Tag Archives: national

#437869 Video Friday: Japan’s Gundam Robot ...

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!):

ACRA 2020 – December 8-10, 2020 – [Online]
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Another BIG step for Japan’s Gundam project.

[ Gundam Factory ]

We present an interactive design system that allows users to create sculpting styles and fabricate clay models using a standard 6-axis robot arm. Given a general mesh as input, the user iteratively selects sub-areas of the mesh through decomposition and embeds the design expression into an initial set of toolpaths by modifying key parameters that affect the visual appearance of the sculpted surface finish. We demonstrate the versatility of our approach by designing and fabricating different sculpting styles over a wide range of clay models.

[ Disney Research ]

China’s Chang’e-5 completed the drilling, sampling and sealing of lunar soil at 04:53 BJT on Wednesday, marking the first automatic sampling on the Moon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced Wednesday.

[ CCTV ]

Red Hat’s been putting together an excellent documentary on Willow Garage and ROS, and all five parts have just been released. We posted Part 1 a little while ago, so here’s Part 2 and Part 3.

Parts 4 and 5 are at the link below!

[ Red Hat ]

Congratulations to ANYbotics on a well-deserved raise!

ANYbotics has origins in the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich, and ANYmal’s heritage can be traced back at least as far as StarlETH, which we first met at ICRA 2013.

[ ANYbotics ]

Most conventional robots are working with 0.05-0.1mm accuracy. Such accuracy requires high-end components like low-backlash gears, high-resolution encoders, complicated CNC parts, powerful motor drives, etc. Those in combination end up an expensive solution, which is either unaffordable or unnecessary for many applications. As a result, we found the Apicoo Robotics to provide our customers solutions with a much lower cost and higher stability.

[ Apicoo Robotics ]

The Skydio 2 is an incredible drone that can take incredible footage fully autonomously, but it definitely helps if you do incredible things in incredible places.

[ Skydio ]

Jueying is the first domestic sensitive quadruped robot for industry applications and scenarios. It can coordinate (replace) humans to reach any place that can be reached. It has superior environmental adaptability, excellent dynamic balance capabilities and precise Environmental perception capabilities. By carrying functional modules for different application scenarios in the safe load area, the mobile superiority of the quadruped robot can be organically integrated with the commercialization of functional modules, providing smart factories, smart parks, scene display and public safety application solutions.

[ DeepRobotics ]

We have developed semi-autonomous quadruped robot, called LASER-D (Legged-Agile-Smart-Efficient Robot for Disinfection) for performing disinfection in cluttered environments. The robot is equipped with a spray-based disinfection system and leverages the body motion to controlling the spray action without the need for an extra stabilization mechanism. The system includes an image processing capability to verify disinfected regions with high accuracy. This system allows the robot to successfully carry out effective disinfection tasks while safely traversing through cluttered environments, climb stairs/slopes, and navigate on slippery surfaces.

[ USC Viterbi ]

We propose the “multi-vision hand”, in which a number of small high-speed cameras are mounted on the robot hand of a common 7 degrees-of-freedom robot. Also, we propose visual-servoing control by using a multi-vision system that combines the multi-vision hand and external fixed high-speed cameras. The target task was ball catching motion, which requires high-speed operation. In the proposed catching control, the catch position of the ball, which is estimated by the external fixed high-speed cameras, is corrected by the multi-vision hand in real-time.

More details available through IROS on-demand.

[ Namiki Laboratory ]

Shunichi Kurumaya wrote in to share his work on PneuFinger, a pneumatically actuated compliant robotic gripping system.

[ Nakamura Lab ]

Thanks Shunichi!

Motivated by insights into the human teaching process, we introduce a method for incorporating unstructured natural language into imitation learning. At training time, the expert can provide demonstrations along with verbal descriptions in order to describe the underlying intent, e.g., “Go to the large green bowl’’. The training process, then, interrelates the different modalities to encode the correlations between language, perception, and motion. The resulting language-conditioned visuomotor policies can be conditioned at run time on new human commands and instructions, which allows for more fine-grained control over the trained policies while also reducing situational ambiguity.

[ ASU ]

Thanks Heni!

Gita is on sale for the holidays for only $2,000.

[ Gita ]

This video introduces a computational approach for routing thin artificial muscle actuators through hyperelastic soft robots, in order to achieve a desired deformation behavior. Provided with a robot design, and a set of example deformations, we continuously co-optimize the routing of actuators, and their actuation, to approximate example deformations as closely as possible.

