TIME Tech

Google Leases NASA’s Silicon Valley Airfield

Crew members walk the Solar Impulse to its hangar following a test flight at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California
Crew members walk the Solar Impulse to its hangar following a test flight at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California April 19, 2013. Robert Galbraith—Reuters

Google plans to use the sprawling facility for research and develop space and robot technology

With dreams of an increased footprint in space, NASA is cutting back on its Earthly properties.

The agency said Monday it will lease its Moffett Field airbase in Silicon Valley to a shell company owned by Google. The tech giant will pay $1.16 billion over the course of a 60-year lease, according to NASA.

Google plans to use the sprawling facility for research and testing in the areas of spaceships, robotics and other technologies.

Located on 1,000 acres in southern end of San Francisco Bay, the Moffett lease is expected to save NASA approximately $6.3 million annually in “maintenance and operation costs,” the agency said. The airfield home to NASA Ames Research Center, including an airfield, a golf course, office space and several giant hangers that once housed blimps.

“As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration – not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need.”

“Moffett Field plays an important role in the Bay Area and is poised to continue to do so through this lease arrangement,” he added.

In February, NASA had agreed to negotiate exclusively with Google to lease the property. The base is close to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and its airfield is home to a fleet of private jets owned by Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Google had previously signed a deal to develop a new office complex on 42 acres at Moffett Field. But last year, the company halted those plans, possibly to await an agreement to manage the entire facility.

Under the latest deal, Planetary Ventures, Google’s real estate arm, is expected to pump $200 million in improvements to the property, including refurbishing a hangar and creating a facility for the public to “explore the site’s legacy” and learn about Silicon Valley.

“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to restore the remarkable landmark Hangar One, which for years has been considered one of the most endangered historic sites in the United States,” David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate and workplace services at Google Inc., said in a statement.

The news of NASA’s lease to Google comes after a series of setbacks for space excursions and the industry over the last few weeks. On October 31, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two crashed during a flight test in the Mojave Desert, which resulted in the death of a pilot. Days earlier, an unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded six seconds after lift-off.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 6

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

1. How do you frighten political strongmen? Teach journalism.

By Thomas Fiedler in the Conversation

2. Far from policing free will, taxes on sugary drinks make sense in the context of subsidies for corn syrup and the Medicaid and Medicare expense of 29 million Americans with diabetes.

By Kenneth Davis and Ronald Tamler in the Huffington Post

3. Palm oil production has a devastating impact on the environment, but smart science and better farming could reduce the harm.

By Michael Kodas in Ensia

4. We shouldn’t let Ebola panic squelch civil liberties.

By Erwin Chemerinsky in the Orange County Register

5. What we learn from video games: Giving military robots controls like “Call of Duty” could save lives on the (real) battlefield.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

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 robotics

This Robot Army Can Organize Itself

Harvard University — YouTube

Expect the future to be overrun with millions more like it

Scientists at Harvard University have created an army of over a thousand tiny robots that can communicate with each other to perform complex actions. The breakthrough could lay the framework for future robot brigades that collaborate to execute large tasks such as environmental cleanup.

The 1,024 simple bots, called Kilobots, are each only a few centimeters wide, but communicate with each other using infrared light to create large star- or K-shaped formations. Only the initial instruction to form up needs to be given — after that, Kilobots organize themselves and cooperate with each together to smooth out logjams or redirect bots that have wandered off-course.

Michael Rubenstein, the lead author of the study published in the journal Science, says that Kilobots mimic units found in nature such as a group of ants that link together to forge a river, or a body of cells that assemble to form an organism. “Biological collectives involve enormous numbers of cooperating entities — whether you think of cells or insects or animals — that together accomplish a single task that is a magnitude beyond the scale of any individual,” Rubenstein said in a statement released by the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Although scientists have directed simple bots to complete tasks before, this is the first time that such a large company has operated together. Radhika Nagpal, one of the researchers in the study, says that the Kilobots demonstrate the potential of robots to self-organize on a larger scale. “Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether its hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in a statement. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

TIME Innovation

Origami-like Robot Folds Itself Into Shape and Walks Away

As a writer, the path of least resistance would be to frame this piece along the lines of small robots assembling themselves, then building bigger robots, then taking over the world. The old robot-overlord routine.

