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Robotics

'Octobot' Is The World's First Soft-Bodied Robot (sciencemag.org) 28

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Researchers have created the first completely soft-bodied robot, dubbed the 'octobot.' The palm-sized machine's exterior is made of silicone. And whereas other soft robots have had at least a few hard parts, such as batteries or wires, the octobot uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. The basic design can be scaled up or down, increasing or decreasing fuel capacity depending on the robot's job. As the field of soft robotics advances, the scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance. The report adds: "When the hydrogen peroxide washes over flecks of platinum embedded within the octobot, the resulting chemical reaction produces gas that inflates and flexes the robot's arms. As described online today in Nature, the gas flows through a series of 3D-printed pneumatic chambers that link the octobot's eight arms; their flexing propels it through water."
Robotics

Intel Demos A New Robotics Controller Running Ubuntu (hackerboards.com) 20

Intel demoed their new robotics compute module this week. Scheduled for release in 2017, it's equipped with various sensors, including a depth-sensing camera, and it runs Ubuntu on a quad-core Atom. Slashdot reader DeviceGuru writes: Designed for researchers, makers, and robotics developers, the device is a self contained, candy-bar sized compute module ready to pop into a robot. It's augmented with a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS, and IR, as well as proximity, motion, barometric pressure sensors. There's also a snap-on battery.

The device is preinstalled with Ubuntu 14.04 with Robot Operating System (ROS) Indigo, and can act as a supervisory processor to, say, an Arduino subsystem that controls a robot's low-level functions. Intel demoed a Euclid driven robot running an obstacle avoidance and follow-me tasks, including during CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote (YouTube video).

Intel says they'll also release instructions on how to create an accompanying robot with a 3D printer. This plug-and-play robotics module is a proof-of-concept device -- the article includes some nice pictures -- but it already supports programming in Node.js (and other high-level languages), and has a web UI that lets you monitor performance in real-time and watch the raw camera feeds.
Robotics

'We're Just Rentals': Uber Drivers Ask Where They Fit In a Self-Driving Future (theguardian.com) 365

Bloomberg reported on Thursday about Uber's plan to bring its first fleet of self-driving cars to Pittsburgh as soon as this month, a move that has since been confirmed by the cab-hailing company. Amid the announcement, Uber drivers are disappointed at Uber, wondering what the future of the company lies for them. The Guardian reports:"Wo-o-o-o-w," 60-year old Uber driver Cynthia Ingram said. "We all knew it was coming. I just didn't expect it this soon." For Ingram, autonomous Ubers are an unwelcome threat to her livelihood. "I kind of figured it would be a couple more years down the line before it was really implemented and I'll be retired by then," she said. A paralegal with 30 years experience, Ingram began driving for Uber and Lyft in June 2015 when she lost her job. She said that she loves driving for Uber, though she has struggled to make ends meet. Rob Judge, 41, was also concerned with the announcement. "It feels like we're just rentals. We're kind of like placeholders until the technology comes out." A longtime customer service representative, Judge began driving for Uber three months ago to make money while he looks for other work. "For me personally, this isn't a long term stop," he added. "But for a lot of other people that I've connected with, this is their only means."
AI

RealDoll CEO Aims To Make Its Sex Dolls Love You Back Via AI App (mirror.co.uk) 200

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mirror.co.uk: Matt McMullen, CEO of RealDoll, revealed the next step in making the high-end sex toys will be to give them artificial intelligence to replicate humans more closely than ever. "We are building an AI system which can either be connected to a robotic doll OR experienced in a VR environment," he revealed as part of an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit. "I think it will allow for an option that never existed before, and for some, may represent a happiness they [users] never thought they could have. We are designing the AI to be fun and engaging, more than focusing on whether it can fool you into thinking it's a person," he said. He later added, when someone asked if dolls will ever love us back: "I hope that we can at least simulate that," McMullen responded. "That's the goal." In addition to AI and VR, Teledildonics are coming to the sex industry as well. "Teledildonics is technology for remote sex where tactile sensations are communicated over a data link between the participants -- with Siri, Alexa, Cortana and other AI software," reports Mirror.co.uk. The company is "putting the finishing touches" on its AI app, with plans to release it within the next six months. Oh, and it's also working on releasing a RealDoll with a robotic head by the end of 2017 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Sci-Fi

Star Wars Actor Kenny Baker Dies at Age 81 (theguardian.com) 51

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes The Guardian: The British actor who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars films has died at the age of 81 after a long illness. Kenny Baker, who was 3-feet 8-inches tall, shot to fame in 1977 when he first played the robot character.

He went on to play the character in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the three Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. He also appeared in a number of other much loved films in the 1980s, including The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon.