[ Disney Research ]

Researchers and mountain rescuers in Switzerland are making huge progress in the field of autonomous drones as the technology becomes more in-demand for global search-and-rescue operations.

[ SWI ]

This short clip of the Ghost Robotics V60 features an interesting, if awkward looking, righting behavior at the end.

[ Ghost Robotics ]

Europe’s Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover has a younger ’sibling’, ExoMy. The blueprints and software for this mini-version of the full-size Mars explorer are available for free so that anyone can 3D print, assemble and program their own ExoMy.

[ ESA ]

The holiday season is here, and with the added impact of Covid-19 consumer demand is at an all-time high. Berkshire Grey is the partner that today’s leading organizations turn to when it comes to fulfillment automation.

[ Berkshire Grey ]

Until very recently, the vast majority of studies and reports on the use of cargo drones for public health were almost exclusively focused on the technology. The driving interest from was on the range that these drones could travel, how much they could carry and how they worked. Little to no attention was placed on the human side of these projects. Community perception, community engagement, consent and stakeholder feedback were rarely if ever addressed. This webinar presents the findings from a very recent study that finally sheds some light on the human side of drone delivery projects.

[ WeRobotics ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437820 In-Shoe Sensors and Mobile Robots Keep ...

In shoe sensor

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology are leveraging some of the newest mechanical and robotic technologies to help some of our oldest populations stay healthy, active, and independent.

Yi Guo, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Robotics and Automation Laboratory, and Damiano Zanotto, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and director of the Wearable Robotic Systems Laboratory, are collaborating with Ashley Lytle, assistant professor in Stevens’ College of Arts and Letters, and Ashwini K. Rao of Columbia University Medical Center, to combine an assistive mobile robot companion with wearable in-shoe sensors in a system designed to help elderly individuals maintain the balance and motion they need to thrive.

“Balance and motion can be significant issues for this population, and if elderly people fall and experience an injury, they are less likely to stay fit and exercise,” Guo said. “As a consequence, their level of fitness and performance decreases. Our mobile robot companion can help decrease the chances of falling and contribute to a healthy lifestyle by keeping their walking function at a good level.”

The mobile robots are designed to lead walking sessions and using the in-shoe sensors, monitor the user’s gait, indicate issues, and adjust the exercise speed and pace. The initiative is part of a four-year National Science Foundation research project.

“For the first time, we’re integrating our wearable sensing technology with an autonomous mobile robot,” said Zanotto, who worked with elderly people at Columbia University Medical Center for three years before coming to Stevens in 2016. “It’s exciting to be combining these different areas of expertise to leverage the strong points of wearable sensing technology, such as accurately capturing human movement, with the advantages of mobile robotics, such as much larger computational powers.”

The team is developing algorithms that fuse real-time data from smart, unobtrusive, in-shoe sensors and advanced on-board sensors to inform the robot’s navigation protocols and control the way the robot interacts with elderly individuals. It’s a promising way to assist seniors in safely doing walking exercises and maintaining their quality of life.

Bringing the benefits of the lab to life

Guo and Zanotto are working with Lytle, an expert in social and health psychology, to implement a social connectivity capability and make the bi-directional interaction between human and robot even more intuitive, engaging, and meaningful for seniors.

“Especially during COVID, it’s important for elderly people living on their own to connect socially with family and friends,” Zanotto said, “and the robot companion will also offer teleconferencing tools to provide that interaction in an intuitive and transparent way.”

“We want to use the robot for social connectedness, perhaps integrating it with a conversation agent such as Alexa,” Guo added. “The goal is to make it a companion robot that can sense, for example, that you are cooking, or you’re in the living room, and help with things you would do there.”

It’s a powerful example of how abstract concepts can have meaningful real-life benefits.

“As engineers, we tend to work in the lab, trying to optimize our algorithms and devices and technologies,” Zanotto noted, “but at the end of the day, what we do has limited value unless it has impact on real life. It’s fascinating to see how the devices and technologies we’re developing in the lab can be applied to make a difference for real people.”

Maintaining balance in a global pandemic

Although COVID-19 has delayed the planned testing at a senior center in New York City, it has not stopped the team’s progress.

