IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel


Video Friday: Kuka's Home Robot, Nao Upgrade, and Bionic Cuttlefish

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Kuka, who has a near monopoly on industrial robots that are painted orange, is now getting into consumer robots. Our i-do concept study, that we presented at Hannover Fair 2018, goes a considerable step further, however.


Alphabet's DeepMind Makes a Key Advance in Computer Vision

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Researchers at Alphabet's DeepMind today described a method that they say can construct a three-dimensional layout from just a handful of two-dimensional snapshots. So far the method, based on deep neural networks, has been confined to virtual environments, they write in Science magazine. Natural environments are still too hard for current algorithms and hardware to handle. The article doesn't speculate on commercial applications, and the authors weren't available for interview. That gives me license to speculate: The new method might be useful for any surveillance system that has to reconstruct a crime from a few snapshots.


AI Drone Learns to Detect Brawls

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Drones armed with computer vision software could enable new forms of automated skyborne surveillance to watch for violence below. One glimpse of that future comes from UK and Indian researchers who demonstrated a drone surveillance system that can automatically detect small groups of people fighting each other. The seed idea for researchers to develop such a drone surveillance system was first planted in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured hundreds in 2013. It was not until the Manchester Arena bombing that killed 23 and wounded 139--including many children leaving an Ariana Grande concert--when the researchers made some progress. This time, they harnessed a form of the popular artificial intelligence technique known as deep learning.


Stealthy Startup Aims to Reinvent AI for Manufacturing

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What exactly is the "future of autonomous manufacturing?" According to venture capitalist and AutoLab AI cofounder Lior Susan, stealth startup AutoLab AI is building it, but isn't defining it yet, at least not publicly. That kind of cryptic chatter doesn't usually get Silicon Valley talking--more likely yawning, or at most mumbling about vaporware. But AutoLab AI, according to Axios, already has 400 employees and some serious funding. It's not clear where those employees are hiding; the Palo Alto address for the company points to a small suite of offices at best.


Verity Studios Raises $18M for Safe Swarming Drone Displays

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Verity Studios, which took precision drone swarm technology from ETH Zurich and turned it into a spectacular live event display system, has announced a round of Series A funding totaling US $18 million from Fontinalis Partners, Airbus Ventures, Sony Innovation Fund, and Kitty Hawk. This is a lot of money for a company that most people may not know exists even if they view a Verity-powered drone show firsthand, but that's part of what makes Verity special: Everything they do is reliable, seamless, and safe, leading to experiences that have a truly mesmerizing effect. The reason we follow companies like Verity so closely, and the reason why we're happy when they get funded, is because they've managed to transition some fairly amazing robotics research into a successful business, which is a very difficult thing to do. The kinds of things that make Verity special come from over a decade of work at the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich, led by Professor Raffaello D'Andrea, a lot of which we've covered in the past. For example, Verity's drones are fully redundant, able to recover from "a failed battery, a failed motor, a failed connector, a failed propeller, a failed sensor, or a failure of any other component ... through the duplication of critical components and the use of proprietary algorithms, which enable safe emergency responses to component failures."


Video Friday: Curiosity Rover, Giant Crab Robot, and Drone Umbrella

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Since its epic landing on Mars in 2012, rappelling down to the surface like a robot commando, the Curiosity Mars rover has been one of our favorite robots of all time, and space. Not only it's an impressive piece of engineering, it's also an amazing exploration tool to help humanity answer questions we've been asking ourselves for a very long time, including: Are we alone?


Can a Robot Be Divine?

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Robots appear to be in the middle of a gradual but persistent transition from automated tools that perform specific tasks to artificially intelligent entities that we interact with socially and emotionally. It's not at all clear where this is going to end up--people toss around the idea of robot companionship and even robot love with some frequency, for example. What hasn't been explored nearly as much is the idea of robots in a religious context. We've seen a few examples of robots assisting in religious tasks, but what if robots could take things a step farther, and become sacred objects, embodying divinity within a robot itself? At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in March, Gabriele Trovato from Waseda University in Japan (with colleagues from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) presented a paper taking a look at whether divine robots might be possible, and why it could be useful to develop such robots in the first place.


The Importance of Teaching Robots to Hug

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Hugs make us feel warm and safe and comforted and loved. If we need a hug and another human isn't available, we can sometimes get a little bit of satisfaction from hugging inanimate objects like stuffed animals, but it seems like robots (that can hypothetically hug us back) might be able to be somewhat more fulfilling. While we've seen robots that are actively huggable before, and even a few that can hug you back, it's not clear exactly how a robot hug compares to a human hug, and whether hugging a robot can confer any of the benefits that we get from hugging people. At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) earlier this year, Alexis E. Block and Katherine J. Kuchenbecker from the Haptic Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, presented a paper on "Emotionally Supporting Humans Through Robot Hugs." Their work explores how robots can be more effectively designed and taught to give the kinds of hugs that humans will love.


Firefighting Robot Snake Flies on Jets of Water

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Fires have an unfortunate habit of happening in places that aren't necessarily easy to reach. Whether the source of the fire is somewhere deep within a building, or up more than a floor or two, or both, firefighters have few good options for tackling them. They can either pour water into windows (which doesn't always work that well), or they can try and get into the building, which seems like it's probably super dangerous. At the International Conference on Robotics and Automation last month, researchers from Tohoku University and National Institute of Technology, Hachinohe College, in Japan, presented a new kind of snake-like robot with the body of a fire house. Like other snake robots, this one has the potential to be able to wiggle its way into windows or other gaps in a structure, with the benefit of carrying and directing water as it goes.


Medical Imaging AI Software Is Vulnerable to Covert Attacks

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There are many possible reasons that deep learning systems might be attacked for medical fraud, the researchers say. With eye images, they note insurers might want to reduce the rate of surgeries they have to pay for. With chest X-rays, they note companies running clinical trials might want to get the results they want, given that one 2017 study estimated the median revenues across individual cancer drugs was as high as $1.67 billion four years after approval. With skin photos, the researchers note that dermatology in the United States operates under a model wherein a physician or practice is paid for the procedures they perform, causing some dermatologists to perform a huge number of unnecessary procedures to boost revenue.