New stuff in robots and AI. Dec 2 edition.

Videos (& other entertainments)

One of Marco Tempest’s delightful drone magic performances.

Researchers at EPFL are developing brain-spine interfaces, potentially allowing direct control of artificial limbs.

Fei-Fei Li on the challenges of computer vision, even for our fanciest algorithms.

CSAIL’s Carl Vondrick, along with Hamed Pirsiavash and Antonio Torralba, taught a computer to extrapolate video from still images. Fancy. More info is here:

Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition is teaching robots to walk on uneven terrain. It may not look too impressive, but it really really is.

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

Starship and Just Eat completed the “World’s First” drone meal delivery. The dreamer in me refuses to believe that no one ever retrofitted an Egemin Mailmobile to deliver bagels, so this can’t be the first. Still, pretty cool.

AI and art is getting progressively awesomer. AIs write music now. A group of artists used a bunch of toolkits to generate city maps from drawings. And researchers are building nice labelled data set to help train up future AI composers.

Here’s some fancy drone flying. Polytechnique Montréal’s Mobile Robotics Lab landed a self-flying quadcopter on a car driving at 50km/h (OK, that one was dicey, but still). The suggestion is that this could further the cause of aerial drone delivery by extending their range.

Last month,, George Hotz’s autonomous car startup, scrapped their Comma One product under pressure from regulators. This week, they open sourced.

George Hotz on Bloomberg, explaining why is open sourcing. (Spoiler, because regulators).

Hotz is clear that they need a heftier data set to compete with Tesla et al. Inclined Android users can help them collect data with chffr.

Intel has signed a deal with Delphi and Mobileye to provide self-driving car CPU muscle.

Ontario is the latest jurisdiction to jump on the self-driving wagon, allowing BlackBerry, Waterloo, and Erwin Hymer to test on public roads starting in 2017. BlackBerry isn’t just there for local colour. They’ve been in the space since buying embedded systems OS makers QNX in 2010. Across the Atlantic, Ford will be testing cars in Europe. The battle of tax breaks and lax regulations is heating up. Winner gets to be the home of autonomous cars, I guess. Unless they just get made in the existing factories. Which, frankly, seems pretty likely.

Since delivering us into the Trumpian dystopia we call “reality”, punditry has been all aflutter about fake news. Turns out Facebook has the technological capacity to fix it, but fixing it is an executive decision. Better late than never, I guess? Thomson Reuters has already built a tool to filter fake news. Still, given the strong motives for making and spreading misinformation, it won’t be long before these tools are gamed, like the search engines of yore. “News Filter Optimizer” is the grossest job title of 2017. Barf.

Further to the “we really need to sort out security for the whole Internet of Things” thing, massive new botnets are emerging and are available for rent. Cheap.

Deepthoughts (musings and commentary on the state of the art)

Fretting about the dangers of AI and robots is a peak fret. Sensibly, major players are taking this seriously, especially in the context of unsupervised systems. DeepMind has a paper outlining techniques for safely interrupting agents. SVRobo set up the Good Robot Design Council, complete an exellent set of 5 Laws of Robotics (no weapons, obey the law, be safe&reliable, no pretending to be people, discoverable ownership). Quanta Magazine has a nice interview with Cynthia Dwork on building fairness into our algorithms. And VentureBeat had articles on chatbots masquarading as people and using AI to augment, not replace, human workers.

The takeaway - let’s establish ground rules to prevent us from building systems that relentlessly exploit human weakness. Unless that ship has already sailed. In which case, whatever, pass the Cheetos.

Products (new hardware, software, and services)

On Wednesday Amazon announced a suite of AI services on AWS: Rekognition image recognition (see what they did there?), Polly speach synthesis, Lex chatbots. They look pretty awesome, and are already available.

Hease is unveilling a retail robot at CES. It appears to be a hybrid AI/telepresence controlled system designed as roaming customer service for malls, hotels, and conferences.

Dashbot is a startup that wants to put Alexa in your car. Their Kickstarter is funded, though it isn’t clear how this space isn’t already filled dash mounted phones, CarPlay etc.

There is now a robot mini submarine that can be launched from a robot boat. Magic. It’s being tested, and will be released early next year. Then they’ll be used for persistent underwater monitoring, mapping, etc.


This vintage view of the robots of the 2000s is magical.