TIME robotics

A Drug-Buying Robot Has Been Freed From Police Custody

!Mediengrupppe Bitnik Items purchased on the darknet by the Random Darknet Shopper

The bot, programmed to buy illegal goods online, was part of an art exhibition

A robot programmed to buy drugs from illegal online markets has been freed by Swiss police. The shopping bot, called the “Random Darknet Shopper,” was created last fall by a Swiss art group called !Mediengruppe Bitnik to purchase illicit goods online using a weekly allowance of $100 worth of Bitcoin. The various items the bot bought at random, including counterfeit sneakers and ecstasy, would be delivered to the art group’s gallery for an exhibition.

Swiss police captured the robot back in January and confiscated its purchases. However, last week, the art group announced that the police had returned Random Darknet Shopper as well as all of the goods it bought, except for the ecstasy. A Swiss police official told CNBC that the makers of the robot wouldn’t be charged for programming the robot to buy illegal items.

“This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!” the art group wrote in a blog post.

[CNBC]

TIME Innovation

Meet The Robot Chef That Can Prepare Your Dinner

Moley Robotics An automated kitchen by Moley Robotics.

It can do a very pleasant crab bisque in less than 30 minutes

Ever since Americans were introduced to Rosie, the beloved robot maid on The Jetsons, way back in the 1960s, robotic household help has been the ultimate in futuristic dream products.

A new product from Moley Robotics might bring that future one step closer, as the company unveiled a robot chef on Tuesday at Hannover Messe, a trade fair for industrial technology in Germany. Comprised of two robotic arms in a specially designed kitchen, which includes a stove top, utensils and a sink, the device is able to reproduce the movements of a human chef in order to create a meal from scratch. The robot learns the movements after they are performed by a human chef, captured on a 3D camera and uploaded into the computer.

A few weeks before the robot chef was unveiled, Moley invited TIME to check out the robot and test its fare. In less than half an hour, the robot made a crab bisque, based on the recipe and technique of Tim Anderson, winner of 2011’s season of MasterChef in the U.K., who is working with Moley to develop the kitchen. From selecting the right heat level on the stove-top to adding the pre-arranged ingredients at just the right moment to operating a small mixer, the robot arms made the soup from scratch. It even plated up the soup, including scraping the bottom of the ladle against the rim of the saucepan in order to prevent drips.

Why crab bisque? “Crab bisque is a challenging dish for a human chef to make, never mind a robot,” explains Anderson. “If it can make bisque, it can make a whole lot of other things.” When asked if he feels at threatened by seeing a machine expertly recreate one of his recipes, Anderson is somewhat surprisingly on the side of the technology. “Some people ask if this is going to put my out of a job. This has already given me a job.”

Comparing the robot to cookbooks and YouTube tutorials by professional chefs, Anderson says, “I think it’s going to help people build brands.” The aim is to have professional chefs record themselves cooking their own recipes so that the robot will be able to mimic the techniques and replicate the dish. Anderson envisions people learning how to make a variety of dishes by watching their robots in action. “It’s changed the way I think about cooking,” he says.

Moley, which was founded by computer scientist Mark Oleynik, has partnered with the London-based Shadow Robot Company, which developed the kitchen’s hands. Twenty motors, two dozen joints and 129 sensors are used in order to mimic the movements of human hands. The robotic arms and hands are capable of grasping utensils, pots, dishes and various bottles of ingredients. Olyenik says that the robot hands are also capable of powering through cooking tasks quickly, though they’ve been designed to move quite slowly, so as not to alarm anyone watching it work.

Sadly for vegetarians, like Shadow Robot’s managing director Rich Walker, crab bisque is the only dish the robot is currently able to make. However, the company plans to build a digital library of 2,000 recipes before the kitchen is available to the wider public. Moley ambitiously aims to scale the robot chef for mass production and begin selling them as early as 2017. The robotic chef, complete with a purpose-built kitchen, including an oven, hob, dishwasher and sink, will cost £10,000 (around $15,000). Yet that price point will depend on a relatively high demand for the kitchen and it’s still unclear how large the market is for such a product at the moment.