Baker's niece told the newspaper that "He brought lots of happiness to people and we'll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world..."
IT

Creator of Chatbot that Beat 160K Parking Fines Now Tackling Homelessness (theguardian.com) 93

An anonymous reader writes: The chatbot lawyer that overturned hundreds and thousands of parking tickets is now tackling another problem: homelessness. London-born Stanford student Joshua Browder created DoNotPay initially to help people appeal against fines for unpaid parking tickets. Dubbed "the world's first robot lawyer", Browder later programmed it to deal with a wider range of legal issues, such as claiming for delayed flights and trains and payment protection insurance (PPI). Now, Browder, 19, wants his chatbot to provide free legal aid to people facing homelessness. He said: "I never could have imagined a parking ticket bot would appeal so much to people. Then I realised: this issue is bigger than a few parking tickets." In an interview with the Washington Post, the 19-year-old said he decided to expand the bot's capabilities after DoNotPay began receiving messages about evictions and repossessions. In February this year tenant evictions reached the highest on record.
Medicine

8 Paralyzed Patients Learn To Walk Again Using Virtual Reality (gizmodo.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a new study published in Scientific Reports, eight patients paralyzed with spinal cord injuries exhibited partial restoration of muscle control and sensations in their lower limbs following an extensive training regimen with non-invasive brain-controlled robotics and a virtual reality system. Developed by Duke University neuroscience Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues, the system tapped into the patients' own brain activity to simulate full control of their legs, causing the injured parts of their spinal cord to re-engage. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) work by establishing direct communication between the brain and a computer, which then allows patients to control external devices with their thoughts, including prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons. Earlier this year, Nicolelis showed that it was possible for a monkey to control a wheelchair with its mind, though with an implanted brain chip. In the new experiment, the system non-invasively recorded hundreds of brain patterns emitted by the brain, collecting these motor commands from those signals, and then translating them into movements. During the year long experiment, Nicolelis and his team investigated the ways in which BMI-based training could influence the ability of paraplegics to walk using a brain-controlled exoskeleton. To augment this process, they turned to virtual reality, which assisted with visualization and mind-body awareness. While in a virtual reality environment, and when hooked up to the exoskeletons, the patients could see virtual representations of the own bodies, and even receive tactile feedback.
Books

Nicholas Carr Says Tech 'Utopia Is Creepy' (cio.com) 213

itwbennett writes: It probably won't come as a big surprise that Mr. 'IT Doesn't Matter' isn't a big fan of Silicon Valley's vision for the future, a future defined by autonomous cars and the inevitable rise of robots. In his new book, 'Utopia is Creepy: And Other Provocations,' Carr takes aim at the irrational exuberance of Silicon Valley, where tech is the answer to every problem. One of the exuberances that Carr takes particular exception to is the notion that social media is a better, freer form of media than 'old' media, which maybe makes sense coming from a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, but he does have a point. "The old gatekeepers, to the extent they were gatekeepers, have been replaced by companies like Facebook and Google and companies that really now have become the new media companies and are very much controlling the flow of information," Carr told CIO.com's Clint Boulton.
Security

Hackers Make the First-Ever Ransomware For Smart Thermostats (vice.com) 213

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, writing for Motherboard: One day, your thermostat will get hacked by some cybercriminal hundreds of miles away who will lock it with malware and demand a ransom to get it back to normal, leaving you literally in the cold until you pay up a few hundred dollars. This has been a scenario that security experts have touted as one of the theoretical dangers of the rise of the Internet of Things, internet-connected devices that are often insecure. On Saturday, what sounds like a Mr. Robot plot line came one step closer to being reality, when two white hat hackers showed off the first-ever ransomware that works against a "smart" device, in this case, a thermostat. Luckily, Andrew Tierney and Ken Munro, the two security researchers who created the ransomware, actually have no ill intention. They just wanted to make a point: some Internet of Things devices fail to take simple security precautions, leaving users in danger. "We don't have any control over our devices, and don't really know what they're doing and how they're doing it," Tierney told Motherboard. "And if they start doing something you don't understand, you don't really have a way of dealing with it." Tierney and Munro, who both work UK-based security firm Pen Test Partners, demonstrated their thermostat ransomware proof-of-concept at the hacking conference Def Con on Saturday, fulfilling the pessimistic predictions of some people in security world.
AI

Yahoo's New Anti-Abuse AI Outperforms Previous AI (wired.co.uk) 119

16.4% of the comments on Yahoo News are "abusive," according to human screeners. Now Yahoo has devised an abuse-detecting algorithm "that can accurately identify whether online comments contain hate speech or not," reports Wired UK: In 90 per cent of test cases Yahoo's algorithm was able to correctly identify that a comment was abusive... The company used a combination of machine learning and crowdsourced abuse detection to create an algorithm that trawled the comment sections of Yahoo News and Finance to sniff out abuse. As part of its project, Yahoo will be releasing the first publicly available curated database of online hate speech.
The machine-learning algorithm was "trained on a million Yahoo article comments," according to the article, and Slashdot reader AmiMoJo writes "The system could help AIs avoid being tricked into making abusive comments themselves, as Microsoft's Tay twitter bot did earlier this year."
Robotics

