May 022008

Nikko R2-D2 home theater

I just ran across possibly the most awesome Star Wars item ever. Nikko America has a special edition remote control R2-D2 home theater audio/video projector that does just about everything. It has a ton of features, including being able to project on the ceiling (not sure I’d ever use that), official sounds, and a ton of inputs including an iPod dock. The tech specs are pretty good, but I’m sure you can build your own home theater that is better with less than the $2900 price tag. It won’t have the massive geek factor that R2-D2 has though. Be sure to check out the video to see it in action.

Apr 012008

The Age of Spiritual Machines Book Cover
A few months ago a co-worker of mine suggested that I read The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil. We had been talking about AI and he mentioned that this was an interesting read. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as I had never heard of Kurzweil before. After a few Google searches I got the impression that he was a quirky futurist.

This book was published back in 1999 and by the end looks very much like science fiction. Many of his predictions are founded on some sort of research. I can see how they would have seemed a bit “out there” almost 10 years ago. I wondered how many of his predictions would hold up. Central to his philosophy is the Law of Accelerating Returns. In short, technology will continue to progress ever faster as time goes on. He displays an interesting graph of the exponential increase of computational power in various models of computers over time. The line is slightly curved upward, which represents an increase in exponential growth over time. So, according to Kurzweil computation is progressing exponentially exponentially faster.
Continue reading »

Mar 252008

Ever since I first read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov I have been interested in robotics and AI. Back in 1996 or so I had no idea that simulation of a brain might be possible in my lifetime. John Lehrer with Seed Magazine has written a very interesting article, “Out of the Blue“, which covers the Blue Brain project led by Henry Markram. One of the biggest challenges was determining how exactly a neuron is supposed to behave. Without that information, it would be impossible to simulate it. One of the freaky things about this project is that they have a robot conducting experiments and recording data 24/7. This robot is more efficient than 10 experienced lab technicians combined. I would assume that this robot only has enough programming to complete these experiments, but what if robots become sentient? What would keep them from creating other more capable robots? The current project aims to first simulate the brain of a 2 week old rat, which would then be transferred to a robot body to see how it develops.

With the current progression of technology, Markram suggests, “In ten years, this computer will be talking to us.” That seem a bit crazy, but who would have thought 10 years ago that there would technology capable of simulating 10,000 neurons and 30 million synaptic connections? That currently only represents a small slice of a 2 week old rat brain, but given how fast computing power is growing, I can’t see why Markram’s prediction would be impossible. If not 10 years from now, why not 20, or 30? I think that it is just a matter of time. I highly recommend reading the full article, especially if you have any interest in robotics or AI.

Mar 192008

Arthur C. Clarke died early this morning after a long battle with post-polio syndrome. The New York Times has an interesting summary of his life and major accomplishments. I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t read 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is on my ever expanding reading list. Hopefully I can review it some time in the near future. Clark is well known for his laws of prediction, which are as follows:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Feb 072008

I noticed today on my RSS feed for there was a news blurb about Luke’s prosthetic hand from Star Wars might soon become a reality. I tried clicking on the full article located at MSN but for some reason it didn’t come up for me. After a google search I found an article located on the IEEE Spectrum site that had more information. The prosthetic arm was nicknamed “Luke Arm” by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. An interesting video found via Engadget shows the arm in use and explains the modular approach used in manufacturing. It looks like the project’s fate lies in the hands of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which has funded the first two phases. If clinical trials are approved, it is possible that veterans could have access to these as early as next year.

Dec 082007

I recently ran across this interesting video during one of my many sessions with StumbleUpon. The video via GeeksAreSexy (shown after the “more”) demonstrates a guy in a robotic exoskeleton performing a variety of tasks to demonstrate the strength of the device. This was a weird coincidence because I was in the process of reading Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. His Mobile Infantry armor was much more elaborate, but I’m always interested when things from science fiction start to become science fact. Continue reading »

Dec 062007

I am always amazed that the developments in robotics that are happening in my lifetime. I wish that Isaac Asimov had lived just a bit longer so he could see what the industry is producing today. Sarcos has made the prototype, which is under development in Japan. This robot can recover from pushes intended to topple it over. I’m sure a lot of you have seen the video of the ASIMO robot falling down some simple steps. This new robot with flexible joints and advanced balancing system appears to be the next generation of humanoid robots. For more information, including a video demonstration, check out the full article at NewScientistTech. Found via SlashDot

Nov 092007

I just StumbledUpon an interesting article about a new type of printer that can make 3D objects. You can use various materials as input ranging from plastics to chocolate if you wanted. This device reminded me of the Matter Compiler in The Diamond Age which I reviewed recently. This is still a primitive technology, but I wonder if what Neal Stephenson envisioned might ever come true. Check out the original site to watch a brief video demonstration of the device.

Oct 242007

I found this C|Net news article via Slashdot talking about a company named Willow Garage that hopes to develop domestic robots, autonomous boats, and autonomous cars. I’m especially interested in this development since I’m such a fan of Asimov, who is attributed to first using the term ‘robotics’. I’m not sure that there will be any sentient robots any time soon, but I’m glad to see that the development information will be open source. I think that keeping the design specifications open will be a good thing, rather then keep them secret which could lead to a monopoly like US Robotics and Mechanical Men in Asimov’s writing.

How far do you think robotics will have progressed 10, 20, or even 50 years from now? I’m interested in reading your comments about this.