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Sci-Fi

'Transformer' BMW Turns Into A Giant Robot (vice.com) 30

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Motherboard: Real-life Transformers are apparently already a thing thanks to a Turkish company called Letvision. They can't do battle with Decepticons, but they can turn their heads from side to side and move their arms and fingers and, erm, shoot smoke from between their legs. Oh, and they can do the whole changing from a 2013 BMW to an upright robot bit [video]. That's pretty cool, too.

But of course there's a catch. Each of the four available Transformers (which Letvision gave the copyright-friendly name of "Letrons") has a functional steering wheel, but you can only "drive" them remotely because Letvision stuffed the seating spaces with the hydraulics and electronics needed for the conversion.

Letvision's demo video has the clever title "Rise of LETRONS", and shows the vehicle spontaneously beginning its transformation after a newscaster announces, "Our country is under invasion by extraterrestrials."
Robotics

UK Standards Body Issues Official Guidance On Robot Ethics (digitaltrends.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The British Standards Institution, which is the U.K.'s national standards body charged with creating the technical standards and certification for various products and services, has just produced its first set of official ethics guidelines relating to robots. "The expert committee responsible for this thought there was really a need for a set of guidelines, setting out the ethical principles surrounding how robots are used," Dan Palmer, head of market development at BSI, told Digital Trends. "It's an area of big public debate right now." The catchily-named BS 8611 guidelines start by echoing Asimov's Three Laws in stating that: "Robots should not be designed solely or primarily to kill or harm humans." However, it also takes aim at more complex issues of transparency by noting that: "It should be possible to find out who is responsible for any robot and its behavior." There's even discussion about whether it's desirable for a robot to form an emotional bond with its users, an awareness of the possibility robots could be racist and/or sexist in their conduct, and other contentious gray areas. In all, it's an interesting attempt to start formalizing the way we deal with robots -- and the way roboticists need to think about aspects of their work that extend beyond technical considerations. You can check it out here -- although it'll set you back 158 pounds ($208) if you want to read the BSI guidelines in full. (Is that ethical?) "Robots have been used in manufacturing for a long time," Palmer said. "But what we're seeing now are more robots interacting with people. For instance, there are cases in which robots are being used to give care to people. These are usages that we haven't seen before -- [which is where the need for guidelines comes in.]"
Robotics

Robot Handcuffed and Arrested At Moscow Rally (abc.net.au) 46

Russian police have arrested a robot. Long-time Slashdot reader ferret4 quotes ABC News: A robot has been detained by police at a political rally in Moscow, with authorities attempting to handcuff the machine. Police have not confirmed why they detained the machine named Promobot, but local media was reporting the company behind the robot said police were called because it was 'recording voters' opinions on [a] variety of topics for further processing and analysis by the candidate's team'."
Interestingly, an earlier model of the same robot escaped its research lab in June, traveling 150 feet before its batteries died -- and despite being reprogrammed twice, continued to move towards the exits.
Robotics

Robot Snatches Rifle From Barricaded Suspect, Ends Standoff (latimes.com) 129

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes the L.A. Times: An hours-long standoff in the darkness of the high desert came to a novel end when Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies used a robot to stealthily snatch a rifle from an attempted murder suspect, authorities said Thursday. Officials said the use of the robot to disarm a violent suspect was unprecedented for the Sheriff's Department, and comes as law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on military-grade technology to reduce the risk of injury during confrontations with civilians.

"The robot was a game changer here," said Capt. Jack Ewell, a tactical expert with the Sheriff's Department -- the largest sheriff's department in the nation. "We didn't have to risk a deputy's life to disarm a very violent man."

