TIME Innovation

5 Things You Need to Know About the Coolest Company Google Owns

Boston Dynamics makes incredible robots that look like animals

What’s cooler than robots? Robots shaped like adorable puppies, of course.

That likely explains why a new video of a robotic dog is making the Internet rounds. The dog, named Spot, is from Boston Dynamics, a robotics company Google acquired in 2013. Google has been relatively quiet about its growing robotics ambitions, but there’s plenty to be gleaned by understanding how Boston Dynamics operates and why Google bought the company.

Here’s what you should know:

Boston Dynamics has been around for a long time

The company was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former researcher at MIT. Boston Dynamics originally focused on developing human simulation software used to train law enforcement. But Raibert had done extensive research on robotic mobility at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, leading the company to eventually expand to producing robotic machines.

They’ve built a whole robot animal kingdom

Spot is not Boston Dynamics’ first animal-like design. The company has also built BigDog, a 3-foot long, canine-like creature; WildCat, which can run at speeds of 29 miles per hour; and the six-foot humanoid robot Atlas.

Mobility makes their robots special

Boston Dynamics’ robots are renowned for their incredible balance. In the video of Spot, company employees can be seen kicking the robotic dog, trying to topple it over. However, Spot simply staggers sideways a few steps and easily regains its footing. The larger BigDog can walk up slopes as steep as 35 degrees and navigate through snow, water and muddy hiking trails.

Broadly, Boston Dynamics’ goal is to create a fleet of robots that can easily navigate real-world terrain. This could be useful for everything from sending Atlas into a disaster zone to letting Spot clean up a cluttered apartment (sorry, DJ Roomba).

They work with the military

Boston Dynamics has partnered with DARPA, the U.S. Navy, the Army and the Marines, according to its website. BigDog was funded in part by DARPA and is envisioned as a kind of robotic pack mule that could accompany soldiers on missions. The robots are incredibly strong—check out BigDog hurling a cinderblock—but to this point their uses seem centered on aiding people, not being weaponized to hurt humans. There’s a growing debate within the United Nations about whether nations need to establish rules about weaponied “killer robots” before they become easy to produce.

They’re part of Google’s robot army

Boston Dynamics is the most famous of Google’s robotics acquisitions, but the search giant snatched up at least seven other robotics companies in 2013. It also put Android creator Andy Rubin in charge of a new robotics division, though Rubin said last October that he was leaving Google. Google hasn’t said what it plans to do with all these robot companies, but the New York Times reports it will initially target enterprise customers and offer robots that can be used in manufacturing or retail.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is the technology that is supposed to increase resilience actually making us vulnerable?

By Colin Dickey in Aeon

2. Stock buybacks — usually to prop up a corporation’s perceived value on Wall Street — are draining trillions from the U.S. economy.

By Nick Hanauer in the Atlantic

3. The Navy of the future wants to use lasers and superfast electromagnetic railguns instead of shells and gunpowder.

By Michael Cooney in Network World

4. An after-school culinary skills program gets teens ready for work — and thinking about food in our society.

By Emily Liedel in Civil Eats

5. The next wave of bike lanes in London could be underground.

By Ben Schiller in Fast Co.Exist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A humanitarian intervention for Aleppo could provide a glimmer of hope in Syria.

By Ana Palacio in Project Syndicate

2. The U.S. needs a new Church Committee to strengthen oversight of our intelligence services.

By Michael German at the Brennan Center for Justice

3. A regional force is the wrong approach to fight Boko Haram — and might make things worse.

By Hilary Matfess in Al Jazeera America

4. The mystery of autism might be unlocked by studying the microorganisms in children’s stomachs.

By Ruth Ann Luna at the Baylor College of Medicine

5. Test for HIV and syphilis with an iPhone.

By Tasbeeh Herwees in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To salvage democracy in Afghanistan, leaders must make the next election really work.

By Tabish Forugh in Foreign Policy

2. In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

By Noelle Swan in the Christian Science Monitor

3. As rich nations plan the next decade’s agenda for global development, they must bring human rights and accountability to the fore.