But these MIT- and Harvard-developed self-folding robots — cool as they are — don’t look all that menacing quite yet. For starters, one of the key ingredients is polystyrene, which is the same stuff used in Shrinky Dinks. That’s adorable. Second, it takes around four minutes for the things to assemble and start walking away. And third, the assembly has to be pre-programmed, so there’s still some human intervention.

Thirty years from now? That might be a different story. I’ll be retired (or homeless) on a beach somewhere, though, so I’ll just head for the water if these things start getting uppity. They can’t swim, can they? Can they?!!

In the interim, the researchers envision self-assembling structures that could be used in dangerous places like space or battlefields.

[ExtremeTech]

MONEY

How To Robot-Proof Your Job

I, ROBOT, 2004.
Can one of these robots do your job? 20th Century Fox—courtesy Everett Collection

Can a machine do your job? For more of us than you'd think, the answer is probably yes. But there are ways to stay ahead of the automation curve.

If you find it hard to imagine that a robot could some day take your job, you should probably try imagining harder. A new survey finds that one in five companies has replaced workers with automation — and not just in low-wage jobs.

While 21% of companies overall say that they now use technology instead of humans for some jobs, the number is even higher — 30% — at businesses with more than 500 workers, according to a nationwide survey out today by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). And that trend is only expected to accelerate: According to the report, one-third of employers predict that jobs at their firms that are currently performed by humans will come to be performed by machines in the next decade.

“This has been a threat for a long time and there are many industries that need a lot less people to do the same jobs more efficiently or for less cost,” says Janet Elkin, CEO of Supplemental Healthcare, a company that recruits staff for healthcare organizations.

Interestingly — some might say ironically — working in a cutting-edge industry doesn’t necessarily protect you from this dynamic. In fact, according to the study, workers at information technology firms are twice as likely to see their jobs replaced with automation. Employers in financial services and manufacturing rounded out the top three areas with the largest number of employers “deskilling” workers. Other industries or sectors that will see a big impact: Customer service, accounting, assembly, production, shipping, distribution, and sales.

Several forces are at play. In many cases, technology has and continues to eliminate the need for workers who facilitate transactions by enabling customers to perform those transactions themselves. Think travel agents, customer service reps, and even store clerks. You see it directly if you do self-check out at your grocery store or have eaten at a Panera Bread restaurant that has replaced cashiers with kiosks.

It’s not just affecting lower wage jobs, however. Powerful software is taking on professional and white-collar jobs in accounting, finance, and even paralegal work. “When I talk to my favorite geeks in Silicon Valley,” said Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, in a May interview in New Scientist, “they look around and say, man, the work of a financial adviser, a junior analyst at an asset management firm, a pathologist, a hamburger flipper, I can automate that.”

Still, though technology taketh away, it can also giveth. Nearly 70% of companies that have replaced workers with automation say the new technology has also required the creation of new positions in their firms, according to the CareerBuilder survey. And 35% of companies that eliminated jobs with technology said they ended up creating more jobs in their firms than they had before automation.

“While automation may eliminate some jobs, it also creates other jobs that are higher paying,” says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation. “One of the greatest challenges the U.S. faces today is sufficiently preparing the workforce for the influx of knowledge-based jobs that will likely result from progress in robotics and other STEM-related fields.”

So how do you put yourself in line for one of those new jobs?

  • Don’t wait for your current job to become obsolete. If you see an opportunity to make your job more efficient with technology, be the person to oversee the change and train people in how the new system works. “Make sure you’re the one who understands how it all works,” says Elkin..
  • Upgrade your skill set. If you have a job that you think a robot can easily replace, consider going back to school or investing in online courses that can help you gain valued expertise. You may need to explore alternative occupations and industries that are growing and where you can transfer your skill set, says CareerBuilder’s Jennifer Grasz.
  • Pay attention to trends in your field. Is job growth in your business accelerating or decelerating? Is this related to an economic cycle or technology advancement? Research articles online on how your occupation is evolving and develop the skill sets needed to leverage new technologies.

The survey did offer one positive sign for workers who have been replaced: It found that 35% of companies that eliminated jobs with automation hired people back because the technology didn’t deliver as expected or customers wanted to interact with a live person.

“Technology is not perfect and things often go awry,”says Elkin. “When that happens, you need a human to fix them.”

TIME

Losing Korean Baseball Team Replaces Fans With Cheering Robots

And so it begins...

Korea’s Hanwha Eagles do not have a good record. The baseball team has wracked up 400 losses over the last five years, according to the BBC. But just because a team has a losing record, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve big cheers — just ask any New York Knicks fan!

