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Transportation

How Autonomous Cars' Safety Features Clash With Normal Driving 409

An anonymous reader writes: Google's autonomous cars have a very good safety record so far — the accidents they've been involved in weren't the software's fault. But that doesn't mean the cars are blending seamlessly into traffic. A NY Times article explains how doing the safest thing sometimes means doing something entirely unexpected to real, human drivers — which itself can lead to dangerous situations. "One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn't get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google's robot." There are also situations in which the software's behavior may be so incomprehensible to human passengers that they end up turning it off. "In one maneuver, it swerved sharply in a residential neighborhood to avoid a car that was poorly parked, so much so that the Google sensors couldn't tell if it might pull into traffic."
Biotech

Magnet-Steered Nano-Fish Could Deliver Drugs and Sweep Body Toxins 37

dkatana writes: David Warner writes on InformationWeek how "nanoengineers" from UC San Diego have created microscopic fish powered by hydrogen peroxide that use magnets to steer themselves. "The "fish" are powerful enough to swim through your bloodstream, removing toxins or bringing medicine directly to crucial parts of your body, as cells in your blood stream do. Given enough time, the fish could be used to deliver drugs directly to cancer tumors or parts of your body that are too fragile for surgery."
Robotics

Video More From Tim O'Reilly about the 'WTF?!' Economy (Videos) 61

More From Tim O'Reilly about the 'WTF?!' Economy (Video) On August 12 we ran two videos of Tim O'Reilly talking with Slashdot's Tim Lord about changes in how we work, what jobs we do, and who profits from advances in labor-saving technology. Tim (O'Reilly, that is) had written an article titled, The WTF Economy, which contained this paragraph:

"What do on-demand services, AI, and the $15 minimum wage movement have in common? They are telling us, loud and clear, that we’re in for massive changes in work, business, and the economy."

We're seeing a shift from cabs to Uber, but what about the big shift when human drivers get replaced by artificial intelligence? Ditto airplane pilots, burger flippers, and some physicians. WTF? Exactly. Once again we have a main video and a second one available only in Flash (sorry about that), along with a text transcript that covers both videos. Good thought-provoking material, even if you think you're so special that no machine could possibly replace you.
Robotics

Robots Are Coming For Our Jobs, Just Not All of Them 319

szczys writes: There was a video published on YouTube about a year ago called Humans Need Not Apply which compared human labor now to horse labor just before industrialization. It's a great thought-exercise, but there are a ton of tasks where it's still science-fiction to think robots are taking over anytime soon. Kristina Panos makes a great argument for which jobs we all want to see taken by robots, others that would be very difficult to make happen, and some that would just creep everyone out.
Robotics

Video HooperFly is an Open Source, Modular Drone (Video) 24

Tricopters, quadcopters, hexicopters. A HooperFly can be any of these, or an octocopter or possibly even a larger number than that. The HooperFly is a modular creation, and spokesman Rich Burton says the design is open source (and was showing off the HooperFly at OSCON), so the flier's configuration is limited only by your imagination. The main construction material is plastic tubing available from most building supply and hardware stores. The electronics? We didn't see schematics or code, but presumably they're out there. One thing for sure is that the HooperFly is good for making music videos like M.I.A. & The Partysquad's Double Bubble Trouble (NSFP; i.e. NotSafeForPrudes; has images of 3-D printed guns, flying copters, etc.) and the lyrical Peace Drone at Twilight. It looks like HooperFly lives at the intersection of technology and art, which is a good place to be -- not that there aren't plenty of HooperFly skateboard videos, too, because one of the first things it seems most skateboarders do when they get a camera-equipped drone is shoot a skateboard video and post it to YouTube. But beyond that, intrepid drone pilots can work with the HooperFly's autopilot features to do many beautiful (and hopefully legal) things.
Robotics

How Long Until We Have a Home Robot That Lives Up To the Hype? 114

moon_unit2 writes: You may have heard of "personal robots" such as Jibo, Buddy, and Pepper. One journalist recently met one of these home bots and found the reality less dazzling than the promotional videos. Whereas the Indiegogo clips of Buddy show the robot waking people up and helping with cooking, the current prototype can only perform a few canned tasks, and it struggles with natural language processing and vision. As the writer notes, the final version may be a lot more sophisticated, but it's hard to believe that real home helpers are just around the corner.
Robotics

