What Happens When a Robotic Cockroach Teams Up With a Robotic Bird

Image Credit: Screenshot via YouTube

What’s better than one robot that can mimic animal movements (or more terrifying, depending on your perspective)? A dynamic duo. 

Cockroaches can rapidly scurry across all kinds of terrain, which makes them an ideal model for creating robots that can traverse rough and uneven ground. But cockroach-inspired robots have difficulty getting over tall objects, and a robot that's hefty enough to zip around the ground is too heavy to fly efficiently. Bird-like flying robots, on the other hand, can easily pass over taller obstacles, but small fliers are limited in their powers, and don’t have the battery power to fly for long. 

But combining the two kinds of animal-inspired robots into one super-powered, Transformers-style creation can harness the best of both worlds. The Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, a University of California, Berkeley lab that focuses on recreating animal locomotion in robots, recently found a way to combine two of its robots, the H2Bird and the VelociRoACH, into an automated team [PDF]

Provided the VelociRoACH could get up to a speed of about 2.7 mph, it could successfully launch the flying H2Bird on its own, without any human intervention. This way, the fast, efficient cockroach robot could deliver the flying robot to a target on high without wasting precious battery power. Autonomous explorers like this are useful for gathering data and potentially doing construction in dangerous, remote places—like Mars. 

[h/t: Gizmodo]

Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now

Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

Aibo, Sony’s Failed Robot Dog, Is Returning as a Smart Home Device
Sven Volkens, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

When Sony released its robotic dog Aibo in 1999, marketing it as “Man’s Best Friend for the 21st Century,” sales were impressive. But the public fascination didn’t last forever. Even though it was low-maintenance and allergy-free, most dog-lovers still preferred the pets they had to clean up after and feed. Aibo was discontinued seven years later.

Now, Mashable reports that Aibo is making a comeback, and it’s been given a few updates to make it a better fit for the current decade. When the robot companion returns to shelves in spring of 2018, it will double as a smart home device. That’s a big step up from the early Aibos, which couldn’t do much beyond playing fetch, wagging their tails, and singing the occasional song.

Sony’s original Aibo team, which was redistributed throughout the company in 2006, has reformed to tackle the project. Instead of trying to replace your flesh-and-blood Fido at home, they’ve designed a robot that can compete with other AI home speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. The new dog can connect to the internet, so owners will be able to command it to do things like look up the weather as well as sit and fetch. Aibo will run on an open source software, which means that third party developers will be able to program new features that Sony doesn’t include in the initial release.

While Aibo is often remembered as a turn-of-the-millennium failure, it's still beloved in some communities. In 2015 The New York Times published a short documentary profiling owners in Japan who struggle to care for their robots as parts become scarce. When the pets break down for good, some of them even hold Aibo funerals. It will soon became clear if the 2018 models inspire a cult following of their own.

[h/t Mashable]


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