How Our Colony On Mars Will Get Built

Absolutely amazing development in robotics…

According to the Wall Street Journal, Harvard University researchers have developed autonomous robots inspired by termites or ants.

They can build complex structures by working in a group or swarm.

Each robot is independent, yet by being programmed with the target structure, they work harmoniously together to build the structure without further guidance.

They have sensors along with a set of rules that enable them to interact with each other and the environment to get the job done.

They can even build stairs to enable themselves to get to higher levels of the structure and add the next set of building bricks.

The robots are 8″ by 4.5″ with pinwheel tires for traction and are powered by off-the-shelf motors.

“Each robot ‘walks around the structure until it sees something that needs to be done and then does it…they can recognize errors and correct them.’”

Perhaps, the robots can not only learn from the termites, but we can learn from the robots. ;-)

Looking Forward, Backwards

Looking Forward, Backwards

Farhad Manjoo argues in today’s Wall Street Journal that “there’s plenty” of innovation going on, despite the grumblings that their isn’t.

His main argument is that “the smartphone and the tablet ‘are’ the next big things.”

Manjoo tells us to “grow up” and calls us “spoiled children,” because we are not satisfied with these and simple future enhancements of this.

He would have us accept that there won’t be “anything as groundbreaking in a generation.”

Well, looking back at past innovation and calling that as our current and future innovation is like looking back at our past successes and simply resting on our laurels as good enough.

Unfortunately, no business can rest on their past successes–they must constantly innovate to stay relevant in the marketplace and meet their growth targets for revenue, profit, market share, and customer satisfaction.

As they say in financial prospectuses, “past success is no guarantee of future success.”

Similarly, as individuals we do not just settle for past success, but we strive everyday to make a contribution, to learn, and to grow as long as we have the strength to try.

When we stop striving, we may as well be heading downhill in the cycle of life, because as we all know, “if you are not moving forward, then you are moving backwards.”

Life is not stagnant, and yesterdays innovations are not todays creative breakthroughs or tomorrows leaps forward.

The rate of innovation is no longer measured in generations in the 21st century–and for those who think it is, they would have us accept defeat in this highly global, competitive marketplace.

While we should not be greedy, why are we so ready to say good enough, instead of really critiquing ourselves (e.g. calling a dry spell, a dry spell) and continuing the tough journey into the future.

At least Manjoo cites incremental work in privacy, enterprise technologies such as cloud computing, and robotics as tech trends – so maybe there is still hope. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Walking Tall Again

CNN has a video out today on this amazing new technology for paraplegics.

It is a miraculous robotic exoskeleton called the ReWalk by Argo Medical Technologies in Israel.

The inventor, Dr. Amit Goffer, is himself quadriplegic and asked a simple question, “Why is a wheelchair the only answer for those with spinal injuries?”

He challenged the status quo and now there is a way for paralyzed people to stand and walk again.

I choose this video for the blog, because I found it so immensely inspiring to see someone previously wheelchair-bound participating in a marathon in Tel Aviv this year.

The ReWalk is strapped on and has motorized joints and sensors and a battery pack.

When combined with some braces, a person has mobility again on their feet!

I cried when I saw the patient, Radi Kaiuf go over the finish line after walking 10 kilometers with the ReWalk and everyone, including the children on the sidelines, cheering for him.

Congratulation to all the researchers from the Technion University who helped make this a reality–hopefully people around the world, who are in are in need, will be able to benefit in the future and walk again.

Truly, mobility is life! ;-)

Amazon Delivery – By Crunk-Car, If You Like

Amazon Delivery - By Crunk-Car, If You Like

Jeff Bezos of Amazon is one very smart guy and when he announces that he is interested in drones delivering your next online order that makes for a lot of grandstanding.

But really how is a dumb drone delivering an order of diapers or a book so exciting.

Aside from putting a lot of delivery people at USPS, UPS, and FedEx out of work, what does the consumer get out of it?

Honestly, I don’t care if if the delivery comes by Zike-Bike, Crunk-Car, Zumble-Zay, Bumble-Boat, or a Gazoom, as Dr. Seuss would say–I just care that it gets here fast, safely, and cheaply.

Will a drone be able to accomplish those things, likely–so great, send the drone over with my next order, but this doesn’t represent the next big technological leap.

It doesn’t give us what the real world of robotics in the future is offering: artificial intelligence, natural language processing, augmentation of humans, or substitution by robots altogether, to do things stronger, faster, and more precisely, and even perhaps companionship to people.

Turning surveillance and attack drones into delivery agents is perhaps a nice gesture to make a weapon into an everyday service provider.