Evolutionary Robotics 30

schwit1 sends news that researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed robots that emulate natural selection. The "mother" robot designs and builds its "child" bots, and then tests them against particular criteria. The child bots that are the most successful have their traits carried on to the next generation. "For each robot child, there is a unique ‘genome’ made up of a combination of between one and five different genes, which contains all of the information about the child’s shape, construction and motor commands. As in nature, evolution in robots takes place through ‘mutation’, where components of one gene are modified or single genes are added or deleted, and ‘crossover’, where a new genome is formed by merging genes from two individuals." By the final generation, the fastest robots were able to perform their task twice as fast as the average robot in the first generation.
Robotics

Robotic Lawn Mower Gets Regulatory Approval 75

Dave Knott writes with news that US regulators have given iRobot clearance to make and sell an unmanned lawn mower. The company, known for its robot vacuum cleaner Roomba, has designed a robot lawn mower that would wirelessly connect with stakes in the ground operating as signal beacons, rising above the ground by as much as 61 centimetres. The Federal Communications Commission usually prohibits the operation of "fixed outdoor infrastructure" transmitting low-power radio signal without a licence. iRobot's lawn mower beacons fall in that category, and the stake design required a waiver from the FCC, which was opposed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stating that the lawn mowers would interfere with its telescopes. An anonymous reader writes with another piece of automated plant-related hardware at a slightly different scale: The tractor pulling the grain cart in the video has no one in the cab. It is controlled by an open source autopilot, and it can operate autonomously all day in the field without a driver. I can't take credit for every bit of hardware and software used but I did put it all together.
Programming

Buzz: a Novel Programming Language For Heterogeneous Robot Swarms 30

New submitter pRobotika writes: Designing the behavior of robot swarms is difficult; the larger the group, the more tricky it is to predict its dynamics and the causes of errors. Buzz is a new open-source programming language specifically for robot swarms. It's designed for ease of use and is inspired by well-known programming languages such as JavaScript, Python and Lua. Buzz also includes a number of constructs specifically designed for swarm-level development. The “swarm” construct allows a developer to split the robots into multiple groups and assign a specific task to each. Swarms can be created, disbanded, and modified dynamically. The “neighbors” construct captures an important concept in swarm systems: locality. In nature, individuals interact directly and only with nearby swarm-mates. Interactions include communication, obstacle avoidance or leader following. The neighbors construct provides functions to mimic these mechanisms.
Robotics

MIT Researchers Develop 'Real Steel' Robot With Human-Like Reflexes 38

MojoKid writes: MIT researchers have developed HERMES, an advanced robot that is capable of manipulating objects and environments in nearly the same way as humans do. But this isn't just a project design of a robot only mimicking the actions of its human controller; it can also learn and make precise movements that weren't possible with prior robots. The HERMES robot is controlled by a human operator who wears a remote controller exoskeleton. Movements carried out by the human operator are directly transferred to the humanoid robot with human-like reflexes and haptic feedback in return to the human. This means that HERMES can successfully perform actions such as picking up objects, delicately pouring coffee into a cup and even punching through walls should the need arise. HERMES was developed to help out in emergency situations that would otherwise be too dangerous for human responders.
Robotics

Real-Time Control of a Humanoid Robot 36

An anonymous reader writes: A new project at MIT aims to put humans in real-time control of a humanoid robot. Operators strap into a vest that contains control circuitry and a pair of arm-like joysticks. As the operator grasps the ends and moves his arms, the robot mimics his arm movements in real time. A demonstration shows the robot crushing cans and punching through drywall. The operator is also given a pair of goggles that shows what the robot is currently "seeing," and the vest provides haptic feedback about what the robot is "feeling." According to a video MIT posted, the goal is to give robots human reflexes for tasks like keeping balance and basic maneuvering. The need for such technology was evident earlier this summer at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, where robots tasked with inspection and repair duties couldn't help but fall down as they moved throughout the testing grounds.
AI

Will Robot Cabs Unjam the Streets? 280

An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic has a story with some video of a traffic simulator showing just how the roads can be jammed up by people looking for a place to park. (You can play with the simulator too.) This has been suspected for a long time by many traffic researchers and city planners, but the simulator shows just how quickly the roads jam up after just a few of the blocks fill up with parked cars. The good news is that autonomous cars don't need to park-- they just go give someone else a ride. They could change city life forever.
Robotics

Philadelphia Hackers and Others Offer Brotherly Love To Fallen Robot 142

An anonymous reader writes: Since a hitchhiking robot was destroyed in Philadelphia over the weekend, there has been an overwhelming show of support according to its co-creators Frauke Zeller and David Smith. Makers from all over Philly have reached out and offered to help rebuild the robot. "We'll say that at this moment, if we get the OK from the creators to repair or replace the needed parts for HitchBOT, we'll be happy to do so," wrote Georgia Guthrie, executive director for a local makerspace called The Hacktory. "If not, we understand and we may just build ourselves a HitchBot2 to send along on its journey. We feel it's the least we can do to let everyone, especially the Robot community, know that Philly isn't so bad."
Robotics

