There's more to the ethics of the use of robots and other technology in warfare, of course.
According to Bryan DeLuca, the LS3 from Boston Dynamics is designed to the solve the very real military problem of soldiers having to carry just too much gear. As a kind of robotic sherpa or pack mule, the LS3 could conceivably help make soldiers safer by bringing more gear into closer proximity, no matter where the soldier went. We have probably all seen films where some poor soldier or another dies on the battlefield, either during an improvised operation ("Give me your knife, Corporal!") or because something was lacking (e. g. no antibiotics).
Imagine a world where everything, including the kitchen sink, could be brought along to battle. No more waiting for a prosthesis or clean bandages! No more begging for O negative blood to save a young Marine. No more tactical disadvantages due to there not being up to date maps or enough ammunition or spare ordnance parts.
And, perhaps, no more triage.
But, on the other hand, wouldn't the LS3 be a big, fat target for one's enemies? It would be Job One to either steal it or disable it. Isn't its development just asking for the nuclear arms race to be supplanted (most likely not out and out replaced) by a robotics arms race?
DeLuca believes that the possibility of a Terminator-style robot, capable of logical decision-making, graceful, fluid motions and lethal ferocity, only has a 0.99% probability today. But an Avatar-style suit, whereby a human would occupy (and personally control) a mechanical kind of skin, has a 90% possibility with today's technology.
The sherpa might be a kind of temporary hybrid, part human and part machine, capable of carrying along hundreds of pounds of supplies and heading into the fire of battle on a quick march. Perhaps, as this futuristic lethal sherpa progresses, he or she would leave a human part of his or her emotional being back at the base. Put on the robotic suit, put on the game face. Become a killing machine, a threat to all hostiles. Subsume emotions and fears. Feel invincible within the suit's confines. Keep the other side at more than an arm's length away.
For the hybrid soldier-sherpa in the robotic suit, the hardest part may very well not be learning how to use the suit or getting psyched up to go into battle. The most difficult part may turn out to be, as the suit is removed for the night, removing the invincible killer mind set as well.
This great event was held on October 22nd and 23rd at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge. We have been to this venue several times and love it.
The event encompassed two days. The first was a lecture and buffet dinner with networking. The second was lunch, then a work session with mentoring, and a job fair, followed by more networking.
The first night's lecturers were:
- Michael J. Hagen of SCVNGR,
- Jason Evanish of Greenhorn Connect,
- Aaron Gerry of Zazu
- Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners, and,
- Secretary Greg Bialecki, representing the Commonwealth
On the first night, we met:
- Brian Lynn of BookBlunder,
- James Lamarche, a student at Wentworth,
- Lisa Reilly of The Yellow Brick Road Foundation,
- Luis Carrasco, a student at my alma mater (Boston University! Go Terriers!)
- Mikhail Gurevich, who is a classmate with Luis (above) and Wes (below). They are also founders of I-NVS,
- Thomas Fuller (pictured on page 7 of that link), another Wentworth student, and,
- Wesley Griswold, who is also at BU
We saw these old friends:
On the second day, there was the Job Fair. So of course we brought the hexapod with us. What, you say? Doesn't everyone bring a six-legged walking robot to a job fair?
At the job fair, we met:
- Aditya Jain, another student at my alma mater,
- Andy Marx of eHana,
- Diane Williams,
- Elaine Yuan,
- Kevin McCarthy of Pinyadda/Boston Innovation,
- Patrick Camacho of 38 Media Design,
- Robert Schuman,
- Ms. Ryan Mitchell, a Web Developer at Harvard, and,
- Spencer Frazier who is graduating from Boston College next year
We also saw these old friends:
- Cheryl Morris of Pinyadda/Boston Innovation and
- Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation Nights, who gave us some great information on an upcoming Steam Punk exhibition at the Charles River Museum of Industry.
We had a good time, and a lot of people seemed to really love the hexapod. We even picked up some resumes from some extremely interesting possible job candidates. Right now we are looking to fix some software development issues and would love to bring in someone with that skill set (plus other skills). We're a growing company! Come grow with us. Continue reading
The BP Gulf oil spill has been, naturally, a major news story. And for good reason, as it's been said that it is the worst environmental disaster in history. Or perhaps it's the second worst. No matter. That's not a sweepstakes that anyone, really, wants to win.
BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20th. Many of the details of this catastrophe are known to most people, but how much do you know about the roles that robots have been playing?
In the weeks that followed, a dozen robots (Remotely Operated Vehicles, AKA ROVs) -- about the size of moving vans -- went into the Gulf of Mexico and were enlisted in the first attempt to contain and cap the well.
This was a fleet of unprecedented size, but as predictions about the growth of deep-water drilling continue to come true, these collections of ROVs will become a more common sight. Along with such commonality, the need for more and better automation will continue to grow.
Currently, these ROVs are tethered to ships. These tethers can stretch as far as 8 kilometers and weigh up to 15 metric tons and, according to Craig Dawe, the Chief ROV pilot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), most of the energy required to pilot an ROV is used for the task of moving the cable itself through the water.