It was only later when the robot came back to also pull down a wire barricade that the 51-year-old suspect realized his gun was gone.
Transportation

Uber Starts Self Driving Car Pickups In Pittsburgh (techcrunch.com) 192

The reports were true. Uber on Wednesday announced it a select group of Pittsburgh users will get a surprise the next time they book a cab: the option to ride in a self-driving car. TechCrunch reports: The announcement comes a year-and-a-half after Uber hired dozens of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's robotics center to develop the technology. Uber gave a few members of the press a sneak peek Tuesday when a fleet of 14 Ford Fusions equipped with radar, cameras and other sensing equipment pulled up to Uber's Advanced Technologies Campus (ATC) northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. During my 45-minute ride across the city, it became clear that this is not a bid at launching the first fully formed autonomous cars. Instead, this is a research exercise. Uber wants to learn and refine how self driving cars act in the real world. That includes how the cars react to passengers -- and how passengers react to them. "How do drivers in cars next to us react to us? How do passengers who get into the backseat who are experiencing our hardware and software fully experience it for the first time, and what does that really mean?" said Raffi Krikorian, director of Uber ATC.When a couple of drivers were asked about Uber's push to get cabs drive themselves, they weren't pleased.
AI

Robots Will Eliminate 6% of All US Jobs By 2021, Says Report (theguardian.com) 400

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: By 2021, robots will have eliminated 6% of all jobs in the U.S., starting with customer service representatives and eventually truck and taxi drivers. That's just one cheery takeaway from a report released by market research company Forrester this week. These robots, or intelligent agents, represent a set of AI-powered systems that can understand human behavior and make decisions on our behalf. Current technologies in this field include virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now as well as chatbots and automated robotic systems. For now, they are quite simple, but over the next five years they will become much better at making decisions on our behalf in more complex scenarios, which will enable mass adoption of breakthroughs like self-driving cars. The Inevitable Robot Uprising has already started, with at least 45% of U.S. online adults saying they use at least one of the aforementioned digital concierges. Intelligent agents can access calendars, email accounts, browsing history, playlists, purchases and media viewing history to create a detailed view of any given individual. With this knowledge, virtual agents can provide highly customized assistance, which is valuable to shops or banks trying to deliver better customer service. The report predicts there will be a net loss of 7% of U.S. jobs by 2025 -- 16% of U.S. jobs will be replaced, while the equivalent of 9% jobs will be created. The report forecasts 8.9 million new jobs in the U.S. by 2025, some of which include robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators.
NASA

NASA Launches OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft To Intercept Asteroid (cnn.com) 36

NASA has successfully launched the OSIRIS-REx space probe on Thursday, which aims to take a sample of asteroid Bennu and return to Earth. CNN reports: "The probe is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in August 2018. For months it will hang out -- take pictures, make scans of the asteroid's surface and create a map. Then in July 2020, OSIRIS-REx wil unfurl its 11-foot-long (3.35-meter) robot arm called TAGSAM and make contact with Bennu's surface for about five seconds. During those seconds, the arm will use a blast of nitrogen gas to kick up rocks and dust and then try to snag a sample of the dust and store it. NASA hopes to get at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and maybe as much as 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of asteroid dust and small rocks. OSIRIS-REx heads home in March 2021 and arrives back at Earth on September 24, 2023, but it won't land. In a bit of Hollywood-style drama, it will fly over Utah and drop off the capsule holding the asteroid sample. A parachute will guide the capsule to the ground at the Utah Test and Training Range in Tooele County." OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for the objectives of the mission: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer. It spells the name of the Egyptian god Osiris. The report adds that while the mission is a first for NASA, it is not a first for mankind. "Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft brought back a small sample of asteroid Itokawa dust in 2010."
Google

