Tag: Robots

FlashCast 21 – Positive Feedback

FC21 - Positive Feedback[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashCast021.mp3](Download/iTunes)

Hello, and welcome to FlashCast episode twenty-one – prepare yourself for more Flashers, Bell’s Palsy, PRB, The Crumble, Godfather Death, and Oz.

Mentions this episode:

Monty Python’s Meaning of Life: Part 7 – Death
[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoBTsMJ4jNk]

Also, big thanks to:

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FlashCast is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Killer Chinese Knock-Off

Armor Types from the game OvergrowthDespite my peace-loving ways, I tend to spend more time than I should considering the future of war.

Do you recall the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the monolith-touching ape realizes he might smash bone if he utilizes a femur as a club? Combat is still all about tool use, and the more advanced the bludgeon, the more likely the victory.

Centuries ago, those who could afford chain-mail outlived those who had only leather. Eventually, however, those who could muster a suit of plate-armour laughed mockingly at the poor schmucks who could only obtain a suit of chain – the chortling ceased with the inception of gunpowder.

I don’t need to run through each technological turn, but it’s obvious that the links lead us straight down the line to automatic rifles and fighter jets.

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKyf8MGnNM0″]

There’s something almost tender about the slow, questing, feet of this Chinese robot known as FROG-1. It feels, to me at least, like watching a lion cub take its first steps, and nevermind that it’s likely the future of applied death-dealing.

Obviously inspired by Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog, the knock-off still has a long way to go before being a threat on the battlefield, but it’s certainly coming – and, as go the superpowers, so too the world. We need no more evidence of that than the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Our ancestors used to speak of swords being converted to ploughshares, and there’s no doubt that this technology will have some fantastic civilian uses – but the truth is, the adage once operated in both directions: in a time of war, the local blacksmith could just as easily form weapons from that which once provided food.

What will we do, if it comes down to it? Entrust the local TV repairman to assemble a defense from plasma flat-screens and abandoned VCRs?
Types of Armour

Our Terrifying Future: Working Stiffs

Rosie The Roboteer (artist unknown)

No slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man.

– Thomas Huxley

Below is a test for the Geminoid DK, a facial replica of Professor Henrik Scharfe, from Denmark’s Aalborg University. My understanding is that this was recorded early in the test cycle, and that the project is now focused on smoothing the bot’s motion out for a more natural feel.


Next, as those who’ve been reading the site a while already know, is the Petman, from my main roboticist-crushes, Boston Dynamics – the same people bringing us robotic attack kitties.


Interestingly, coinciding with their cheetah announcement, BD was also awarded a contract for a project named Atlas, a humanoid robot. While I can’t seem to locate a specified end-goal for the Atlas project, I suspect from the name that it’s meant as an agile carry-bot, a metal-man to hold the baggage while combat troops go about their major preoccupation of pointing guns at people.

Atlas’s predecessor, PETMAN, was built to test out chemical weapons protective suits for the Army by “walking, crawling and doing a variety of suit-stressing calisthenics” and “simulat[ing] human physiology.” – homelandsecuritynewswire.com

The last iteration of Petman - before the announcement of Atlas
The last iteration of Petman. (Taken before the announcement of Atlas.)
Do I think we’re a decade from seeing a war fought Terminator-style? No.

The thing is, though, that we’re eerily close – maybe not in ten years, but definitely in my lifetime.

People tend to project a lot of their own humanity onto non-living objects, and I’m left to wonder if I’ll name the unit that assists me in getting in and out of bed when I’m an old man.

That may seem like a bit of a leap, but this sort of technology tends to follow a relatively reliable chain: the military funds the research, law enforcement & fire departments adopt it, then it becomes a matter of public use.

How will we feel about having finally made true the old science fiction trope of the flabby masters ruling over a physically superior group of workers? I suspect a new breed of inferiority complex will spring up, but, on the other hand, our houses will be very tidy.

I also suspect market penetration will run something like the old TV and radio days. While we’ll have certainly heard of their military uses, our first live interaction with Son-Of-Atlas will likely involve passing a unit on the street as it’s walking its owner’s poodle. Next will come professional services, (Rent-a-Maidroid,) and then, eventually, it will be a matter of, “What, you guys don’t have a dishwasher robotic slave?”

Slave may sound like a harsh term, but there will definitely be some level of class system.