Dan Kara, a robotics analyst for U.S.-based ABI Research, a market intelligence company that specializes in emerging technology, tells TIME that the household robots that have found a market tend to be smaller devices that tackle tedious chores. “Successful products for the home that I’ve seen have been floor-cleaning [devices] — sweepers and vacuums — and pool cleaners and lawnmowers,” he says, noting that people tend to favor robots that tackle tasks they don’t want to do “because it’s boring or repetitive.” Another key factor of a product’s success is affordability. “Once [robots] get above a certain price, the number of people using them drops right off.”

A robotic chef, however, “just seems like a bridge too far at this time,” though Kara pointa out that he isn’t familiar with Moley’s kitchen or its specific technology.

Which isn’t to say that a robot chef wouldn’t have interested buyers. The robotics industry is growing and the Boston Consulting Group has estimated that spending on robots could “jump from just over $15 billion in 2010 to about $67 billion by 2025.”

But there is still work to be done on Moley’s kitchen before it would be an even remotely practical, albeit pricey, purchase. As the robot doesn’t have any way to see, it’s unable to locate an ingredient or utensil that might be moved or knocked out of place. It also can’t chop or prep food yet, so it must use prepared ingredients that are meticulously laid out. The company is working on improving the robot’s functions and expanding its capabilities, but as Oleynick admits, “it will have some limits because nothing can replace human touch.”

TIME Amazon

Why Amazon Is Hosting a $25,000 Robot Showdown

Amazon Opens Fulfillment Center In DuPont, Washington
Stephen Brashear—Getty Images Amazon Kiva robots, which help fill orders by bringing shelves of merchandise to Amazon Associates, navigate an Amazon Fulfillment Center on February 13, 2015 in DuPont, Washington.

One small step for robots, one giant leap for warehouse automation

Some 25 teams will compete in Amazon’s upcoming robot throwdown, a competition that will test the outer limits of what a robot can see, grasp and pack into a cardboard box.

The e-commerce giant recently awarded travel grants to 25 robot team finalists who will be flown to Seattle this May to compete in Amazon’s Picking Challenge. Each team’s robot will be confronted with a shelf of 25 common household items. It will have to accurately identify, grasp and package the items with care.

Points will be awarded for computer vision — the ability to tell apart a box of Oreo cookies, for instance, from a box of Cheez-It crackers — as well as dexterity. Dropping or damaging an item will result in points deducted, MIT Technology Review reports. The winner will receive $25,000 in prize money.

Robots already play an instrumental role in Amazon’s packaging centers, ferrying 700-pound inventory shelves in and out of storage, but the challenges of handling individual objects with care has posed a persistent challenge for researchers. Amazon says it hopes the contest will “strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions.”

TIME robotics

Meet Sawyer, a New Robot That Wants to Revolutionize Manufacturing

It can do far more delicate tasks than most factory robots

There’s a new robot in town.

Meet Sawyer, a new robot unveiled Thursday by Rethink Robotics, a Boston-based robotics company aiming to make factories more efficient, safer and more productive.

Weighing in at 41.9 lbs and standing 3.3 feet tall, the one-armed Sawyer is smaller and more flexible than Rethink’s only other robot, the double-armed Baxter, which debuted in 2012. While Baxter has helped companies do heavy duty work like loading boxes, Sawyer was created to automate more detailed, smaller tasks, like testing circuit boards and machine tending — jobs that have traditionally proven too intricate for industrial robots.

“[Baxter] gave us a tremendous base of companies that were thinking like us. We have a vision, idea and experience, but we don’t necessarily have all the answers,'” Rethink CMO Jim Lawton says of Sawyer’s development, which began in late 2013. “It’s like taking one step across the river. You can’t get there in one step, so you need to build commercially viable products as stepping stones. Eventually, you get to the other side of the river.”