“Although we can’t test on elderly populations yet, our students are still testing in the lab,” Guo said. “This summer and fall, for the first time, the students validated the system’s real-time ability to monitor and assess the dynamic margin of stability during walking—in other words, to evaluate whether the person following the robot is walking normally or has a risk of falling. They’re also designing parameters for the robot to give early warnings and feedback that help the human subjects correct posture and gait issues while walking.”

Those warnings would be literally underfoot, as the in-shoe sensors would pulse like a vibrating cell phone to deliver immediate directional information to the subject.

“We’re not the first to use this vibrotactile stimuli technology, but this application is new,” Zanotto said.

So far, the team has published papers in top robotics publication venues including IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering and the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). It’s a big step toward realizing the synergies of bringing the technical expertise of engineers to bear on the clinical focus on biometrics—and the real lives of seniors everywhere. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437805 Video Friday: Quadruped Robot HyQ ...

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!):

RSS 2020 – July 12-16, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
CLAWAR 2020 – August 24-26, 2020 – [Virtual Conference]
ICUAS 2020 – September 1-4, 2020 – Athens, Greece
ICRES 2020 – September 28-29, 2020 – Taipei, Taiwan
IROS 2020 – October 25-29, 2020 – Las Vegas, Nevada
ICSR 2020 – November 14-16, 2020 – Golden, Colorado
Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Four-legged HyQ balancing on two legs. Nice results from the team at IIT’s Dynamic Legged Systems Lab. And we can’t wait to see the “ninja walk,” currently shown in simulation, implemented with the real robot!

The development of balance controllers for legged robots with point feet remains a challenge when they have to traverse extremely constrained environments. We present a balance controller that has the potential to achieve line walking for quadruped robots. Our initial experiments show the 90-kg robot HyQ balancing on two feet and recovering from external pushes, as well as some changes in posture achieved without losing balance.

[ IIT ]

Thanks Victor!

Ava Robotics’ telepresence robot has been beheaded by MIT, and it now sports a coronavirus-destroying UV array.

UV-C light has proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria on surfaces and aerosols, but it’s unsafe for humans to be exposed. Fortunately, Ava’s telepresence robot doesn’t require any human supervision. Instead of the telepresence top, the team subbed in a UV-C array for disinfecting surfaces. Specifically, the array uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms and disrupt their DNA in a process called ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. The complete robot system is capable of mapping the space — in this case, GBFB’s warehouse — and navigating between waypoints and other specified areas. In testing the system, the team used a UV-C dosimeter, which confirmed that the robot was delivering the expected dosage of UV-C light predicted by the model.

[ MIT ]

While it’s hard enough to get quadrupedal robots to walk in complex environments, this work from the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich shows some impressive whole body planning that allows ANYmal to squeeze its body through small or weirdly shaped spaces.

[ RSL ]

Engineering researchers at North Carolina State University and Temple University have developed soft robots inspired by jellyfish that can outswim their real-life counterparts. More practically, the new jellyfish-bots highlight a technique that uses pre-stressed polymers to make soft robots more powerful.

The researchers also used the technique to make a fast-moving robot that resembles a larval insect curling its body, then jumping forward as it quickly releases its stored energy. Lastly, the researchers created a three-pronged gripping robot – with a twist. Most grippers hang open when “relaxed,” and require energy to hold on to their cargo as it is lifted and moved from point A to point B. But this claw’s default position is clenched shut. Energy is required to open the grippers, but once they’re in position, the grippers return to their “resting” mode – holding their cargo tight.

[ NC State ]

As control skills increase, we are more and more impressed by what a Cassie bipedal robot can do. Those who have been following our channel, know that we always show the limitations of our work. So while there is still much to do, you gotta like the direction things are going. Later this year, you will see this controller integrated with our real-time planner and perception system. Autonomy with agility! Watch out for us!

[ University of Michigan ]

GITAI’s S1 arm is a little less exciting than their humanoid torso, but it looks like this one might actually be going to the ISS next year.

Here’s how the humanoid would handle a similar task:

[ GITAI ]

Thanks Fan!

If you need a robot that can lift 250 kg at 10 m/s across a workspace of a thousand cubic meters, here’s your answer.

[ Fraunhofer ]

Penn engineers with funding from the National Science Foundation, have nanocardboard plates able to levitate when bright light is shone on them. This fleet of tiny aircraft could someday explore the skies of other worlds, including Mars. The thinner atmosphere there would give the flyers a boost, enabling them to carry payloads ten times as massive as they are, making them an efficient, light-weight alternative to the Mars helicopter.

