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Tag: robotics

Sony working on reincarnating Aibo, this time as a smart home assistant

aiboAibo is coming back, and he hopes to take a bite out of Alexa.

Sony is reportedly re-forming the team behind its discontinued robot dog Aibo, and plans are for him to come back in a form that will compete with Alexa, the artificially intelligent household assistant produced by Amazon.

Aibo made a splash when he was introduced back in 1999, but after a few years consumer interested waned.

In large part that was because, aside from the novelty, he was less than cuddly and really couldn’t do much other than sit and bark.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Sony is preparing to compete with Amazon, Google and Apple by producing a smart, speaking, more helpful version of the robot dog.

After a 12-year hiatus from robotics, the company announced last year it was turning its attention back to robots. Aibo’s return would be the first of several products brought to the market.

He will engage in all the dog-like behavior the old one did, but this time will be equipped with artificial intelligence, Internet connectivity, and he will speak the human language.

He’ll be able to control home appliances, play music and query the Internet at the command of his owner’s voice. Equipping him with AI will allow consumers to use him the same way they use any other digital assistant, all while being a little more personable, a little more like family, than just a futuristic looking speaker.

Whether the smarter, reincarnated version will be named Aibo isn’t certain yet, but the company says it is a possibility.

Technology run amok … Yuk!

roombapoop

Nature tends to run its own course, just as technology that attempts to control nature tends to run its.

The results, when unforeseen possibilities are thrown into the mix, aren’t always pretty.

The depiction above is by one Jesse Newton, showing what happened on a recent night when nature ran its course, via his dog Evie, and then his trusty Roomba, programmed to clean up all the hair Evie sheds, ran its.

That zig-zagging, curly-cued brown trail recreates the stained path the Roomba left in the Newton’s living room in Arkansas after rolling through a pile of Evie’s poop.

evieEvie is house-broken — programmed, if you will, to take care of those things when the Newton family lets her out each night before bed.

But on this night, somebody forgot to do that.

As everyone slept — Jesse, wife Kelly and son Evan — the robot vacuum did what it is programmed to do every night between midnight and 1:30 a.m.: Roll all across every inch of the living room floor sucking up any debris in its path.

The results were disastrous, Jesse noted in a now-viral Facebook post that warns other Roomba/dog owners of a possibility they might not have envisioned:

“… Poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting. It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it. Those awesome wheels, which have a checkered surface for better traction, left 25-foot poop trails all over the house.”

What had happened during the night came to his attention when his young son traipsed through the living room and crawled into bed with him the next morning.

newtonsJesse — and he deserves husband of the year honors for this — let his wife continue sleeping.

He gave his son a bath and put him back to bed, then he spent the next three hours cleaning, including shampooing the carpet.

Kelly Newton says she awoke to the smell of “every cleaning product we own” and knew “something epic had taken place.”

Later, Jesse disassembled the Roomba, cleaning its parts and reassembling it, only to find it didn’t work anymore.

Jesse said he called the store where he had purchased the $400 robot, Hammacher Schlemmer, and it promised to replace it.

I’ve railed before about rushing into new technologies that promise to give us control over nature, wrote a whole book on it, in fact. Those pushing such innovations and rushing them onto the market — most often for the profit they might lead to — often don’t take the time to envision all the little things, and big things, that could go wrong.

That haste can lead to far worse things than a stinky mess and a three-hour clean-up.

We can laugh at this one, as Jesse Newton has admirably managed to do.

But, beneath all the mess, there’s a moral to the story — one that, as we turn to robots for more than vacuuming our floors, we might want to slow down and figure out.

(Photos: Jesse Newton / Facebook)

Might robot dog win Australia’s Got Talent?

I would have no problem with a dog winning Australia’s Got Talent — and, no, that is not any sort of commentary on the amount or quality of talent in Australia — but a robot dog?

PerezHilton.com reports that Erik The Dog — a sassy and highly mobile four-legged hunk o’metal — might be about to win the show this season, which would mark the first time a singing and dancing robotic has won a quarter of a million dollars in a talent contest.