Rethink’s customers have already used both robots — though Sawyer only in field tests — to perform low-level factory jobs, positions that are often menial, dangerous or undesirable. The machines are also relatively cheap: Sawyer will start at $29,000 when it’s introduced more widely this fall, while Baxter starts at $25,000; similar robots can cost several times more. The robots’ signature touch is digital “faces” that double as easy-to-use interfaces, allowing companies to get Sawyer and Baxter up-and-running within hours or days.

Together, Sawyer and Baxter are just two of the many robots fueling fears automation and other technologies are taking humans’ jobs. Rethink is used to the criticism: factory labor has long been a politically charged topic, and the seven-year-old startup has often been in the spotlight thanks to its big-name investors like Bezos Expeditions and Charles River Ventures. Rethink’s most recent funding round in January raised $26.6 million. That’s considered a significant investment in the robotics industry, which is expected to grow 12% globally every year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

Still, Rethink Robotics argues that its robots will only supplement their human counterparts, not outmode them. “Companies who are buying robots are filling in the tasks they can’t get people to stay and do,” says co-founder Rodney Brooks. “They’re using the people they have more positively by using their intelligence.”

Global manufacturing company Jabil, which uses thousands of robots including Sawyer and Baxter, agrees that robots will support instead of replace manufacturing workers. After all, the manufacturing field is in global decline as emerging and advanced economies shift toward high-skill jobs, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report. In the U.S., for example, the share of jobs in manufacturing fell from 25% in 1950 to about 9% in 2013.

“The trend that’s across the entire manufacturing continuum is a demographic shift that’s making it more and more difficult to attract the kind of low-cost labor that we’ve been able to do in the past, and to keep wages at the levels they’re at,” says John Dulchinos, VP of global automation at Jabil. “Robots by themselves aren’t the answer, but robots are a piece of the equation.”

TIME robotics

This Robot Learns How to Copy Your Handwriting

Pen-wielding robots create notes that look handwritten

A New York City-based startup has created robots that can learn your handwriting—and turn digital notes you write into letters penned on crisp stationery that look like you hand-wrote them yourself.

The startup, called Bond, instructs customers to send in a writing sample. Calligraphers who work at the company help digitize the handwriting in part by hand-tracing the letters. From there, Bond’s pen-wielding robots can convert typed-out notes into physical letters written on stationery the customer selects.

Bond stuffs the envelope and sends the “handwritten” note to the recipient…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME space travel

Your Ride on Another Planet Will Be Self-Driven

Latest Electronics Products Are Displayed At Ceatec Japan
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Nissan Motor Co.'s Autonomous Drive Leaf electric vehicle is driven for a demonstration ride at the CEATEC Japan 2013 exhibition in Chiba, Japan, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

NASA and Nissan team up to create autonomous vehicles for other worlds

Nissan has begun developing a self-driving car in partnership with NASA, in the hopes that some of the technology will one day be used to ferry passengers around on other planets.

The Japanese car manufacturer and the U.S. space agency announced a five-year partnership on Thursday to jointly engineer vehicles capable of self-operation, Wired magazine reports.

The cars will be developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, close to Nissan’s Silicon Valley facility in California. They will also be zero emission, modeled on the electric Nissan Leaf.

“This is a perfect blend of the capability of what the robotics folks at NASA Ames have and the autonomy that we bring,” said Martin Sierhuis, the director of Nissan’s Silicon Valley research center. Sierhuis, incidentally, is a former NASA scientist.

NASA said that it was looking forward to using some of the automation technology pioneered by Nissan in its space programs. “We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous. As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy,” Pete Worden, director of the Ames Research Center, told Wired.

[Wired]

TIME robotics

5 Very Smart People Who Think Artificial Intelligence Could Bring the Apocalypse

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking poses for a picture ahead of a gala screening of the documentary 'Hawking', a film about the scientist's life.
AFP/Getty Images Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking poses for a picture ahead of a gala screening of the documentary 'Hawking', a film about the scientist's life.

