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  • Michigan FIRST Robot Championship Bout for 2014 (Video)

    For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, AKA FIRST, holds annual robot challenges, in which student teams build robots, then operate them to the cheers of an adoring crowd. Slashdot watched the Dexter Dreadbots build their 2014 contender. (The Dreadbots are Slashdot's home team.) And we've watched other FIRST competitions before, but this is the 2014 Michigan state championships. The next step after the state finals is an appearance at the National Championship Competition, which starts today, April 23, in St. Louis, although the first day is speeches and such, not actual competition. Keep an eye on usfirst.org to see who wins. And before that, you can watch the matches themselves, streamed live courtesy of NASA. (Alternate video link.)

    2 comments | 3 hours ago

  • SpaceX Successfully Delivers Supplies To ISS

    Reuters reports on the successful SpaceX-carried resupply mission to the ISS: "A cargo ship owned by Space Exploration Technologies arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, with a delivery of supplies and science experiments for the crew and a pair of legs for the experimental humanoid robot aboard that one day may be used in a spacewalk. Station commander Koichi Wakata used the outpost's 58-foot (18-meter) robotic crane to snare the Dragon capsule from orbit at 7:14 a.m. (1114 GMT), ending its 36-hour journey. ... "The Easter Dragon is knocking at the door," astronaut Randy Bresnik radioed to the crew from Mission Control in Houston. Space Exploration, known as SpaceX, had planned to launch its Dragon cargo ship in March, but was delayed by technical problems, including a two-week hold to replace a damaged U.S. Air Force radar tracking system."

    87 comments | 3 days ago

  • Americans Uncomfortable With Possibility of Ubiquitous Drones, Designer Babies

    alphadogg writes: "Americans are optimistic about scientific inventions on the horizon, though are cautious about future uses of DNA, robots, drones and always-on implants, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey on future technology (PDF). Asked about the likelihood of certain advances 50 years from now, survey respondents were most sure that lab-grown custom organs for transplant will happen (81%). Only 19% expect humans will be able to control the weather by then. When asked how they felt about possible near-term advances, 65% thought robot caregivers for the elderly is a bad idea, 63% didn't want to see personal drones in U.S. airspace, and 66% thought parents altering the DNA of prospective children was a bad idea."

    155 comments | 5 days ago

  • The Squishy Future of Robotics

    An anonymous reader writes "The field of soft robotics is fast growing and may be the key to allowing robots and humans to work side-by-side. 'Roboticists are prejudiced toward rigid structures, for which algorithms can be inherited from the well-established factory robot industry. Soft robots solve two huge problems with current robots, however. They don't have to calculate their movements as precisely as hard robots, which rely on springs and joints, making them better for navigating uncontrolled environments like a house, disaster area, or hospital room. They're naturally "cage free," meaning they can work shoulder-to-shoulder with humans. If a soft robot tips over or malfunctions, the danger is on par with being attacked by a pillow. The robot is also less prone to hurt itself.'"

    36 comments | about a week ago

  • Humans Are Taking Jobs From Robots In Japan

    Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Bloomberg reports that humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process. "We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them," says Mitsuru Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota's plants. "When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods (Kami-sama in Japanese), and they could make anything."

    According to Kawai, learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn't get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota's factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes. In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota's Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line and Kawai also credits manual labor for helping workers improve production of axle beams and cut the costs of making chassis parts. "We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again," says Kawai. "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.""

    80 comments | about a week ago

  • A New Robo-Soldier Will Test Chemical Warfare Suits

    Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "When it comes to military tech, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) usually makes the headlines with its gadgets, gizmos, and kickass robots. It's a prolific supporter of robo-defence projects, from Boston Dynamics' Cheetah and its cousin Big Dog to autonomous hands and unsteady humanoids. But the latest piece of military robot news comes from across the Atlantic at the UK's Ministry of Defence, which has unveiled an animatronic man to test suits and equipment for the British armed forces. 'Porton Man' looks pretty impressively modern and human-like until you realise he's stuck to a clunky external frame that moves his limbs like a puppet. But hey, at least he's not stumbling through steps at a snail's pace before inevitably crashing to the ground, like DARPA's cyborg hopefuls. The frame lets Porton Man run, walk (sorry, 'march'), sit, and kneel in mid-air, to mimic the common movements of a human soldier. He can also hold his arms up as if sighting a weapon."