The Pill Robot Is Coming (bloomberg.com) 34

Bloomberg has an article on a new project that MIT's Daniela Rus has been working on. They have developed a "robot," squeezed into an inch-long, 0.09-ounce pill, but it "unfolds like an origami after it's swallowed". This robot can be guided with a tiny magnet to remove a foreign object from the stomach or treat a wound by administering medication, the report says. The equipment to manipulate the robot is pricey, but its own components cost less than $100. The article talks about the next step in this project: Rus and her team have tested the robot in a silicon-molded prototype stomach and are seeking approval from MIT's animal care committee to try it in pigs. She says they're also looking to raise more money. "The experiments they've been doing are very promising," says Ken Goldberg, a robotics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Until now, he says, "nothing has been able to essentially walk inside the body."
Communications

Robocalling Scourge May Not Be Unstoppable After All (arstechnica.com) 236

Dan Goodin, writing for Ars Technica: New data shows that the majority of robot-enabled scam phone calls came from fewer than 40 call centers, a finding that offers hope the growing menace of robocalls can be stopped. The calls use computers and the Internet to dial thousands of phone numbers every minute and promote fraudulent schemes that promise to lower credit card interest rates, offer loans, and sell home security products, to name just a few of the scams. Over the past decade, robocall complaints have mushroomed, with the Federal Trade Commission often receiving hundreds of thousands of complaints each month. In 2013, the consumer watchdog agency awarded $50,000 to three groups who devised blocking systems that had the potential to help end the scourge. Three years later, however, the robocall problem seems as intractable as ever. On Thursday at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a researcher said that slightly more than half of more than 1 million robocalls tracked were sent by just 38 telephony infrastructures. The relatively small number of actors offers hope that the phenomenon can be rooted out, by either automatically blocking the call centers or finding ways for law enforcement groups to identify and prosecute the operators. "We know that the majority of robocalls only come from 38 different infrastructures," Aude Marzuoli, research scientist at a company called Pindrop Labs, told Ars. "It's not as if there are thousands of people out there doing this. If you can catch this small number of bad actors we can" stop the problem."
Biotech

Elizabeth Holmes Finally Releases Theranos Data, Including A 'miniLab' (cnbc.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Monday outlined the steps she will take to increase transparency regarding the efficacy of the company's testing methods. Speaking at the conference of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Holmes said that Theranos will partner with other institutions "to validate and publish our results." And Holmes' planned presentation includes research conducted under Institutional Review Board-approved protocols. The company also said it intends to submit its results to a publication for peer-review. Holmes' presentation includes a slate of new products such as its miniLab, a robot that can process samples that normally require manual processing in traditional protocols. Theranos seems to be going back to the research and development drawing board, focusing on these new products instead of its much-debated small-volume blood collection technology. Theranos' miniLab is a self-contained laboratory that allows a robot to run a number of tests on samples. The miniLab contains different modules that allow it to conduct a series of tasks that traditionally would require multiple, separate machines. Theranos used its miniLab to run its Zika nucleic acid-amplification-based assay using finger-prick samples the company collected, some in the Dominican Republic. The samples were shipped back to Palo Alto, California, for analysis. Holmes said the results "demonstrate the miniLab's ability to perform automated, integrated molecular testing comparable to methods that require highly-trained personnel."
Piracy

Mr. Robot 'Plugs' uTorrent and Pirate Release Groups (torrentfreak.com) 118

From a TorrentFreak report: The latest episode of award-winning TV show Mr. Robot includes a nod to online pirates. The main character Elliot is shown pirating a movie using uTorrent, while his movie folder lists movies from various pirate groups including YIFY. The group in question appreciates the "bad ass" mention, while another group casts doubt on the hacker's choice of BitTorrent client.
As the screenshot shows, Elliot uses a recent version of the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent, showing a house ad for an upgrade to uTorrent Plus. In the "movies" folder, which is also shown, we can see various other movies complete with release group tags such as YIFY, PRiSTiNE, DiPSHiT, RARBG and CRiTERiON.