'The end of the human race'

On the list of doomsday scenarios that could wipe out the human race, super-smart killer robots rate pretty high in the public consciousness. And in scientific circles, a growing number of artificial intelligence experts agree that humans will eventually create an artificial intelligence that can think beyond our own capacities. This moment, called the singularity, could create a utopia in which robots automate common forms of labor and humans relax amid bountiful resources. Or it could lead the artificial intelligence, or AI, to exterminate any creatures it views as competitors for control of the Earth—that would be us. Stephen Hawking has long seen the latter as more likely, and he made his thoughts known again in a recent interview with the BBC. Here are some comments by Hawking and other very smart people who agree that, yes, AI could be the downfall of humanity.

Stephen Hawking

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” the world-renowned physicist told the BBC. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Hawking has been voicing this apocalyptic vision for a while. In a May column in response to Transcendence, the sci-fi movie about the singularity starring Johnny Depp, Hawking criticized researchers for not doing more to protect humans from the risks of AI. “If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, ‘We’ll arrive in a few decades,’ would we just reply, ‘OK, call us when you get here—we’ll leave the lights on’? Probably not—but this is more or less what is happening with AI,” he wrote.

Elon Musk

Known for his businesses on the cutting edge of tech, such as Tesla and SpaceX, Musk is no fan of AI. At a conference at MIT in October, Musk likened improving artificial intelligence to “summoning the demon” and called it the human race’s biggest existential threat. He’s also tweeted that AI could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Musk called for the establishment of national or international regulations on the development of AI.

Nick Bostrom

The Swedish philosopher is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, where he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the potential outcomes of the singularity. In his new book Superintelligence, Bostrom argues that once machines surpass human intellect, they could mobilize and decide to eradicate humans extremely quickly using any number of strategies (deploying unseen pathogens, recruiting humans to their side or simple brute force). The world of the future would become ever more technologically advanced and complex, but we wouldn’t be around to see it. “A society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit,” he writes. “A Disneyland without children.”

James Barrat

Barrat is a writer and documentarian who interviewed many AI researchers and philosophers for his new book, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.” He argues that intelligent beings are innately driven toward gathering resources and achieving goals, which would inevitably put a super-smart AI in competition with humans, the greatest resource hogs Earth has ever known. That means even a machine that was just supposed to play chess or fulfill other simple functions might get other ideas if it was smart enough. “Without meticulous, countervailing instructions, a self-aware, self-improving, goal-seeking system will go to lengths we’d deem ridiculous to fulfill its goals,” he writes in the book.

Vernor Vinge

A mathematician and fiction writer, Vinge is thought to have coined the term “the singularity” to describe the inflection point when machines outsmart humans. He views the singularity as an inevitability, even if international rules emerge controlling the development of AI. “The competitive advantage—economic, military, even artistic—of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws, or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone else will get them first,” he wrote in a 1993 essay. As for what happens when we hit the singularity? “The physical extinction of the human race is one possibility,” he writes.

TIME robotics

Meet the Robots Shipping Your Amazon Orders

New machines are helping the retail giant get your stuff home on time

Across the country, laborers are hard at work lifting 700-pound shelves full of multivolume encyclopedias, propane grills or garden gnomes and dragging them across vast warehouse floors. Carefully trained not to bump into one another, the squat workers are 320 pounds and a mere 16 inches tall.

No, they’re not Christmas elves—they’re some of the most advanced robots that e-commerce giant Amazon now uses to ship its goods. In an exclusive video for TIME, photographer and videographer Stephen Wilkes captured these Amazon robots in action at the company’s Tracy, Calif., warehouse.

The robots are made by Kiva Systems, a company Amazon purchased for $775 million in 2012 to better handle the hundreds of worldwide orders Amazon customers make every second. Kiva’s robots bring shelves of goods out of storage and carry them to employees, allowing Amazon to retrieve more items for more customers simultaneously. Amazon began using these robots in July of this year, and there are now more than 15,000 of them in 10 of the company’s warehouses. They whir around like gears on a Swiss watch.

