New stuff in robots and AI. Dec 12 edition. No. 3


SALTO, Berekley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab’s mini parkour robot burned up the internet with its crazy jumping antics. (

This is ChainFORM, the fancy “novel type of shape changing interface” (read: robot) from MIT’s Tangible Media Lab. One small step closer to programmable matter?

Boston Dynamics’ Spot Mini is always a delight. This demo from NIPS is pretty darn impressive.

More Spot Mini sightings:

OK. This 3 min celebration of Cybathlon, the world’s biggest cyborg athletic meet, really hits the spot.

We are huge suckers for building with robots. Kuka is ace. We construction as the biggest sector primed for automation. After, well, automobiles of course.

Tesla’s sort-of-POV video of a self-driving car completing a commute is stunning, if totally uneventful.

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

NIPS happened. Apple made it clear that they’ll start publishing, in an effort to remain an attractive destination for researchers and be a good citizen in the AI community. NVIDA and Yann LeCun announced toolkit for teaching deep learning at the university level. NIPS spotlight talks are available here.

It was, as usual, a big week in self-driving cars. There was lots of talk about Apple’s making moves. Baidu started testing in ChinaGoogle is spinning cars out of X. Now they’ll have their very own division. Any guesses on names, given that Google Drive is taken?

Pebble failed, and were bought by Fitbit for less than outstanding debt. Seems that everyone went underwater. Innovator and victim of the wearables boom and bust. Ouch.

We’re going to keep seeing these stories of racist/sexist/otherwise horrible decisions made by and blamed on AI. (Rememeber the ProPublica report about a biased machine learning based recidivism “predictor”?) It’s obvious that we shouldn’t be deploying these systems without very carefully thinking about the biases we’re burying inside them. Otherwise we’re just building racist machines to do our racist dirty work.

However, creating a herd of robot rhinos to deter poachers is such an obviously bad idea that it might just be genius. Unless of course the robot rhinos displace all the real rhinos and we end up in robot jurassic park. Could happen.

Tencent is opening an AI lab, making them the latest to do so in China.

Nishogakusha University unveiled an android remake of a long-dead author, made by Hiroshi Ishiguro. It looks and feels like an animatronic display from an 80s anthropology museum, which is essentially what it is. I don’t really see the point. Still skeptical of androids.

Researchers at John’s Hopkins have successfully run a proof-of-concept showing that remote drones can be used to deliver blood without spoilage.

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

Senator Ted Cruz pontificated about AI in his committee hearing. It was surprisingly good, especailly given the source and context.

Robin Hanson is skeptical about the overpromises of deep learning/AI. It boils down to a belief that the benefits of enhanced prediction aren’t as easy as we seem to think they are. He thinks we’re in for some disappointment.

Here is a great interview with Google X’s Astro Teller, including a lot of insight on the future of personal robotics. As well as some semi-clarfications on what X is doing with all the roboticsts they bought in 2013.

Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Scharma adapted a reassuring essay from his book The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the The Post-Crisis World for the Washington Post. Summary: don’t worry, robots aren’t taking your job.

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

Thermal sensnor maker Flir bought mini drone maker Prox, in a bet that tiny sensor laden drones will be a hot military product.

Boeing bought Liquid Robotics.

Uber bought Geometric Intelligence. So, along with Tencent, they’re the new newest kid on the AI block.

Products (new hardware, software, and services)

DeepMind and OpenAI launched open platforms allowing users to train their AI on simulated games, websites, etc. OpenAI’s is called Universe. DeepMind’s is DeepMind Lab. Both allow agents to perceive and control pixels, on the rationale that it approximates the low-information environments that humans learn in.

Local Motors’ drone equipped 3d printed autonomous car (software by Mouser Electronics) is certifiably bananas. Amplifying “the sensory experience that you have when you travel through space” seems like a crazy fun, if niche, idea to me.

Toronto’s The Sky Guys have launched a new fixed wing drone through their Defiant Labs technology division. It’s an sleek looking long range unit (1500km), designed for remote inspection.