    29 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Job Automation and the Minimum Wage Debate

    An anonymous reader writes "An article at FiveThirtyEight looks at the likelihood of various occupations being replaced by automation. It mentions President Obama's proposed increase to the federal minimum wage, saying big leaps in automation could reshape that debate. '[The wage increase] from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour could make it worthwhile for employers to adopt emerging technologies to do the work of their low-wage workers. But can a robot really do a janitor's job? Can software fully replace a fast-food worker? Economists have long considered these low-skilled, non-routine jobs as less vulnerable to technological replacement, but until now, quantitative estimates of a job's vulnerability have been missing from the debate.' Many minimum-wage jobs are reportedly at high risk, including restaurant workers, cashiers, and telemarketers. A study rated the probability of computerization within 20 years (PDF): 92% for retail salespeople, 97% for cashiers, and 94% for waitstaff. There are other jobs with a high likelihood, but they employ fewer people and generally have a higher pay rate: tax preparers (99%), freight workers (99%), and legal secretaries (98%)."

    870 comments | about a month ago

  • Lego Robot Solves Rubik's Cube Puzzle In 3.253 Seconds

    SternisheFan sends this news from CTV: "The Cubestormer 3 took 18 months to build but only needed 3.253 seconds to solve [a Rubik's cube], breaking the existing record. Unveiled at the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham, U.K., the Cubestormer 3 is constructed from the modular children's building-block toy but uses a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone with a special ARM chip addition as its brain. It analyzes the muddled-up Rubik's Cube and powers each of the robot's four 'hands,' which spin the cube until all sides are in order. Created by ARM engineer David Gilday and Securi-Plex security systems engineer Mike Dobson, Cubestormer 3's new record shaves just over two seconds off the existing record, set by Cubestormer 2, which the pair also built."

    60 comments | about a month ago

  • Lit Motors, Danny Kim, and Changing How Americans Drive

    Nerval's Lobster writes "In early March, Lit Motors founder Danny Kim hit the road to meet investors. The Portland native needed to keep the momentum growing for his small firm, which builds the two-wheeled C-1. His modest lab, located in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood, could accommodate another 12 employees—but he needed the money to fund them, and to build a manufacturing facility that could turn his prototype ideas into a reality. Like Elon Musk and other manufacturing savants, Kim is someone who enjoys the challenge of building things—whether it's eyeglasses, chairs, or motor vehicles from scratch. He's spent the past five years re-thinking modern transportation, and using those insights to design prototypes of two-wheeled, motor-driven vehicles that can self-balance with a dancer's grace, thanks to an integrated software platform and a patented gyroscopic system. In a wide-ranging conversation with Slashdot, Kim discussed his plans for manufacturing the C-1, as well as the challenges in convincing consumers to try out a new kind of vehicle. "Seventy-two percent of commuters drive alone, so it just made sense to cut the car in half," he said, explaining the decision to go with two wheels instead of four. 'You have to think about this two-wheeled car as a robot because of its stability. It purely uses our AI/stability algorithm so it can balance and you don't have to. We had to develop our own firmware for our own dynamic system. It is code heavy.'"

    144 comments | about a month ago

  • iRobot CEO: Humanoid Robots Too Expensive To Be the Norm

    Movie robots often look like (and are portrayed by) people in bulky, bipedal suits. Why aren't more robots built along these lines? It's not just the problem of balance. Reader concertina226 writes "'Building a robot that has legs and walks around is a very expensive proposition. Mother Nature has created many wonderful things but one thing we do have that nature doesn't is the wheel, a continuous rotating joint, and tracks, so we need to make use of inventions to make things simpler,' [iRobot CEO Colin] Angle tells IBTimes UK. 'The reason it has taken so long for the robotics industry to move forward is because people keep trying to make something that is cool but difficult to achieve, rather than trying to find solutions to actual human problems. Technology can be extremely expensive if you don't focus.'" [Beware the autoplaying video.]

