Musk, Hawking, Chomsky: Why they want a ban on killer robots.

A global arms race for killer robots? Bad idea.

That’s according to more than 1,000 leading artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers, who have together signed an open letter, published Monday, from the nonprofit Future of Life Institute.

The letter calls for a ban on autonomous offensive weapons as a means of preventing just such a disaster, and represents the latest word on the global conversation around the risks and benefits of AI weaponry.  Cont'd...


Fastbrick Robotics' bricklaying machine builds investor interest

Tim Boreham for The Australian:  According to Fastbrick Robotics chief Mike Pivac, the art of bricklaying hasn’t changed much in the past 5000 years.  For brickies’ labourers in particular, it remains an unsafe and back-breaking game of messy mortar-mixing and lugging hods at height or over uneven surfaces.

Backed with seed funding from the publicly listed Brickworks, Mr Pivac and his cousin Mark have devised a robotic bricklaying machine to eliminate the drudge work.  About the size of a garbage truck, the prototype Hadrian 105 unit can erect an average house in one to two days, within an accuracy of half a millimetre.  That’s far more accurate than the brickies’ time-honoured string and spirit level method.

Led by Cygnet Capital, the ­Pivacs have been on an investor roadshow ahead of a $3 million raising and reverse IPO, via the shell of former winery owner DMY Capital.  Interest has been enormous, with inquiries from as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Russia.  “We had 500,000 hits on our website in just over five days,’’ Mr Pivac says.  “We have had interest from 35 countries, including some outstanding big organisations.’’  Cygnet Capital director of ­corporate finance Darien Jagger says no other IPO has attracted as much interest.  “We have fielded thousands of emails from all sorts of parties.’’  The Hadrian unit has already demonstrated end-to-end construction, without the need for human intervention.

The innovation lies not with the robotic arms, but the laser-guided system that allows the bricks to be placed accurately.  “If you put this machine on a rocking boat it would lay a house on the shore correctly to an inch or two,’’ Mr Pivac said.  Cont'd...

Why Drones are Ditching their DIY Roots

By AINSLEY O'CONNELL for FastCompany:  When hobbyist drone pilot Michael Kolowich ordered his Cinestar-8 octocopter in 2013, he traveled from Boston to Montana, where it had been assembled, to pick it up. "I went up there for four days of training in how to fly it safely, how to get great shots with it, the ins and outs of the platform," he says. "It really did take that much training to get the most out of it."

How the world has changed in just two years. "Almost every serious video drone then was somewhat custom-built," he says. Now, for a fraction of what Kolowich paid, aspiring drone pilots can pick up a "serious" drone at their local Best Buy. The drone community, circa 2015, is at an inflection point, with DIY tinkering giving way to mass-market distribution.

"A year or two ago it was far more custom builds. Now you see it standardizing quite a bit," says Dan Burton, CEO and cofounder of Dronebase, an online platform for booking commercial drone services. Burton was first introduced to drones while serving in the Marines; after returning to the U.S. and attending business school, he began helping commercial drone pilots manage their financials. Dronebase, which effectively allows pilots to outsource their sales and operations, is a natural extension of that hands-on experience.

Burton describes the drone community as comprised of "very passionate hobbyists." But increasingly, the community’s creative, maker mindset is directed toward the cinematics of operating the drone camera, rather than toward the construction of the flying robot itself.  Cont'd...

Toyota Accelerates Home Helper Robot Program

Toyota is accelerating development of a robot that can perform tasks in the home to help elderly and disabled people lead independent lives.

The Human Support Robot (HSR) is its response to the rising demand for long-term elderly care. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2050, 22 per cent of the world’s population will be over 60 years old.

The HSR is compact and highly manoeuvrable, with a lightweight, cylindrical body and a folding arm. It can pick up objects off the floor, reach things down from shelves and perform a variety of other tasks.

Toyota is teaming up with a number of research bodies to set up the HSR Developers’ Community, making a combined effort to hasten development and early practical adoption of the HSR.

Artificial intelligence is not yet a substitute for human care, but the HSR will be able to be operated remotely by family and friends, with the operator’s face and voice being relayed in real-time. This will allow for genuine human interaction as the HSR goes about its work.  Cont'd...

Companies are making human-like robots and they think they've stumbled on the biggest thing since the iPhone

Cadie Thompson for Business Insider:  Downloading apps on your own personal robot may become as common as downloading apps on your smartphone.

Robot makers Jibo and Blue Frog Robotics are creating social robots that are aimed at living with humans and in order to entice consumers they are selling them for about the same cost as an iPhone.

Jibo’s robot called Jibo is priced at about $749 for pre-order and Blue Frog Robotics’ robot called Buddy is priced at $549.

But these companies are also promising consumers that these little live-in robots are going to become the biggest platform since Apple’s iPhone, capable of performing all kinds of functions via apps.