Most ROVs are used by gas and oil companies, and BP is no exception. A small number are used for scientific research, to maintain undersea telecom cables or to mine for, yes, diamonds. ROVs are serious business.
But operations are going to need to become more and more sophisticated as more ROVs are pressed into service. The complex underwater ballet is only going to become more crowded, so software needs to improve. While the Gulf cleanup operation has reported few incidents among the subsea fleet's members, these challenges are only going to grow, so the number of issues is bound to increase unless changes are made.
Many of the mistakes that are made by ROVs tend to occur because of errors by their human controllers. Automating many of the more repetitious tasks would save time and improve quality. The intention is to confine the improvements to tasks that can be performed using the ROVs' preexisting hardware, such as sensors and cameras already installed therein.
The next step is to add some self-awareness for the ROVs. Not higher intelligence, per se, but, rather, a glimmer of an understanding of their surroundings so that they don't bump into each other.
And that will help to turn a collection of moving machines into more of a true ballet. For more information, see the August 2010 issue of IEEE Spectrum Magazine.
“Everybody believes that we’re very close to a tipping point, where robotics is going to surge, and we’re all looking for that,” says Cambridge-based Barrett Technologies' CEO Bill Townsend.
But at tipping point of what, exactly?
It's funny. I am continually bombarded with interesting (and, sometimes, not so interesting) articles on robotics and robot development. My family and friends practically mail me clippings by the case.
Now, granted, we are all looking for this information. And I have made it clear that I am receptive to it. But what's really going on here?
Cambridge's own Heartland Robotics is working on a more adept and ingenious robot to work directly (and safely) with humans. Barrett Technologies is working with, among others, General Motors. Harvard University got a National Science Foundation grant of almost a half a million dollars last year to develop inexpensive robots able to grasp "arbitrary objects". The military has grant money of its own out there for robotics development.
And so a lot of it is about, to be sure, how hot robotics is as a field, in and of itself. Many developments are exciting and newsworthy. Plus it is about Massachusetts as an innovation economy.
But it is also about creating jobs. I am proud to be the first person actually hired by Neuron Robotics. Ever. Our dream is not just to talk robots and sell DyIOs. It's also to employ people. We truly want to give back to the communities and people who have nurtured us, stood by us as we've grown and changed and, yes, made occasional errors.
The future is never, truly clear. I can't claim to be a perfect prognosticator. But what I want -- what we all want -- is to see desks and soldering stations and people, gathering around water coolers and lunch tables and talking and gesturing about all of their amazing ideas. Here, in Massachusetts.
For more information, be sure to check out the October 11th edition of Mass High Tech.
Once again, I attended Mass Innovation on behalf of Neuron Robotics. This time, the event was held at beautiful Fan Pier.
Bobbie Carlton and Dan Englander were our gracious hosts as always. The Mass Challenge incubator space at Fan Pier is fun, with a ping-pong table and numerous "idea walls" filled with the scrawlings of excited, creative folk. Makes you proud to be an entrepreneur!
The lucky presenting companies were as follows:
- HiveFire - Curata is B2B online marketing and content curation solution. The idea between content curation is to grab content from all over the web and filter it properly and include it on a website or in a newsletter as aggregated content. While many people do this work manually, Curata is intended to automate a lot of this process although the actual, final piece -- a person looking over the content one last time before publishing it -- is still not automated. But it's probably better that way.
- JoyTunes - They combine actual musical instruments with video games, thereby making it easy and fun for children (and adults!) to learn to play musical instruments. The first application is with a recorder, and they will eventually add the piano to their repertoire. It's hard to explain without a visual, so here's their presentation:
- Second Glass - Discover new wines, remember what you are drinking and share with friends. They've sold over 2500 tickets to various wine events (Wine Riots) and are going on tour so they will not only be in Boston bvut will also get into DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. They are creating a large online wine database. They even brought some wine to try!
- Zenesys - Affordable, Actionable Market Intelligence via crowdsourced research. This is all performed online although their researchers may have access to some offline materials. The cost runs from $1,000 for market sizing to $5,000 for competitive landscape analysis up to business analysis work for which you can get a quote.
This month's experts were:
- Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games, which makes a new game called Mustache Mercenaries,
- Joe Ciccolo of Levatura, LLC - due diligence for businesses that don't have the time to perform due diligence on their vendors,
- Dan Davis of Accounting Management Solutions, which provides outsourced accounting for busy startups,
- Casey Gustus of High Start Group, which accelerates the market success of innovative products, and,
- Jay Wilder of My Brainshark, which is an online presentation software tool for business communications and elearning.
The other companies present were:
- Agree'nSign which makes electronic document signature software
- Avitage - instantly assemble and deliver digital media programs
- Bubulu Labs, iYuva - Play. Create. Share. These are games for children, that can be played on smart phones
- eVisioner - Project Management, Team Governance webapp
- Penmia - capture your memories. I scored a free trial -- it's kind of like a private scrapbook/diary, online.
- Red's All Natural - The Best Damn Burrito, period. They looked good but the calorie gods were not in my favor. Next time I'll be sure to make some room as everyone I asked was positively raving about them.
