Archive for the 'robotics' Category

Deconstructing Networks

September 8, 2006

Montreal’s Oboro Gallery presents Deconstructing Networks by American media artist Jonah Brucker-Cohen, September 16-October 21st, 2006. Included in the exhibit is Brucker-Cohen’s hilarious “!Alerting Infrastructure! – A Physical Hit Counter,” which translates web hits into actual damage (via wall-mounted drills) to the interior of the gallery space.

Deconstructing Networks by Jonah Brucker-Cohen is an exhibition of projects that critically examines and questions the proliferation of networked media in both physical and online instantiations. Projects in the exhibition include: “Alerting Infrastructure!,” a website hit counter that destroys a building; PoliceState, a fleet of radio-controlled police cars whose movements are dictated by “suspicious” keywords scanned on a local network; Wifi-Hog, a tactical tool to liberate public wireless nodes; SpeakerPhone, a sequence of individually addressable speakers that expose the hidden pathways of data networks; Crank The Web, a browser that allows the user to physically “crank” their bandwidth to download a website; and IPO Madness, a slot machine that generates domain names in the quest for an eventual IPO. The exhibition will also feature a one-night performance of SimpleTEXT, an audio-visual project that is controlled by audience members texting messages from their cellphones and a workshop entitled MIDI Scrapyard Challenge which will be held by the artist and collaborator Katherine Moriwaki, where participants can create digital instruments from discarded or cast off materials. (oboro.net)

 

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Mini flying drones coming to a city near you

September 4, 2006

University research into things like ultra-miniturized spy planes has become a lucrative pursuit as US defense skunkworks like DARPA turn their attention toward street-level aerial surveillance.

The airflow characteristics at the low speed small planes fly at are very different to those at high speed and not very well understood, he adds. That is one reason his team is investigating novel designs.

It is difficult to quantify how manoeuvrable the new drones are. But during flight tests they have been capable of performing three continuous 360° rolls in 1 second. F-16 fighter jets can carry out one roll per second but have safeguards to prevent more than this in case the pilot passes out through g-force effects. But even without these safeguards Lind, a former NASA engineer, doubts F-16 could match his drones’ performance.

The drones are being developed for use in an urban landscape. (New Scientist)

Self-replicating toy robot

August 25, 2006

Undaunted by the distant prospect of the grey goo problem, researchers at Cornell University have constructed a modular, self-replicating toy robot:

So far, the robots, if they can be called that, consist of just three or four mobile cubes.

Each unit comes with a small computer code carrying a blueprint for the layout of the robot, electrical contacts to let it communicate with its neighbours, and magnets to let them stick together.

By turning and moving, the cubes can pick up new units, decide where they belong, and stack them alongside each other to make new devices.

In a little more than a minute, a simple three-cube robot can make a copy of itself. (BBC)

Snake Robots

August 16, 2006

“The question naturally arises, why snake robots? Biological snakes occupy a wide variety of ecological niches, ranging from arid desert to tropical jungle as well as swimming in rivers and oceans. Abandoning limbs and developing elongated spines has proved an effective survival strategy, allowing snakes to hunt underground in confined tunnels, above ground in grassy fields and up in the tree-tops, even falling in a controlled glide from one tree to the next. By attempting to build robots that emulate and perhaps match the capabilities of their biological counterparts, it is possible that we will create useful tools capable of carrying sensors, taking samples, and making physical changes in a wide variety of environments.” (SnakeRobots.com)

Spiritual robots

August 12, 2006

Reflecting on Douglas Hofstadter‘s question, “Will spiritual robots replace humanity by 2100?”, Kevin Kelly writes:

When thinking in the long term, especially about technology, I find it very helpful to think in terms of human generations. As a rough estimate I reckon 25 years per generation. Civilization began about 10,000 years ago (the oldest city, Jericho, was born in 8000 BC) which makes the civilization now present in Jericho and the rest of the world about 400 generations old. Tha’s 400 reproductive cycles of mother to daughter. Four hundred generations of civilized humans is not very long. We could almost memorize the names of all 400 cycles if we had nothing much else to do. After 400 generations we are different people than when we began. We had the idea of automatons and robots only maybe 8 generations ago, and made the first electronic computers 2 generations ago. The entire World Wide Web less than 2,000 days old! The year 2100 is only four generations away, keeping the same human lifespan. If we morph into robots in 2100, civilized humans will have lasted only 400 generations. That would be the shortest lifespan of a species in the history of life.

