December 1, 2014 - TECHNOLOGY - It is 2014 and the machines have not taken over…yet. The following reports document the latest technologically advanced machines and reveals the extraordinary engineering that is pushing them beyond the extremes, towards the ultimate future where they are no longer captives of humanity's wildest imagination but controllers of it.
Sony executive heralds a revolution in virtual reality
Virtual reality will revolutionise the gaming market in just two years, according to the head of Sony’s PlayStation business in the Americas, as the Japanese electronics group readies its Project Morpheus headset to rival Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
In an interview ahead of an event this week to mark the 20th anniversary of the PlayStation’s launch, Shawn Layden, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said: “In a couple of years from now, we are going to see virtual reality changing the entire gaming experience.”
The comments come as Sony scales back its ambitions in the smartphone market and pins much of its turnround effort on its video games business.
Virtual reality could give Sony a new line of revenue in both devices and content, but the technology remains unproven in the consumer market, increasing the company’s risk at a critical moment for the struggling Japanese group.
After many years of false starts for the technology, some of the world’s biggest tech companies are now investing huge sums in virtual reality.
Google led a $542m funding round for a VR start-up called Magic Leap in September.
Facebook acquired Oculus in March for $2bn and has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a consumer version of its Rift headset, expected next year.
Oculus is also partnering with Samsung on a mobile-phone based headset, Gear VR, which is going on sale to developers this month for $199.
|Virtual reality will revolutionise the gaming market in just two years,
according to the head of Sony’s PlayStation business in the Americas, |
as the Japanese electronics group readies its Project Morpheus headset to rival Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
In March, Sony unveiled its Project Morpheus prototype headset, which it said would work with the PlayStation 4, but it has not specified a price or release date for the device.
Mr Layden said Sony would bring its VR device to market “not only when we have the technology and the production costs and the hardware issues completely worked out but also when we have the right experience”, in terms of games and content.
As well as trying to solve technical problems around input devices and displays that do not cause nausea among users, Sony – like other VR investors – is still looking for a “killer app” for the device.
“It’s not just confined to gaming,” Mr Layden suggested. Sony has been approached by more than 100 non-gaming companies about creating new content and experiences for virtual reality, from travel and education to watching live sports via the immersive headsets.
But he added: “We have to concentrate on delivering this VR experience in a meaningful and attractive way in the gaming world first. Without success in that realm, it would be difficult to start to branch off.” - FT.
Machine that runs faster than Usain Bolt could soon be on the battlefield
|It's a robot unlike any other: inspired by the world's fastest land animal, controlled by video game technology and packing sensors - including one used to maneuver drones, satellites and ballistic missiles|
It's one of the most advanced robots under development by the US military.
The cheetah, described as the 'Ferrari in the robotics world', could be used on the battlefield in just ten years, according to its creators.
The stealthy machine can run faster than Usain bolt, jumps 16 inches (40 cm) and gallops for 15 minutes - all while using less power than a microwave.
It is the creation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had to design key elements from scratch because of a lack of or shortcomings in existing technology.
That includes powerful, lightweight motors; electronics that control power for its 12 motors; and an algorithm that determines the amount of force a leg should exert within a split second.
This allows the machine to reach speeds of up to 30mph (48kph) over difficult terrain.
Insight gleaned from the design of their prototype could have real-world applications, including the design of revolutionary prosthetics, wearable technologies and all-terrain wheelchairs.
There are hopes the robot will be able to be used in search and rescue operations in hazardous or hostile environments where it's too risky to send a human rescuer.
WATCH: MIT Cheetah robot 2 running fast and jump over an obstacle.
'In the next 10 years, our goal is we are trying to make this robot to save a life,' said MIT Professor Sangbae Kim.
'When the robot is running, at every step, we calculate the appropriate amount of the force to the legs so that the robot can balance itself,' added MIT research scientist Hae-Won Park.
Sensors inside the robot measure the angle of the leg and that information is sent to an onboard computer that also organises data from the Inertial Measurement Unit which is also used to manoeuvre drones.
