Ride-Hailing Congestion Dims Promise of Robot Taxis

By Jeremy Hsu | February 28, 2018 11:51 pm
Self-driving car prototypes belonging to Uber's Advanced Technologies Center. Credit: Uber

Self-driving car prototypes belonging to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center. Credit: Uber

It’s still too early to give a definite thumbs up or thumbs down to promises of future driverless cars reducing private car ownership by acting as robot chauffeurs. But evidence from today’s ride-hailing services suggests that Uber, Lyft and Waymo may only worsen traffic congestion by crowding roads with robot taxis in the near future. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Grocers Get Robotic Help to Compete Against Amazon

By Jeremy Hsu | February 21, 2018 11:54 pm
The startup CommonSense Robotics aims to create automated warehouses that enable faster and cost-efficient grocery delivery within cities. Credit: CommonSense Robotics

The startup CommonSense Robotics aims to create automated warehouses that enable faster and cost-efficient grocery delivery within cities. Credit: CommonSense Robotics

“What happens if grocery retailers can help you put a fresh dinner on the table faster than pizza delivery and cheaper than restaurant delivery?” That vision comes from CommonSense Robotics, an Israeli startup with plans to open its first AI-run fulfillment centers staffed by both robots and human workers in Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom before the end of 2018. Such a service could help local grocery stores survive the coming onslaught from Amazon’s aggressive expansion into online grocery shopping. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Ford’s Robot Police Car Is No RoboCop

By Jeremy Hsu | February 12, 2018 4:10 pm
A view from a cyborg police officer in the 2014 film "RoboCop." Credit: Sony Pictures

A view from a cyborg police officer in the 2014 film “RoboCop.” Credit: Sony Pictures

Before the RoboCop future arrives, a robot police car that pulls over speeding vehicles and issues tickets or warnings on its own could someday help ease a shortage of human officers at police departments across the United States. But the vision of a self-driving police vehicle described in a Ford patent also raises many questions about whether such technology is the right tool for law enforcement. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Why Star Wars Space Nazis Shun Killer Robots

By Jeremy Hsu | January 19, 2018 2:50 pm
Captain Phasma stands with several of her First Order stormtroopers in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Credit: Disney

Captain Phasma stands with several of her First Order stormtroopers in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Credit: Lucasfilm | Disney

Star Wars films tend to dwell upon space fantasy adventures that mix starships with space wizards wielding laser swords in a galaxy far, far away. Despite that focus, a number of Star Wars films also happen to feature another staple of science fiction: killer robots.

Fictional killer robots often represent either the agents of greater villains or the primary existential threat to humanity in many science fiction films. Iconic Star Wars villains such as Darth Vader and Kylo Ren would seem to naturally go glove-in-hand with the idea of commanding killer robot armies to do their bidding. But the Star Wars films generally go in a different direction by featuring villains who mostly disdain the use of killer robots—even if the bad guys may secretly like the idea of mindless automatons doing their bidding.

Turn back now if you want to avoid spoilers on any of the Star Wars films other than “The Last Jedi.”

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This Tycoon’s Secret Radar Lab Helped Win WWII

By Jeremy Hsu | January 15, 2018 1:48 pm
Alfred Lee Loomis in his Tower House lab, Tuxedo Park, NY. Credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives, image # SIA2008-5428

Alfred Lee Loomis in his Tower House lab, Tuxedo Park, NY. Credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives, image # SIA2008-5428

Scientists and engineers who worked for MIT’s Radiation Laboratory had a saying about World War II: The atomic bomb may have ended the war, but radar won it. A new PBS documentary makes the case for that bold statement by telling the story of Alfred Lee Loomis, a founder of the Radiation Lab and a millionaire Wall Street tycoon who directed the U.S. government’s wartime effort to develop radar technologies into effective weapons. But even before the war, Loomis had built up his scientific credentials by inviting the best U.S. and foreign scientists to visit his private science laboratory in a renovated mansion that famed physicist Albert Einstein dubbed a “palace of science.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

‘The Last Jedi’ Revealed the Dark Side of BB-8

By Jeremy Hsu | January 3, 2018 2:37 pm
The clever and adorable repair droid BB-8 is a popular face of the new Star Wars film trilogy by Disney. Credit: Disney

The clever and adorable repair droid BB-8 is a popular face of the new Star Wars film trilogy by Disney. Credit: Disney

Robots can provide comic relief and cuteness overload for longtime fans of the Star Wars films that take place in a galaxy far, far away. The latest example in Disney’s Star Wars films is the adorable BB-8 droid that has a dome head riding atop a spherical body and mostly communicates through beeps and electronic warbles. But something dark and ominous may be lurking beneath the bubbly droid’s exterior.