    122 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • The Brief Rise and Long Fall of Russia's Robot Tank

    malachiorion writes with this report from Popular Science"Seventy-four years ago, Russia accomplished what no country had before, or has since: it sent armed ground robots into battle. These remote-controlled Teletanks took the field during one of WWII's earliest and most obscure clashes, as Soviet forces pushed into Eastern Finland for roughly three and a half months, from 1939 to 1940. The workings of those Teletanks were cool, though they were useless against Germany, and Russia proceeded to fall behind the developed world in military robotics."

    79 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Why Robots Will Not Be Smarter Than Humans By 2029

    Hallie Siegel writes "Robotics expert Alan Winfield offers a sobering counterpoint to Ray Kurzweil's recent claim that 2029 will be the year that robots will surpass humans. From the article: 'It’s not just that building robots as smart as humans is a very hard problem. We have only recently started to understand how hard it is well enough to know that whole new theories ... will be needed, as well as new engineering paradigms. Even if we had solved these problems and a present day Noonian Soong had already built a robot with the potential for human equivalent intelligence – it still might not have enough time to develop adult-equivalent intelligence by 2029'"

    294 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • One In Ten Americans Thinks HTML Is a Type of Sexually Transmitted Infection

    sandbagger writes "It looks like technical writers won't be unemployed any time soon. According to a recent study reported on by the LA Times, 11% of Americans thought HTML was a sexually-transmitted disease. The study, by coupon site VoucherCloud, involved 2,392 men and women 18 years of age or older. 27% thought 'gigabyte' was a South American insect, and 23% thought MP3 was a Star Wars robot. The participants were not told that the study was specifically looking into their knowledge of tech terms. They were presented with both tech and non-tech terms and were asked to choose from three possible definitions. 18% identified 'Blu-ray' as a marine animal, and 15% thought 'software' was comfortable clothing."

    255 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • The Tech Industry Is Getting Ridiculous

    An anonymous reader writes "Columnist Jon Evans points out that the tech industry has been slowly getting stranger over the past several years. When you look at the headlines individually, they all seem to make sense, but putting them together and trying to imagine them popping up a decade ago really illustrates how odd it has become. Quoting: 'In Japan, some half-billion dollars' worth of cryptocurrency vanished from a site founded to trade Magic: The Gathering cards. In New Zealand, the world's greatest Call of Duty player has launched a political party to revenge himself on those who had him arrested and seized his sports cars. In Britain, the secret service is busy collecting and watching homegrown porn. Here in Silicon Valley, mighty Apple just revealed that a flagrant, basic programming error gutted the security of all its devices for years. Google, "more wood behind fewer arrows" Google, now has its own navy, to go with its air force and robot army.'"

    102 comments | about 2 months ago

  • First Outdoor Flocks of Autonomous Flying Robots

    KentuckyFC writes "Aerial flocking has been a long-standing goal for roboticists, but the technical demands for autonomous outdoor flocking have always been too great. Now a European team has successfully demonstrated autonomous outdoor flocking for the first time, with up to 10 flyers in the air simultaneously for up to 20 minutes. The flyer of choice is the MK Basicset L4-ME made by the German company MikroKopter. They modified this by attaching an extension board carrying a variety of navigational devices such as a gyroscope, accelerometer, and GPS receiver, as well as a wireless communications unit and a minicomputer to calculate trajectories. To simplify these calculations, all the quadcopters fly at the same altitude to make the flocking problem two-dimensional. The team say the quadcopters can fly autonomously in lines and circles, and even demonstrate self-organizing behavior when confined to specific volumes of space. Crucially, the flock does not rely on any centralized control for its behavior. The researchers imagine using them for large-scale, redundant observations over wide areas, perhaps for farming, traffic monitoring and, of course, military purposes. They might even put on aerial displays for entertainment purposes."

