New stuff in robots and AI, Nov 25 edition. RIIFT_NL1

This is our first weekly roundup of news and happenings in robotics and AI. Stay tuned.

Videos (& other entertainments):

UCLA’s Robotics and Mechanisms Lab (RoMeLa) show off their Non Anthropomorphic Bipedal Robotic System. It’s simple, lightweight, and apparently very effective. We're especially fond of the cardboard box and sharpie face.

Another RoMeLa video. This time of a BALLU: Buoyancy Assisted Lightweight Legged Unit, which is an absurd/wonderful humanoid balloon robot. 

A few weeks late, but here’s Otto (the truck people, not the Clearpath spinoff factory material transport people) touting the first ever commercial delivery by autonomous truck. Of Bud, obviously.

Anki is pushing an ability update to their Cozmo robot, including a remote control mode and a pet detector. This announcement video is appropriately cute.

Finally, here is Yann LeCun's deep dive lecture on unsupervised learning at CMU Robotics. 

Chatter (THE WEEK's news and PR, with notes):

Google's new Neural Machine Translation tool appears to develop internal representations of abstract ideas, independent of language. The hype machine has now decided that machines can think.

A DeepMind/CIFAR funded Oxford study produced an AI that reads lips with 93.4% accuracy (at least from a neatly labelled set of well lit videos). The model is reportedly the first that reads lips at the sentence level, rather than word level, allowing it to learn contextual movement/phoneme correspondences.

Another Oxford/DeepMind paper trained up a system on BBC newscasts, finding that it could get to 46.8% accuracy on “in the wild” videos. This is impressive, given the variability of data (facial angle, lighting, accent, idiom).

Siemens continues work on their Spiders, now as a swarm robots lunar construction crew.

A reminder of the cold reality of manufacturing&jobs: it really is a lot cheaper to employ a robot than a human, for certain highly repeatable tasks. $8/hr vs $25/hr for a spot welder.

Are AIs boys or girls? Here's an excellent argument for why the question matters. It’s going to matter a lot more as AIs and robots become more deeply embedded in our lives. I think gender neutrality is the only way to go. Calling a thing “he” or “she” basic anthropomorphism. It leads us to project cheap human stereotypes onto things, reinforcing those cheap stereotypes. But machines aren't people, so let's just agree to call them "it".

Blockchain may be losing steam as the technology du jour while AI reaches peak hype. I remain convinced that a blockchain style technology is the best option for securing our myriad IOT and robotic devices.

Phrenology, machine learning edition. Here's a paper detailing a system able to identify "criminals" by their facial features. It is an object lesson in how ethics-free AI and machine learning applications can have deeply disturbing implications. Take away: don't be awful.

A Japanese consortium aims to improve mapping tech so that driverless cars can ply the road of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Softbank’s humanoid robot Pepper made it’s debut as a shop assistant at a couple of malls in California.

Jibo is push release (again) to 2017, putting them 2 years behind schedule. In a letter to supporters, they are saying that findings from their “Beta 2” in-home test have led to the delay. Early backers are getting irate, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s not clear what Jibo is for, and taking a little longer to sort that out is probably better than releasing too early. Hardware ≠ software. Moving fast and breaking things isn’t always the best strategy. Though being late to market doesn’t help either.

Thalmic teams up with Po to make inexpensive gesture controlled prosthetics.

Expanding on their existing Singapore fleet, NuTonomy announces the introduction of (one) hailable self-driving taxi in Boston by end of the year. With more to come in 2017.

Cheap wifi security camera compromised in 98 seconds, reminding us that we’ll need bulletproof security if IOT and robotics are going to get real.

Hyperloop One, the Elon Musk inspired pneumatic train company, is jumping on the autonomous car, um,...bandwagon.

Boston’s autonomous vehicle testing seaport is closing, but there is a push to allow street tests within the next year.

Michigan is also getting in on the autonomous vehicle test city game. In their case, bills are already approved.

Disney is adding sound to silent videos. Using an unsupervised clustering system trained on reams of video, it correlates sound and image and is able to create soundtracks on audio-stripped video.

Trump's election is making Canada an even more attractive destination, visa edition.

Deep Thoughts (musings and commentary on the state of the art):

The Rotman School's Agrawal, Gans, and Goldfarb have a great on machine learning as the technology of prediction. The radical drop of price (and associated rising availability) of prediction will radically reshape industries. Many activities will be reframed as predictive tasks and overtaken my machine learning solutions.

Here’s a talk from Autodesk’s Jeff Kowalski on the use of AI in design, and what that means for designers.

University of Buffalo professor Theo Karppi questions the practicality of banning killer robots, encouraging us to focus on the chains of causation leading to them instead.

The fine folks from Algorithmia on why Deep Learning is transformative, and what the frontiers look like.

Info (filings, acquisitions, fundings, usage, uptake...):

Andy Rubin is raising another $500 million for Playground Ventures, his hardware incubator. There’s pretty good reason to think that the guy who named his company Android and went on the biggest robot buying binge in history will direct some (most? all?) of that money toward cool robot and AI ventures.

In a pleasant change of pace from acquisition, there are IPO filings from 2 robotics companies - Myomo (MYO) on the NYSE MKT exchange and ZMP (7316) on the TY0 Mothers Market exchange.

GE is buying AI companies, adding AI capabilities to it’s industrial IOT Predix Platform.

Google is investing $4.5 million in Yoshua Bengio’s Montreal AI lab. (Bengio, along with Geoff Hinton and Yann LeCun, is one of the big three of deep learning.)

Aeryon unveils new $3 million drone environmental simulation and testing complex.

Phew. That was a long first kick at the can. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Would love your feedback/comments. Hoping to make this little summary of the week as useful as possible. Let us know what you think!