If you think it’s tough trying to get a bottle of hand-lotion onto an airplane, wait till you try and board with your automated man-servant. When your local bartender informs you that “we don’t serve their kind here,” you’ll have to accept it – you’d no more want a patron with a loaded gun in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey in the other, than you’d want a hyper-powerful neck-snapper, with a head full of buggy military software pirated from the internet, at the beck and call of an ill-tempered drunk.

It’s just a matter of time; how will you treat the drudge that is likely to out-survive you?
u-BOT 5 is a robot designed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts. - http://www.geekologie.com/2008/04/ubot_5_robot_designed_to_help.php

Avoid the Noid

Have you heard of the Telenoid R1?

I would say it’s currently the creepiest robot humanity has managed to create.


From a BBC article:

Ishiguro’s system uses a motion-tracking webcam to transmit your voice, facial expressions and head movements to the Telenoid, via a high-bandwidth web connection.

The avatar produces only a rough approximation of real body language, but it is surprisingly easy to dupe oneself into regarding it as ‘human’. – more

Its intentions are relatively pure, but it’s impossible (for me, at least) to not find the idea of speaking to a naked, crucified, milky-white quadruple-amputee kind of disturbing.
Elfoid (Image From The BBC Article)

(Image from the BBC article linked above)

It certainly doesn’t help that the robot’s creator, Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, is also attempting to create a miniature version he calls an ‘Elfoid’. These things just strike me as a little too close to the kodama from Princess Mononoke, and that’s a no go as far as a device I’d want to use to communicate to my loved ones with.

Real Decepticon

Found on http://pentagoncity.netThe evil geniuses over at Georgia Tech have created something new to fear:

“We have developed algorithms that allow a robot to determine whether it should deceive a human or other intelligent machine and we have designed techniques that help the robot select the best deceptive strategy to reduce its chance of being discovered,” said Ronald Arkin, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing. – Physorg

Also, the robot will insist you look great in those pants, that it’ll be home right on time, and that it loves only you, baby.

It’s interesting that we’re slowly working on combat strategies – I wonder if we’ll see a home-version that can keep the kids busy playing hide and seek.

Like Clockwork

The TerminatorWill there ever come a day when we have enough robotic implants that we’ll be able to complete simple tasks while still asleep? Will my mechanical enhancements one day allow me to ensure the kids’ lunches are made, the dusting done, and the house tidied, all while I’m getting a decent night’s rest?

Will there come a time when I’m rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of my wandering titanium skeleton?

Closed Circuits/Minds


Below is a video of Iran’s robot, Surena 2, getting a workout on Iranian television.


Wikipedia says:

Surena II (Persian: سورنا) is a humanoid robot which has been developed and fabricated through a joint project between “Center for Advanced Vehicles (CAV), University of Tehran” and “the R&D Society of Iranian Industries and Mines”[1]. – article

It’s hard to know what Iran is intending with this project, but I think it’s a pretty good example of what closed borders will produce. A little more communication with outside research groups and they might have a robot that does something more than balance on one leg while occasionally twitching its arms.

It seems to me ten minutes of conversation with the Asimo people, or even just watching some of their late ’90s videos, would have rocketed Surena’s research program forward.


(Fast forward to the last minute if you want to skip a little robo-history)

You might argue that Honda has had a lot of money and time to invest in Asimo, but go back to that Surena 2 video, then compare it against this last item, which was likely hatched by Osakan university students.


Robot Fight


While it looks more like a toaster with legs than Usain Bolt [? – JRD], Cornell University’s Ranger robot has set some track records all the same. On July 6, Ranger set a world record for untethered robotic walking, traveling 14.3 miles in only 11 hours.

Guided by students with a remote control, Ranger navigated 108.5 times around the Barton Hall indoor track, about 212 meters per lap, and made about 70,000 steps before it had to stop and recharge. The 14.3-mile record beats the former world record set by Boston Dynamics’ BigDog, which had claimed the record at 12.8 miles. – TechNewsDaily

I don’t mean to harsh on Cornell’s buzz, but implying this little R2D2-on-stairs robot is somehow a direct competitor with the BigDog is like trying to face Huey, Dewey, or Louie – from Silent Running – off against Optimus Prime. I mean, sure, they can all do light housework, but you know who you’re going to turn to when you need some long-haul trucking done.

Robot Fight

Better yet, none of this is the most interesting robot item I’ve had to consider today:


Somewhere in the design of this automaton is a partnership with the Dyson vacuum people.