Turn back now to avoid spoilers on “The Last Jedi” or any of the Star Wars films.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

‘Predator’ Vision Drones Get AI to Spot Poachers

By Jeremy Hsu | December 29, 2017 10:12 pm
The thermal infrared camera imagery taken by a drone operated by the Air Shepherd conservation group during a field demonstration. Credit: Air Shepherd

The thermal infrared camera imagery taken by a drone operated by the Air Shepherd conservation group during a field demonstration. Credit: Air Shepherd

Poachers illegally hunting elephants and rhinoceroses under the supposed cover of darkness may soon find themselves being tracked by “Predator” vision drones armed with artificial intelligence. The new AI system that enables surveillance drones to automatically detect both humans and animals could help conservation experts and rangers protect endangered wildlife starting in 2018. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Forget Bans: UN Stuck on Defining Killer Robots

By Jeremy Hsu | December 18, 2017 10:28 pm
An unmanned military robot rolls out of a U.S. Marine amphibious vehicle during the Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Credit: Lance Cpl. Jamie Arzola

An unmanned military robot rolls out of a U.S. Marine amphibious vehicle during the Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2017 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Credit: Lance Cpl. Jamie Arzola

A United Nations meeting on lethal autonomous weapons ended in disappointment for advocates hoping that the world would make progress on regulating or banning “killer robot” technologies. The UN group of governmental experts barely even scratched the surface of defining what counts as a lethal autonomous weapon. But instead of trying to create a catch-all killer robots definition, they might have better luck next time focusing on the role of humans in controlling such autonomous weapons. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Virtual Reality Can Help Convict Nazi War Criminals

By Jeremy Hsu | December 14, 2017 12:04 am
A scene from the short documentary film "Nazi VR" that tells of how a virtual recreation of Auschwitz helped convict a Nazi war criminal. Credit: MEL Films

A scene from the short documentary film “Nazi VR” that tells of how a virtual recreation of Auschwitz helped convict a Nazi war criminal. Credit: MEL Films

During World War II, Reinhold Hanning served as a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people were killed by Nazi Germany. More than 70 years later, a virtual recreation of Auschwitz helped German prosecutors convict Hanning of being an accessory to the murder of 170,000 people. Now a new documentary film explores how the virtual model of Auschwitz can be viewed through virtual reality headsets in future court cases involving the last surviving Nazi war criminals. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts

Star Wars Droids Top Sci-Fi Robots Survey

By Jeremy Hsu | December 11, 2017 9:11 pm
The Star Wars droids C-3PO (left) and R2-D2 (right) were the most popular science fiction robots in a recent survey by Conversica. Credit: Disney | Lucasfilm

The Star Wars droids C-3PO (left) and R2-D2 (right) were the most popular science fiction robots in a recent survey by Conversica. Credit: Disney | Lucasfilm

Disney seems to have a lock on many of the more popular science fiction robots between owning Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise and the beloved animation studio Pixar. A recent survey of Americans found that the Star Wars robot duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO topped the choices of people’s favorite sci-fi robots driven by artificial intelligence, followed closely by Pixar’s trash-compacting robot WALL-E. Commander Data, a pasty-looking android with a much more humanlike appearance from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” came in last. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: technology, top posts
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Lovesick Cyborg

Lovesick Cyborg examines how technology shapes our human experience of the world on both an emotional and physical level. I’ll focus on stories such as why audiences loved or hated Hollywood’s digital resurrection of fallen actors, how soldiers interact with battlefield robots and the capability of music fans to idolize virtual pop stars. Other stories might include the experience of using an advanced prosthetic limb, whether or not people trust driverless cars with their lives, and how virtual reality headsets or 3-D film technology can make some people physically ill.
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