[The] central question, the central issue, of this coming century is not “what is an AI,?” but “what is a human?” What are humans good for? I forecast that variants of the question “What is a human” will be a recurring headline in USA Today-like newspapers in this coming century. Movies, novels, conferences and websites will all grapple with this central question of “Who are we? What is humanity?” Fed by a prosperous long boom, where anything is possible, but nothing is certain, we’ll have more questions about our identity than answers. Who are we? What does it mean to be a male, or female, or a father, an American, or a human being? The next century can be described as a massive, global scale, 100-year identity crisis. By 2100, people will be amazed that we humans back here now, thought we knew what humans were.

I agree with Kevin’s thesis here, but an equally important question [if only as a corollary] is, “What is a machine?” Barring some catastrophe, the boundaries between organism and machine, self and other, will gradually blur to the point where it will sometimes be difficult to tell the difference. Ubiquitous computing technologies — the next-next-gen of so-called Web 2.0 applications — will enable humans to colocate segments of their memories and even identities, moving beyond remote storage systems to “remote agency” systems. Where then will the boundary line be drawn? Is a software agent that intelligently acts on my behalf — based on an acquired understanding of my needs and desires — a mere robotic employee, or is it an extension of my self, a partner in the forging of my identity, a semantic feedback matrix that is uniquely my own? Like a book or other utterance, such an agent would be a partial representation of my inner being, but unlike traditional texts, it would be an active representation, capable of performing tasks or making additional utterances in a mode consonant with my projected identity. Furthermore, and most importantly, its active nature would enable a kind of collaboration between “it” and “me” in the evolution of my identity. Authors typically claim books as extensions of themselves; would the same hold true for a software or robotic agent that putatively contained and contributed to some essential aspect of selfhood?

(My response is also posted in the comments on Kevin’s blog.)

Mini flying drones coming to a city near you

August 5, 2006

University research into things like ultra-miniturized spy planes has become a lucrative pursuit as US defense skunkworks like DARPA turn their attention toward street-level aerial surveillance.

The airflow characteristics at the low speed small planes fly at are very different to those at high speed and not very well understood, he adds. That is one reason his team is investigating novel designs.

It is difficult to quantify how manoeuvrable the new drones are. But during flight tests they have been capable of performing three continuous 360° rolls in 1 second. F-16 fighter jets can carry out one roll per second but have safeguards to prevent more than this in case the pilot passes out through g-force effects. But even without these safeguards Lind, a former NASA engineer, doubts F-16 could match his drones’ performance.

The drones are being developed for use in an urban landscape. (New Scientist)

Grey goo problem a paper tiger?

July 14, 2006

Any paper containing the section heading “Minimum Replibot Dispersal Time as a Function of the Number of Uniformly-Distributed Replibot Release Sites” is worth a read:

Perhaps the earliest-recognized and best-known danger of molecular nanotechnology is the risk that self-replicating nanorobots capable of functioning autonomously in the natural environment could quickly convert that natural environment (e.g., “biomass”) into replicas of themselves (e.g., “nanomass”) on a global basis, a scenario usually referred to as the “gray goo problem” but perhaps more properly termed “global ecophagy.”

However, biovorous nanorobots capable of comprehensive ecophagy will not be easy to build and their design will require exquisite attention to numerous complex specifications and operational challenges. Such biovores can emerge only after a lengthy period of purposeful focused effort, or as a result of deliberate experiments aimed at creating general-purpose artificial life, perhaps by employing genetic algorithms, and are highly unlikely to arise solely by accident. (Foresight.org)