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Ivan Kirigin's views on Robotics & Culture: future. perfect. progress.

Monday, August 29, 2005

MS Student

Microsoft isn't the only one making educational software. I very much look forward to this kind of software becoming more common as the performance improves.

Simple programs to animate examples and spit out well rehearsed explanations will be trivial.

More advanced programs that can dynamically assess which parts of a problem are not well understood will help.

Situationally aware programs which have an excellent idea of what the student is reading and maybe thinking, in addition to long term performance tracking, will be amazing. At the very least, a program that can discipline a student for not paying attention will be a roll reversal.

Also, more specific domain knowledge will allow an education frame work to be easily applied to a new area. I am very hopeful about the potential benefits. Bringing world-class education to anyone who has access to a computer (which, considering public libraries, is everyone in America) will be revolutionary.


Living with the family
"wakamaru" lives in accordance with his own daily schedules as well as those of its owners, and it can update these schedules based on contact with the owner.
Speaking with the family
Not only does "wakamaru" respond to actions from people like other conventional robots, but it also takes the initiative in speaking to the family based on the information he obtains from contact with the family.
Its own role in the family
"wakamaru" connects itself to the network to provide necessary information for daily life. It looks after the house while the family is absent, watches out for unusual conditions, and is convenient for the life of family members.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Digital People

Interesting Slashdot review of "Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids".

Robo Maxx Floor Cleaning Robot

Engadget links to yet another vacuum bot. When will they make bots to clean my tub?

I just bought a Roomba Discovery. I like it a lot, but it isn't very intelligent. It is plenty for the price though.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fly pentop computer

How times have changed. Back when I was growing up in the late 70s and 80s, lots of parents thought Scrabble was all the stimulation children needed to excel in school. Nowadays, adults worry that their kids won't do well unless they own a laptop, a cell phone, and a personal digital assistant (PDA). And soon, perhaps, the Fly pentop computer will be added to that list.

Developed by LeapFrog Enterprises (LF ), a maker of educational toys, the gadget is just what it sounds like: a talking computer hidden within a pen the size of an electric toothbrush. Due to become available at stores like Wal-Mart (WMT ) and Target (TGT ) for $99 in mid-October, the device is aimed at 9- to 14-year-olds. What can they do with the Fly pentop computer? Kids can use it as a calculator, keep a calendar, create and record music, and play complex logic and geography games -- all features I tried and found fun and educational.

This sounds like an excellent educational tool. I'm looking forward to more computer based education.

New Asimo

Why would Honda want to spread an image of Asimo trying to run down an old man?

The locmotion looks good. Too bad it isn't bio-mechanically intelligent.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Enhanced hearing

"This article in Wired, the U.S. technology and futurism magazine, says manufacturers are now producing aids that even someone with "perfect" hearing can use to enhance the experience of certain sounds. An example of how a medical technology ended up becoming almost a luxury product like colored contact lenses."

Yes, I am hoping this is a trend. Technologies used to free people of their disabilities will be adapted to enhance those without them. This will probably make an "us" and "them" view of a world with advanced robots a bit limited.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Elvis the robocat - Engadget

"You just gotta see it to believe it. Carlo Bertocchini’s cat, Elvis, was involved in a truck accident that left him without use of his rear legs. Carlo built little Elvis a moving platform to regain some of his lost mobility, which the cat actually pilots by depressing two control buttons. We’re impressed that cats be trained to do such things but more importantly, we can’t stop laughing over this video."

Watch the video. It doesn't really look like the cat knows what it's doing. Also, if only the back legs were hurt, why is the entire cat in a box?

Wouldn't it just make sense to have his back legs in a wheel chair of sorts? You wouldn't even need motors. I guess the point is that we couldn't laugh at a cat in a big yellow box.

John Carmack's QuakeCon 2005 keynote

"Carmack said he considers the prospects for the upcoming physics acceleration chip on the PC iffy, because physics presents a very fundamental problem that graphics doesn't have: it isn't easily scalable for level of detail."

