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#435806 Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot Dog ...

Boston Dynamics is announcing this morning that Spot, its versatile quadruped robot, is now for sale. The machine’s animal-like behavior regularly electrifies crowds at tech conferences, and like other Boston Dynamics’ robots, Spot is a YouTube sensation whose videos amass millions of views.

Now anyone interested in buying a Spot—or a pack of them—can go to the company’s website and submit an order form. But don’t pull out your credit card just yet. Spot may cost as much as a luxury car, and it is not really available to consumers. The initial sale, described as an “early adopter program,” is targeting businesses. Boston Dynamics wants to find customers in select industries and help them deploy Spots in real-world scenarios.

“What we’re doing is the productization of Spot,” Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert tells IEEE Spectrum. “It’s really a milestone for us going from robots that work in the lab to these that are hardened for work out in the field.”

Boston Dynamics has always been a secretive company, but last month, in preparation for launching Spot (formerly SpotMini), it allowed our photographers into its headquarters in Waltham, Mass., for a special shoot. In that session, we captured Spot and also Atlas—the company’s highly dynamic humanoid—in action, walking, climbing, and jumping.

You can see Spot’s photo interactives on our Robots Guide. (The Atlas interactives will appear in coming weeks.)

Gif: Bob O’Connor/Robots.ieee.org

And if you’re in the market for a robot dog, here’s everything we know about Boston Dynamics’ plans for Spot.

Who can buy a Spot?
If you’re interested in one, you should go to Boston Dynamics’ website and take a look at the information the company requires from potential buyers. Again, the focus is on businesses. Boston Dynamics says it wants to get Spots out to initial customers that “either have a compelling use case or a development team that we believe can do something really interesting with the robot,” says VP of business development Michael Perry. “Just because of the scarcity of the robots that we have, we’re going to have to be selective about which partners we start working together with.”

What can Spot do?
As you’ve probably seen on the YouTube videos, Spot can walk, trot, avoid obstacles, climb stairs, and much more. The robot’s hardware is almost completely custom, with powerful compute boards for control, and five sensor modules located on every side of Spot’s body, allowing it to survey the space around itself from any direction. The legs are powered by 12 custom motors with a reduction, with a top speed of 1.6 meters per second. The robot can operate for 90 minutes on a charge. In addition to the basic configuration, you can integrate up to 14 kilograms of extra hardware to a payload interface. Among the payload packages Boston Dynamics plans to offer are a 6 degrees-of-freedom arm, a version of which can be seen in some of the YouTube videos, and a ring of cameras called SpotCam that could be used to create Street View–type images inside buildings.

Image: Boston Dynamics

How do you control Spot?
Learning to drive the robot using its gaming-style controller “takes 15 seconds,” says CEO Marc Raibert. He explains that while teleoperating Spot, you may not realize that the robot is doing a lot of the work. “You don’t really see what that is like until you’re operating the joystick and you go over a box and you don’t have to do anything,” he says. “You’re practically just thinking about what you want to do and the robot takes care of everything.” The control methods have evolved significantly since the company’s first quadruped robots, machines like BigDog and LS3. “The control in those days was much more monolithic, and now we have what we call a sequential composition controller,” Raibert says, “which lets the system have control of the dynamics in a much broader variety of situations.” That means that every time one of Spot’s feet touches or doesn’t touch the ground, this different state of the body affects the basic physical behavior of the robot, and the controller adjusts accordingly. “Our controller is designed to understand what that state is and have different controls depending upon the case,” he says.

How much does Spot cost?
Boston Dynamics would not give us specific details about pricing, saying only that potential customers should contact them for a quote and that there is going to be a leasing option. It’s understandable: As with any expensive and complex product, prices can vary on a case by case basis and depend on factors such as configuration, availability, level of support, and so forth. When we pressed the company for at least an approximate base price, Perry answered: “Our general guidance is that the total cost of the early adopter program lease will be less than the price of a car—but how nice a car will depend on the number of Spots leased and how long the customer will be leasing the robot.”

