New stuff in robots and AI. Jan 13 edition

Chatter (the week’s news and PR, with notes)

Another crowdfunded robot/drone project died. Lily this time. Rough for them and their would-be customers, but these stories are getting old. They raised $15 million and had $34 million in orders, but still couldn’t sort out actually making and delivering the thing? While they didn’t use Kickstarter or Indiegogo, the promise was similar — give us a threshold amount, and we’ll be able to get the project off the ground (natch). Yes, the market changed. Yes, hardware is hard. They knew that going in. Undermining the market with pre-sold vapourware and giving capitalized competitors a head start couldn’t have helped. If the goal was to secure massive venture funding on the strength of preorders, oops. But that’s not what customers bought. It looks like the San Fransisco DA was similarly non-plussed. Here’s another critical take from way back in May:

Self-driving cars might get cheap, fast. Hyundai is making a sub-$30,000 self-driving car. Waymo claims to have cut the cost of Lidar by 90%. And training up driving algorithms will be much easier (at least in the early stages)— is a Grand Theft Auto V self-driving car simulation that is integrated into Universe , OpenAI’s platform for training AIs with games, websites, and other digital ephemera.

Waymo is talking about keeping it’s cars offline to hinder hackers. It seems so obvious as to not need mentioning, but that’s only the 2nd best reason to keeping all driving functions onboard. The other is basic reliability. Cars should function fully and properly even when they can’t connect to the internet. Autonomy needs to mean just that — the car drives on it’s own.

Google Brain’s Jeff Dean penned a nostalgic trip down 2016’s memory lane. Which, fair enough, they really did do a ton of interesting work in 2016.

Gigaom had a nice interview with Baidu’s Andrew Ng.

Deepthoughts (Other people's musings and commentary on the state of the art)

Alan Winfield continued his excellent series on the infrastructure of life. This time investigating the nature of transparency in autonomous systems. This is tricky stuff, and “transparency” is subjective. SD Marlow’s comment on the piece is worth quoting:

“there is an academic disconnect between verification(a system of checks and balances) and social norms. People want to know the food they eat won’t make them sick, but there is no monthly pilgrimage by millions of people wanting to directly observe how cow becomes burger.

Figuring out how we navigate the boundaries between autonomy, trust, control, privacy, and ease of use becomes more pressing as autonomous consumer systems proliferate.

Sorry, drones won’t deliver packages to your house (but robot carts might, see Starship below). The argument is that there’s no simple solution to the legal muddle they present. I’m not persuaded. Laws can change. But a thousand whining delivery drones perpetually overhead is a nightmare scenario I doubt people will accept. Flying things around is also wildly energy intensive, especially when rolling them is a viable option (again, see Starship below). I’m partial to pneumatic tube delivery (and waste disposal), but that’s another conversation.

This is so right: ‘AI-powered’ is tech’s meaningless equivalent of ‘all natural’. ‘AI’ is latest in a noble linage of buzzwords, but that doesn’t mean it refers to something in particular. Or something new. AI is poorly defined and has been around for a while. Pretty much any digital tech can make a dubious claim to being “AI” powered. They can, and do. As always, beware BS.

Data (info on filings, acquisitions, usage, uptake…)

Starship Technologies, the upstart Estonian delivery robot, raised $17.2 million from Daimler AG. Local delivery is a thing. Here’s hoping they figure out how to deal with the massive piles of empty boxes in Amazon’s wake.

Rethink raised another pile of cash. And are apparently selling like hotcakes in China.

Products (new hardware, software, and services)

Yves Behar’s Fuseproject teamed with Intuition Robotics on a social robot for the elderly — ElliQ. Don Norman is listed as “helping the company achieve its vision”. Good crew! They also made the only social robot promo video I’ve seen with a sense of humour.

Videos (& other entertainments)

The hum of a 100 drone swarm is the stuff of nightmares. Especially if they’re hunting you.

Great Google Tech Talk with the legendary Don Norman and Mick McManus on Design in the Age of AI.

Another one from UBTECH. They’re just cranking out the humanoid/social/personal/whatever robots.

Nice Bloomberg piece on Kuri, which was the social robot hit at CES. (Need to quibble with using “her” to refer to an object. Animate or not, it definitely isn’t male or female.)