The universal jamming gripper is a piece of tech that has been demoed some time ago, which allows for picking up somewhat more intricately designed objects with much care and precision. It basically boils down to a sort of balloon, filled with small particles (think grains of sand or the like) which is pushed gently against the object you wish to pick up, so that it moulds to the outer shape of that object. After that, the air gets sucked out of the balloon, thus making the shape it is in permanent. At this point, the object is sort of “embedded” into the griper and can be moved around without causing it any harm. You can watch a video of the prototype to get a better sense of what I’m trying to describe.
So that’s cool and all, but at that stage the gripper prototype was still not being used to it’s full potential. But of course, the good folks at Cornell University and the University of Chicago did not stop there and very recently I’ve come across a much more enticing demonstration of the gripper’s new capabilities: by using positive pressure, as well as vacuum-induced negative pressure, it is now able to shoot some hoops and throw some darts. Now that’s progress!
I’ve blogged about another cool application of technology over at OneOverZero: robotic legs. This is a stripped-down version of the full exoskeleton that’s being developed for the military, but for this to have become an actual product for “regular people” is, I think, very important. Technology can improve our lives in myriad ways, but we have to fight our basic urge to resist it and this, because of the “look & feel” of the legs, is probably going to be a very important step towards full acceptance of bionic technologies in our everyday lives.
All hail the cyborg!
By a funny coincidence, just as I started reading the “The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” I also started to delve into some more evolved melodies, twentieth century style, in music class.
So as of now, the playlist of favourites for “the beginning of the end of harmony and start of atonality” is something along the lines of Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”, “Des pas sur la neige” and “Le fille aux cheveux de lin” and Satie’s “Le Fils des Etoiles (Preludes)”.
Small list so far, but it will grow.
Also in music-related stuff, I’ve been making public the sketches of songs I’ve been creating (very irregularly) to contribute to the twentieth project.
The songs are over at SoundCloud and and as I said, they’re mere sketches as they are though of, written, played, recorded and mixed in less than 4 hours. Yes, I still have that pesky day job to account for the rest of the day.
On a final note, according to last.fm, lately has been mostly about Sufjan Stevens (whose “Come On Feel The Illinoise!” album made a great soundtrack to the latest skiing season, by the way), John Grant, Louis Armstrong, The Portico Quartet and Jasper Steverlinck.
That feels about right.
The Cylons are taking to the streets! Well, not literally, but their forebearers certainly are.
As I’ve written about at the OneOverZero blog, robotic, self-driving cars are about to be allowed to legally drive the streets of Nevada.
This is an important step (albeit a very early one) on the way to full parity between human-driven and self-driving automotive vehicles on the public roads. Something that will inevitably happen and which can be a really big step for humanity in many ways (not the least of which are the reduction in the number of road accidents and of time wasted while on transit).
Related to the previous topic, the Udacity on-line university has opened up it’s first courses, with one in particular that I have my eye on: “Artificial Intelligence for Robotics: CS 373: Programming a Robotic Car”.
From what I’ve been able to gather about it, the course is a natural continuation to Stanford-based Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, which I took in the fall and it picks up neatly where it left off, with localization and particle filtering in full swing.
I find this course very exciting, not necessarily for the automobile component of it, but more for the hands-on approach it seems to take to the mobile robot orientation and guidance issues.
What still remains to be seen is if I can find the time to follow along this course. When I took the ai-class and ml-class courses, last fall, I got really, really strained for time…
Other bits of interesting tech on the radar (because, you know, I’m going to quit my job and start taking some speeds to get a full 23h a day of free time) are:
Carrying on with the robotics trend, I’ve been looking a bit more carefully at ROS and I’m finding it to be a really nice development platform for me. The way it is designed to be so easily distributed makes my plans for a robot-house a natural fit for it. The integration with the rather inexpensive Arduino platform is also a plus. But more on that later, when I have something to show for it (if I ever do).
There is a study that came out a while ago, about the way children envision the integration of robots in school and which, I think, ultimately reflects the way they envision their integration on our society as a whole. I would recommend to everyone interested to go download the pdf file with the findings, as it contains some interesting insights.
Some of the findings clearly show how children tend to conceive of robots as special (as in very gifted) helpers and even as friends and protectors. In fact they go all the way towards humanizing them and expecting them to be part of their lives in a very close way. Robots, for them, wouldn’t be mere machines, but instead they would be their companions. Just like their friends, only sometimes more dependable and trustworthy.
And those expectations might just be the guidance we need in our current and future development efforts with these entities. Late last year, when I applied for the developer documentation package of the NAO robot, I was asked to describe a cool application for it and what I came up with at that moment was a kind of “guardian angel” robot for toddlers that while being a cute and interesting toy for them (have you seen the robot? it’s actually a beautiful piece of hardware) would also watch over them, trying to avoid dangerous situations if possible and alerting adults whenever necessary. This was a mere coincidence as I hadn’t known about this study by then, but it seems I was thinking along the right lines there. :-)
Anyway, it’s like Carlo Ratti says in the latest episode of the Robots Podcast, the best robots are the ones that do not look like robots, but the ones that become seamlessly integrated with us and our environment. We may still be a long way off, but that seems like a nice goal to have in mind.
This is another cross-post from the One Over Zero blog where I write about (loosely) singularity-related topics.
