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Boy Attends School Using Robot September 24, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Science.
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This is the kind of story I enjoy reading.  Technology unequivocally making someone’s life better.

When Devon Carrow was a baby, a cookie-coated kiss from his mom made him break out in hives. An accidental encounter with peanuts at his godparents’ home three months later landed him in the hospital, under an oxygen tent. His food allergies are so severe that he doesn’t even have to eat something in order to have a life-threatening reaction — just breathing in trace amounts of an allergen is enough to send him into anaphylactic shock.

But thanks to technology, the home-bound boy is finally able to attend school in person — so to speak. He sits in his classroom, runs small errands for his teacher, and participates in group projects all thanks to a $6,000 robot from Nashua, N.H.-based VGo Communications.

His mom converted a room in their home for use as a classroom, and two teachers help him manipulate his computer equipment from there. Thanks to the VGo, which he started using in January, Devon can walk the halls of Winchester Elementary with his classmates, check books out of the library, join other kids on the carpet for circle time, and participate on stage during assembly. The only things he can’t do are attend gym and lunch, but once the school’s wireless system is upgraded, he should be able to hang out in the cafeteria with his buddies while he eats his lunch at home.

Heartwarming.  And that’s not something I say often unironically.

DARPA Unveils New Robotic “Mule” September 10, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Science.
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Like it or not the military has been behind some of the biggest technological breakthroughs in history (no surprise given the amount of money spent on it).  The US military has been sinking a lot of money into robotics in recent years in an effort to automate their forces.  Predator drones are probably the most well-known example of this but they have also been working on ground based robots to assist infantry.  DARPA has recently put out a new video demonstrating their newest creation; the LS3.

Not exactly the Terminator but pretty cool none-the-less.  Sure it’s got a funny gait and it’s “running” probably couldn’t outpace a twelve year old but the technology has been steadily improving since the days of Big Dog (which was cool in it’s own right).  While it’s something we take for granted maneuvering on uneven terrain, even very slowly,  is actually an incredibly complicated skill that requires a great amount of agility and balance, things that up until recently robots just haven’t been able to do.  Life has had millions of years to get the process down so it’s no big shock that robots are taking a little while to get it right.

 

P.S.  Anyone more knowledgeable about the subject know what happened to Big Dog?  Looking at those old videos again makes me remember what a seriously impressive technology that was/is.  It’s still amazing, and somewhat eerie even for me, to see it slip on an ice patch and stumble about in such a “life like” manner.

Robot Teachers School Korean Students in English December 28, 2010

Posted by Metabiological in Science.
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When I first read this I was going to make some joke about no industry being safe from automation but as it turns out this is an example of no industry being safe from outsourcing.

Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said Tuesday, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry…

The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

Despite what some try to tell us economics in many ways is very simple.  Companies try to maximize profits while limiting costs.  In most cases the one cost they have control over is labor, hence the flight of jobs to lower income countries.  Many industries have been protected by the fact that they require a person to be actually present to fulfill there duties.  Is this the first sign that this may be coming to an end?  And what happens when the robots develop enough to no longer require a human controller?