Alphabet Partners With Chipotle To Deliver Burritos Using Drones (theverge.com) 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google parent company Alphabet is teaming up with fast casual chain Chipotle to test drone delivery for Virginia Tech students, according to a report from Bloomberg. The pilot program marks a turning point for Alphabet's Project Wing division, giving the team ample room to experiment with airborne burrito deliveries in one of the first commercial programs of its kind to be green-lit by the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority. The drones, which will be hybrid aircraft that can both fly and hover in place, will make deliveries coordinated by a Chipotle food truck on campus. Project Wing drones will be guided predominantly by software, but human pilots will be on hand to assume control if necessary. The aircraft are also prohibited from flying directly over human beings. So active participants will be shielded appropriately, according to Alphabet. Project Wing chose to partner with Chipotle because it presented unique challenges: could a drone adequately deliver food using a winch system, and can the food remain hot throughout flight with special packaging? The program will be accessible to select Virginia Tech employees and students.
Robotics

An Algorithm May Soon Cover Your Local Sports Team (vice.com) 53

Sam Edwards, writing for Motherboard: A Spanish startup is promising to revolutionize readers' access to often unreported news. The unreported news in question, however, is not overlooked disasters or under-reported tragedies in far-flung countries, but minor league sporting events. David Llorente, co-founder of Narrativa, said was inspired to develop an AI-powered content generation system after he tried fruitlessly to find coverage of minor league soccer games from other countries in his native Spanish. "There are people interested in these things, in these leagues, in these kind of sports," he told Motherboard. "The idea was to focus on regional sports. I wanted to write about football, but about Japanese football in Spanish, to cover this niche." Sevilla won with a resounding 20 against Athletic in Nervion, where the sum up eight straight wins at home. Gameiro scored the first one for the locals and closed the scoreboard by converting a penalty kick after Kychowiak was fouled. Athletic was unlucky despite controlling ball possession and wasn't able to finish any of the numerous chances that they had. -- Narrativa game summary.
Narrativa is part of the booming automatic content generation industry which uses algorithms to convert data sets into narratives.
Related: How a robot wrote for Engadget.
Robotics

Pentagon Chiefs Fear Advanced Robot Weapons Wiping Out Humanity (mirror.co.uk) 265

Longtime reader schwit1 writes: Huge technological leaps forward in drones, artificial intelligence and autonomous weapon systems must be addressed before humanity is driven to extinction, say chiefs of Pentagon
From a report: Air Force General Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the US Defense Department, said so-called thinking weapons could lead to: "Robotic systems to do lethal harm... a Terminator without a conscience." When asked about robotic weapons able to make their own decisions, he said: "Our job is to defeat the enemy" but "it is governed by law and by convention." He says the military insists on keeping humans in the decision-making process to "inflict violence on the enemy. [...] That ethical boundary is the one we've draw a pretty fine line on. It's one we must consider in developing these new weapons," he added. Selva said the Pentagon must reach out to artificial intelligence tech firms that are not necessarily "military-oriented" to develop new systems of command and leadership models, reports US Naval Institute News .
Space

Long-Lost Comet Lander Philae Found (seeker.com) 70

astroengine writes: With only a month before its mission ends, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission swooped low over Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to see the stranded Philae lander jammed in a crack. After months of searching for the lander, which made its dramatic touchdown on Nov. 14, 2014, mission scientists had a good idea as to the region the robot was in, but this is the first photographic proof of the lander, on its side, stuck in the craggy location called Abydos. "This wonderful news means that we now have the missing 'ground-truth' information needed to put Philae's three days of science into proper context, now that we know where that ground actually is!" said Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor in a statement.
Debian

Penetration-Testing Distro Kali Linux 2016.2 Released (kali.org) 54

prisoninmate writes: What's Kali Linux 2016.2? Well, it's an updated Live ISO image of the popular GNU/Linux distribution designed for ethical hackers and security professionals who want to harden the security of their networks, which contains the latest software versions and enhancements for those who want to deploy the OS on new systems. It's been quite some time since the last update to the official Kali Linux Live ISOs and new software releases are announced each day, which means that the packages included in the previous Kali Linux images are very old, and bugs and improvements are always implemented in the most recent versions of the respective security tools. Best of all, the new Kali Linux 2016.2 release comes in KDE, MATE, Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment E17 flavors.
Their blog also points out that Kali recently appeared in an episode of Mr. Robot.
Robotics