    84 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Inside Chris Anderson's Open-Source Drone Factory

    the_newsbeagle writes "The former editor of Wired is betting that the 21st century skies will be filled with drones, and not the military sort. His company, 3D Robotics, is building open-source UAVs for the civilian market, and expects its drones to catch on first in agriculture. As noted in an article about the company's grand ambitions: 'Farms are far from the city's madding crowds and so offer safe flying areas; also, the trend toward precision agriculture demands aerial monitoring of crops. Like traffic watching, it's a job tailor-made for a robot: dull, dirty, and dangerous.' Also, farmers apparently wouldn't need FAA approval for privately owned drones flying over their own property."

    56 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Apocalypse NAO: College Studies the Theological Ramifications of Robotics

    malachiorion writes "Have you heard the one about the Christian college in North Carolina that bought a humanoid robot, to figure out whether or not bots are going to charm us into damnation (dimming or cutting our spiritual connection to God)? The robot itself is pretty boring, but the reasoning behind its purchase—a religious twist on the standard robo-phobia—is fascinating. From the article: '“When the time comes for including or incorporating humanoid robots into society, the prospect of a knee-jerk kind of reaction from the religious community is fairly likely, unless there’s some dialogue that starts happening, and we start examining the issue more closely,” says Kevin Staley, an associate professor of theology at SES. Staley pushed for the purchase of the bot, and plans to use it for courses at the college, as well as in presentations around the country. The specific reaction Staley is worried about is a more extreme version of the standard, secular creep factor associated with many robots. “From a religious perspective, it could be more along the lines of seeing human beings as made in God’s image,” says Staley. “And now that we’re relating to a humanoid robot, possibly perceiving it as evil, because of its attempt to mimic something that ought not to be mimicked.”'"

    176 comments | about a month ago

  • Robot To Serve Security Detail At FIFA World Cup In Brazil

    Hallie Siegel writes "PackBots will be deployed in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup Soccer season to bring a high-tech approach to security. The nation's government has secured a $7.2 million deal with PackBot's creators for 30 of the military bots. The robots will be stationed throughout Brazil's 12 host cities, during the soccer matches to boost security and help examine any suspicious objects."

    32 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Game Developers' Quest To Cross the Uncanny Valley

    Nerval's Lobster writes "Nearly 30 years after Super Mario Bros., video game graphics have advanced to heights that once seemed impossible. Modern sports games are fueled by motion capture of actual athletes, and narrative-driven adventures can seem more like interactive movies than games. But gaming's increasing realism brings a side effect — a game can now fall into the 'uncanny valley,' a term coined by robotics professor Masahiro Mori of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1970. Jon Brodkin talked to game developers, engineers, motion scientists and a variety of other folks about the 'uncanny valley problem,' in which (some) people feel revolted when confronted by a robot or digital character that doesn't quite look real. In games where human-like characters are necessary, the uncanny valley can be an even bigger problem than in animated movies; gamers control characters rather than just watching them, creating more opportunities for the illusion of realism to falter. New and better tools can help developers and animators deal with some of these issues, but crossing the 'valley' successfully still remains a challenge. Or is crossing it even possible at all?"

    134 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Termite-Inspired Robots Build With Bricks

    sciencehabit writes "A termite mound is a model of insect engineering. Some are meters high and consist of a complex network of tunnels. Even more impressive, millions of the bugs work together to build the mound, all without a blueprint or foreman telling them what to do. Could robots do the same? That's a question that has now been tackled by Justin Werfel, a computer scientist at Harvard University Today, he and his colleagues introduced a computer program that figures out how autonomous robots can make specific structures, including small-scale skyscrapers and pyramids, simply by following the same set of rules. The researchers started small, tasking three compact robots, or bots, with making a one-story, three-pronged structure all on their own, a job they completed in 30 minutes."

    17 comments | about 2 months ago

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