Hitchhiking Robot's Cross-Country Trip Ends In Philadelphia 224

An anonymous reader writes: A hitchhiking robot that successfully traveled across Canada in 26 days last year and parts of Europe, has met its demise in Philly. Created as a "social experiment," hitchBOT started its journey in the U.S. in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on July 17 with its thumb raised up and tape wrapped around its head that read "San Francisco or bust." After about two weeks in the U.S., someone in Philadelphia damaged the robot beyond repair. "Sadly, sadly it's come to an end," said Frauke Zeller, one of its co-creators. The Independent reports: "The robot was designed to be a talking travel companion and could toss out factoids and carry limited conversation. A GPS in the robot tracked its location, and a camera randomly snapped photos about every 20 minutes to document its travels."
AI

Answering Elon Musk On the Dangers of Artificial Intelligence 262

Lasrick points out a rebuttal by Stanford's Edward Moore Geist of claims that have led the recent panic over superintelligent machines. From the linked piece: Superintelligence is propounding a solution that will not work to a problem that probably does not exist, but Bostrom and Musk are right that now is the time to take the ethical and policy implications of artificial intelligence seriously. The extraordinary claim that machines can become so intelligent as to gain demonic powers requires extraordinary evidence, particularly since artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have struggled to create machines that show much evidence of intelligence at all.
NASA

NASA's Drone For Other Worlds 30

An anonymous reader writes: A group of engineers is building a new drone. What sets this apart from the hundreds of other drone development projects going on around the world? Well, these engineers are at the Kennedy Space Center, and the drone will be used to gather samples on other worlds. The drone is specifically designed to be able to fly in low- or no-atmosphere situations. Senior technologist Rob Mueller describes it as a "prospecting robot." He says, "The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are. They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that's far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb." They face major challenges with rotor and gas-jet design, they have to figure out navigation without GPS, and the whole system needs to be largely autonomous — you can't really steer a drone yourself with a latency of several minutes (or more).
Robotics

A Robot That Can Walk and Jump On Water 39

Taco Cowboy writes: Researchers from Seoul University and Harvard have constructed tiny robots that can walk across the surface of standing water, and even jump into the air. The robots were designed to imitate the way pond-skimmer insects take advantage of surface tension to maneuver on top of still bodies of water. After studying the insects, the researchers found their legs started with a small amount of movement before gradually accelerating downward into a jump. The insects also sweep their legs inward during the jump to maximize the amount of time they stay in contact with the surface (abstract). "Using these principles, the researchers developed an ultra light robot made out of nickel titanium with a 2 centimeter long body inspired by origami. Its 5 centimeter long wire legs are curved at the tips like a real water strider's and coated with a material that repels water." Pictures of the robots are available here and here, as well as this animated gif.
Robotics

Robots Must Be Designed To Be Compassionate, Says SoftBank CEO 112

An anonymous reader writes: At the SoftBank World conference in Tokyo, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has made a case for robots to be developed so as to form empathic and emotional relationships with people. "I'm sure that most people would rather have the warm-hearted person as a friendSomeday robots will be more intelligent than human beings, and [such robots] must also be pure, nice, and compassionate toward people," SoftBank's Aldebaran tech group will make its empathic "Pepper" robot available for companies to rent in Japan from October at a rate of $442 per month.
Medicine

Beyond Safety: Is Robotic Surgery Sustainable? 54

Hallie Siegel writes: The release last week of the study on adverse events in robotic surgery led to much discussion on the safety and effectiveness of robotic surgical procedures. MIT Sloane's Matt Beane argues that while the hope is that this dialogue will mean safer and more effective robotic procedures in the future, the intense focus on safety and effectiveness has compromised training opportunities for new robotic surgeons, who require many hours of 'live' surgical practice time to develop their skills. Beane says that robotic surgery will likely continue to expand in proportion to other methods, given that it allows fewer surgeons to perform surgery with less trauma to the patient, but no matter how safe we make robotic surgical procedures, they will become a luxury available to a very few if we fail to address the sustainability of the practice.
AI

Musk, Woz, Hawking, and Robotics/AI Experts Urge Ban On Autonomous Weapons 313

An anonymous reader writes: An open letter published by the Future of Life Institute urges governments to ban offensive autonomous weaponry. The letter is signed by high profile leaders in the science community and tech industry, such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Noam Chomsky, and Frank Wilczek. It's also signed — more importantly — by literally hundreds of expert researchers in robotics and AI. They say, "The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce."