Tag: robots

Long Before Amazon Go, There Was Keedoozle

By Carl Engelking | January 23, 2018 12:38 pm
keedoozle

A customer turns her key at a Keedoozle. (via Afflictor)

Maslow’s motivational pyramid is but a house of cards if we don’t eat. And ever since we started shoving sustenance into our gullets, our species has devised means to do it faster—lest we beleaguer our journey to transcendence.

In 2011, a team of archaeologists working near Kenya’s Lake Turkana unearthed several stone tools in sediment that was 3.3 million years old; they were the oldest ever found. From this starting point chiseled from stone, the parabolic arc of meal-gathering technology—arrowheads, taming wheat, spears, domesticating goats, irrigation, barcode scanners—has traced a path squarely through the turnstiles of Amazon Go. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, robots

Indigenous People are Deploying Drones to Preserve Land and Traditions

By K. N. Smith | December 11, 2017 10:00 am
Fixedwing-drone-Panama_Credit-FAO-Panama

(Credit: FAO Panama)

Indigenous tribes from the Pacific Northwest to the Amazon Basin face a similar set of challenges: How to manage their lands, defend against corporate encroachment and document historic and religious sites for future generations. Often working with limited resources, many indigenous groups are turning to drones to protect and preserve their traditional lands.

Many Central and South American countries have laws that, on paper, limit what companies can do on indigenous lands. But enforcement is hit-or-miss. To make their voices heard, indigenous tribes must go to the government with solid evidence that shows the land is theirs and laws are being broken.

Drones can help gather that evidence. In two separate programs, indigenous communities in both Panama and Guyana are using drones to help monitor deforestation, document their own land use, and fight illegal encroachment into their territories.

Reclaiming What’s Theirs

In Guyana, members of the Wapichan tribe ride motorbikes along bumpy forest roads, drones tucked safely inside their backpacks. They’re heading toward an illegal gold mining operation on the tribe’s land, where workers are clearing away the rainforest and allowing pollutants to run into the Wapichan’s water sources. The drone team will photograph the site from above, creating a mosaic of aerial photos that can be used to defend the tribe’s land in court.

The Wapichan tribe built its own fixed-wing drone in 2014 to patrol its territory from above. Gregor MacLennan, a program director for the nonprofit organization Digital Democracy, and tribe members relied on YouTube videos and online forums to help assemble the drone.

While MacLennan brought some tools and electronic components with him to Guyana, most of the drone’s body was improvised from materials in the village. In part, so the drone was repairable with whatever was on hand in the event of damage. The drone features a motor mount made of plastic cut from an old beer crate.

Since then, the Wapichan program has acquired a few Parrot Bebop quadcopters. And the program has already shown some results: In 2015, a Wapichan drone team spotted an illegal logging operation on the Brazilian border, where settlers often encroach. They also found evidence that the Marudi Mountain gold mine was leaking pollution into Wapichan water sources.

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The Wapichan tribe built a fixed-wing drone with many items from the village. That way, it could be easily repaired if it it got damaged. (Credit: Digital Democracy/Gregor MacLennan)

Within the next year, the tribe’s drone team hopes to fly a mission every month or two. They especially want to focus on the mining area around Marudi Mountain, tracking its rate of deforestation.

Meanwhile, seven of Panama’s largest indigenous tribes—the BriBri, Buglé, Emberá, Kuna, Naso, Ngäbe and Wounaan—have teamed up with the United Nations (U.N.) program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or UN-REDD. Through this partnership, a combination of technology and local knowledge will help monitor indigenous lands and curb the trend of forest loss. Since February 2016, volunteers from each tribe have been learning to design flight plans, pilot drones and use aerial data to produce detailed maps of tribal lands. The first flight took off from the indigenous territory of Madugandí, near Panama’s northeastern coast, in April 2016.

Equipped with a smartphone app and GIS training from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which runs UN-REDD, volunteers from local indigenous communities on the ground look for freshly-cleared areas of forest—the calling card of mining, logging or ranching operations encroaching on tribal lands. Marking the GPS coordinates in the app flags the area for a drone mission so the three-person drone team can map and photograph the site from the air.

“After that, we move to the area, which sometimes is located quite far, about two hours away from a road,” says Rafael Valdespino, a trained drone technician from the territory of Emberá-Wounaan in Panama. The country’s rainy season makes ground surveys practically impossible for roughly six months, and can thwart even satellites, so the drones’ ability to cover remote areas from above makes them vital tools for forest monitoring.

Some of Valdespino’s fellow technicians have already helped develop maps and other documents to support land claims their communities plan to file with the Panamanian government. Some technicians have already held workshops on drone use in Guatemala and Peru, with plans to expand to Paraguay before 2018.

“I encourage other indigenous communities to replicate this project and offer all our support,” says Valdespino.

Mutual Accountability

Thousands of miles north, the 2016 standoff between indigenous activists and Dakota Access, LLC was in full swing. The two sides were at odds over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The conflict provided a high-profile example of how indigenous filmmakers and photographers could use drones to document key events and raise awareness of their struggle to maintain land rights.

Drones were essential to the story at Standing Rock, capturing footage that drew national attention to Standing Rock and helped shape the unfolding narrative. But the drones also sparked tense encounters with law enforcement. The DAPL protest is one of the first major events where indigenous people were, in part, in control of the story. And that is significant, says Myron Dewey, a drone pilot, filmmaker, and member of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes.

MyronDewey-dapl-drone-indigenous

Myron Dewey flew drones during the ongoing Stand Rock protests—he believes a drone of his was shot down by local police officers. (Credit: Myron Dewey)

“Being indigenous, it’s very important that we document our own stories, because for too long, our stories have been documented for us, and so it changes the narrative,” he says. “And because of the drones, I was able to do that.”

Drones also provided a layer of security and accountability for the protesters during the tense—and sometimes violent—confrontations with law enforcement and private security.

In August 2016, he says, “I documented two of the security that were harassing people going into camps, from 3 miles away.” And having “eyes always on the people” meant that the protesters had a heightened sense of accountability for their own actions, as well.

And the drone “was used ceremonially. It was smudged, it was blessed, it was sent up, it was taken care of, and it took care of us,” Dewey says.

Not Always A Struggle

Drones are also empowering indigenous groups around the world to make better-informed decisions about their own land management. From documenting the preservation of important historical and sacred sites to monitoring wildlife populations and land-use patterns, these tools give indigenous tribes greater autonomy—they don’t have to rely on outside agencies or groups to monitor their lands and make ecological decisions.

For instance, the drones patrolling Panama’s forests will eventually also help monitor forest fires, harvests from farmland, and the status of water sources. “The combination of land and remote sensing monitoring allows us to know the dynamics of loss, degradation, and restoration of forest cover,” says Valdespino.

drone-panama-indigenous

Rafael Valdespino, assisting the drone as it takes flight, and other drone technicians have used unmanned aircraft to monitor forests in Panama. Some have used data gathered from drones to help support land claims. (Credit: FAO Panama)

In Washington state, entomologist and Colville Confederated Tribes member Nathan Moses-Gonzales hopes to use drones for wildlife monitoring on the Colville Reservation. Previously, the Colville Confederated Tribes used a full-sized manned aircraft to conduct salmon research missions. But the areas surrounding canyons make it difficult for airplanes to get good views, so the tribe is looking to drones.

“Moving ahead, I think [drones offer] strong options for the tribal members to begin to take over their own initiatives and to support their own research locally with tribal members and with tribal support,” Moses-Gonzales says.

Dewey plans to return to a project he started before he brought his drones to Standing Rock, working with state officials to document Paiute and Shoshone historical and sacred sites from the air. “Our battle in Nevada now isn’t water, but also the deforestation of our traditional harvesting areas,” he says.

Using 360-degree drone technology, Dewey also hopes to give Paiute elders a virtual tour of the places that mean so much to them and their people.

But the use of drone technology by indigenous people is not just about the past, or even the present. Much of it is also looking toward the future. Drones have the ability to carry traditional ways of life into the future, possibly bringing technology-based jobs to reservations and helping spark preservation-interest in tribal youth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Do Robots Deserve Human Rights?

By Lauren Sigfusson | December 5, 2017 10:45 am
human-rights-robots-future-sophia-citizenship-legal

(Credit: Shutterstock)

When the humanoid robot Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia—the first robot to receive citizenship anywhere in the world—many people were outraged. Some were upset because she now had more rights than human women living in the same country. Others just thought it was a ridiculous PR stunt.

Sophia’s big news brought forth a lingering question, especially as scientists continue to develop advanced and human-like AI machines: Should robots be given human rights? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: robots

Welcome to the Hotel Automata

By Bobbie van der List | December 21, 2016 12:22 pm
hotel-checkin

At Henn-na, you can check in with a dinosaur. (Credit: Bobbie van der List)

The train ride from Nagasaki to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Japan takes about two hours. Along the way, I pass rice paddies and sleepy towns; this is not the place you’d expect to find the country’s first hotel staffed by robots.

When I arrive at the Huis Ten Bosch station, I’m surrounded by iconic Dutch architecture and buildings. The theme park was designed to give people in Japan a taste of Europe.

I take a shuttle bus to robot hotel Henn-na, located minutes from the theme park gates. Beside the hotel entrance, stands a Transformers-like robot, twice my size, which doesn’t seem to have any practical purpose whatsoever. Read More

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MORE ABOUT: robots

Animal Hair Could Inspire Self-Cleaning Technologies

shutterstock_93524341

Watch a fly land on the kitchen table, and the first thing it does is clean itself, very, very carefully. Although we can’t see it, the animal’s surface is covered with dust, pollen and even insidious mites that could burrow into its body if not removed.

Staying clean can be a matter of life and death. All animals, including us human beings, take cleaning just as seriously. Each year, we spend an entire day bathing, and another two weeks cleaning our houses. Cleaning may be as fundamental to life as eating, breathing and mating. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, robots

This Robotic Octopus Arm Could Someday Be Your Surgeon

By Kaspar Althoefer, King's College London | May 19, 2015 12:05 pm

octopus
The unparalleled motion and manipulation abilities of soft-bodied animals such as the octopus have intrigued biologists for many years. How can an animal that has no bones transform its tentacles from a soft state to a one stiff enough to catch and even kill prey?

A group of scientists and engineers has attempted to answer this question in order to replicate the abilities of an octopus tentacle in a robotic surgical tool. Last week, members of this EU-funded project known as STIFF-FLOP (STIFFness controllable Flexible and Learnable manipulator for surgical OPerations) unveiled the group’s latest efforts.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and the Risks of Artificial Intelligence

By E. Paul Zehr | May 1, 2015 11:26 am

ultron

Technology enhanced with artificial intelligence is all around us. You might have a robot vacuum cleaner ready to leap into action to clean up your kitchen floor. Maybe you asked Siri or Google—two apps using decent examples of artificial intelligence technology—for some help already today. The continual enhancement of AI and its increased presence in our world speak to achievements in science and engineering that have tremendous potential to improve our lives.

Or destroy us.

At least, that’s the central theme in the new Avengers: Age of Ultron movie with headliner Ultron serving as exemplar for AI gone bad. It’s a timely theme, given some high-profile AI concerns lately. But is it something we should be worried about?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

I, Robopsychologist, Part 2: Where Human Brains Far Surpass Computers

By Andrea Kuszewski | February 9, 2012 10:08 am

Andrea Kuszewski is a behavior therapist and consultant, science writer, and robopsychologist at Syntience in San Francisco. She is interested in creativity, intelligence, and learning, in both humans and machines. Find her on Twitter at @AndreaKuszewski

Before you read this post, please see “I, Robopsychologist, Part 1: Why Robots Need Psychologists.”

A current trend in AI research involves attempts to replicate a human learning system at the neuronal level—beginning with a single functioning synapse, then an entire neuron, the ultimate goal being a complete replication of the human brain. This is basically the traditional reductionist perspective: break the problem down into small pieces and analyze them, and then build a model of the whole as a combination of many small pieces. There are neuroscientists working on these AI problems—replicating and studying one neuron under one condition—and that is useful for some things. But to replicate a single neuron and its function at one snapshot in time is not helping us understand or replicate human learning on a broad scale for use in the natural environment.

We are quite some ways off from reaching the goal of building something structurally similar to the human brain, and even further from having one that actually thinks like one. Which leads me to the obvious question: What’s the purpose of pouring all that effort into replicating a human-like brain in a machine, if it doesn’t ultimately function like a real brain?

If we’re trying to create AI that mimics humans, both in behavior and learning, then we need to consider how humans actually learn—specifically, how they learn best—when teaching them. Therefore, it would make sense that you’d want people on your team who are experts in human behavior and learning. So in this way, the field of psychology is pretty important to the successful development of strong AI, or AGI (artificial general intelligence): intelligence systems that think and act the way humans do. (I will be using the term AI, but I am generally referring to strong AI.)

Basing an AI system on the function of a single neuron is like designing an entire highway system based on the function of a car engine, rather than the behavior of a population of cars and their drivers in the context of a city. Psychologists are experts at the context. They study how the brain works in practice—in multiple environments, over variable conditions, and how it develops and changes over a lifespan.

The brain is actually not like a computer; it doesn’t always follow the rules. Sometimes not following the rules is the best course of action, given a specific context. The brain can act in unpredictable, yet ultimately serendipitous ways. Sometimes the brain develops “mental shortcuts,” or automated patterns of behavior, or makes intuitive leaps of reason. Human brain processes often involve error, which also happens to be a very necessary element of creativity, innovation, and human learning in general. Take away the errors, remove serendipitous learning, discount intuition, and you remove any chance of any true creative cognition. In essence, when it gets too rule-driven and perfect, it ceases to function like a real human brain.

To get a computer that thinks like a person, we have to consider some of the key strengths of human thinking and use psychology to figure out how to foster similar thinking in computers.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts

I, Robopsychologist, Part 1: Why Robots Need Psychologists

By Andrea Kuszewski | February 7, 2012 1:38 pm

Andrea Kuszewski is a behavior therapist and consultant, science writer, and robopsychologist at Syntience in San Francisco. She is interested in creativity, intelligence, and learning, in both humans and machines. Find her on Twitter a @AndreaKuszewski.

“My brain is not like a computer.”

The day those words were spoken to me marked a significant milestone for both me and the 6-year-old who uttered them. The words themselves may not seem that profound (and some may actually disagree), but that simple sentence represented months of therapy, hours upon hours of teaching, all for the hope that someday, a phrase like that would be spoken at precisely the right time. When he said that to me, he was showing me that the light had been turned on, the fire ignited. And he was letting me know that he realized this fact himself. Why was this a big deal?

I began my career as a behavior therapist, treating children on the autism spectrum. My specialty was Asperger syndrome, or high-functioning autism. This 6-year-old boy, whom I’ll call David, was a client of mine that I’d been treating for about a year at that time. His mom had read a book that had recently come out, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and told me how much David resembled the main character in the book (who had autism), in regards to his thinking and processing style. The main character said, “My brain is like a computer.”

David heard his mom telling me this, and that quickly became one of his favorite memes. He would say things like “I need input” or “Answer not in the database” or simply “You have reached an error,” when he didn’t know the answer to a question. He truly did think like a computer at that point in time—he memorized questions, formulas, and the subsequent list of acceptable responses. He had developed some extensive social algorithms for human interactions, and when they failed, he went into a complete emotional meltdown.

My job was to change this. To make him less like a computer, to break him out of that rigid mindset. He operated purely on an input-output framework, and if a situation presented itself that wasn’t in the database of his brain, it was rejected, returning a 404 error.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts
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