Robotics

Open Source Gardening Robot 'FarmBot' Raises $560,000 80

Slashdot reader Paul Fernhout writes: FarmBot is an open-source gantry-crane-style outdoor robot for tending a garden bed. The project is crowdfunding a first production run and has raised US$561,486 of their US$100,000 goal -- with one day left to go... The onboard control system is based around a Raspberry Pi 3 computer and an Arduino Mega 2560 Microcontroller. Many of the parts are 3D printable.
Two years ago Slashdot covered the genesis of this project, describing its goal as simply "to increase food production by automating as much of it as possible."
Robotics

US Military Using $600K 'Drone Buggies' To Patrol Camps In Africa (cnbc.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The U.S. military is using an unmanned robotic vehicle to patrol around its camps in the Horn of Africa. The remote controlled vehicle is the result of a 30-year plan after military chiefs approved the concept of a robotic security system in 1985. Now the Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System, known as MDARS, are carrying out patrols in the east African country of Djibouti, under the control of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The area is known as home to a number of hostile militant groups including the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab. An operator sits in a remote location away from the vehicle watching the terrain via a camera link which is fixed to the chassis. U.S. military software engineer Joshua Kordanai said in a video presentation that the vehicle drives itself, freeing the remote operator to monitor video. "The vehicle has an intruder detection payload, consisting of radar, a night vision camera, a PTZ [pan-tilt-zoom] camera and two-way audio, so the system will be able to detect motion," he added. One report prices the cost of an earlier version of the military 'drone buggy' at $600,000 each.
The Courts

Judge Rules Political Robocalls Are Protected By First Amendment (onthewire.io) 191

Trailrunner7 quotes a report from On the Wire: A federal judge has ruled that robocalls made on behalf of political candidates are protected by the First Amendment and cannot be outlawed. The decision came in a case in Arkansas, where political robocalls had been illegal for more than 30 years. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Leon Holmes ruled that banning political robocalls amounts to an infringement of free speech protections and also constitutes prior restraint of speech. Political campaigns have been using robocalls for decades, and some states have sought to ban them, arguing that they are intrusive and violate recipients' privacy. In the Arkansas case, the state attorney general put forward both of these arguments, and also argued that the calls can tie up phone lines, making them unusable in an emergency. Holmes said in his decision that there was no evidence that political robocalls prevent emergency communications, and also said that the Arkansas statute should have banned all robocalls, not just commercial and political ones. "The statute at issue here imposes a content-based restriction on speech; it is not one of the rare cases that survives strict scrutiny. The state has failed to prove that the statute at issue advances a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest," Holmes wrote.
Transportation

7-Eleven Just Used a Drone To Deliver Slurpees and a Chicken Sandwich (roboticstrends.com) 117

An anonymous Slashdot reader write: A drone has autonomously delivered Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, doughnuts, hot coffee and candy from a Reno, Nevada 7-Eleven to a nearby home. The delivery was made "in a matter of minutes" to two busy working parents near their store in Reno, Nevada, and the drone hovered in place and gently lowered each package to the ground in the family's backyard.

"To find customers willing to have their order handled by a flying robot, the companies surveyed households within a one-mile radius of the store from which they planned to deliver," reports Tech Crunch. 7-Eleven partnered with drone-delivery company Flirtey, which has also used its drones to perform a ship-to-shore delivery of medical supplies . They're calling this flight the first FAA-approved drone delivery to a home and a historic milestone in commercial deliveries, and both companies plan to continue working together in the future to perform more testing on drone deliveries.

Mars

Laser-Armed Martian Robot Now Vaporizing Targets of Its Own Free Will (dailymail.co.uk) 73

Slashdot reader Rei writes: NASA -- having already populated the Red Planet with robots and armed a car-sized nuclear juggernaut with a laser -- have now decided to grant fire control of that laser over to a new AI system operating on the rover itself. Intended to increase the scientific data-gathering throughput on the sometimes glitching rover's journey, the improved AEGIS system eliminates the need for a series of back-and-forth communication sessions to select targets and aim the laser.
Rei's original submission included a longer riff on The War of the Worlds, ending with a reminder to any future AI overlords that "I have a medical condition that renders me unfit to toil in any hypothetical subterranean lithium mines..."
China

China Wants To Be a Top 10 Nation For Automation By Putting More Robots In Its Factories (reuters.com) 141

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: China is aiming for a top-10 ranking in automation for its industries by 2020 by putting more robots in its factories, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said. China's push to modernize its manufacturing with robotics is partly a response to labor shortages and fast-rising wages. But the world's second-largest economy still has far lower robot penetration than other big industrialized economies -- just 36 per 10,000 manufacturing workers in 2015, ranking it 28th among the world's most automated nations. By 2020, it aims to boost penetration to 150 per 10,000 workers, IFR said in a statement, citing Wang Ruixiang, President of the China Machinery Industry Federation. To help reach that goal, China aims for sales of 100,000 domestically produced industrial robots a year by 2020, up 49 percent compared with last year, the IFR said in a statement at an industry summit in Shanghai, where the Chinese federation's chief was speaking.

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