This week’s article is entitled ‘A few notes on “Singularity and Its Discontents”’ and it is developed enough that I think warrants it’s cross-posting here.
My good friend Benjamim tweeted a link this week that prompted me to get back onto the singularity topic itself. The tweet pointed to an article entitled “The Singularity and Its Discontents” which presents a summary of what I interpret as being objections to the notion of the singularity.
First off we read about Jaron Lanier’s opinion that many singulitarians’ discourses feel uncomfortably close to religious indoctrination. Then he goes on to point out that the singularity is used mainly as a way to excuse people from making decisions and taking responsibility for their own lives and future.
Then we learn about Paul Root Wolpe’s objection to the concept of the singularity as a single event that suddenly transforms our lives forever. If I understand his arguments, he basically asserts that we’ve often been promised such radically transformational events before and they’ve often failed to materialize as such and, instead, whatever major disruptive events and advancements we’ve experienced have mostly brought us new unknowns and the possibility of further major changes in the future.
The author of the article, Jason Gots, then goes on to opine that
In reality, the future may be much closer in some respects to William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer, in which biotechnology and artificial intelligence solve some of our problems, only to introduce a myriad of new ones.
Now, before I go any further, I must say I do hope I’m not misrepresenting any of the ideas or positions presented in the article and if I am, it is my mistake and I’ll correct it if it is pointed out to me.
I must say I find Jason Gots’ opinion to be rather according to my own view of things. In fact I don’t see any of the arguments posed by the so called “discontents” as arguments against the notion of the singularity itself. Instead they feel to me more like a list of important and rather valid points about our lives in the present and the way we think about progress and science in general.
I do agree that many self-proclaimed singulitarians sound and act more like bogus religious cult leaders than like rational, scientific-minded people. I also agree that no kind of technological advancement should ever excuse us from deciding what we want for ourselves (or what we should want for ourselves) at any given point and especially they should never excuse us from going after what we want or need. Finally, I too don’t think the singularity will happen as a big bang kind of event, changing everything in a split-second. But I do think it will change everything forever. And change will be fast. Too fast for most of us to follow. But then, wasn’t it always like that? Didn’t people also complain, when the printing press was invented, that they were being overloaded with information, now that all those newfangled books were being automatically printed left and right? And they probably were being overloaded. People at that age just couldn’t cope. But then the human brain kept evolving and, most importantly, our methods evolved to be able to deal with the new complexity our world had just gained.
And so it went with many other advances in human civilization. Right now we (again) feel overwhelmed by so much information being thrown at us from all around. Many (maybe most) of us just can’t cope. And when the singularity rolls around, people on our level of intelligence will be left in the dust. But our descendants may learn to cope, they will most likely be equipped with the tools necessary for the job (yes, brain implants, bionic sensors and more) and there’s a real possibility that instead of destroying mankind, the singularity will actually elevate it to a whole new level of existence. Maybe.
In short, I actually do agree with most of what is said and still, I don’t find evidence against the singularity itself or the possibility of it happening. Just some discontentment with humans, mostly as they stand now.
I’ve been wanting to get a place where I can post simple links, accompanied by some small observations about random cool stuff and quite frankly I think this blog is the right place to do it.
There is the OneOverZero blog, where I write about singularity-related topics, but I wanted to write about (or rather, link to) more than just singularity-related stuff. I want to start collecting links to things that are just cool to look at. And that’s why I’ve decided to try and keep a kind of journal of those things right here.
Lots of good intentions, let’s see how long I can keep it up.
A few weeks ago the robots dreams blog posted an article about an autonomous quad copter demonstration video, with a few links to relevant sources that really got my will to build one of these things going. Luckily (?) for me I am fully aware of just how many side projects I’ve gotten myself into lately and how much I don’t have time for something like this. For now. :-)
But anyway, do watch this video of ongoing riots, captured by a Polish quad builder.
Also regarding quad copters (aren’t they just the coolest things?), I’ve posted a link at the OneOverZero blog regarding a quad rotor swarm demonstration video. My views about it are explained on the post and, really, need not be repeated here, just watch it and you’ll get what the excitement is all about.
If there’s one topic of technology I’ve always been in love with it has to be robots. And lately I’ve been paying a little more attention to it on a few fronts, from building a few tentative arduino-based experiments, to getting back to studying and playing around with AI.
So when I got word of the new NAO, the humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics (which you have to love, if only just for their name) I was quick to register for access to the developers kit and the community resources.
Unfortunately that’s about as far as I will go regarding this beautiful piece of tech, because the price of the robot, even for individual developers, is way out of what I can reasonably justify before myself for a hobby.
Lastly, I’ve finally gotten around to watching some of the videos from 2011’s Google IO conference and I was particularly struck by the Cloud Robotics session. First off, the quick presentation they give of ROS is very well structured and useful. I’d never delved into it before, but just from that talk I was surprised to find out that ROS is, at it’s heart, a “simple” message routing system. The way that it allows for the whole robot to be a highly-distributed system is very interesting. And then, the integration with android seems to be getting in place really well.
I am aware of a few other initiatives of taking your robots to the cloud, but this seems to be one with a real future. As long as Google keeps interested in it and doesn’t forget about it as it’s done with so many other projects.