Can Spot do mapping and SLAM out of the box?
The robot’s perception system includes cameras and 3D sensors (there is no lidar), used to avoid obstacles and sense the terrain so it can climb stairs and walk over rubble. It’s also used to create 3D maps. According to Boston Dynamics, the first software release will offer just teleoperation. But a second release, to be available in the next few weeks, will enable more autonomous behaviors. For example, it will be able to do mapping and autonomous navigation—similar to what the company demonstrated in a video last year, showing how you can drive the robot through an environment, create a 3D point cloud of the environment, and then set waypoints within that map for Spot to go out and execute that mission. For customers that have their own autonomy stack and are interested in using those on Spot, Boston Dynamics made it “as plug and play as possible in terms of how third-party software integrates into Spot’s system,” Perry says. This is done mainly via an API.

How does Spot’s API works?
Boston Dynamics built an API so that customers can create application-level products with Spot without having to deal with low-level control processes. “Rather than going and building joint-level kinematic access to the robot,” Perry explains, “we created a high-level API and SDK that allows people who are used to Web app development or development of missions for drones to use that same scope, and they’ll be able to build applications for Spot.”

What applications should we see first?
Boston Dynamics envisions Spot as a platform: a versatile mobile robot that companies can use to build applications based on their needs. What types of applications? The company says the best way to find out is to put Spot in the hands of as many users as possible and let them develop the applications. Some possibilities include performing remote data collection and light manipulation in construction sites; monitoring sensors and infrastructure at oil and gas sites; and carrying out dangerous missions such as bomb disposal and hazmat inspections. There are also other promising areas such as security, package delivery, and even entertainment. “We have some initial guesses about which markets could benefit most from this technology, and we’ve been engaging with customers doing proof-of-concept trials,” Perry says. “But at the end of the day, that value story is really going to be determined by people going out and exploring and pushing the limits of the robot.”

Photo: Bob O'Connor

How many Spots have been produced?
Last June, Boston Dynamics said it was planning to build about a hundred Spots by the end of the year, eventually ramping up production to a thousand units per year by the middle of this year. The company admits that it is not quite there yet. It has built close to a hundred beta units, which it has used to test and refine the final design. This version is now being mass manufactured, but the company is still “in the early tens of robots,” Perry says.

How did Boston Dynamics test Spot?

The company has tested the robots during proof-of-concept trials with customers, and at least one is already using Spot to survey construction sites. The company has also done reliability tests at its facility in Waltham, Mass. “We drive around, not quite day and night, but hundreds of miles a week, so that we can collect reliability data and find bugs,” Raibert says.

What about competitors?
In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of quadruped robots that will compete in the same space as Spot. The most prominent of these is ANYmal, from ANYbotics, a Swiss company that spun out of ETH Zurich. Other quadrupeds include Vision from Ghost Robotics, used by one of the teams in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge; and Laikago and Aliengo from Unitree Robotics, a Chinese startup. Raibert views the competition as a positive thing. “We’re excited to see all these companies out there helping validate the space,” he says. “I think we’re more in competition with finding the right need [that robots can satisfy] than we are with the other people building the robots at this point.”

Why is Boston Dynamics selling Spot now?
Boston Dynamics has long been an R&D-centric firm, with most of its early funding coming from military programs, but it says commercializing robots has always been a goal. Productizing its machines probably accelerated when the company was acquired by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which had an ambitious (and now apparently very dead) robotics program. The commercial focus likely continued after Alphabet sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank, whose famed CEO, Masayoshi Son, is known for his love of robots—and profits.

Which should I buy, Spot or Aibo?
Don’t laugh. We’ve gotten emails from individuals interested in purchasing a Spot for personal use after seeing our stories on the robot. Alas, Spot is not a bigger, fancier Aibo pet robot. It’s an expensive, industrial-grade machine that requires development and maintenance. If you’re maybe Jeff Bezos you could probably convince Boston Dynamics to sell you one, but otherwise the company will prioritize businesses.

What’s next for Boston Dynamics?
On the commercial side of things, other than Spot, Boston Dynamics is interested in the logistics space. Earlier this year it announced the acquisition of Kinema Systems, a startup that had developed vision sensors and deep-learning software to enable industrial robot arms to locate and move boxes. There’s also Handle, the mobile robot on whegs (wheels + legs), that can pick up and move packages. Boston Dynamics is hiring both in Waltham, Mass., and Mountain View, Calif., where Kinema was located.

