Europe Code Week 2015: Cocktails At Microsoft, 'Ode To Code' Robot Dancing 13

theodp writes: In case your invite to next week's Europe Code Week 2015 kickoff celebration at the Microsoft Centre in Brussels was lost in the e-mail, you can apparently still invite yourself. "Let's meet to celebrate coding as an empowering competence, key for maintaining our society vibrant and securing the prosperity of our European digital economy," reads the invite at the Microsoft and Facebook-powered All you Need is Code website. And to "keep raising awareness of the importance of computational thinking beyond Code Week," EU Code Week is also running an Ode to Code Video Contest, asking people to make short YouTube videos showing how the event's Ode to Code soundtrack causes uncontrollable robot dancing (video) and flash mobs (video). Things sure have changed since thirty years ago, when schoolchildren were provided with materials like The BASIC Book to foster computational thinking!

NASA Targets Venus, Asteroids With Potential Missions 47

coondoggie writes: NASA this week picked five possible contenders for a relatively low-cost robotic mission to space. The five candidates from a batch of 27 –include Venus, near-Earth object and asteroid operations – will ultimately be whittled down to one or two that will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle or post-launch operations, NASA stated. The DAVINCI probe would "study the chemical composition of Venus' atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet." A longer-range spacecraft called Lucy would "perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system."

Russian Scientists Create Cockroach Spy Robot 50

An anonymous reader writes: A team of scientists at the Kaliningrad-based Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University has unveiled a small cockroach robot which will be tasked with hunting out victims trapped under debris. The robot measures 10cm in length, and can move at up to 30cm/second. The device is fitted with light sensors, as well as contact and non-contact probes which allows it to move around without bumping into any obstacles. “We had to develop many things from scratch. For example, there’s a company in Austria that produces gearing for legs, but a unit for one robot would have cost us nearly $9,000 while our entire budget is $22,500,” said Danil Borchevkin, the university’s lead engineer.

Robots' Next Big Job: Trash Pickup 112

Nerval's Lobster writes: You've heard of self-driving cars, fast-moving robots, and automated homes. Now a research group led by Volvo, a waste-recycling company, and a trio of universities in the United States and Sweden want to bring much of the same technology to bear on a new problem: trash disposal. Specifically, the consortium wants to build a robot that will collect trash-bins from in front of peoples' homes, carry those bins to the nearest waste-disposal truck, and empty them. While that's a pretty simple (although smelly) task for a human being, it's an incredibly complex task for a robot, which will need to evaluate and respond to a wide range of environmental variables while carrying a heavy load. An uneven curb, or an overloaded bin, could spell disaster. Hopefully Volvo's experiment can succeed in a way that some of its other self-driving projects have failed. It's struck me, too, how the trash collection vehicles that come by my house are mostly piloted robots already; the humans are there to deal with problems and control the joysticks, but hydraulic arms lift and empty the garbage containers themselves.

The Lessons Learned From Emergency Robot Deployments 12

aarondubrow writes: Robin Murphy, director of Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M University and one of the leading researchers in the field of disaster robotics, has used robots and UAVs for search-and-rescue missions and structural inspections during more than 20 disasters, from 9/11 to Katrina to Fukushima and the 2015 Texas floods. The Huffington Post carried a story where she describes five lessons she's learned from her robot deployments and research.

Robotics Researcher Starts Campaign To Ban Development of Sexbots 536

Earthquake Retrofit writes: A robotics ethicist from the UK's De Montfort University has started a campaign to ban the development and use of sex robots. "She believes that they reinforce traditional stereotypes of women and the view that a relationship need be nothing more than physical." The campaign was spurred by news that some companies claim to be fairly far along in development of such technology. One company even plans to start selling them later this year. The campaign's goals and concerns include "We propose that the development of sex robots will further reduce human empathy that can only be developed by an experience of mutual relationship," and, "We challenge the view that the development of adults and child sex robots will have a positive benefit to society, but instead further reinforce power relations of inequality and violence."

DARPA Working On Robotic Satellite Repair 16

jfruh writes: One of the aspects of the space age that sci-fi writers of the '50s couldn't predict was how much of our space activities are conducted by unmanned satellites rather than human beings. Now, DARPA wants to take that one step further, by building a robot satellite to fix other satellites. The initiative is being headed by former Space Shuttle commander Pamela Meloy. “Right now, we don’t build satellites to be serviced, but once we have that capability, then you can start seeing things like modular, serviceable satellites that become routine,” she says.

Can High-Tech Academia Survive Silicon Valley's Talent Binge? 137

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier this year, Carnegie Mellon had one of the most capable robotics research centers in the world. Then, Uber hired away dozens of workers in a frantic push to jump start development of autonomous driving technology, which left CMU reeling. Now the NY Times asks whether such high-tech labs can continue to exist; Silicon Valley seems ready to flood such organizations with money whenever a vital new technology is almost ripe. "Carnegie Mellon's experience is a familiar one in the world of high-tech research. As a field matures, universities can wake up one day to find money flooding the premises; suddenly they're in a talent war with deep-pocketed firms from Silicon Valley. The impacts are also intellectual. When researchers leave for industry, their expertise winks off the map; they usually can't publish what they discover — or even talk about it over drinks with former colleagues. ... [Also], the intellectual register of their work changes. No more exploring hard, ''basic'' problems out of deep curiosity; they need to solve problems that will make their employers money."