I wonder if the primitives can be used easily for dynamics modeling. This would be interesting both from a development perspective, as a simulator, and from a deployment perspective, where the models could be used to make more accurate predictions (given a good model of the world) about a robots path, for example.

Thin skin will help robots 'feel'

Japanese researchers have developed a flexible artificial skin that could give robots a humanlike sense of touch.

The team manufactured a type of "skin" capable of sensing pressure and another capable of sensing temperature.

These are supple enough to wrap around robot fingers and relatively cheap to make, the researchers have claimed.

The University of Tokyo team describe their work in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

I'd like to see dense tactile sensors used in combination with camera based object recognition. That seems like the way a toddler does it. I'm sure they would be quite complimentary, one gives you texture and the other gives shape and color, roughly.

Perhaps an example from the wonderful world of fruit would help.



Monday, August 15, 2005

The under-reported good news about productivity

This might not seem related to robotics, but a common concern is that robots will "replace us". In the short term, this is to mean that they will "take our jobs". The meme is based on the idea that if a job takes fewer people to perform, those unneeded are left unemployed.

This is not just false in theory, but wrong empirically as well.

As there is no limit to human desire, there is always a push to do more. Gains in productivity should free resources such that those whose skills would be wasted making widget X are better-used providing service Y or widget X.2.

In addition:
There will always be some pessimists who think that productivity growth is a bad thing, reasoning that if one person can do the work of two, the unnecessary second worker will become unemployed. The record of history on that hypothesis is extremely clear, however. U.S. workers today produce more than three times as much per hour compared with their counterparts 50 years ago, and even so, the unemployment rate today is the same as it was in 1950. Instead of putting people out of work, what productivity growth has always meant in practice is a rising standard of living for everyone. No other statistic may be as important for determining long-run economic welfare as productivity.
This makes sense. People can produce more (or machines can do more for people), in a given amount of time, and more things get made.


By the way, in the long term, I think "embrace us" or even "embrace them" is a more appropriate description than "replace us" for the 30-50 years from now when human-scale artificial intelligence is developed.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


"The Scribbler is a fully programmable, intelligent robot with multiple sensor systems that let it interact with people and objects. It navigates on its own as it explores its surroundings, and then reports back about what it senses using light and sound."

Retails $100.

Friday, August 12, 2005

University of Minnesota Center for Distributed Robotics

A good range of smallish bots. Some nice videos too.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

P.E.A.R.T. - The Robotic Drum Machine

Awesome. I suppose a synth would do, though.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Artificial actors

I have some comments over at Marshall Brain's Robotic Nation Evidence on a post about Robotic actors.


Part of the point is that many hundreds of people do a lot of work into software that makes life easier for people, even just one person.

I used to love the advance of video games where one game's "cut-scene" was the next generation’s game's live rendered graphics. A perfect example is Tekken 3. The cut-scenes were the typically smooth CGI with worse in-game graphics. The platform was the PlayStation. To show the power of the PlayStation II, they showed what looked like the beginning of a cut scene, but the characters were controllable and could be moved around the room from the old cut-scene.

Recently, with Doom 3 providing real-time bump mapping (an amazing achievement), I can only expect this trend to continue. The only reason it wouldn't is that the graphics are getting so good (and so much work is required to make the engines) that game makers are creating cut-scenes which are just scripted real-time rendered graphics, so this leap-frog effect is lost. Soul Caliber II comes to mind.

Then again, an excellent possibility of this is to have hybrid game/movies, where cut-scenes are merged seamlessly with game-play. This is getting more common, and allows games to have the delight of immersion and user control, in addition to the passive enjoyment of watching a directed and well-produced short film. I’m pretty sure “Enter the Matrix” was like this, but I never played it.

Marshall's post about HalfLife II’s progress is very relevant here.