And maybe the Octocopters even help get products to customers within that holy grail, one day timeframe, that all the retailers are scampering for.

It’s certainly a great marketing tool–because it’s got our attention and we’re talking about it.

But I’ll take a humanoid robot sporting a metallic smile that can actually interact with people, solve problems, and perform a multitude of useful everyday functions–whether a caregiver, a bodyguard, or even a virtual friend (e.g. Data from Star Trek)–over a moving thingamajig that Dr. Seuss foresaw for Marvin K. Mooney. ;-)

Warrior Augmentation

Warrior Augmentation

I love the direction DARPA is going in with robotic exoskeletons for our warfighters.

Helping soldiers perform their jobs easier, more capably, and with less injury using human augmentation is good sense.

Military men and women often carry weight in excess of 100 pounds for long distances and perform other tasks that challenge human physical endurance.

Creating a durable “soft, lightweight under[or over]suit that would help reduce injuries and fatigue and improve soldiers ability to efficiently perform their missions” is an smart and achievable goal, and one that would give us great advantage in the battlefield.

The timeframe of 2012-2016 is an aggressive deadline to form the mix of core technologies, integrate them, and develop a wearable prototype.

I think the goal of having this be “potentially wearable by 90% of the U.S. Army population” is notable as not something that is for just special forces or unique missions, but rather something that can medically protect and make for a superior fighting force for all of our men and women.

This is really only the beginning of human augmentation with sensors, storage, processors, and robotics to make our warriors fight with the best that both man and machine has to offer. It’s not a fight of man versus machine, but of man and machine.

Seeing and hearing farther and with more clarity, connecting and communicating timely and under all conditions, processing loads of data into actionable information, fighting and performing mission with superior skills (strength, speed, dexterity, and endurance) and integrated weapon systems, guiding warriors to their targets and home safely–these are goals that man-machine augmentation can bring to reality.

And of course, the sheer medical and rehabilitative benefits of these technologies in caring for the sick and disabled in society is enough to “pedal to metal” drive these efforts alone.

Like on the prescient show from the 70′s, The Six Million Dollar Man, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology…Better than he was before. Better…stronger…faster.”

And I would add healthier and more deadly! ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to DARPA and Boston Dynamics)

ROBOTS Wanted!

Good video from The Atlantic on automation and the concern about Robots taking our jobs.

From the 1800′s, when “the Luddites,”–British textile workers–protested the loom to the 1900′s where 40% of our nations job were farm workers and now it’s just 2%…the question is where does automation stop?

Very likely it doesn’t (thanks to evolution)!

As robots can first mimic and then outdo their human developers and as artificial intelligence gets more intelligent, robots are moving from farm to factory to white collar jobs.

Computers and robotics, once relegated to repetitive tasks like on the assembly line, are becoming good at winning Jeopardy and as a surgical platform.

The bar is being raised not just on technology, but on humans to retrain to ever more sophisticated thinking and communicating positions (from software developers and product designers to branding and communications specialists).

People are constantly evolving to think and innovate better and are in turn building ever more capable technologies to replace more human jobs and leading once again to the need for even higher-level human performance.

Progress–a never-ending cycle of outperforming ourselves.

Where does it stop–the attainment of ever-higher levels of knowledge and productivity leading to heavenly bliss here on Earth or perhaps large elements of burnout, breakdown, and potentially self-destruction.

I often hear people recalling and reminiscing about earlier, simpler, and “better times.”

The Wall Street Journal (17 August 2013) just had such an editorial looking to bring back the tranquility and idleness of hot summer Augusts, instead now replaced by more work and school.

At the same time, very few of us would really want to go back in time before all the technology-wunderkind that we have now and enjoy (many seem think more like you’ll have to pry that iPhone from my cold, dead hands!).

The challenge: Robots may be taking jobs, but we need to stay ahead and to master not only ever higher levels of human knowledge and skills, but also the good sense to reconcile with the technology blitz and be able to actually find the time and inner-peace to sit back and enjoy it all as well. ;-)

What Does A Robot And A Spouse Have In Common?

This is a pretty cool advance in robotics.

The robot doesn’t just perform tasks, but it interacts with the person–sensing his movements and thereby anticipating his needs.

According to Gizmag, this advanced robot was developed by Cornell’s Personnel Robot Lab.

As you can see in the video, the robot sees the person picking up a pot and moving towards the refrigerator, and the robot “understands” and goes to pull open the fridge door.

In another example, the robot first without anticipating the person moving his coffee cup, pours coffee, spilling it on the table, but then with the special programming, the robot “sees” the person picking up the cup to drink and putting it down, and waits to pour until the cup is in stably in place.