Morphological Computation: The Hidden Superpower of Soft-Bodied Robots 51

Hallie Siegel writes: Ever wonder why most robots are built with hard bodies? It's because they are easier to control that way. But now researchers are embracing the complexities of soft bodies, by using their complex dynamics as an asset for solving some of the control computation, instead of using digital computation to solve it. Not surprisingly, many soft robots are inspired by nature. Researcher Helmut Hauser talks about his research in 'morphological computation', including OCTOPUS, a bio-inspired robotic silicon arm.

Hedgehog Rovers Hop and Tumble In Microgravity 31

New submitter rgreid writes: Prototypes of a new type of rover designed to explore the surface of comets and asteroids have been demonstrated recently by JPL and Stanford. Videos of the rovers in NASA's "vomit comet" show the Hedgehog prototypes performing hopping and tumbling maneuvers in a low-gravity environment. The low gravity and rough terrains found on comets and asteroids make driving with traditional rovers difficult and hazardous— the Hedgehog rovers are specifically designed to overcome these challenges and use the low gravity environment to their advantage. A last-resort "tornado" maneuver shows how the Hedgehogs could leap upwards if they get stuck in a sinkhole. The team's concept was previously covered in 2013; this recent work goes a long way toward demonstrating that Hedgehog rovers could work on a real comet or asteroid.

Robot Submarine Poisons Sea Stars To Save Coral Reefs 106

schwit1 writes: A 30-kilogram robotic yellow submarine is keeping sea stars in check with poison. The sea stars periodically have huge population booms, and a square kilometer of reef can be home to 100,000 of them. They'll kill off the reefs if left unchecked, but humans can only kill a couple sea stars per minute. The task is overwhelming but simple and repetitive, and thus ripe for automation. The COTSBot has "a maximum speed of over two meters per second and an endurance of over six hours. Five thrusters give it the capability of briefly hovering in the water column, giving it time to attack crown of thorns sea stars with an integrated poison injection system. It's completely autonomous, down to the identification and targeting of [sea stars] lurking among coral."

Completely Paralyzed Man Walks In Robotic Exoskeleton 23

Zothecula writes: Working with a team of UCLA scientists, a man with protracted and complete paralysis has recovered sufficient voluntary control to take charge of a bionic exoskeleton and take many thousands of steps. Using a non-invasive spinal stimulation system that requires no surgery, this is claimed (abstract) to be the first time that a person with such a comprehensive disability has been able to actively and voluntarily walk with such a device.

How Autonomous Cars' Safety Features Clash With Normal Driving 451

An anonymous reader writes: Google's autonomous cars have a very good safety record so far — the accidents they've been involved in weren't the software's fault. But that doesn't mean the cars are blending seamlessly into traffic. A NY Times article explains how doing the safest thing sometimes means doing something entirely unexpected to real, human drivers — which itself can lead to dangerous situations. "One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn't get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google's robot." There are also situations in which the software's behavior may be so incomprehensible to human passengers that they end up turning it off. "In one maneuver, it swerved sharply in a residential neighborhood to avoid a car that was poorly parked, so much so that the Google sensors couldn't tell if it might pull into traffic."

Magnet-Steered Nano-Fish Could Deliver Drugs and Sweep Body Toxins 37

dkatana writes: David Warner writes on InformationWeek how "nanoengineers" from UC San Diego have created microscopic fish powered by hydrogen peroxide that use magnets to steer themselves. "The "fish" are powerful enough to swim through your bloodstream, removing toxins or bringing medicine directly to crucial parts of your body, as cells in your blood stream do. Given enough time, the fish could be used to deliver drugs directly to cancer tumors or parts of your body that are too fragile for surgery."

Video More From Tim O'Reilly about the 'WTF?!' Economy (Videos) 61

More From Tim O'Reilly about the 'WTF?!' Economy (Video) On August 12 we ran two videos of Tim O'Reilly talking with Slashdot's Tim Lord about changes in how we work, what jobs we do, and who profits from advances in labor-saving technology. Tim (O'Reilly, that is) had written an article titled, The WTF Economy, which contained this paragraph:

"What do on-demand services, AI, and the $15 minimum wage movement have in common? They are telling us, loud and clear, that we’re in for massive changes in work, business, and the economy."

We're seeing a shift from cabs to Uber, but what about the big shift when human drivers get replaced by artificial intelligence? Ditto airplane pilots, burger flippers, and some physicians. WTF? Exactly. Once again we have a main video and a second one available only in Flash (sorry about that), along with a text transcript that covers both videos. Good thought-provoking material, even if you think you're so special that no machine could possibly replace you.