Whenever I go to Mass Innovation, I seem to make new friends, like these fine folks:
- Networker Extraordinaire Jon Roussel, who blogged about our presentation from the last Mass Innovation. Thanks, Jon!
- Christopher Austin, a partner at Goodwin Proctor,
- Dan Kriegsman, who is a patent attorney
- Richard Turcott of HiveFire. He had this little flame thing that was mesmerizing.And,
- Eleanor Howe - is there anything she doesn't do? But her blog is what's really fun. Go take a peek and check out her takes on cocktails, Mad Men and the all-around scene in our fair metropolis.
Plus I saw many old friends:
- Ben Hron, who is an attorney who helps startups get to angel and venture capital funding. He's always kindly interested in what we're doing.
- Joe Lima who reminded me about The Community Roundtable. But now that's my day to go into Worcester. Would the community manager cognescenti consider a trip out to the hinterlands, I wonder.
- Eric Modeen, a Product Manager who I've seen at several events over the course of almost a year. It's always great to see him.
- Rama Nandiwada of IT Shore
- Mark Rodman - I saw him fly by, past the Penmia table.
- Rich Sands and I talked marketing. He recently handled a big announcement for his largest client, and he's pretty jazzed about that.
- Tara Greco - I had last seen her months ago.
- Masoud Shadravan who reports that his new job is interesting work and a he's on a terrific team. Excellent!
- Christine Sierra - I saw her rush by; don't think she saw me. And,
- Chuck Tanowitz - we got a chance to catch up on marketing ideas but also his grilled salmon with jasmine rice and roasted root vegetables. It sounded fantastic!
I think the best part for me -- other than reconnecting -- was seeing the Mass Challenge space itself. It's somewhat similar to our own office space. I guess we all start from the same point, more or less.
Here we all go. Continue reading
What is it like to be a robot?
Ask Bina48, a robotic head, and you'll be told the answer: "Well, I have never been anything else."
Profound, or just a quick answer for a machine that, despite its clever trappings, still cannot truly think for itself?
When a putatively intelligent robot is presented, inevitably the Turing Test comes up. That is, can we tell the difference between a machine's imitative behaviors and actual intelligence? If it is impossible to tell whether a machine is intelligent -- or rather whether a respondent is a machine at all -- then the test is, for all intents and purposes, passed. The machine is declared to be intelligent if its responses are not reasonably distinguishable from a human's responses. Of course the answers can differ, but the real crux of the issue is, can the interrogator tell who's the human and who's the machine?
In the case of Bina48, while it has an eerie humanlike look about it, the Turing Test grade has got to be an F. Bina48 answers in some seemingly random manners -- a response to an exclamation of "Cool!" is a question as to whether the interrogator means the weather or illness. Not only is the common slang completely missed, but so is the idiom -- no one catches a "cool", although we have all caught colds at one time or another.
Still, there's no denying the look and feel. Bina48's eyes open and close, and the head moves and tilts and sometimes you think you see some glimmers of independent thought.
But it continues to feel illusory. The real Bina Rothblatt undoubtedly can recognize and appropriately respond to slang. Bina48, though, is just confused by an interjection, but perhaps someday will be able to make sense of it all.
For more information, check out the July 4, 2010 issue of The New York Times.
What is the WPI Venture Forum?
Venture Forum is the only non-profit organization in central Massachusetts serving those developing and servicing new technologies and/or technology ventures.
The organization runs a Business Plan Contest and a Pitch contest. And yes, it is for money, of course.
The first round pitch this year is October 16, 2010. See you there.
Telepresence is coming.
Actually, that's not strictly true. It's already here.
In fact, it's already being parodied.
Companies like Vgo, Willow Garage and Anybots are leading the way in adding a rolling robot to companies' must-have wish lists.
But why does a company want a telepresence robot? Part of the answer is remote employees. Instead of using a conferencing or sharing system such as LogMeIn or Webex, or even an Internet phone service like Skype, companies are starting to see the value in practically giving remote employees a place at the table.
What about consumers? Would they have a need for a telepresence robot? Well ... maybe, but possibly not the way that they might think. Consider the situation where an elderly parent lives in, say, the South, and this person's adult children are in New England. Being able to move from room to room within the parent's home could afford the child an opportunity to see if the parent is eating enough and keeping a relatively clean home.
Imagine being there to not only see if Mom is taking her medication but also seeing that the pill bottle is nearly empty, so it's just about time to schedule a doctor visit. Or what about seeing Dad fix a meal, and realizing that he can't reach items on a high shelf? The child could contact a neighbor or helper to assist Dad in rearranging the kitchen so that he wouldn't have to get on a ladder -- or the child could come for a visit and help with that.
The revolution just might be telepresented.
For more information, see the September 9, 2010 issue of Electronic Design magazine.
Holy cow! It's like a dream come true. A PR2 robot can fetch a beer from the fridge.
Not only can the robot select the correct brew, it can deliver, and even open the beer as needed. All the humans have to do is drink and relax.
Willow Garage has created the Beer Me application (cider is also available) whereby you can select a particular brand and a place where the robot is to deliver the beer.
Except for witty banter -- and a nice figure -- the robot can essentially replace wenches everywhere.
Oh, just watch the video!
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