“It’s like the iPhone, if we want to reach the mainstream and have success we need many very interesting apps,” said Frack de Visme, the chief financial officer of Blue Frog Robotics.

“We are going to have an open system so many developers can develop and create amazing apps so that it become mainstream.”  Cont'd...

Japan's robot hotel: a dinosaur at reception, a machine for room service

The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes.

“If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says. The visitor still has to punch a button on the desk and type in information on a touch panel screen.

From the front desk to the porter that is an automated trolley taking luggage to the room, this hotel in south-western Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labour costs.

Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, insists using robots is not a gimmick but a serious effort to use technology and achieve efficiency.  Cont'd...

3D Printing and Technology Fund Adds Robotics to the Mix

BY BRIAN KRASSENSTEIN for  There are several ways one can diversify their holdings within any market. An investor could simply research which firms are out there within a particular industry, like the 3D printing industry, and invest small amounts into each by purchasing shares. The easiest way, however, would be to find a fund that’s going to do all the work for you, managed by someone who likely has more experience in the market than you do.  There is currently only one main fund which concentrates their efforts primarily on the 3D printing space, the 3D Printing and Technology Fund (TDPNX), managed by CEO Alan M. Meckler, and his son John M. Meckler. 
While the fund is currently down approximately 13% YTD, it has outperformed the two largest pure play 3D printing stocks, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), significantly. 3D Systems is down over 44% on the year, and Stratasys down a staggering 58.5%.
Today the fund is making a major change, one that the Mecklers feel should increase opportunity for investors. Up until this point, the fund allocated at least 80% of their capital to what they defined as ‘3D printing companies’ and ‘technology companies’. Today this changed, along with the fund’s official name. The fund’s new name will now be ‘3D Printing, Robotics and Technology Fund,’ while going forward 80% of their capital will now be allocated to what they define as ‘3D printing companies,’ ‘robotics companies’ and ‘technology companies.’  Cont'd...

Seahorse Tails Could Inspire New Generation Of Robots

From Michael Porter at Clemson University:

Seahorse tails are organized into square prisms surrounded by bony plates that are connected by joints.  Many other creatures, ranging from New World monkeys to rodents, have cylindrical tails.

Researchers wanted to know whether the square-prism shape gives seahorse tails a functional advantage.

To find out, the team created a 3D-printed model that mimicked the square prism of a seahorse tail and a hypothetical version that was cylindrical. Then researchers whacked the models with a rubber mallet and twisted and bent them.

Researchers found that the square prototype was stiffer, stronger and more resilient than the circular one when crushed. The square prototype was about half as able to twist, a restriction that could prevent damage to the seahorse and give it better control when it grabs things.

Both prototypes could bend about 90 degrees, although the cylindrical version was slightly less restricted... (cont'd)

How Does the Accident in Germany Affect Industrial Robot Safety?

by Patrick Davison, Director of Standards Development, Robotic Industries Association:  Last week, an unfortunate fatality involving an industrial robot and a worker occurred at a Volkswagen plant in Baunatal, Germany.  The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and its member companies express its deepest sympathies to the victim’s family, friends, and colleagues.
According to news sources, the worker was part of a contracting crew responsible for setting up the robot, and was working inside the safeguarded space when the incident occurred.  A second member of the contracting crew was standing outside of the safeguarded space and was not harmed.
The international media response to the incident was aggressive, swift, and expounded on topics that were not relevant to the incident.  AWashington Post article referenced the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and posed the question, “Should the world kill killer robots before it’s too late?”  In another story, a Financial Times journalist with a name similar to a popular character in The Terminator franchise started a social media frenzy with a tweet.  A video from Ireland expounds on random tweets regarding the incident with backdrop footage of the Honda ASIMO robot and manual automotive operations.  Also, according to this article on an automotive news and gossip site, a Times of India article posted a photo of a gun-wielding toy robot beside the story.  Cont'd...

China's Hunger for Robots Marks Significant Shift

By TIMOTHY AEPPEL and MARK MAGNIER for - Having devoured many of the world’s factory jobs, China is now handing them over to robots.

China already ranks as the world’s largest market for robotic machines. Sales last year grew 54% from a year earlier, and the boom shows every sign of increasing. China is projected to have more installed industrial robots than any other country by next year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

China’s emergence as an automation hub contradicts many assumptions about robots and the global economy.

Economists often view automation as a way for advanced economies to keep industries that might otherwise move offshore, or even to win them back through reshoring, since the focus is on ways to reduce costly labor. That motivation hasn’t gone away. But increasingly, robots are taking over work in developing countries, reducing the potential job creation associated with building new factories in the frontier markets of Asia, Africa or Latin America.  Cont'd...

Robotics Programs Increasingly Becoming Popular in China

Manny Salvacion for YIBADA:  Robotics education and its important application in engineering has reportedly taken off in China over the past years, as robots have become increasingly popular among people, the China Daily reported.

