November 6, 2019

What Is the Uncanny Valley?

Have you ever encountered a lifelike humanoid robot or a realistic computer-generated face that seem a bit off or unsettling, though you can’t quite explain why? Take for instance AVA, one of the “digital humans” created by New Zealand tech startup Soul Machines as an on-screen avatar for Autodesk. Watching a lifelike digital being such as AVA can be both fascinating and disconcerting. AVA expresses empathy through her demeanor and movements: slightly raised brows, a tilt of the head, a […]
October 22, 2019

Quantum Computing Gets a Boost From AI and Crowdsourcing

Illustration: Greg Mably Anyone of a certain age who has even a passing interest in computers will remember the remarkable breakthrough that IBM made in 1997 when its Deep Blue chess-playing computer defeated Garry Kasparov, then the world chess champion. Computer scientists passed another such milestone in March 2016, when DeepMind (a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) announced that its AlphaGo program had defeated world-champion player Lee Sedol in the game of Go, a board game that had vexed […]
October 1, 2019

Skydio’s New Drone Is Smaller, Even Smarter, and (Almost) Affordable

When Skydio announced the R1 in early 2018, it was one of the most incredible drones we’d ever seen. It’s been a year and a half, and in the fast-paced world of drones, the Skydio R1 is somehow still, by a huge margin, the most intelligent and capable drone in existence, offering a level of autonomy that would be impressive even if it was a one-off research project, which it wasn’t, because you could buy one for US $2,500. The R1, […]
September 30, 2019

NASA Hiring Engineers to Develop “Next Generation Humanoid Robot”

It’s been nearly six years since NASA unveiled Valkyrie, a state-of-the-art full-size humanoid robot. After the DARPA Robotics Challenge, NASA has continued to work with Valkyrie at Johnson Space Center, and has also provided Valkyrie robots to several different universities. Although it’s not a new platform anymore (six years is a long time in robotics), Valkyrie is still very capable, with plenty of potential for robotics research.  With that in mind, we were caught by surprise when over the last […]
September 19, 2019

This "Useless" Social Robot Wants to Succeed Where Others Failed

The recent high profile failures of some home social robots (and the companies behind them) have made it even more challenging than it was before to develop robots in that space. And it was challenging enough to begin with—making a robot that can autonomous interact with random humans in their homes over a long period of time for a price that people can afford is extraordinarily difficult. However, the massive amount of initial interest in robots like Jibo, Kuri, Vector, […]
July 31, 2019

Surprisingly Speedy Soft Robot Survives Being Stepped On

It’s small, it’s quick, and it’s more robust than a cockroach Soft robots are getting more and more popular for some very good reasons. Their relative simplicity is one. Their relative low cost is another. And for their simplicity and low cost, they’re generally able to perform very impressively, leveraging the unique features inherent to their design and construction to move themselves and interact with their environment. The other significant reason why soft robots are so appealing is that they’re […]
July 25, 2019

Meet Aquanaut, the Underwater Transformer

Houston Mechatronics built a robot sub that transforms into a skilled humanoid   Photo: Ken Kiefer Into the Blue: The robot Aquanaut floats underwater during a test at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Just a short distance away from me, two astronauts are practicing for a spacewalk. I’m drifting weightlessly, in a silence broken only by my own breathing and the occasional update from Mission Control in my headset. But this isn’t the dark void of space. I’m in Houston, scuba […]
July 17, 2019

Swarm Robots Mimic Ant Jaws to Flip and Jump

Trap-jaw ants inspired these small, autonomous swarm robots Small robots are appealing because they’re simple, cheap, and it’s easy to make a lot of them. Unfortunately, being simple and cheap means that each robot individually can’t do a whole lot. To make up for this, you can do what insects do—leverage that simplicity and low-cost to just make a huge swarm of simple robots, and together, they can cooperate to carry out relatively complex tasks. Using insects as an example does […]
July 15, 2019

Intel’s Neuromorphic System Hits 8 Million Neurons, 100 Million Coming by 2020

Researchers can use the 64-chip Pohoiki Beach system to make systems that learn and see the world more like humans At the DARPA Electronics Resurgence Initiative Summit today in Detroit, Intel plans to unveil an 8-million-neuron neuromorphic system comprising 64 Loihi research chips—codenamed Pohoiki Beach. Loihi chips are built with an architecture that more closely matches the way the brain works than do chips designed to do deep learning or other forms of AI. For the set of problems that such […]
July 9, 2019

Robots Have a Hard Time Grasping These "Adversarial Objects"

To make robot grasping more robust, researchers are designing objects that are as difficult as possible for robots to manipulate There’s been a bunch of research recently into adversarial images, which are images of things that have been modified to be particularly difficult for computer vision algorithms to accurately identify. The idea is that these kinds of images can be used to help design more robust computer vision algorithms, because their “adversarial” nature is sort of a deliberate worst-case scenario—if […]