Okay, can I watch a cool video now?
During our visit to Boston Dynamics’ headquarters last month, we saw Atlas and Spot performing some cool new tricks that we unfortunately are not allowed to tell you about. We hope that, although the company is putting a lot of energy and resources into its commercial programs, Boston Dynamics will still find plenty of time to improve its robots, build new ones, and of course, keep making videos. [Update: The company has just released a new Spot video, which we’ve embedded at the top of the post.][Update 2: We should have known. Boston Dynamics sure knows how to create buzz for itself: It has just released a second video, this time of Atlas doing some of those tricks we saw during our visit and couldn’t tell you about. Enjoy!]

[ Boston Dynamics ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435775 Jaco Is a Low-Power Robot Arm That Hooks ...

We usually think of robots as taking the place of humans in various tasks, but robots of all kinds can also enhance human capabilities. This may be especially true for people with disabilities. And while the Cybathlon competition showed what's possible when cutting-edge research robotics is paired with expert humans, that competition isn't necessarily reflective of the kind of robotics available to most people today.

Kinova Robotics's Jaco arm is an assistive robotic arm designed to be mounted on an electric wheelchair. With six degrees of freedom plus a three-fingered gripper, the lightweight carbon fiber arm is frequently used in research because it's rugged and versatile. But from the start, Kinova created it to add autonomy to the lives of people with mobility constraints.

Earlier this year, Kinova shared the story of Mary Nelson, an 11-year-old girl with spinal muscular atrophy, who uses her Jaco arm to show her horse in competition. Spinal muscular atrophy is a neuromuscular disorder that impairs voluntary muscle movement, including muscles that help with respiration, and Mary depends on a power chair for mobility.

We wanted to learn more about how Kinova designs its Jaco arm, and what that means for folks like Mary, so we spoke with both Kinova and Mary's parents to find out how much of a difference a robot arm can make.

IEEE Spectrum: How did Mary interact with the world before having her arm, and what was involved in the decision to try a robot arm in general? And why then Kinova's arm specifically?

Ryan Nelson: Mary interacts with the world much like you and I do, she just uses different tools to do so. For example, she is 100 percent independent using her computer, iPad, and phone, and she prefers to use a mouse. However, she cannot move a standard mouse, so she connects her wheelchair to each device with Bluetooth to move the mouse pointer/cursor using her wheelchair joystick.

For years, we had a Manfrotto magic arm and super clamp attached to her wheelchair and she used that much like the robotic arm. We could put a baseball bat, paint brush, toys, etc. in the super clamp so that Mary could hold the object and interact as physically able children do. Mary has always wanted to be more independent, so we knew the robotic arm was something she must try. We had seen videos of the Kinova arm on YouTube and on their website, so we reached out to them to get a trial.

Can you tell us about the Jaco arm, and how the process of designing an assistive robot arm is different from the process of designing a conventional robot arm?

Nathaniel Swenson, Director of U.S. Operations — Assistive Technologies at Kinova: Jaco is our flagship robotic arm. Inspired by our CEO's uncle and its namesake, Jacques “Jaco” Forest, it was designed as assistive technology with power wheelchair users in mind.

The primary differences between Jaco and our other robots, such as the new Gen3, which was designed to meet the needs of academic and industry research teams, are speed and power consumption. Other robots such as the Gen3 can move faster and draw slightly more power because they aren't limited by the battery size of power wheelchairs. Depending on the use case, they might not interact directly with a human being in the research setting and can safely move more quickly. Jaco is designed to move at safe speeds and make direct contact with the end user and draw very little power directly from their wheelchair.

The most important consideration in the design process of an assistive robot is the safety of the end user. Jaco users operate their robots through their existing drive controls to assist them in daily activities such as eating, drinking, and opening doors and they don't have to worry about the robot draining their chair's batteries throughout the day. The elegant design that results from meeting the needs of our power chair users has benefited subsequent iterations, [of products] such as the Gen3, as well: Kinova's robots are lightweight, extremely efficient in their power consumption, and safe for direct human-robot interaction. This is not true of conventional industrial robots.

What was the learning process like for Mary? Does she feel like she's mastered the arm, or is it a continuous learning process?

Ryan Nelson: The learning process was super quick for Mary. However, she amazes us every day with the new things that she can do with the arm. Literally within minutes of installing the arm on her chair, Mary had it figured out and was shaking hands with the Kinova rep. The control of the arm is super intuitive and the Kinova reps say that SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) children are perfect users because they are so smart—they pick it up right away. Mary has learned to do many fine motor tasks with the arm, from picking up small objects like a pencil or a ruler, to adjusting her glasses on her face, to doing science experiments.