The project is funded by the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, who is developing a similar robot being alongside Boston Dynamics. - Daily Mail.
Always Be Chatty: Japanese robot Pepper will sell you a coffee machine… with a smile
|Japanese telecom giant Softbank's humanoid robot Pepper introduces
Nestle's coffee machines at an electric shop in Tokyo on December 1,
(AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)
Chatty robots in human form have started selling coffee machines to customers in Japan as of Monday, with their makers claiming that they can understand 80 percent of conversations, along with being able to play games with customers and answer questions.
The robot which debuted at a promotional event on Monday was called Pepper and belonged to Nestle Japan Ltd as part of an innovative new sales technique for its Japanese stores. It has a smiling human face and an interactive tablet mounted on its chest.
“By simply answering my questions, I can tell which coffee machine is perfect for you,” the 120cm tall Pepper stated with confidence at the event, held at Bic Camera’s Yurakucho store in Tokyo, the Japan Times reported.
It is Pepper’s job to welcome customers at electronics stores to answer customers’ questions about the coffee machines and aid them in selecting the one that best caters to their needs.
“How do you enjoy coffee? Number one: An eye-opener coffee; Number two: A post-meal cup of coffee,” Pepper asked a Japanese TV personality, Kyoko Uchida, at the event.
The robot is able to attempt forms of interaction not solely focused on coffee machine purpose too – and is able to play games with and quiz customers.
Pepper’s creators claim that the bot can understand 80 percent of conversation. Currently it is able to converse in Japanese only. However, it is always learning; its makers say that it can develop its abilities through “listening.”
Pepper robots started work at four different stores Monday, and in total, around 1,000 will eventually utilize the bot’s services.
“We originally introduced Pepper at SoftBank shops so that it can serve customers in ways that we weren’t able to before, providing a new type of service,” Kenichi Yoshida, vice president of the Business Development Division at SoftBank Robotics Corp told the Japan Times.
Its design was unveiled in June, and it already started selling mobile phones at SoftBank’s 74 Japanese stores. The bot will likely go on sale in February 2015. - RT.
Amazon unleashes 15,000 hauler robots for Cyber Monday packagingTen Amazon warehouses in five US states are making use of 15,000 Kiva robots, hoping they can cut operating costs for the mega retailer by some 20 percent during the Christmas gift fest.
The 145-kilogram robots are produced by Kiva Systems, which Amazon bought in 2012 for $775 million.
The company showcased the technology on Sunday at its year-old warehouse in Tracy, California, a day ahead of the Cyber Monday frenzy. This facility alone has more than 3,000 Kiva carriers working along with 1,500 humans.
The robots navigate across a warehouse buzzing along rows on sensors on the floor and hauling racks with goods. Each can lift as much as 225 kilos and delivers its cargo to packing workstations operated by a human.
The system requires smaller gaps between rack rows, since the robots are smaller than people and need not as much space to pass. Deploying the robotic carriers has allowed Amazon to hold some 50 percent more items and shorten delivery times in serviced areas, the company said.
WATCH: Kiva Systems Warehouse Automation at Quiet Logistics.
It comes at a cost, however. Amazon estimated last year that it would spend about $46 million on Kiva equipment at its warehouse in Ruskin, Florida, Reuters reported. But the company says it is glad about the decision.
"It's certainly proving out that it's justified itself," Amazon’s senior vice president of operations, Dave Clark, said of the Kiva acquisition. "We're happy with the economics of it."
Amazon insists its robot employees are not stealing jobs from humans, because the company is continuing to grow.
"That growth is driving increased hiring. We continue to add employees, and no employee has been negatively impacted by Kiva coming on board," he said.
"What we've done is automate the walking element. Our focus on automation is to do automation that helps employees do their job in an easier way, in a more efficient manner."
The online retail giant also uses flying robots to deliver goods to customers’ doorsteps. - RT.
White House holiday decor goes digital, with dog-bots and crowdsourced tree lights
Few Washington events embody as much tradition as the annual holiday tour at the White House. There are at least a dozen bedecked trees inside, along with a nearly 20-foot white fir outside. There is the Neapolitan creche that has been in place for almost four decades and an official, annual White House ornament.