[ UPenn ]

Erin Sparks, assistant professor in Plant and Soil Sciences, dreamed of a robot she could use in her research. A perfect partnership was formed when Adam Stager, then a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, reached out about a robot he had a gut feeling might be useful in agriculture. The pair moved forward with their research with corn at the UD Farm, using the robot to capture dynamic phenotyping information of brace roots over time.

[ Sparks Lab ]

This is a video about robot spy turtles but OMG that bird drone landing gear.

[ PBS ]

If you have a DJI Mavic, you now have something new to worry about.

[ DroGone ]

I was able to spot just one single person in the warehouse footage in this video.

[ Berkshire Grey ]

Flyability has partnered with the ROBINS Project to help fill gaps in the technology used in ship inspections. Watch this video to learn more about the ROBINS project and how Flyability’s drones for confined spaces are helping make inspections on ships safer, cheaper, and more efficient.

[ Flyability ]

In this video, a mission of the Alpha Aerial Scout of Team CERBERUS during the DARPA Subterranean Challenge Urban Circuit event is presented. The Alpha Robot operates inside the Satsop Abandoned Power Plant and performs autonomous exploration. This deployment took place during the 3rd field trial of team CERBERUS during the Urban Circuit event of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

[ ARL ]

More excellent talks from the remote Legged Robots ICRA workshop- we’ve posted three here, but there are several other good talks this week as well.

[ ICRA 2020 Legged Robots Workshop ] Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437769 Q&A: Facebook’s CTO Is at War With ...

Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer leads the company’s AI and integrity efforts.

Facebook’s challenge is huge. Billions of pieces of content—short and long posts, images, and combinations of the two—are uploaded to the site daily from around the world. And any tiny piece of that—any phrase, image, or video—could contain so-called bad content.

In its early days, Facebook relied on simple computer filters to identify potentially problematic posts by their words, such as those containing profanity. These automatically filtered posts, as well as posts flagged by users as offensive, went to humans for adjudication.

In 2015, Facebook started using artificial intelligence to cull images that contained nudity, illegal goods, and other prohibited content; those images identified as possibly problematic were sent to humans for further review.

By 2016, more offensive photos were reported by Facebook’s AI systems than by Facebook users (and that is still the case).

In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a bold proclamation: He predicted that within five or ten years, Facebook’s AI would not only look for profanity, nudity, and other obvious violations of Facebook’s policies. The tools would also be able to spot bullying, hate speech, and other misuse of the platform, and put an immediate end to them.

Today, automated systems using algorithms developed with AI scan every piece of content between the time when a user completes a post and when it is visible to others on the site—just fractions of a second. In most cases, a violation of Facebook’s standards is clear, and the AI system automatically blocks the post. In other cases, the post goes to human reviewers for a final decision, a workforce that includes 15,000 content reviewers and another 20,000 employees focused on safety and security, operating out of more than 20 facilities around the world.

In the first quarter of this year, Facebook removed or took other action (like appending a warning label) on more than 9.6 million posts involving hate speech, 8.6 million involving child nudity or exploitation, almost 8 million posts involving the sale of drugs, 2.3 million posts involving bullying and harassment, and tens of millions of posts violating other Facebook rules.

Right now, Facebook has more than 1,000 engineers working on further developing and implementing what the company calls “integrity” tools. Using these systems to screen every post that goes up on Facebook, and doing so in milliseconds, is sucking up computing resources. Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, who is heading up Facebook’s AI and integrity efforts, spoke with IEEE Spectrum about the team’s progress on building an AI system that detects bad content.

Since that discussion, Facebook’s policies around hate speech have come under increasing scrutiny, with particular attention on divisive posts by political figures. A group of major advertisers in June announced that they would stop advertising on the platform while reviewing the situation, and civil rights groups are putting pressure on others to follow suit until Facebook makes policy changes related to hate speech and groups that promote hate, misinformation, and conspiracies.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded with news that Facebook will widen the category of what it considers hateful content in ads. Now the company prohibits claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health, or survival of others. The policy change also aims to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt. Finally, Zuckerberg announced that the company will label some problematic posts by politicians and government officials as content that violates Facebook’s policies.

However, civil rights groups say that’s not enough. And an independent audit released in July also said that Facebook needs to go much further in addressing civil rights concerns and disinformation.