Photo: The Nelson Family

Mary uses a headset microphone to amplify her voice, and she will use the arm and finger to adjust the microphone in front of her mouth after she is done eating (also a task she mastered quickly with the arm). Additionally, Mary will use the arms to reach down and adjust her feet or leg by grabbing them with the arm and moving them to a more comfortable position. All of these examples are things she never really asked us to do, but something she needed and just did on her own, with the help of the arm.

What is the most common feedback that you get from new users of the arm? How about from experienced users who have been using the arm for a while?

Nathaniel Swenson: New users always tell us how excited they are to see what they can accomplish with their new Jaco. From day one, they are able to do things that they have longed to do without assistance from a caregiver: take a drink of water or coffee, scratch an itch, push the button to open an “accessible” door or elevator, or even feed their baby with a bottle.

The most common feedback I hear from experienced users is that Jaco has changed their life. Our experienced users like Mary are rock stars: everywhere they go, people get excited to see what they'll do next. The difference between a new user and an experienced user could be as little as two weeks. People who operate power wheelchairs every day are already expert drivers and we just add a new “gear” to their chair: robot mode. It's fun to see how quickly new users master the intuitive Jaco control modes.

What changes would you like to see in the next generation of Jaco arm?

Ryan Nelson: Titanium fingers! Make it lift heavier objects, hold heavier items like a baseball bat, machine gun, flame thrower, etc., and Mary literally said this last night: “I wish the arm moved fast enough to play the piano.”

Nathaniel Swenson: I love the idea of titanium fingers! Jaco's fingers are made from a flexible polymer and designed to avoid harm. This allows the fingers to bend or dislocate, rather than break, but it also means they are not as durable as a material like titanium. Increased payload, the ability to manipulate heavier objects, requires increased power consumption. We've struck a careful balance between providing enough strength to accomplish most medically necessary Activities of Daily Living and efficient use of the power chair's batteries.

We take Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics pretty seriously. When we start to combine machine guns, flame throwers, and artificial intelligence with robots, I get very nervous!

I wish the arm moved fast enough to play the piano, too! I am also a musician and I share Mary's dream of an assistive robot that would enable her to make music. In the meantime, while we work on that, please enjoy this beautiful violin piece by Manami Ito and her one-of-a-kind violin prosthesis:

To what extent could more autonomy for the arm be helpful for users? What would be involved in implementing that?

Nathaniel Swenson: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning will introduce greater autonomy in future iterations of assistive robots. This will enable them to perform more complex tasks that aren't currently possible, and enable them to accomplish routine tasks more quickly and with less input than the current manual control requires.

For assistive robots, implementation of greater autonomy involves a focus on end-user safety and improvements in the robot's awareness of its environment. Autonomous robots that work in close proximity with humans need vision. They must be able to see to avoid collisions and they use haptic feedback to tell the robot how much force is being exerted on objects. All of these technologies exist, but the largest obstacle to bringing them to the assistive technology market is to prove to the health insurance companies who will fund them that they are both safe and medically necessary. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435769 The Ultimate Optimization Problem: How ...

Lucas Joppa thinks big. Even while gazing down into his cup of tea in his modest office on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington, he seems to see the entire planet bobbing in there like a spherical tea bag.

As Microsoft’s first chief environmental officer, Joppa came up with the company’s AI for Earth program, a five-year effort that’s spending US $50 million on AI-powered solutions to global environmental challenges.

The program is not just about specific deliverables, though. It’s also about mindset, Joppa told IEEE Spectrum in an interview in July. “It’s a plea for people to think about the Earth in the same way they think about the technologies they’re developing,” he says. “You start with an objective. So what’s our objective function for Earth?” (In computer science, an objective function describes the parameter or parameters you are trying to maximize or minimize for optimal results.)

Photo: Microsoft

Lucas Joppa

AI for Earth launched in December 2017, and Joppa’s team has since given grants to more than 400 organizations around the world. In addition to receiving funding, some grantees get help from Microsoft’s data scientists and access to the company’s computing resources.

In a wide-ranging interview about the program, Joppa described his vision of the “ultimate optimization problem”—figuring out which parts of the planet should be used for farming, cities, wilderness reserves, energy production, and so on.

