Robots


Meet the guy with four arms, two of which someone else controls in VR

MIT Technology Review

Yamen Saraiji has four arms, and two of them are giving him a hug. The limbs embracing Saraiji are long, lanky, and robotic, and they're connected to a backpack he's wearing. The arms are actually controlled remotely by another person, who's wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, with which they can see the world from Saraiji's perspective (cameras linked to the backpack ensure a good view), and wield handheld controllers to direct the non-human arms and connected hands. After the hug, the robotic arms release Saraiji. Then the right hand gives him a high five, and Saraiji smiles.


Tierra y libertad

MIT Technology Review

In deepest September, the thick of the pistachio harvest, the autumn sky was usually veiled with dust thrown high as the shakers and receivers vibrated through the trees. But for weeks now, the machines had stopped. This left the whole orchard--almost a hundred thousand acres--more vulnerable to aflatoxin than ever. It was nice to see the stars again. It was also time for the robots to come back to work. "You know, this kind of thing doesn't happen in Iran," Stephens said. Dash's client was the biggest farmer in North America. He wore snakeskin and sandalwood and a linen suit that glowed in the predawn shadow. "What's in Iran?" Dash asked. His gaze wandered over the rows of heavily laden trees. "You ever been to Iran?" Everything about him screamed sales rep: his acid-peel face, his giant watch, the snap of taurine gum between his smiling jaws. The blockchain they developed to track the uranium suddenly developed sentience, and your agency is the only thing keeping us meatsacks from being turned to glass." Brand reps tended to treat Dash as though her work with inorganic species had contaminated her humanity in some irreversible way. Brand reps for agri-bots were apparently no different from the others.


Phoenix will no longer be Phoenix if Waymo's driverless-car experiment succeeds

MIT Technology Review

Sitting in the BMW dealership waiting for a flat to be replaced, I realize I've driven over 100 miles and spent five hours behind the wheel this week. In Phoenix, I am living the life this city has designed for me. A sprawling grid fueled by swooping highways and generous arterial roads, the Phoenix metropolitan area is a gargantuan expression of the car culture that defines the urban experience for most Americans. To use this space, you need a vehicle. Anything else effects your passive or active exclusion from a host of activities and, more broadly, from the culture itself.


Phoenix will no longer be Phoenix if Waymo's driverless-car experiment succeeds

MIT Technology Review

Sitting in the BMW dealership waiting for a flat to be replaced, I realize I've driven over 100 miles and spent five hours behind the wheel this week. In Phoenix, I am living the life this city has designed for me. A sprawling grid fueled by swooping highways and generous arterial roads, the Phoenix metropolitan area is a gargantuan expression of the car culture that defines the urban experience for most Americans. To use this space, you need a vehicle. Anything else effects your passive or active exclusion from a host of activities and, more broadly, from the culture itself.


This is how the robot uprising finally begins

MIT Technology Review

The robot arm is performing a peculiar kind of Sisyphean task. It hovers over a glistening pile of cooked chicken parts, dips down, and retrieves a single piece. A moment later, it swings around and places the chunk of chicken, ever so gently, into a bento box moving along a conveyor belt. This robot, created by a San Francisco–based company called Osaro, is smarter than any you've seen before. The software that controls it has taught it to pick and place chicken in about five seconds--faster than your average food-processing worker.


Rebuilding Germany's centuries-old vocational program

MIT Technology Review

Within buildings 10 and 30 of the Siemens complex on the outskirts of Munich, the next generation of German workers are toiling over a range of test projects. The assignments are carefully chosen to impart the skills needed to continue the German miracle in automated manufacturing. In one room, a group of young men train to be automotive mechatronic engineers. They've just spent the past week feverishly programming a diminutive working model of an automated production line--complete with sensors, conveyor belts, and tools that work without human input. They're able to discuss their work in surprisingly good English, but what sets them apart from their peers in the US is that none of them attend a university.


Basic income could work--if you do it Canada-style

MIT Technology Review

Dana Bowman, 56, expresses gratitude for fresh produce at least 10 times in the hour and a half we're having coffee on a frigid spring day in Lindsay, Ontario. Over the many years she scraped by on government disability payments, she tended to stick to frozen vegetables. She'd also save by visiting a food bank or buying marked-down items near or past their sell-by date. But since December, Bowman has felt secure enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. She's freer, she says, to "do what nanas do" for her grandchildren, like having all four of them over for turkey on Easter.


Why robots helped Donald Trump win

MIT Technology Review

Ronald Shrewsbery II used to be the Robot Doctor. Now he's known by the more bureaucratic-sounding title "WCM (World Class Manufacturing) Electrical Technical Specialist," but he still doctors the robots. There are a thousand of these machines inside Ohio's Toledo Assembly Complex, a 312-acre manufacturing leviathan dedicated to producing Jeeps. The Toledo Assembly Complex is one of the most heavily automated car factories in the United States. It can extrude 500 cars in a shift, far more than the Cove, the old Jeep plant that was shut down in 2006. And the machines make the work easier. There used to be a lot more lifting, more pushing.


Basic income could work--if you do it Canada-style

MIT Technology Review

Dana Bowman, 56, expresses gratitude for fresh produce at least 10 times in the hour and a half we're having coffee on a frigid spring day in Lindsay, Ontario. Over the many years she scraped by on government disability payments, she tended to stick to frozen vegetables. She'd also save by visiting a food bank or buying marked-down items near or past their sell-by date. But since December, Bowman has felt secure enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. She's freer, she says, to "do what nanas do" for her grandchildren, like having all four of them over for turkey on Easter.


AI could wreak economic havoc--we need more of it

MIT Technology Review

The vast vacant lot along the Monongahela River has been a scar from Pittsburgh's industrial past for decades. It was once the site of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks, one of the largest such facilities in the city back when steel was the dominant industry there. Most of the massive structures are long gone, leaving behind empty fields pocked with occasional remnants of steelmaking and a few odd buildings. Next to the sprawling site is one of Pittsburgh's poorer neighborhoods, Hazelwood, where a house can go for less than $50,000. As with many of the towns that stretch south along the river toward West Virginia, like McKeesport and Duquesne, the economic reasons for its existence--steel and coal--are a fading memory.