I’m sure at least some of that would go to his partner, Joel Salom, an Australian born circus performer, juggler and comedian.

During the semifinals, Erik joined a team of dancers and sang “I’m Too Sexy.”

PerezHilton.com says hosts Sophie Monk and Kelly Osbourne seem particularly enamored with the robot dog.

Here, in case you haven’t seen enough, is some more Erik, including some not at all exclusive behind the scenes video:

The robot dog: An idea whose time never came and (we hope) never will

wowweerobotics

Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?

It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.

The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.

cybieIf someone truly loves their robot dog, well, they most likely have become a robot, too, having let technology, and all the ease and superficiality it offers, write a new script for their lives.

I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.

A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.

Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.

It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.

It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.

Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.

Rault is wrong, and here’s why.

Dog robotTrue, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.

But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.

Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.

Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.

Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.

Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.

Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.

What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.

aibo_robot_dogSo I’m glad the obituary has been written for Sony’s “Aibo,” the best known robot dog.

Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.

Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.

Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.

“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.

“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”

He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.

phonedogAnd robotic pets, he says, are just so much easier — especially in “situations where live pets are undesirable (e.g., old or allergic people).”

“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”

He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”

I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.

Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on “Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  “… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room —  no matter how sexy its voice — saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives — though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Will service robots replace service dogs?

It’s not exactly huggable, but researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have engineered a robot that they say can perform all the duties of service dogs, and more.

“Service dogs have a great history of helping people, but there’s a multi-year waiting list. It’s a very expensive thing to have. We think robots will eventually help to meet those needs,” said Professor Charlie Kemp, of the Georgia Tech Department of Biomedical Engineering.

They could also be cheaper, Kemp says, costing a fraction of the $16,000 it takes, on average, to breed and train a service dog.

And, even better, it can do all that without getting distracted by food, seeking affection or relieving itself.

At 5 feet, 7 inches, with wheels and prongs instead of paws and a tail, “El-E” (pronounced “Ellie”) doesn’t look anything like a real dog, smell anything like a real dog, or act anything like a real dog.

But the focus of the project is to duplicate the helpful physical actions of service dogs, such as opening doors, drawers and retrieving medication — not the emotional support they bring (at no added charge) to their owners.

Kemp presented his findings this week at the second IEEE/RAS-EMBS International Conference on Biomedical Robotics and Biomechatronics – BioRob 2008 – in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The robot service dog responds to verbal commands, issued in conjunction with use of a laser pointer. If a person needs an item fetched, that individual would issue a command and aim a laser pointer at the desired item.

Kemp and graduate student Hai Nguyen worked closely with the team of trainers at Georgia Canines for Independence (GCI) in Acworth, Ga. to research the interaction between individuals and service dogs, according to a report in Science Daily.

“The waiting list for dogs can be five to seven years,” said Ramona Nichols, executive director of Georgia Canines for Independence. “It’s neat to see science happening but with a bigger cause; applying the knowledge and experience we have and really making a difference. I’m so impressed. It’s going to revolutionize our industry in helping people with disabilities.”

In total, the robot was able to replicate 10 tasks and commands taught to service dogs at GCI – including opening drawers and doors, according to the Science Daily article. Other successes included opening a microwave oven, delivering an object and placing an item on a table.

“As robotic researchers we shouldn’t just be looking at the human as an example,” Kemp said. “Dogs are very capable at what they do. They have helped thousands of people throughout the years. I believe we’re going to be able to achieve the capabilities of a service dog sooner than those of a human caregiver.”

Kemp got started on the project after his wife brought home an energetic goldendoodle named Daisy about a year and a half ago.

Ultimately, Kemp and co-researchers plan to train El-E to do things not even highly skilled service dogs can do, such as dial a cellphone for help or relay information about its companion’s condition to a doctor.

“A lot of people have looked at robot dogs for entertainment and companionship,” Kemp said. “But we said, ‘Hey, what about looking at this in terms of physical assistance?'”