Every square meter of land and water on Earth has an infinite number of possible utility functions. It’s the job of Homo sapiens to describe our overall objective for the Earth. Then it’s the job of computers to produce optimization results that are aligned with the human-defined objective.

I don’t think we’re close at all to being able to do this. I think we’re closer from a technology perspective—being able to run the model—than we are from a social perspective—being able to make decisions about what the objective should be. What do we want to do with the Earth’s surface?

Such questions are increasingly urgent, as climate change has already begun reshaping our planet and our societies. Global sea and air surface temperatures have already risen by an average of 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Today, people all around the world participated in a “climate strike,” with young people leading the charge and demanding a global transition to renewable energy. On Monday, world leaders will gather in New York for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where they’re expected to present plans to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Joppa says such summit discussions should aim for a truly holistic solution.

We talk about how to solve climate change. There’s a higher-order question for society: What climate do we want? What output from nature do we want and desire? If we could agree on those things, we could put systems in place for optimizing our environment accordingly. Instead we have this scattered approach, where we try for local optimization. But the sum of local optimizations is never a global optimization.

There’s increasing interest in using artificial intelligence to tackle global environmental problems. New sensing technologies enable scientists to collect unprecedented amounts of data about the planet and its denizens, and AI tools are becoming vital for interpreting all that data.

The 2018 report “Harnessing AI for the Earth,” produced by the World Economic Forum and the consulting company PwC, discusses ways that AI can be used to address six of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges (climate change, biodiversity, and healthy oceans, water security, clean air, and disaster resilience).

Many of the proposed applications involve better monitoring of human and natural systems, as well as modeling applications that would enable better predictions and more efficient use of natural resources.

Joppa says that AI for Earth is taking a two-pronged approach, funding efforts to collect and interpret vast amounts of data alongside efforts that use that data to help humans make better decisions. And that’s where the global optimization engine would really come in handy.

For any location on earth, you should be able to go and ask: What’s there, how much is there, and how is it changing? And more importantly: What should be there?

On land, the data is really only interesting for the first few hundred feet. Whereas in the ocean, the depth dimension is really important.

We need a planet with sensors, with roving agents, with remote sensing. Otherwise our decisions aren’t going to be any good.

AI for Earth isn’t going to create such an online portal within five years, Joppa stresses. But he hopes the projects that he’s funding will contribute to making such a portal possible—eventually.

We’re asking ourselves: What are the fundamental missing layers in the tech stack that would allow people to build a global optimization engine? Some of them are clear, some are still opaque to me.

By the end of five years, I’d like to have identified these missing layers, and have at least one example of each of the components.

Some of the projects that AI for Earth has funded seem to fit that desire. Examples include SilviaTerra, which used satellite imagery and AI to create a map of the 92 billion trees in forested areas across the United States. There’s also OceanMind, a non-profit that detects illegal fishing and helps marine authorities enforce compliance. Platforms like Wildbook and iNaturalist enable citizen scientists to upload pictures of animals and plants, aiding conservation efforts and research on biodiversity. And FarmBeats aims to enable data-driven agriculture with low-cost sensors, drones, and cloud services.

It’s not impossible to imagine putting such services together into an optimization engine that knows everything about the land, the water, and the creatures who live on planet Earth. Then we’ll just have to tell that engine what we want to do about it.

Editor’s note: This story is published in cooperation with more than 250 media organizations and independent journalists that have focused their coverage on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit. IEEE Spectrum’s participation in the Covering Climate Now partnership builds on our past reporting about this global issue. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435731 Video Friday: NASA Is Sending This ...

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

MARSS 2019 – July 1-5, 2019 – Helsinki, Finland
ICRES 2019 – July 29-30, 2019 – London, UK
DARPA SubT Tunnel Circuit – August 15-22, 2019 – Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

The big news today is that NASA is sending a robot to Saturn’s moon Titan. A flying robot. The Dragonfly mission will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034, but you knew that already, because last January, we posted a detailed article about the concept from the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University. And now it’s not a concept anymore, yay!

Again, read all the details plus an interview in 2018 article.

[ NASA ]

A robotic gripping arm that uses engineered bacteria to “taste” for a specific chemical has been developed by engineers at the University of California, Davis, and Carnegie Mellon University. The gripper is a proof-of-concept for biologically-based soft robotics.