Liang Yujun, head of the science education department at Beijing Youth Center, said that there are nearly 300 primary and middle schools in Beijing offering robotics-related curricula and activities now.

Liang is in charge of robotics education in the capital and also the general referee of the national youth robotics activity. According to Liang, only about 20 schools had such curricula and activities in the early 2000s.

The report said that about 3,000 registrants from 160 schools and extracurricular teams participated in the 2014 Beijing Student Robotic Intelligence Competition.

"We have to hold the competition in one of the city's largest sports fields now, which can accommodate the increasing number of players," said Liu Yi, who is charge of running the competition at the Youth Center in Haidian District.

Liu said that the competition, which began in 2012, reflects the dramatic growth of robotics education in the country. Cont'd...

Could This Machine Push 3-D Printing into the Manufacturing Big Leagues?

Neil Hopkinson, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, has been developing the new method, called high-speed sintering, for over a decade. 

Laser sintering machines build objects by using a single-point laser to melt and fuse thin layers of powdered polymer, one by one. Hopkinson replaced the laser system, which is both expensive and slow, with an infrared lamp and an ink-jet print head. The print head rapidly and precisely delivers patterns of radiation-absorbing material to the powder bed. Subsequently exposing the powder to infrared light melts and fuses the powder into patterns, and the machine creates thin layers, one by one—similar to the way laser sintering works, but much faster.

Hopkinson’s group has already shown that the method works at a relatively small scale. They’ve also calculated that, given a large enough building area, high-speed sintering is “on the order of 100 times faster” than laser sintering certain kinds of parts, and that it can be cost competitive with injection molding for making millions of small, complex parts at a time, says Hopkinson. Now the group will actually build the machine, using funding from the British government and a few industrial partners.  Cont'd...

Makeblock mBot: Introducing kids to robotics and programming

By Hitesh Raj Bhagat, ET Bureau:  This cute little fella is the mBot — a do-it-yourself educational robot kit from robotics experts Makeblock. Built around the Arduino open-source platform, it's designed to induct kids into the fields of robotics and programming. The company chose to build around the concept of STEM education: science, technology, engineering & mathematics. Specifically, it helps children get an early start into these disciplines. There are two versions of the mBot: a Bluetooth version for home use 2.4Ghz WiFi version, which is designed for classroom use. 
The company took to Kickstarter to generate funds for mBot and promised one unit for $49 (plus shipping). From a modest $20,000 goal, a staggering $285,463 was raised during the campaign. Now, you can buy a kit from Makeblock's website. Coming back to the mBot, everything that you need to build it is in the box — in a nutshell, you need to assemble it using the precise instructions provided and add batteries. There are 45 pieces and it's easy to put them together in about 15 minutes. It's neatly packaged and consists of very high quality materials — including some attractive anodised aluminium parts in your choice of pink or blue. Every little part that you need — from the main Arduino board, DC motors, to each screw, cable and even a set of tools — is in the box. It comes pre-programmed but it's also designed to be tinkered with. Parent of pre-teens might be familiar with Scratch — a free, graphicalbased programming language developed by MIT Media Lab. Well, Makeblock has built their own version for this and called it mBlock (it's based on Scratch 2.0 and free to download from their website). The idea behind mBlock is that younger children can start out with graphical programming and move on to text-based programming as they become more advanced.  Cont'd...

Lake fire grew after private drone flights disrupted air drops

As a hot wind shifted north and drove the flames toward Onyx Peak east of Big Bear Lake, fire crews deployed to save homes scattered among brittle-dry pines — waiting for help from a DC-10 laden with 10,800 gallons of retardant.

It never came. Shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, an incident commander on the ground spotted a hobby drone buzzing near the drop site at 11,000 feet. The air tanker had to turn back, as did two smaller planes following it.

“These folks who are handling these drones, I have to assume they have no idea what they're doing,” Chon Bribiescas, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday. “They not only endangered the folks on the ground, but they endanger the pilots.”

Officials fighting the Lake fire in the San Bernardino Mountains scrambled to warn the public that it is illegal and dangerous to fly drones in restricted airspace around a fire. Unmanned aircraft are particularly hazardous because authorities have no idea who is controlling them or how they might maneuver.  Cont'd...

Widespread backing for UK robotics network

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced the launch of a new robotics network that aims to foster academic and industry collaboration.

The UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS Network) will have a strong academic foundation, with a number of universities acting as founding members. According to the EPSRC, the network has already received strong support from major industrial partners, as well as from professional bodies such as Royal Academy of Engineering, IET, and The Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Globally, the market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach $59.5 billion by 2020. A primary aim of the network will be to bring the UK’s academic capabilities under national coordination, fuelling innovation in the robotics sector and taking advantage of the growth in the industry.  Cont'd...

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