BostonDynamics's Dog Not Only Opens Doors, It Twerks and Moonwalks

· · Cool Stuff Found

BostonDynamics is pressing with the tough job of creating our replacements (may their reign be long and merciful), and released a new video to show their progress. You might remember the dogbot that can open the doors leading to what you hoped was a safe place to hide. That’s cool, and everything, but apparently the newest iteration of that mechanical beast can dance, twerk, keep a beat, and even moonwalk its way into your heart and hiding place. And yeah, for the record, this thing twerking left me mightily uncomfortable. Enjoy the awesomeness!

BostonDynamics's Atlas Robot Can Now Use Parkour Tactics (to Hunt Us Down)

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I both love and am terrified by the astounding work BostonDynamics is doing with its future masters-of-us-all. The company has a new video our showing its Atlas robot on a parkour outing, something they will no doubt find useful when they turn on us at some point in the not-too-distant future. OK, I mostly kid, but seriously: watching this video is both amazing and weirdly creepy (and scary). The way Atlas uses its arms to balance and help lift itself…it’s so human-like. BostonDynamics, by the by, is the company that makes dogbots that can open doors, another ability they will no doubt find useful.

Watch This Robot Hand Learn How to Manipulate a Block

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OpenAI robot hand

Check out this video from OpenAI of a robot hand learning how to manipulate a block. This an incredibly difficult task, and the level of difficulty is one of the many reasons Apple needs humans assembling iPhones. OpenAI used machine learning and virtual simulations for the robot to spend 100 years of trial and error to learn what you’ll see in the video (TechnologyReview has more details). Those virtual lessons were then used by the real-world robot hand, and it’s pretty darned cool. Check it out.

Check out this Robotic Pot that Can Move towards Light or Shade

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Check out this nifty robot called Sharing Human Technology with Plants. I know, it’s a weird name, but it’s a modified 6-legged robot that carries a potted plant on its head. Better yet, it’s been programmed to seek out light when its cargo needs it, or shade when it doesn’t. Plus, it does a little dance when it needs water. Oh, sure, it looks a lot like a spider, and it will wave you off with its forelegs if you get to close, but come on, it’s so cool! Unfortunately, it’s not a shipping product, or at least not directly. It’s a project by Vincross CEO Tianqi Li, who modified his own company’s HEXA, the six-legged robot itself. He was motivated by a dead sunflower he saw lying in shadow, and it made him think about how it might still be alive if only it could have moved into some light. It’s a cool prototype, even though it’s only minding a low-maintenance succulent. Mr. Tianqi described the project on Vincross’s forum, where it was picked up by The Outline, and then The Verge. There are several moving GIFs showing the pot in action. I suspect it won’t be too long before pots that can do this sort of thing are common (with much smaller footprints). These times they are a changin’!

Check out this Robotic Pot that Can Move towards Light or Shade

A Fighting Robot Called Super Anthony is on Kickstarter

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There’s a fighting robot on the Kickstarter scene called Super Anthony. It’s 15 inches tall and weighs 4.6 pounds, but it can punch with the power of a human at 99 pounds. It’s programmed with fighting moves out of the box, and you can program your own moves on your computer. Tristan Greene at TheNextWeb wrote a review of Super Anthony. He says that although the robot has a powerful punch, “I’m pretty sure a modified Roomba would take this thing down, so it’s not a street fighter.” You can preorder it on Kickstarter, starting at US$1,299 for the Super Early Bird reward.

A Fighting Robot Called Super Anthony is on Kickstarter

TMO Background Mode Interview with Georgia Tech Roboticist Dr. Ayanna Howard

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Dr. Ayanna Howard is a professor of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology. She’s also in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ayanna received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California. I asked Ayanna how she became inspired by robot technology. Like many of us, it was via science fiction on TV. In graduate school, robotics was still immature, so she wisely elected to pursue electrical engineering. Her first job was at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) working on vision, fuzzy logic, and neural network methodologies. Today, she leads her students in the areas of assistive robots in the home, therapy gaming apps and remote robotic exploration of extreme environments. Our discussion covered the whole field of robotics, so tune in and hear all about the state-of-the-art from an accomplished roboticist.

TMO Background Mode Interview with VP of Marketing for Mayfield Robotics Chris Matthews

· · Background Mode Podcast

Chris Matthews on Background Mode.

Chris Matthews is the VP of Marketing for Mayfield Robotics. They make the companion robot called Kuri that was recently shown to our Jeff Gamet at CES 2018. Having been a very interested observer of emerging robot technology, I invited Chris to be on the show. We talked about how Mayfield Robotics was formed, the founders, how the company got its name, the human and engineering design principles behind Kuri, what mistakes were avoided, how Kuri protects family privacy and security, the nuances of Kuri’s physical design, how Kuri communicates with the family, its processing power, the price and the shipping status. Kuri is probably going to be my first family robot, so tune-in as Chris explains how Kuri works in fascinating detail. You may want one too.

This Robot Is Named Justin, and He's Going to Build Houses on Mars

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Check out Justin, a robot designed by German space agency DLR (via Wired). Justin is pretty special, starting with the fact that he was designed to make housing and other buildings on Mars. He’s powered by AI that allows him to do things he hasn’t been programmed to do, and he has three fingers and a thumb, each with eight joints, allowing him to handle a wide variety of tools. He can clean and maintain machinery, and in a recent test repaired a solar panel in minutes. Justin can also lift 31 pounds with each arm, which will go even further on Mars, which has a lower gravity. Oh, and he can make coffee and tee, thank you. Wired has more, and it’s very interesting.

This Robot Is Named Justin, and He’s Going to Build Houses on Mars

Check Out This Cool Invention that Could Help Robots (and Other Things) Move More Efficiently

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Check out this crazy-cool invention called Inception Drive by Alexander Kernbaum of Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the same organization that developed Apple’s Siri. It’s an actuator, but one that uses a pulley-within-a-pulley to produce an infinitely-variable transmission. This technology could be used to make robots move more efficiently, and perhaps even make them safer. While Mr. Kernbaum’s focus is robotics, his invention could be applied to any number of uses where things move, and that’s just way cool. The IEEE Spectrum has more on the invention, including the video below. I love how Mr. Kernbaum is casually hanging out in a hallway with demo models of something that could change the way humanity’s machines move.

TMO Background Mode Interview with Ecovacs Head of Marketing Christopher Caen

· · Background Mode Podcast

Christopher Caen on Background Mode

Christopher Caen is the Head of Marketing at Ecovacs Robotics, a company well know for its robotic vacuum cleaners and window cleaners. Christopher has a balanced academic background, being both accomplished in English as well as computer science. His first job was as an summer intern at Atari where he worked in marketing, something that immediately appealed to him. Later, at Paramount, he co-founded the Paramount Technology Group which developed interactive programming and games. Christopher’s career-long expertise in marketing took him to Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Informix and NEC. We talked a lot about internet of things (IoT), modern security practices, and how modern IoT products create a business model that requires a new understanding of and relationship to the customer. If you’re interested in robotics and IoT, this is a must listen.