Schroepfer indicated that Facebook’s AI systems are designed to quickly adapt to changes in policy. “I don’t expect considerable technical changes are needed to adjust,” he told Spectrum.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

IEEE Spectrum: What are the stakes of content moderation? Is this an existential threat to Facebook? And is it critical that you deal well with the issue of election interference this year?

Schroepfer: It’s probably existential; it’s certainly massive. We are devoting a tremendous amount of our attention to it.

The idea that anyone could meddle in an election is deeply disturbing and offensive to all of us here, just as people and citizens of democracies. We don’t want to see that happen anywhere, and certainly not on our watch. So whether it’s important to the company or not, it’s important to us as people. And I feel a similar way on the content-moderation side.

There are not a lot of easy choices here. The only way to prevent people, with certainty, from posting bad things is to not let them post anything. We can take away all voice and just say, “Sorry, the Internet’s too dangerous. No one can use it.” That will certainly get rid of all hate speech online. But I don’t want to end up in that world. And there are variants of that world that various governments are trying to implement, where they get to decide what’s true or not, and you as a person don’t. I don’t want to get there either.

My hope is that we can build a set of tools that make it practical for us to do a good enough job, so that everyone is still excited about the idea that anyone can share what they want, and so that Facebook is a safe and reasonable place for people to operate in.

Spectrum: You joined Facebook in 2008, before AI was part of the company’s toolbox. When did that change? When did you begin to think that AI tools would be useful to Facebook?

Schroepfer: Ten years ago, AI wasn’t commercially practical; the technology just didn’t work very well. In 2012, there was one of those moments that a lot of people point to as the beginning of the current revolution in deep learning and AI. A computer-vision model—a neural network—was trained using what we call supervised training, and it turned out to be better than all the existing models.

Spectrum: How is that training done, and how did computer-vision models come to Facebook?

Image: Facebook

Just Broccoli? Facebook’s image analysis algorithms can tell the difference between marijuana [left] and tempura broccoli [right] better than some humans.

Schroepfer: Say I take a bunch of photos and I have people look at them. If they see a photo of a cat, they put a text label that says cat; if it’s one of a dog, the text label says dog. If you build a big enough data set and feed that to the neural net, it learns how to tell the difference between cats and dogs.

Prior to 2012, it didn’t work very well. And then in 2012, there was this moment where it seemed like, “Oh wow, this technique might work.” And a few years later we were deploying that form of technology to help us detect problematic imagery.

Spectrum: Do your AI systems work equally well on all types of prohibited content?

Schroepfer: Nudity was technically easiest. I don’t need to understand language or culture to understand that this is either a naked human or not. Violence is a much more nuanced problem, so it was harder technically to get it right. And with hate speech, not only do you have to understand the language, it may be very contextual, even tied to recent events. A week before the Christchurch shooting [New Zealand, 2019], saying “I wish you were in the mosque” probably doesn’t mean anything. A week after, that might be a terrible thing to say.

Spectrum: How much progress have you made on hate speech?

Schroepfer: AI, in the first quarter of 2020, proactively detected 88.8 percent of the hate-speech content we removed, up from 80.2 percent in the previous quarter. In the first quarter of 2020, we took action on 9.6 million pieces of content for violating our hate-speech policies.

Image: Facebook

Off Label: Sometimes image analysis isn’t enough to determine whether a picture posted violates the company’s policies. In considering these candy-colored vials of marijuana, for example, the algorithms can look at any accompanying text and, if necessary, comments on the post.

Spectrum: It sounds like you’ve expanded beyond tools that analyze images and are also using AI tools that analyze text.

Schroepfer: AI started off as very siloed. People worked on language, people worked on computer vision, people worked on video. We’ve put these things together—in production, not just as research—into multimodal classifiers.

[Schroepfer shows a photo of a pan of Rice Krispies treats, with text referring to it as a “potent batch”] This is a case in which you have an image, and then you have the text on the post. This looks like Rice Krispies. On its own, this image is fine. You put the text together with it in a bigger model; that can then understand what’s going on. That didn’t work five years ago.

Spectrum: Today, every post that goes up on Facebook is immediately checked by automated systems. Can you explain that process?

Image: Facebook

Bigger Picture: Identifying hate speech is often a matter of context. Either the text or the photo in this post isn’t hateful standing alone, but putting them together tells a different story.

Schroepfer: You upload an image and you write some text underneath it, and the systems look at both the image and the text to try to see which, if any, policies it violates. Those decisions are based on our Community Standards. It will also look at other signals on the posts, like the comments people make.

