Robots


'Please do not switch me off!': An experiment with a begging robot shows people hesitate to pull the plug

Washington Post

If a little humanoid robot begged you not to shut it off, would you show compassion? In an experiment designed to investigate how people treat robots when they act like humans, many participants struggled to power down a pleading robot, either refusing to shut it off or taking more than twice the amount of time to pull the plug. The experiment was conducted by researchers in Germany whose findings were published in the scientific journal PLOS One, the Verge reported this month. Eighty-nine volunteers were asked to help improve a robot's interactions by completing two tasks with it: creating a weekly schedule and answering such questions as "Do you rather like pizza or pasta?" The tasks with the robot, named Nao, were actually part of a ploy, however.


Toymaker Anki wants its robot assistant to be a pet for adults

Washington Post

Someday, Boris Sofman wants families to sit down and debate: cat, dog or robot? Sofman is the chief executive and founder of Anki, a robotics company that's made its mark in the toy world since launching its first product in 2013, a set of smart racing cars. It followed that product's success with a toy robot called Cozmo in 2016, which the company says is the best-selling toy on Amazon in the United States, the United Kingdom and France. A new product, Vector, launched Tuesday on Kickstarter and offers the first hint of Anki's broader consumer robotics ambitions. "Our north star . . . is to have a robot in every home," Sofman said in an interview with The Washington Post.


President Trump intends to nominate an extreme-weather expert as his first science and tech director

Washington Post

President Trump intends to nominate Kelvin Droegemeier, an expert in extreme weather from the University of Oklahoma, as his top science and technology adviser at the White House, according to an administration official. Droegemeier's selection, if approved by the Senate, could soon end a roughly 19-month vacancy at the top of the Office of Science and Technology Policy -- a critical arm of the White House that guides the president on such issues as self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, emerging medical research and climate change. Droegemeier is a meteorologist by trade who has also served in government, including as Oklahoma's secretary of science and technology, and he aided the federal National Science Board under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The Washington Post first reported him as a front-runner for the post in March. His selection drew early praise from the scientific community Tuesday.


Uber is shutting down its self-driving truck program

Washington Post

The race to create self-driving trucks just got a little less crowded. That's because Uber announced Monday that the ride-hailing giant is shuttering its self-driving truck program, a division that made history in 2016 by completing the world's first autonomous truck delivery -- 50,000 cans of Budweiser. That division -- a part of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group -- had other successes as well, including delivering freight on highways in Arizona using automated Volvo big rigs. The robot-driven Volvo trucks were rolled out in November and included a human backup driver, the company said. The company did not have a formal partnership with Volvo but, instead, retrofitted Volvo trucks with its technology.


Waymo partners with Walmart to shuttle customers in self-driving cars

Washington Post

Alphabet's Waymo announced Wednesday that it will begin a pilot program with Walmart to shuttle customers to and from stores to pick up their groceries. The new initiative is part of a series of partnerships with companies to offer customers self-driving cars to run errands and shop. Customers in Phoenix who order groceries on Walmart.com, will receive savings on their goods, and as their orders are put together at the store, autonomous Waymo vehicles will take customers to and from Walmart. Waymo will also partner with AutoNation, Avis, DDR Corp. and Element Hotel, offering their self-driving cars to customers who do business with those companies. "We've tailored our partnerships to meet the top rider needs," Waymo said in a blog post.


This company is building a massive pack of robot dogs for purchase starting in 2019

Washington Post

They can unload the dishwasher, deliver packages to your home and open doors. Their thin, metallic legs are able to traverse a steep flight of stairs -- or crawl straight into your worst nightmares. Now Boston Dynamics' awkward, four-legged, doglike robot, SpotMini, is evolving from a YouTube sensation to a purchasable pet of sorts, according to the company's founder, Marc Raibert. Raibert told an audience last month at the CeBIT computer expo in Hanover, Germany, that his company is already testing SpotMini with potential customers from four separate industries: security, delivery, construction and home assistance. His presentation at the expo was reported by Inverse.


This company is building a massive pack of robot dogs for purchase starting in 2019

Washington Post

They can unload the dishwasher, deliver packages to your home and open doors. Their thin metallic legs are able to traverse a steep flight of stairs -- or crawl straight into your worst nightmares. Now Boston Dynamics's awkward, four-legged, dog-like robot, SpotMini, is evolving from a viral YouTube sensation to a purchasable pet of sorts, according to the company's founder, Marc Raibert. Raibert told an audience last month at the CeBIT computer expo in Hanover, Germany, that his company is already testing SpotMini with potential customers from four separate industries: security, delivery, construction and home assistance. His presentation at the expo was reported by Inverse.


"I'm Google's automated booking service." Why Duplex is now introducing itself as a robot assistant.

Washington Post

Silicon Valley's quest for artificial intelligence has led it to build self-driving cars, drones, and robots that can do back flips. But often that journey has come down to something much more prosaic, such as ordering a pizza -- or booking a restaurant reservation. Duplex is the company's next-generation virtual helper. When the company first showcased it at its developer conference in May, it engaged in conversation so lifelike -- complete with humanlike "ums" and pauses -- that the person on the other end of the call couldn't tell that the speaker was just software. Some asked whether the interaction was fake.


How much all-seeing AI surveillance is too much?

Washington Post

When a CIA-backed venture capital fund took an interest in Rana el Kaliouby's face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, the computer scientist and her colleagues did some soul-searching -- and then turned down the money. "We're not interested in applications where you're spying on people," said el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of the Boston startup Affectiva. The company has trained its artificial intelligence systems to recognize if individuals are happy or sad, tired or angry, using a photographic repository of more than 6 million faces. Recent advances in AI-powered computer vision have accelerated the race for self-driving cars and powered the increasingly sophisticated photo-tagging features found on Facebook and Google. But as these prying AI "eyes" find new applications in store checkout lines, police body cameras and war zones, the tech companies developing them are struggling to balance business opportunities with difficult moral decisions that could turn off customers or their own workers.


SpaceX is flying an artificially intelligent robot named CIMON to the International Space Station

Washington Post

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Unlike HAL, it won't be able to open the pod bay doors. Its programming is limited, capable of conversation and technical support but not much else, at least for now. And instead of the searing red eye of the super computer gone rogue in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi film, "2001: A Space Odyssey," the artificially intelligent robot launched into space from here Friday has a screen displaying a genial face prone to smiles. CIMON, as it is known (an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion), is designed to help astronauts on board the International Space Station perform their work -- namely the science experiments they are sent aboard the orbiting laboratory. On Friday, it became the first AI technology launched to the space station, officials said, an experiment that would be a sort of Alexa in space, able to help astronauts through the steps outlined in a manual, show pictures of certain parts of the experiment and answer questions about it.