The anticipatory skills of the robot are based on 120 3-D videos in its database of people doing everyday tasks and extrapolating from it to what is occurring around it.

The robot’s predictions of the person’s actions are refined as the person continues to move making the robot’s response that much more in tune and precise with the person it is interacting with.

The less far out in time that the robot has to predict, the more accurate it is: for 1 second out, it is 82% accurate; 3 seconds out, 71% accurate; and 10 seconds out, 57%.

It is pretty incredible that we are able to program a robot to watch and sense similar to the way we do, and to react accordingly.

The challenge will be as in the show Lost In Space, where the Robot is often confounded by illogical or unpredictable human behavior, and frequently, repeats “Does not compute.”

People are not programmed like computers–they experience conflicting and complex thoughts and emotions, behave in unpredictable or seemingly illogical ways, may have difficulty making up their minds in the first place, or may change their minds, even multiple times.

Being a robot in a human world will by necessity mean being adaptable and understanding to changing human moods, whims and desires, and being able to respond quickly and appropriately–sort of like what being married is all about. ;-)

Kurzweil, Right and Wrong

Kurzweil, Right and Wrong

Ray Kurzweil the famous futurist is an amazing person, but like everyone he has his good and bad days.

When it comes to the Singularity–Kurzweil had a very good day.

With the accelerating speed of technology change, the advent of super intelligence and superhuman powers is already here (and continuing to advance) with:

- Smartphones all-in-one devices give us the power of the old mainframe along with the communication capabilities to inform and share by phone, text, photo, video, and everything social media.

- Google Glass is bringing us wearable IT and augmented reality right in front of our very eyes.

- Exoskeletons and bioengineering is giving us superhuman strength and ability to lift more, run faster and further, see and hear better, and more.

- Embedded chips right into our brains are going to give us “access to all the world’s information” at the tip of our neural synapses whenever we need it (Wall Street Journal).

In a sense, we are headed toward the melding of man and machine, as opposed to theme of the Terminator movie vision of man versus machine–where man is feared to lose in a big way.

In man melded with machine–we will have augmentations in body and brain–and will have strength, endurance, and intelligence beyond our wildest dreams.

However, Kurzweil has a bad day is when it comes to his prediction of our immortality.

Indeed, Kurzweil himself, according to the Journal “takes more than 150 pills and supplements a day” believing that we can “outrun our own deaths.”

Kurzweil mistakenly believes that the speed of medical evolution will soon be “adding a year of life expectancy every year,” so if only we can live until then, we can “Live long enough to live forever.”

But, just as our super intelligence will not make us omniscient, and our superhuman powers will not make us omnipotent or omnipresent, our super advances in medicine will not make us, as we are, immortal.

Actually, I cannot even imagine why Kurzweil would want to live forever given his fear-inspiring Singularity, where advances in machine and artificial intelligence outpaces man’s own evolutionary journey.

Kurzweil should knock off some of the pills and get back to humankind’s learning and growth and stop his false professing that humans will become like G-d, instead of like a better humans. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

iRobot For Your Windows

A Chinese company, Ecovacs, has developed a robot that cleans your windows–and it looks quite like an iRobot that cleans your floors.

You spray the cleaning pad, attach it to your window, and it senses that boundaries of the window and calculates a path to clean them.

The spray pad wipes them, the squeegee collects dampness, and another wipes it dry.

There are multiple safety features including dual suction rings, a safety pod with a tether, and an alarm if Winbot runs into problems.

The spray pads once used can be removed, washed, and dried for another cleaning run.

I like Winbot as long as it is just cleaning windows and not also looking in the window and listening to what you are doing to gain competitive advantages in a cyberspace that these days, knows few, if any, security bounds. ;-)

From Wheelchair To Walking

Berkeley Bionics (now Ekso Bionics) has done miracles here in helping the disabled to walk again.

Based on the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) from Lockheed Martin that was developed for the warfighter to carry 200 pounds of weight at 10 mph, Berkeley has adapted this technology for medical rehabilitation.

I first watched this eLEGS technology on a National Geographic special called “Make Me Superhuman.”

This woman literally walks for the first time in18 years after a skiing accident, and I was literally crying for her.

She wobbled and would’ve fallen if not for the safety harness, but after a few times retraining her muscles to walk again, she was able to take steps and turn using the eLEGS exoskeleton technology.

Over and over again, she says how grateful she is to be able to stand, be normal height, walk again, and get out of her wheelchair.

This technology can really bring hope to the disabled, especially as it gets refined, more compact, and cheaper.

The vision is that paralyzed people will one day get up in the morning, put on the eLEGS, get in the car, and then walk around all day just like you and I.

Oh, what a great day that will be. ;-)