It happens relatively instantly, though there may be times things happen after the fact. Maybe you uploaded a post that had misinformation in it, and at the time you uploaded it, we didn’t know it was misinformation. The next day we fact-check something and scan again; we may find your post and take it down. As we learn new things, we’re going to go back through and look for violations of what we now know to be a problem. Or, as people comment on your post, we might update our understanding of it. If people are saying, “That’s terrible,” or “That’s mean,” or “That looks fake,” those comments may be an interesting signal.

Spectrum: How is Facebook applying its AI tools to the problem of election interference?

Schroepfer: I would split election interference into two categories. There are times when you’re going after the content, and there are times you’re going after the behavior or the authenticity of the person.

On content, if you’re sharing misinformation, saying, “It’s super Wednesday, not super Tuesday, come vote on Wednesday,” that’s a problem whether you’re an American sitting in California or a foreign actor.

Other times, people create a series of Facebook pages pretending they’re Americans, but they’re really a foreign entity. That is a problem on its own, even if all the content they’re sharing completely meets our Community Standards. The problem there is that you have a foreign government running an information operation.

There, you need different tools. What you’re trying to do is put pieces together, to say, “Wait a second. All of these pages—Martians for Justice, Moonlings for Justice, and Venusians for Justice”—are all run by an administrator with an IP address that’s outside the United States. So they’re all connected, even though they’re pretending to not be connected. That’s a very different problem than me sitting in my office in Menlo Park [Calif.] sharing misinformation.

I’m not going to go into lots of technical detail, because this is an area of adversarial nature. The fundamental problem you’re trying to solve is that there’s one entity coordinating the activity of a bunch of things that look like they’re not all one thing. So this is a series of Instagram accounts, or a series of Facebook pages, or a series of WhatsApp accounts, and they’re pretending to be totally different things. We’re looking for signals that these things are related in some way. And we’re looking through the graph [what Facebook calls its map of relationships between users] to understand the properties of this network.

Spectrum: What cutting-edge AI tools and methods have you been working on lately?

Schroepfer: Supervised learning, with humans setting up the instruction process for the AI systems, is amazingly effective. But it has a very obvious flaw: the speed at which you can develop these things is limited by how fast you can curate the data sets. If you’re dealing in a problem domain where things change rapidly, you have to rebuild a new data set and retrain the whole thing.

Self-supervision is inspired by the way people learn, by the way kids explore the world around them. To get computers to do it themselves, we take a bunch of raw data and build a way for the computer to construct its own tests. For language, you scan a bunch of Web pages, and the computer builds a test where it takes a sentence, eliminates one of the words, and figures out how to predict what word belongs there. And because it created the test, it actually knows the answer. I can use as much raw text as I can find and store because it’s processing everything itself and doesn’t require us to sit down and build the information set. In the last two years there has been a revolution in language understanding as a result of AI self-supervised learning.

Spectrum: What else are you excited about?

Schroepfer: What we’ve been working on over the last few years is multilingual understanding. Usually, when I’m trying to figure out, say, whether something is hate speech or not I have to go through the whole process of training the model in every language. I have to do that one time for every language. When you make a post, the first thing we have to figure out is what language your post is in. “Ah, that’s Spanish. So send it to the Spanish hate-speech model.”

We’ve started to build a multilingual model—one box where you can feed in text in 40 different languages and it determines whether it’s hate speech or not. This is way more effective and easier to deploy.

To geek out for a second, just the idea that you can build a model that understands a concept in multiple languages at once is crazy cool. And it not only works for hate speech, it works for a variety of things.

When we started working on this multilingual model years ago, it performed worse than every single individual model. Now, it not only works as well as the English model, but when you get to the languages where you don’t have enough data, it’s so much better. This rapid progress is very exciting.

Spectrum: How do you move new AI tools from your research labs into operational use?

Schroepfer: Engineers trying to make the next breakthrough will often say, “Cool, I’ve got a new thing and it achieved state-of-the-art results on machine translation.” And we say, “Great. How long does it take to run in production?” They say, “Well, it takes 10 seconds for every sentence to run on a CPU.” And we say, “It’ll eat our whole data center if we deploy that.” So we take that state-of-the-art model and we make it 10 or a hundred or a thousand times more efficient, maybe at the cost of a little bit of accuracy. So it’s not as good as the state-of-the-art version, but it’s something we can actually put into our data centers and run in production.

