to assume in order to reach for a mug, will not match.

Collaborative robotics brings the best of existing human and robot capabilities together. However, if robots could collaborate among themselves and also with humans, we could be looking at rapid increases in robot capabilities in a very short time frame. 

Robot Builder Designed for Construction Sites (Reuters) 

abb-building-robot

Meet the In-situ Fabricator: an autonomous brick-laying and construction robot that can adapt to "unplanned circumstances" such as dropped tools and sudden design changes.

As Reuters reports: 

Matthias Kohler, of ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), is one of the supervising professors on the research team. According to Kohler, who is also an architect, it is "the first machine that can actually go on construction sites and build non-standard designs, meaning designs which can vary and adapt to the local conditions directly in the building site".

Leeds could become the first 'self-repairing city' with a fleet of robotic civil servants (Digital Trends)

Leeds could become a "self-repairing" city serviced by a fleet of robotic infrastructure inspectors and utility workers. The £4.2 M ($6.5 M) government-funded project is expected to incorporate drones and eventually terrestrial repair bots to take care of the English city's needs:   

Leeds’ robot fleet will focus on robotic fixes for citywide issues like burst or damaged utility pipes, broken or nonfunctional street lights, and road fractures that disturb drivers on their way to anywhere.

Three main branches of the project cover the functions of the Leeds robots: Perch and Repair; Perceive and Patch; and Fire and Forget. The Perch and Repair segment covers research into robotic drones that can land, or “perch” like birds atop tall structures like street lamps or building-mounted civil structures.

The Perceive and Patch team leads research into drones that can survey popular roads or even particularly dangerous ones in order to identify and repair potholes where they exist, and in the future, even prevent them before they occur.

Finally, [...] Research into Fire and Forget would handle inspection and metering jobs for utility lines, theoretically including all gas, water, and electricity networks throughout the city of Leeds. These robots would also be able to perform repairs, although much of their function would most likely be focused on reporting, with the goal of avoiding repairs. 

L.A. Authorities Seek Owner of Drone that Took Out Power Lines in West Hollywood (Hollywood Reporter

hollywood-drone-robot-legislation
Yet another example of why we need drone regulation: 

Los Angeles authorities are determining how to move forward after someone flew a drone into power lines in West Hollywood on Monday, knocking out electricity for roughly 200 customers.

"This is a first, but it will probably start happening every day," said Sgt. Dave Valentine of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

While we're on the topic of drones, check out Routledge's Global Affairs journal online, which has made some excellent articles about armed drones available for free viewing and download, including: Why and how the EU should act on armed drones and Drone warfare and morality in riskless war

This Is A Tipping Point: Robots “Cheaper Than Any Human Worker” Means The End Of Jobs (Activist Post

It's easy to be dismissive of some of the more dystopian visions of our robotic future, especially when some people have vested interests in painting the worst picture imaginable.

At the same time, it would be imprudent to pay no attention whatsoever to how the debate around robotics is playing out in different social groups, no matter how eccentric it appears. Fail to prepare for the forthcoming debate, as the saying goes... and prepare to fail. 

Take prepper website "Activist Post", for example, which ran a no-holds-barred robopocalyptic piece recently on human labor replacement as a result of robotics:

Before future-history brings us a dark and grim reality pitted against a killer Terminator
robot army, humanity will have to face job killing robots.

And that may be the bloodiest period of human history, after unemployment leads to riots,
unrest and bitter aftermath scenarios play out as a consequence.

Robotic labor is now literally cheaper than human labor, and it is poised to undercut work
forces and drive layoffs in even in the most exploitative, slave-wage factories in the world.


Sheesh. So, what's the bad news?

It's important for the robotics community to counter these dystopian visions by highlighting not just the business efficiencies robotics can provide, but also the great benefits, enhanced capabilities and opportunities robots can bring to existing workers

Stuart Russell on Why Moral Philosophy Will Be Big Business in Tech (KQED

As robots and AIs proliferate, the discussion about how these devices can make ethical decisions becomes more and more important.  

With that in mind, it's not surprising that at least one AI expert believes that moral philosophy is about to become a key topic of interest for robot and AI developers:  

“In the future, moral philosophy will be a key industry sector,” says Russell.

Translation? In the future, the nature of human values and the process by which we make moral decisions will be big business in tech.

And he says, not to be flippant, but nobody’s going to buy a robot that cooks a cat. So it’s just a matter of time before tech companies, universities and the government starts pouring resources into programming robots with morals.

“In some sense [the robots’] only purpose in existing is to help us realize our values, and perhaps it’ll make people better,” says Russell.

Listen to the full interview with Russell here: https://soundcloud.com/thecaliforniareport/big-think-moral-philosophy-as-big-business

And finally... 

Toshiba unveils trilingual robot in Odaiba (Japan Times)


‘Whalecopter’ drone swoops in for a shot and a shower (Science News

whale-drone-robots
What Dancing Lizards Can Teach Us About Human-Robot Interaction (MIT Technology Review



A giant robot sentry guards the territory of Zaqistan (Sky News

robot-sentry-zaqistan
Scientists Connect Brain to a Basic Tablet—Paralyzed Patient Googles With Ease (SingularityHub); 'Spring-mass' technology heralds the future of walking robots (ScienceDaily); Interactive Performance Art/ificial Intelligence -- Robotic Ape Comes to BAM (Huffington Post); Drones vs. driverless cars: A tale of two robotics policies (MarketWatch); PANERA CEO: Robots will replace our labor 'like the sun comes up in the morning' (Business Insider); Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Cheers (Georgia Tech). 

Compare 19 collaborative robots Get the chart here

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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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