Recent College Grads Aim To Land A Robot On The Moon (thehindu.com) 59

Sunday the Indian Space Research Organization successfully test-launched a scramjet rocket, propelled by "an air-breathing propulsion system which uses hydrogen as fuel and oxygen from the atmosphere air as the oxidizer" rather than carrying a tank of liquid oxygen. "if the need for liquid oxygen is taken away, the space craft can be much lighter, hence cheaper to launch," notes one newspaper, adding that India is only the fourth country to flight-test a scramjet engine after the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency.

But in addition, 15 former ISRO scientists are now helping Team Indus, one of the 16 teams remaining in Google's $30 million Lunar XPRIZE competition, who will use ISRO's polar satellite launch vehicle to send their spacecraft to the moon. GillBates0 writes: An official designated as "Skywalker", said that such space missions used to be limited to extremely elite people and PhDs in the past. That stereotype is now breaking. "I was just a college student a couple of years ago and now I am working on an actual space mission, how cool is that," said Karan Vaish, 23, who is helping the team to design the lunar rover. Eighty per cent of the team is reported to be less than five years out of college.
Transportation

Domino's Will Deliver Pizza By Drone and By Robot (roboticstrends.com) 77

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes CNN Money's report that "pizzas will soon be dropping from the heavens": Domino's demonstrated its ability to deliver food via a drone Thursday in New Zealand and plans to test actual deliveries to customers next month. "It doesn't add up to deliver a two kilogram package in a two-ton vehicle," said Scott Bush, a general manager for Domino's Pizza Enterprises, which is independent of the U.S. chain and operates in seven countries. "In Auckland, we have such massive traffic congestion it just makes sense to take to the airways."

A Domino's customer who requests a drone delivery will receive a notification when their delivery is approaching. After going outside and hitting a button on their smartphone, the drone will lower the food via a tether. Once the package is released, the drone pulls the tether back up and flies back to the Domino's store.

Robotics Trends has video from the flight, and reports that Domino's is also testing a pizza-delivering robot. Their Domino's Robotics Unit "has four wheels, is less than three feet tall, and has a heated compartment that can hold up to 10 pizzas. It can deliver pizzas within a 12.5-mile radius before needing to be recharged."
Australia

Robot Babies Not Effective Birth Control, Australian Study Finds (sky.com) 323

An anonymous reader writes: Girls given imitation babies to look after in an effort to deter teenage pregnancy could actually be more likely to get pregnant, according to a study. Researchers in Australia found 8% of girls who used the dolls were expecting by the age of 20, compared with 4% of those who did not. The number of girls having at least one abortion was also higher among girls given the dolls: 9% compared to 6%. 'Baby Think It Over' dolls were used in a Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme which began in 57 schools in Western Australia in 2003. During the three-year study, published in The Lancet, 1267 girls aged 13 to 15 used the simulators -- which need to be fed and changed, while 1567 learned the normal health curriculum. The idea originated in the United States and is used in 89 countries. Researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia are now warning that such programmes may be a waste of public money.
Robotics

'Octobot' Is The World's First Soft-Bodied Robot (sciencemag.org) 44

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Researchers have created the first completely soft-bodied robot, dubbed the 'octobot.' The palm-sized machine's exterior is made of silicone. And whereas other soft robots have had at least a few hard parts, such as batteries or wires, the octobot uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. The basic design can be scaled up or down, increasing or decreasing fuel capacity depending on the robot's job. As the field of soft robotics advances, the scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance. The report adds: "When the hydrogen peroxide washes over flecks of platinum embedded within the octobot, the resulting chemical reaction produces gas that inflates and flexes the robot's arms. As described online today in Nature, the gas flows through a series of 3D-printed pneumatic chambers that link the octobot's eight arms; their flexing propels it through water."
Robotics

Intel Demos A New Robotics Controller Running Ubuntu (hackerboards.com) 21

Intel demoed their new robotics compute module this week. Scheduled for release in 2017, it's equipped with various sensors, including a depth-sensing camera, and it runs Ubuntu on a quad-core Atom. Slashdot reader DeviceGuru writes: Designed for researchers, makers, and robotics developers, the device is a self contained, candy-bar sized compute module ready to pop into a robot. It's augmented with a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS, and IR, as well as proximity, motion, barometric pressure sensors. There's also a snap-on battery.