Spectrum: What’s the role of the humans in the loop? Is it true that Facebook currently employs 35,000 moderators?

Schroepfer: Yes. Right now our goal is not to reduce that. Our goal is to do a better job catching bad content. People often think that the end state will be a fully automated system. I don’t see that world coming anytime soon.

As automated systems get more sophisticated, they take more and more of the grunt work away, freeing up the humans to work on the really gnarly stuff where you have to spend an hour researching.

We also use AI to give our human moderators power tools. Say I spot this new meme that is telling everyone to vote on Wednesday rather than Tuesday. I have a tool in front of me that says, “Find variants of that throughout the system. Find every photo with the same text, find every video that mentions this thing and kill it in one shot.” Rather than, I found this one picture, but then a bunch of other people upload that misinformation in different forms.

Another important aspect of AI is that anything I can do to prevent a person from having to look at terrible things is time well spent. Whether it’s a person employed by us as a moderator or a user of our services, looking at these things is a terrible experience. If I can build systems that take the worst of the worst, the really graphic violence, and deal with that in an automated fashion, that’s worth a lot to me. Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#437747 High Performance Ornithopter Drone Is ...

The vast majority of drones are rotary-wing systems (like quadrotors), and for good reason: They’re cheap, they’re easy, they scale up and down well, and we’re getting quite good at controlling them, even in very challenging environments. For most applications, though, drones lose out to birds and their flapping wings in almost every way—flapping wings are very efficient, enable astonishing agility, and are much safer, able to make compliant contact with surfaces rather than shredding them like a rotor system does. But flapping wing have their challenges too: Making flapping-wing robots is so much more difficult than just duct taping spinning motors to a frame that, with a few exceptions, we haven’t seen nearly as much improvement as we have in more conventional drones.

In Science Robotics last week, a group of roboticists from Singapore, Australia, China, and Taiwan described a new design for a flapping-wing robot that offers enough thrust and control authority to make stable transitions between aggressive flight modes—like flipping and diving—while also being able to efficiently glide and gently land. While still more complex than a quadrotor in both hardware and software, this ornithopter’s advantages might make it worthwhile.

One reason that making a flapping-wing robot is difficult is because the wings have to move back and forth at high speed while electric motors spin around and around at high speed. This requires a relatively complex transmission system, which (if you don’t do it carefully), leads to weight penalties and a significant loss of efficiency. One particular challenge is that the reciprocating mass of the wings tends to cause the entire robot to flex back and forth, which alternately binds and disengages elements in the transmission system.

The researchers’ new ornithopter design mitigates the flexing problem using hinges and bearings in pairs. Elastic elements also help improve efficiency, and the ornithopter is in fact more efficient with its flapping wings than it would be with a rotary propeller-based propulsion system. Its thrust exceeds its 26-gram mass by 40 percent, which is where much of the aerobatic capability comes from. And one of the most surprising findings of this paper was that flapping-wing robots can actually be more efficient than propeller-based aircraft.

One of the most surprising findings of this paper was that flapping-wing robots can actually be more efficient than propeller-based aircraft

It’s not just thrust that’s a challenge for ornithopters: Control is much more complex as well. Like birds, ornithopters have tails, but unlike birds, they have to rely almost entirely on tail control authority, not having that bird-level of control over fine wing movements. To make an acrobatic level of control possible, the tail control surfaces on this ornithopter are huge—the tail plane area is 35 percent of the wing area. The wings can also provide some assistance in specific circumstances, as by combining tail control inputs with a deliberate stall of the things to allow the ornithopter to execute rapid flips.

With the ability to take off, hover, glide, land softly, maneuver acrobatically, fly quietly, and interact with its environment in a way that’s not (immediately) catastrophic, flapping-wing drones easily offer enough advantages to keep them interesting. Now that ornithopters been shown to be even more efficient than rotorcraft, the researchers plan to focus on autonomy with the goal of moving their robot toward real-world usefulness.

“Efficient flapping wing drone arrests high-speed flight using post-stall soaring,” by Yao-Wei Chin, Jia Ming Kok, Yong-Qiang Zhu, Woei-Leong Chan, Javaan S. Chahl, Boo Cheong Khoo, and Gih-Keong Lau from from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, National University of Singapore, Defence Science and Technology Group in Canberra, Australia, Qingdao University of Technology in Shandong, China, University of South Australia in Mawson Lakes, and National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, was published in Science Robotics. Continue reading

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