The new device uses a biosensing module based on E. coli bacteria engineered to respond to the chemical IPTG by producing a fluorescent protein. The bacterial cells reside in wells with a flexible, porous membrane that allows chemicals to enter but keeps the cells inside. This biosensing module is built into the surface of a flexible gripper on a robotic arm, so the gripper can “taste” the environment through its fingers.

When IPTG crosses the membrane into the chamber, the cells fluoresce and electronic circuits inside the module detect the light. The electrical signal travels to the gripper’s control unit, which can decide whether to pick something up or release it.

[ UC Davis ]

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) is taking on the hard problems in manipulation research toward making human-assist robots reliable and robust. Dr. Russ Tedrake, TRI Vice President of Robotics Research, explains how we are exploring the challenges and addressing the reliability gap by using a robot loading dishes in a dishwasher as an example task.

[ TRI ]

The Tactile Telerobot is the world’s first haptic telerobotic system that transmits realistic touch feedback to an operator located anywhere in the world. It is the product of joint collaboration between Shadow Robot Company, HaptX, and SynTouch. All Nippon Airways funded the project’s initial research and development.

What’s really unique about this is the HaptX tactile feedback system, which is something we’ve been following for several years now. It’s one of the most magical tech experiences I’ve ever had, and you can read about it here and here.

[ HaptX ]

Thanks Andrew!

I love how snake robots can emulate some of the fanciest moves of real snakes, and then also do bonkers things that real snakes never do.

[ Matsuno Lab ]

Here are a couple interesting videos from the Human-Robot Interaction Lab at Tufts.

A robot is instructed to perform an action and cannot do it due to lack of sensors. But when another robot is placed nearby, it can execute the instruction by tacitly tapping into the other robot’s mind and using that robot’s sensors for its own actions. Yes, it’s automatic, and yes, it’s the BORG!

Two Nao robots are instructed to perform a dance and are able to do it right after instruction. Moreover, they can switch roles immediately, and even a third different PR2 robot can perform the dance right away, demonstrating the ability of our DIARC architecture to learn quickly and share the knowledge with any type of robot running the architecture.

Compared to Nao, PR2 just sounds… depressed.

[ HRI Lab ]

This work explores the problem of robot tool construction – creating tools from parts available in the environment. We advance the state-of-the-art in robotic tool construction by introducing an approach that enables the robot to construct a wider range of tools with greater computational efficiency. Specifically, given an action that the robot wishes to accomplish and a set of building parts available to the robot, our approach reasons about the shape of the parts and potential ways of attaching them, generating a ranking of part combinations that the robot then uses to construct and test the target tool. We validate our approach on the construction of five tools using a physical 7-DOF robot arm.

[ RAIL Lab ] via [ RSS ]

We like Magazino’s approach to warehouse picking- constrain the problem to something you can reliably solve, like shoeboxes.

Magazino has announced a new pricing model for their robots. You pay 55k euros for the robot itself, and then after that, all you pay to keep the robot working is 6 cents per pick, so the robot is only costing you money for the work that it actually does.

[ Magazino ]

Thanks Florin!

Human-Robot Collaborations are happening across factories worldwide, yet very few are using it for smaller businesses, due to high costs or the difficulty of customization. Elephant Robotics, a new player from Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of Asia, has set its sight on helping smaller businesses gain access to smart robotics. They created a Catbot (a collaborative robotic arm) that will offer high efficiency and flexibility to various industries.

The Catbot is set to help from education projects, photography, massaging, to being a personal barista or co-playing a table game. The customizations are endless. To increase the flexibility of usage, the Catbot is extremely easy to program from a high precision task up to covering hefty ground projects.

[ Elephant Robotics ]

Thanks Johnson!

Dronistics, an EPFL spin-off, has been testing out their enclosed delivery drone in the Dominican Republic through a partnership with WeRobotics.

[ WeRobotics ]

QTrobot is an expressive humanoid robot designed to help children with autism spectrum disorder and children with special educational needs in learning new skills. QTrobot uses simple and exaggerated facial expressions combined by interactive games and stories, to help children improve their emotional skills. QTrobot helps children to learn about and better understand the emotions and teach them strategies to handle their emotions more effectively.

[ LuxAI ]

Here’s a typical day in the life of a Tertill solar-powered autonomous weed-destroying robot.

$300, now shipping from Franklin Robotics.

