Friday, September 4, 2015

DARPA Projects Making MIT Students Depressed?

I'm depressed at the Terminator-style future being promoted in the pages of my war Pre$$:

"The survey, overseen by the Jed and Clinton Foundation Health Matters Campus Program and performed at 18 other colleges nationwide, was offered and the campus is rolling out an initiative called MindHandHeart, intended to improve coordination between existing mental health and counseling services."

RelatedM.I.T. Tragedies

Time to terminate the projects?

"MIT building a robot without a mind of its own" by Nidhi Subbaraman, Boston Globe   |  September 4, 2015

In the 2013 summer blockbuster “Pacific Rim,”  Earth is under attack from mega monsters, “Kaiju,” who are beaming their way onto the planet through a portal that opens up on the bed of the Pacific Ocean.

The invaders rise up, cities fall, humans rally: Their weapons against the monsters are titanic fighting robots the size of jumbo jets operated by two humans suspended inside the machines.

The two humans are connected to each other, and to the robot, by a kind of mind-body meld. As they run and punch at the air in their harnesses, so do the robots they’re attached to.

Like the human troops in Avatar.

So far, so science fiction. But a robotics team at MIT is taking baby steps toward a similar synchronicity between man and machine. 

It's also Elysium, isn't it?

It’s called Hermes, and standing 4 feet 8 inches on perpetually bent knees, this robot is more Hobbit than humanoid hunk.

The killer is a cute little thing.

The team and robot traveled to California this year at the invitation of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to demonstrate their invention at an all-star agency-run robotics contest in June.

For the two preceding years, teams had strived to hit DARPA’s goal of creating robots that could independently walk, drive, and carry around objects. It was DARPA’s simulation of mock-rescue scenarios where robots would play heroes: Competing robot teams had to open doors, walk over an uneven surface, use a power drill — all with minimum input from their minders.

And you thought they were only movies.

MIT’s Hermes, in contrast, presents an alternative path to independence and autonomy. The puppeteer has a better chance of responding reflexively to sudden hazards like falling debris.

No worries, right?

In the basement of an MIT lab off Massachusetts Avenue on a recent afternoon, PhD students Joao Ramos and Albert Wang demonstrated what Hermes can do.

Ramos was rigged up to what looked like elaborate climbing gear, with slim plastic pylons attached to ankles and wrists, and wires sprouting from a chest plate. The apparatus sensed Ramos’s movements — if he moved his shoulder upwards, or raised his arm to wave, and moved the limb of the robot correspondingly.

Virtual reality goggles channeling video from a camera perched on Hermes’s head allow Ramos to see the world as the robot does. Using a joystick, he was able to get Hermes to pick up a water bottle, and with three robotic fingers, grip the shaft of a fake ax.

Though they were reaching for independence, most robots on the track at the DARPA Robotics Challenge had trouble staying upright, as this compilation from the contest footage shows.

“A lot of people have compared these robots to toddlers,” Hermes maker Wang said. “If you’ve been on this earth for more than four years, you’re able to coordinate so much better than that.”

Walking on two feet while keeping balance and correcting for natural obstacles involves some complicated calculations. So at least in the short term, having a person in a harness think for the robot instead of building a machine that does so could have better results.

What’s unique about Hermes is that Ramos is able to sense the robot’s balance through the harness. If the robot is about to fall forward, he feels a pressure on his hip. As he rights himself, so does the bot.

Like the fictional heroes in “Pacific Rim,” the idea is that future versions of Hermes could also save the day by accessing areas dangerous for humans following natural or man-made disasters.

Except for one difference, noted Wang: “Why would you put the person inside the robot when it’s going somewhere dangerous?”

Of course, Hermes and humanity are several steps away from embracing that future. The team has only successfully demonstrate control of the robot’s arms and torso.

Like any robot in development, Hermes is not glitch-free.

Pull the plug!

During the demo, the team lost control of Hermes’s right arm, which began flailing without warning. Whoa, said Wang. “That’s not supposed to happen.”


Must have been the Force:

"‘Star Wars’ $150 BB-8 droid takes stage" by Christopher Palmeri and Cory Johnson Bloomberg News  September 04, 2015

LOS ANGELES — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” won’t hit theaters for another three months, but a fresh face has already emerged from the film: the BB-8 ball-shaped robot droid that scoots inexplicably across the desert in a theatrical trailer.

Sphero, a Boulder, Colo., technology firm, unveiled the first photos of the BB-8 toy Thursday, and it’s generating buzz on Twitter and stories on tech blogs. The $150 robot, controlled with an app, goes on sale in the United States Friday at Apple, Brookstone, and Best Buy stores, and Sphero’s website.

“We like to think that this is as close to an actual droid you can buy,” Rob Maigret, Sphero’s chief creative officer, said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Sphero’s turn in the spotlight stemmed from innovation and luck. The company, which is trying to give its robots human-like personalities, was chosen last year to participate in a mentoring program that “Star Wars” owner Walt Disney Co. runs to keep an eye on emerging business talent. The company was assigned to Disney chairman and chief executive Robert Iger. Maigret worked previously at the company in its interactive unit.

Sphero was designing high-end robot toys and showed Iger some of its products. He, of course, was one of a few people who knew what new characters would debut in “The Force Awakens,” the first new “Star Wars” picture in 10 years and the first since Disney acquired the brand in 2012.

“He showed us stills from the set and said, ‘Could your bring this BB-8 to life?’ ” Maigret recalled.

Among the BB-8 toy’s more intriguing technologies is its ability to respond to instructions and navigate without a camera. Sphero installed a computer with algorithms that can emulate what a seeing robot would do.

“He can go on patrols and missions around your house,” Maigret said.

The BB-8 gives the company the opportunity to accomplish its bigger goal: Make robots members of the family, he said.


I'm nowhere near as excited about the new trilogy than I was regarding the last two.

I thus endow you with this post and retract not a thing.