Three quarters of a billion dollars may seem like a lot to sink into a retrieving system, but Amazon’s profits depend on the company becoming ever more efficient at shipping orders. The cost of processing packages is growing faster than the company’s sales are. Amazon spent nearly $8.6 billion in 2013 on fulfillment, a 34% increase from the year before; the company’s total sales grew 22% in the same period. This year, Amazon is on track to spend a sum about as large as the entire economy of Mongolia just to push its packages. (Amazon as a whole lost $437 million last quarter, as the company reinvests income into its own growth.)

Amazon Senior Vice President of Operations Dave Clark says improvements such as the Kiva robots have significantly increased operations efficiency while making employees’ lives easier. Amazon has sometimes been criticized for the conditions in its fulfillment centers, with workers often logging over 10 hours a day and walking up to 15 miles in a shift to pick items off the shelves. Conditions at a Pennsylvania warehouse drew attention to Amazon’s employment practices during the summer of 2011, when temperatures there reportedly reached 110 degrees and employees regularly collapsed with heatstroke. (Amazon has since installed air-conditioners in its warehouses.) The Kiva robots cut out much of the hard “picking” work and bring items directly to workers, who then process the orders.

“[Kiva] eliminates the part that was not a fun part about picking,” Clark says.

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are Amazon’s busiest of the year. Customers ordered 426 items per second on the Monday following Thanksgiving last year, the day online retailers have branded as “Cyber Monday.”

Clark insists the robots are “not about eliminating jobs.” Connie Gilbert, a picker at the Tracy fulfillment center, said more people have been hired to join her team since the Kiva robots were installed, because more robots mean more work. “The work pace is faster and the robots are continuously coming,” Gilbert says. “We have a lot more people that have come in to work and help us out.”

About 80,000 workers are expected to come on board as temporary help for the holidays this year. Many of them will be tasked with picking items from warehouse shelves — but others will ask a robot to do it for them.

Read next: Top 10 Gadgets of 2014

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TIME robotics

This 6-Foot Robot Moves Like the Karate Kid

But we're still waiting to see the full-blown crane kick

The Google-owned robotics company Boston Dynamics has created a 6’2″, 330-pound robot that can mimic moves from The Karate Kid.

The robot, dubbed Atlas, isn’t quite a full-blown ninja yet—in a new video, the robot is shown balancing on a cinderblock on one leg and raising his arms slowly in the air, as in the iconic movie scene where Ralph Macchio unleashes the crane kick. While Boston Dynamics built the hardware, a robotics research institute called IHMC programmed the robot’s moves.

When not practicing karate, the Atlas robots are actually designed to provide humanitarian relief in areas that people cannot enter, such as nuclear disaster sites. Boston Dynamics has also created a robotic dog and a wildcat that can run at speeds of 25 miles per hour.

[Wired]

TIME Companies

Android Founder Ditches Google for Tech Startup

Google Ice Cream Sandwich Debuts As IPhone Sets Record
Jerome Favre—Bloomberg / Getty Images Andy Rubin, senior vice-president of Google Inc.'s mobile division, speaks during an event in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011.

Andy Rubin helped build and expand the Android operating system to one billion users

A senior Google executive who spearheaded the launch and expansion of the Android mobile operating system to more than one billion users has left Google for a startup venture, the company announced Thursday.

Andy Rubin led the development of Google’s mobile platform until last year, when he briefly took the helm of the company’s nascent robotics unit. He pushed for the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a robotics company that has made waves with its spry, four-legged machines that can run like a cheetah. Rubin is leaving the company to launch an incubator for startups focused on developing hardware products, the Wall Street Journal reports.

CEO Larry Page bid farewell to Rubin in a public statement on Thursday. “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Page said. “With Android he created something truly remarkable— with a billion-plus happy users.”

Rubin will be succeeded by James Kuffner, a senior member of Google’s robotics team, which the company said would continue to form a core element of its business strategy.

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