[ Tertill ]

PAL Robotics is excited to announce a new TIAGo with two arms, TIAGo++! After carefully listening to the robotics community needs, we used TIAGo’s modularity to integrate two 7-DoF arms to our mobile manipulator. TIAGo++ can help you swiftly accomplish your research goals, opening endless possibilities in mobile manipulation.

[ PAL Robotics ]

Thanks Jack!

You’ve definitely already met the Cobalt security robot, but Toyota AI Ventures just threw a pile of money at them and would therefore like you to experience this re-introduction:

[ Cobalt Robotics ] via [ Toyota AI ]

ROSIE is a mobile manipulator kit from HEBI Robotics. And if you don’t like ROSIE, the modular nature of HEBI’s hardware means that you can take her apart and make something more interesting.

[ HEBI Robotics ]

Learn about Kawasaki Robotics’ second addition to their line of duAro dual-arm collaborative robots, duAro2. This model offers an extended vertical reach (550 mm) and an increased payload capacity (3 kg/arm).

[ Kawasaki Robotics ]

Drone Delivery Canada has partnered with Peel Region Paramedics to pilot its proprietary drone delivery platform to enable rapid first responder technology via drone with the goal to reduce response time and potentially save lives.

[ Drone Delivery Canada ]

In this week’s episode of Robots in Depth, Per speaks with Harri Ketamo, from Headai.

Harri Ketamo talks about AI and how he aims to mimic human decision making with algorithms. Harri has done a lot of AI for computer games to create opponents that are entertaining to play against. It is easy to develop a very bad or a very good opponent, but designing an opponent that behaves like a human, is entertaining to play against and that you can beat is quite hard. He talks about how AI in computer games is a very important story telling tool and an important part of making a game entertaining to play.

This work led him into other parts of the AI field. Harri thinks that we sometimes have a problem separating what is real from what is the type of story telling he knows from gaming AI. He calls for critical analysis of AI and says that data has to be used to verify AI decisions and results.

[ Robots in Depth ]

Thanks Per! Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#435614 3 Easy Ways to Evaluate AI Claims

When every other tech startup claims to use artificial intelligence, it can be tough to figure out if an AI service or product works as advertised. In the midst of the AI “gold rush,” how can you separate the nuggets from the fool’s gold?

There’s no shortage of cautionary tales involving overhyped AI claims. And applying AI technologies to health care, education, and law enforcement mean that getting it wrong can have real consequences for society—not just for investors who bet on the wrong unicorn.

So IEEE Spectrum asked experts to share their tips for how to identify AI hype in press releases, news articles, research papers, and IPO filings.

“It can be tricky, because I think the people who are out there selling the AI hype—selling this AI snake oil—are getting more sophisticated over time,” says Tim Hwang, director of the Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative.

The term “AI” is perhaps most frequently used to describe machine learning algorithms (and deep learning algorithms, which require even less human guidance) that analyze huge amounts of data and make predictions based on patterns that humans might miss. These popular forms of AI are mostly suited to specialized tasks, such as automatically recognizing certain objects within photos. For that reason, they are sometimes described as “weak” or “narrow” AI.

Some researchers and thought leaders like to talk about the idea of “artificial general intelligence” or “strong AI” that has human-level capacity and flexibility to handle many diverse intellectual tasks. But for now, this type of AI remains firmly in the realm of science fiction and is far from being realized in the real world.

“AI has no well-defined meaning and many so-called AI companies are simply trying to take advantage of the buzz around that term,” says Arvind Narayanan, a computer scientist at Princeton University. “Companies have even been caught claiming to use AI when, in fact, the task is done by human workers.”

Here are three ways to recognize AI hype.

Look for Buzzwords
One red flag is what Hwang calls the “hype salad.” This means stringing together the term “AI” with many other tech buzzwords such as “blockchain” or “Internet of Things.” That doesn’t automatically disqualify the technology, but spotting a high volume of buzzwords in a post, pitch, or presentation should raise questions about what exactly the company or individual has developed.

Other experts agree that strings of buzzwords can be a red flag. That’s especially true if the buzzwords are never really explained in technical detail, and are simply tossed around as vague, poorly-defined terms, says Marzyeh Ghassemi, a computer scientist and biomedical engineer at the University of Toronto in Canada.

“I think that if it looks like a Google search—picture ‘interpretable blockchain AI deep learning medicine’—it's probably not high-quality work,” Ghassemi says.

