Hit enter to search or ESC to close
Entertainment

Why humanoid robots won’t take over the world

I love “The Matrix” and the first two “Terminator” films as much as any science fiction fan, but I’ve always wondered why there are so few great movies about good robots.

T2 doesn’t count, because the T101 is only there to fight the T1000. The “Star Wars” movies don’t count, because they’re not central characters, and even though they’re the good guys, they’re not good robots. In fact, they’re terrible robots. If you can build faster-than-light travel, C3PO should have better range of motion, and R2D2 should be able to talk. Also, their memory systems are very unreliable.

I’m interested in good robots doing useful things, which is why my favorite science fiction robots are Hewey, Dewey and Louie from a 1972 film called “Silent Running.” They’re no-frills maintenance bots designed for space travel: rugged, reliable, programmable, and autonomous. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a beautiful scene that still makes me cry, and a perfect example of robots doing good even in our absence.

On this episode of No Parking, Bryan and I sat down with Damion Shelton, Founder and CEO of Agility Robotics, a self-described “jack-of-all-trades” roboticist who left academia to get away from creating concepts and build “good” robots for the real world. His newest creation is Agility’s all-new Digit: a 5-foot-tall, two-armed, two-legged robot weighing 90 pounds.

“This is not a robot that’s out there lifting cars off people in car wrecks or carrying pallets around warehouses,” Shelton said. “It’s about what a person can comfortably do.”

But even that’s not easy. The road to building humanoid robots started years earlier at Carnegie Mellon University with single-legged robots like Thumper, whose leg attached to a rotating arm and walked in circles. This technology then migrated into Agility’s Cassie, an armless two-legged robot capable of walking upright, untethered to power, and eventually into Shelton’s humanoid Digit, specifically designed for commercial applications.

Digit enables light package delivery, which was demonstrated in an entertaining 2019 Ford video, which inspired a lot of snark about when SkyNet was going to take over. My own mother called me when she saw it, asking if there was anything to worry about.

But Shelton is careful to stress the limitations of Digit’s artificial intelligence.

“We encourage a healthy skepticism in trying to not get people to read too far in between the lines. That the robot sees somebody and walks around them doesn’t mean that it has an emotional awareness or anything like that… But yeah, I think people will be pleasantly surprised.”

Choose your lane

How Autonomous Vehicles Distinguish Between Bicycles and People Who Ride Them
Self-Driving

How Autonomous Vehicles Distinguish Between Bikes and People

When it comes to how autonomous vehicles see the world, humans come first, literally. Autonomous vehicles (AVs), like the kind operated by Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, use Machine Learning to detect and classify the objects in their surroundings, identifying people...
Why The League of American Bicyclists is optimistic about autonomous vehicles
Self-Driving

Why a Leading Cycling Advocacy Group Is Optimistic About Autonomous Vehicles

As autonomous vehicle use grows, AV companies and the League of American Bicyclists are collaborating on how to ensure cyclists and motorists can share the roads safely, even if the “motorist” is artificial intelligence software. As part of the...
Opinion

Self-Driving Is Arriving Right On Time. Just Like Ice Cream Did

Seven years ago, I was a self-driving skeptic. Not of the technology. Of all the “experts” promising autonomous vehicles would be everywhere by 2020. You didn’t need to be Nostradamus to know that was ridiculous. All you needed was...
Illustration of a futuristic parking deck turned into a mixed-use space, with AVs driving by
Business

How Autonomous Vehicles Could Help Transform Parking Lots

Researchers say it’s likely that autonomous vehicles (AVs) can help reduce the need for parking lots, opening more room for grass and trees and other elements of nature. It may not seem like it when you’re circling the block...
An illustration of an Argo autonomous vehicle in teal against a backdrop of buildings, a bicyclist, and research papers
Self-Driving

7 Big Breakthroughs From Argo Research at CVPR 2022

The 2022 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR 2022) is nearly here. Thousands of computer scientists, software engineers, and researchers from around the globe will gather in New Orleans to review and discuss their latest work in...
Self-Driving

Researchers Predict the Future With Lidar Data

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research, a private-public partnership funded by Argo for advancing the autonomous-vehicle (AV) field, say they have come up with a way to use lidar data to visualize not...

Must Reads