This year, all that tradition plunges into the digital age.
In addition to the gingerbread White House and tastefully decorated wreaths, there will be infrared motion sensors, crowdsourced lighting patterns and matching robot versions of the first family’s two dogs. And the Obamas have released what they call their “first-ever interactive White House holiday card.”
“Technology has always been an interest of this administration,” said William Bushong, chief historian for the White House Historical Association.
But the digital holiday tweaks are also a homage to the Maker movement, a high-tech, DIY philosophy that President Obama and his aides have embraced enthusiastically. It wraps into a neat package many of the attributes the administration has sought to champion: innovation, manufacturing, entrepreneurship and hipster geekiness.
In September, the White House appointed Stephanie Santoso, a PhD candidate in information science at Cornell University, as its first full-time senior adviser for “Making.” One bonus of that hire is that Santoso knows how to design a dog robot.
So last month, White House chief floral designer Laura Dowling and a handful of the administration’s science policy experts gathered around what could best be described as a robot skeleton, a chicken-wire version of Bo Obama, as the canine robot swiveled its head back and forth about once a second. They seemed pleased with the performance, especially given the White House’s previous attempt at a mechanized dog.
“We had a ‘smoking-tail Bo’ last year,” Dowling reminded the team. The mechanized dog in the 2013 White House holiday extravaganza had a little mishap: Its ribbon tail got caught in its motor and started to smolder. (“Luckily, that was the end of the season,” Dowling noted.)
“We’ve promised you that’s not going to happen,” replied Mark DeLoura, who serves as senior adviser for digital media in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This year’s Bo-bot was created by Santoso, DeLoura and Laura Gerhardt, an OSTP intern.
The 2014 holiday decor, which will be unveiled Wednesday, includes not just dog robots but also an interactive digital snowscape that will capture the movements of visitors in front of it.
Five kinds of 3-D-printed ornaments — designed by Americans and produced in San Francisco — will be shown throughout the East Wing. The lights on the 56 trees representing U.S. states and territories in President’s Park will flash in patterns coded online by girls across the country, and the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park has its own Twitter handle.
Adding these more modern elements to the festivities “reflects culturally what Americans are doing,” said Bushong, of the White House Historical Association.
Rather than rotating its head at a set rate, Sunny-bot has eyes with infrared motion sensors that prompt it to turn in the direction of someone approaching it. Both robots use fairly basic software and hardware. Even Sunny-bot, she of the infrared eyes, uses rubber bands as ligaments to give her head flexibility. - Washington Post.
Flying robots to work as waiters in Singapore
|Visitors are served by an Infinium-Serve Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
that is designed to serve food and wait tables, |
at the National Productivity Month exhibition in Singapore October 7, 2014.(Reuters / Edgar Su)
Flying robotic waiters, known as Infinium-Serve, will be launched in a Singapore restaurant chain by the end of 2015, local media reported on Thursday.
In what is believed to be the world’s first commercial attempt at replacing humans with machines in this field, Timbre Group plans to have robots waiting tables by the end of next year, Channel News Asia reported.
Infinium Robotics and Timbre Group – one of Singapore’s most popular restaurant chains – signed a memorandum of understanding on October 31 to launch the robots in five outlets.
They are looking for productivity-related government grants to help offset development costs, which are estimated to be a “low seven-figure sum,” according to Woon Junyang, chief executive officer at Infinium Robotics.
Woon said he believes that replacing waiters and waitresses with robots would help alleviate Singapore’s labor crunch and allow human waiters to focus on more interesting higher value tasks, such as getting feedback from customers and ordering wine.
“This will result in an enhanced dining experience which will eventually lead to increased sales and revenue for the restaurants,” he said.
Singapore has been facing a labor shortage, particularly in the service sector, due to ever stricter restrictions on the number of foreign workers allowed into the island state in recent years.
Infinium showed off a prototype of the flying robot to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the inaugural launch of National Productivity Month in early October. - RT.