By the United Nations News Centre

4. Science and the media need each other. They just don’t know it yet.

By Louise Lief in the Wilson Quarterly

5. This simple Lego contraption allows scientists to safely handle insects.

By Emily Conover in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Scientists Have Made Computer-Chip Transistors Just One Atom Thick

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Getty Images

This could change everything

In a breakthrough that could potentially revolutionize the technology industry, scientists have constructed transistors made out of a silicon-based material with the thickness of a single atom.

The transistors, created by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering and unveiled in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, hold the possibility for faster, more efficient computer chips.

The material, silicene, is made up of silicon atoms but has proved difficult to work with in the past due to its volatility when exposed to air. But Deji Akinwande, an assistant professor at the school, teamed up with researchers in Italy to create a layer of silicene between a block of silver and a sheet of aluminum, which they then peeled and scraped to create the silicene strip.

“The major breakthrough here is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time,” Akinwande said.

[Science Daily]

TIME Innovation

China’s Alibaba Is Beating Amazon to the Drone-Delivery Punch

Watch Alibaba drones deliver tea to Chinese customers

Chinese mega e-tailer Alibaba is testing the use of delivery drones to deliver shipments to hundreds of customers in Beijing and other cities, Bloomberg reports. The technology is demonstrated in Alibaba’s video above.

Amazon has long said it wants to experiment with similar drone deliveries here in the United States. However, it has yet to receive federal regulators’ blessings to do so. While advocates of small drones say they could boost innovation across fields from delivery to agriculture, some are concerned that having too many drones zipping around the skies could pose a safety risk.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. ISIS is bringing recruits onto the battlefield faster than we can kill them.

By Tim Mack and Nancy A. Youssef in the Daily Beast

2. If body cameras become standard issue for police officers, how will we protect the privacy of people being recorded?

By Paul Rosenzweig in The Christian Science Monitor

3. A university recognizes a third gender: Neutral.

By Julie Scelfo in the New York Times

4. Can the rest of the nation — and the world — learn from one Indian state’s incredible success reducing poverty and improving quality of life?

By the World Bank

5. Want better schools? Leadership matters. Invest in high-quality professional development for school principals.

By Arianna Prothero in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Apple Is Testing Mystery Cars With Roof-Mounted Cameras

Speculation about Apple competing with Google's Street View or driverless cars

Photos of a mysterious minivan with roof-mounted cameras in Concord, Calif., confirmed to be leased to Apple, were posted online Tuesday, raising suspicions that Apple might be testing its own driverless car, CBS reported.

Google has taken the spotlight with public tests of its driverless car prototypes, while Uber’s recent investment in robotics has sparked rumors of driverless taxis. Several top carmakers in the U.S. including Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla also showed off plans for autonomous vehicle technology last month at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to The Verge, the cameras appear to be LIDAR cameras (Light Detection and Ranging System), the same cameras Google uses to power its driverless cars.

The presence of roof-mounted cameras also has raised questions about whether Apple Maps wants to add on a street view function, similar to that of Google Maps.

Apple has declined to comment on the speculation.

[CBS]

TIME Innovation

Watch This Amazing Volcano Footage Shot By a Drone

Explorer Sam Cossman used drones to produce a 3D rendering of a rare lava lake in the South Pacific

“The Volcano Diver” is at it again.

Sam Cossman, an entrepreneur and explorer, made waves last year with stunning YouTube footage of his descent into Marum crater, a volcanic cone on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. Now, Cossman is at it again — and this time, he brought along some drones.

In his latest visit to Marum, Cossman and drone pilot Simon Jardine from Aerobot took several DJI Phantom 2 drones equipped with GoPro cameras to produce 3D renderings of the rare formation. Cossman says the renderings, made with software from modeling firm PIX4D, can help scientists better understand how to predict volcanic activity.

“For the first time, we were able to determine the exact dimensions of Marum’s lava lake, one of the world’s rarest volcanic features,” Cossman tells TIME. “Precise measurements, such as the crater’s volumetric mass, for instance, are useful in understanding the level of energy required for an eruption . . .and informs potential risk levels for the future.”

Cossman added the drones were helpful in finding lava collection sites. You can watch Cossman’s full video of his latest expedition above. Below, see the 3D renderings of Marum made with Cossman’s footage:

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