The device is preinstalled with Ubuntu 14.04 with Robot Operating System (ROS) Indigo, and can act as a supervisory processor to, say, an Arduino subsystem that controls a robot's low-level functions. Intel demoed a Euclid driven robot running an obstacle avoidance and follow-me tasks, including during CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote (YouTube video).

Intel says they'll also release instructions on how to create an accompanying robot with a 3D printer. This plug-and-play robotics module is a proof-of-concept device -- the article includes some nice pictures -- but it already supports programming in Node.js (and other high-level languages), and has a web UI that lets you monitor performance in real-time and watch the raw camera feeds.
Robotics

'We're Just Rentals': Uber Drivers Ask Where They Fit In a Self-Driving Future (theguardian.com) 367

Bloomberg reported on Thursday about Uber's plan to bring its first fleet of self-driving cars to Pittsburgh as soon as this month, a move that has since been confirmed by the cab-hailing company. Amid the announcement, Uber drivers are disappointed at Uber, wondering what the future of the company lies for them. The Guardian reports:"Wo-o-o-o-w," 60-year old Uber driver Cynthia Ingram said. "We all knew it was coming. I just didn't expect it this soon." For Ingram, autonomous Ubers are an unwelcome threat to her livelihood. "I kind of figured it would be a couple more years down the line before it was really implemented and I'll be retired by then," she said. A paralegal with 30 years experience, Ingram began driving for Uber and Lyft in June 2015 when she lost her job. She said that she loves driving for Uber, though she has struggled to make ends meet. Rob Judge, 41, was also concerned with the announcement. "It feels like we're just rentals. We're kind of like placeholders until the technology comes out." A longtime customer service representative, Judge began driving for Uber three months ago to make money while he looks for other work. "For me personally, this isn't a long term stop," he added. "But for a lot of other people that I've connected with, this is their only means."
AI

RealDoll CEO Aims To Make Its Sex Dolls Love You Back Via AI App (mirror.co.uk) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mirror.co.uk: Matt McMullen, CEO of RealDoll, revealed the next step in making the high-end sex toys will be to give them artificial intelligence to replicate humans more closely than ever. "We are building an AI system which can either be connected to a robotic doll OR experienced in a VR environment," he revealed as part of an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit. "I think it will allow for an option that never existed before, and for some, may represent a happiness they [users] never thought they could have. We are designing the AI to be fun and engaging, more than focusing on whether it can fool you into thinking it's a person," he said. He later added, when someone asked if dolls will ever love us back: "I hope that we can at least simulate that," McMullen responded. "That's the goal." In addition to AI and VR, Teledildonics are coming to the sex industry as well. "Teledildonics is technology for remote sex where tactile sensations are communicated over a data link between the participants -- with Siri, Alexa, Cortana and other AI software," reports Mirror.co.uk. The company is "putting the finishing touches" on its AI app, with plans to release it within the next six months. Oh, and it's also working on releasing a RealDoll with a robotic head by the end of 2017 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Sci-Fi

Star Wars Actor Kenny Baker Dies at Age 81 (theguardian.com) 51

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes The Guardian: The British actor who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after a long illness. Kenny Baker, who was 3-feet 8-inches tall, shot to fame in 1977 when he first played the robot character.

He went on to play the character in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. He also appeared in a number of other much loved films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.

Baker's niece told the newspaper that "He brought lots of happiness to people and we'll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world..."

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