Hwang also suggests mentally replacing all mentions of “AI” in an article with the term “magical fairy dust.” It’s a way of seeing whether an individual or organization is treating the technology like magic. If so—that’s another good reason to ask more questions about what exactly the AI technology involves.

And even the visual imagery used to illustrate AI claims can indicate that an individual or organization is overselling the technology.

“I think that a lot of the people who work on machine learning on a day-to-day basis are pretty humble about the technology, because they’re largely confronted with how frequently it just breaks and doesn't work,” Hwang says. “And so I think that if you see a company or someone representing AI as a Terminator head, or a big glowing HAL eye or something like that, I think it’s also worth asking some questions.”

Interrogate the Data

It can be hard to evaluate AI claims without any relevant expertise, says Ghassemi at the University of Toronto. Even experts need to know the technical details of the AI algorithm in question and have some access to the training data that shaped the AI model’s predictions. Still, savvy readers with some basic knowledge of applied statistics can search for red flags.

To start, readers can look for possible bias in training data based on small sample sizes or a skewed population that fails to reflect the broader population, Ghassemi says. After all, an AI model trained only on health data from white men would not necessarily achieve similar results for other populations of patients.

“For me, a red flag is not demonstrating deep knowledge of how your labels are defined.”
—Marzyeh Ghassemi, University of Toronto

How machine learning and deep learning models perform also depends on how well humans labeled the sample datasets use to train these programs. This task can be straightforward when labeling photos of cats versus dogs, but gets more complicated when assigning disease diagnoses to certain patient cases.

Medical experts frequently disagree with each other on diagnoses—which is why many patients seek a second opinion. Not surprisingly, this ambiguity can also affect the diagnostic labels that experts assign in training datasets. “For me, a red flag is not demonstrating deep knowledge of how your labels are defined,” Ghassemi says.

Such training data can also reflect the cultural stereotypes and biases of the humans who labeled the data, says Narayanan at Princeton University. Like Ghassemi, he recommends taking a hard look at exactly what the AI has learned: “A good way to start critically evaluating AI claims is by asking questions about the training data.”

Another red flag is presenting an AI system’s performance through a single accuracy figure without much explanation, Narayanan says. Claiming that an AI model achieves “99 percent” accuracy doesn’t mean much without knowing the baseline for comparison—such as whether other systems have already achieved 99 percent accuracy—or how well that accuracy holds up in situations beyond the training dataset.

Narayanan also emphasized the need to ask questions about an AI model’s false positive rate—the rate of making wrong predictions about the presence of a given condition. Even if the false positive rate of a hypothetical AI service is just one percent, that could have major consequences if that service ends up screening millions of people for cancer.

Readers can also consider whether using AI in a given situation offers any meaningful improvement compared to traditional statistical methods, says Clayton Aldern, a data scientist and journalist who serves as managing director for Caldern LLC. He gave the hypothetical example of a “super-duper-fancy deep learning model” that achieves a prediction accuracy of 89 percent, compared to a “little polynomial regression model” that achieves 86 percent on the same dataset.

“We're talking about a three-percentage-point increase on something that you learned about in Algebra 1,” Aldern says. “So is it worth the hype?”

Don’t Ignore the Drawbacks

The hype surrounding AI isn’t just about the technical merits of services and products driven by machine learning. Overblown claims about the beneficial impacts of AI technology—or vague promises to address ethical issues related to deploying it—should also raise red flags.

“If a company promises to use its tech ethically, it is important to question if its business model aligns with that promise,” Narayanan says. “Even if employees have noble intentions, it is unrealistic to expect the company as a whole to resist financial imperatives.”

One example might be a company with a business model that depends on leveraging customers’ personal data. Such companies “tend to make empty promises when it comes to privacy,” Narayanan says. And, if companies hire workers to produce training data, it’s also worth asking whether the companies treat those workers ethically.

The transparency—or lack thereof—about any AI claim can also be telling. A company or research group can minimize concerns by publishing technical claims in peer-reviewed journals or allowing credible third parties to evaluate their AI without giving away big intellectual property secrets, Narayanan says. Excessive secrecy is a big red flag.

With these strategies, you don’t need to be a computer engineer or data scientist to start thinking critically about AI claims. And, Narayanan says, the world needs many people from different backgrounds for societies to fully consider the real-world implications of AI.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misspelled Clayton Aldern’s last name as Alderton. Continue reading

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