To make sure that the Eagles stadium is filled with the roar of the crowd and that team morale stays high, the Eagles are taking a page from The Future and adding cheering, chanting robots to their stadium seats.

Hanwha’s robot fans will work as stand-ins for human fans who can’t attend a game. Remote fans will be able to control some of the robots’ movements — presumably certain hand gestures in the direction of umpires — and can even upload an image of their face to be shown on the machine’s screen. The robots will also let fans watch the game from afar, giving more fans the opportunity to join in the action and cheer on their team.

“It’s a pretty neat idea,” Hanwha Eagles pitcher and former Minnesota Twin Andrew Albers says in the video the team released to explain the presence of robots in their stands. “It gets the crowd into it and really helps them get involved.”

If robots cheer at the robot World Cup or the Femme Bot battles, can act as mules and write the Torah, how long until they decide they don’t need humans at all? Oh wait, they still need someone to battle in Connect Four.

MORE: Congress Gets Banned from Editing Wikipedia

MORE: Attaching a GoPro Camera to a Car Wheel Creates a Weird, Futuristic Kaleidoscope

TIME World Cup

Robots Have Their Own World Cup

But they're training to compete in ours

The computer Deep Blue defeating world chess champion Garry Kasparov at his own game in 1997 was one thing but when a team of humanoid robots defeats the world’s greatest soccer players it will be something else altogether. These scientists are working to achieve just that. Founded the same year Deep Blue took down Kasparov, the Robocup was born with the mission of developing an artificially intelligent human-like robot by 2050 capable of beating the World Cup soccer champions. But before the robots get to defeating us humans at the world’s favorite game they’re practicing against each other each year in the Robocup, a robot soccer tournament in which the machines must obey the same rules as normal soccer. For this year’s Robocup, more than 4000 engineers and scientists from over 40 countries assembled in Brazil to set their machines competing against one another.

TIME technology

This Robot Would Very Much Like to Play a Game of Connect Four With You

Game on

When the singularity finally hits and artificial intelligence takes over everything, at least we know some of the robots will know how to have a good time — like this Connect Four-playing bot, programmed by MIT student Patrick McCabe.

Users can choose between four levels of difficulty and can even ask for a hint if needed. Head over to McCabe’s website for a detailed breakdown of how the machine works. In the meantime, watch here as the bot beats McCabe in the first round — and even taunts him a little bit before clinching the game.

TIME robotics

That Jibo Robot Does the Same Stuff as Your Phone, but People Are Freaking Out Anyway

jibo
Jibo

Jibo promises to be a lovable robot assistant, but it's unclear why you'd actually need one.

A crowdfunding campaign for a “family robot” called Jibo is picking up steam, blowing through its fundraising goals within the first day.

What is Jibo? It’s a little pod with a motorized swivel, equipped with cameras, microphones and a display. It recognizes faces and voices, and can act as a personal assistant by setting reminders, delivering messages and offering to take group photos. It also serves as a telepresence robot for video chat.

As of now, Jibo has raised more than $200,000 on IndieGogo–well beyond its $100,000 goal–and has racked up plenty of breathless coverage. Early bird pricing of $100 sold out long ago, but you can still claim a unit for $499, with an estimated December 2015 ship date.

Sorry to burst the hype bubble, but I’m not seeing how Jibo will more practical than a phone, a tablet or even a wearable device. Most of the things Jibo promises to do can be done better by the handset in your pocket–which, by the way, you don’t have to lug around from tabletop to tabletop.

To see what I mean, let’s deconstruct the scenario in Jibo’s pitch video, in which a man gets home from a long day at work. Jibo, perched on a nearby counter, turns on the lights, records an order for Chinese take-out, then starts reading back a voicemail from his girlfriend. The man then doubles the take-out order on the fly.

It’s the kind of demo that makes perfect sense unless you think about it too much. If home automation goes mainstream, a dedicated robot won’t be necessary, because our phones will do a better job of signaling when we’ve walked through the front door. The idea of having your messages read to you when you get home is a throwback to answering machines, which are obsolete now that we can check our messages from anywhere. As for the take-out order, you’ve got to be the dullest person in the world to order “the usual” every time you get home, and I’m not sure the man’s girlfriend will take kindly to having no input on what food she gets.

There is something to be said for a device that can persistently listen for your commands and act on them, but this is the same problem that wearable devices are trying to solve, and they’re better-suited to being wherever you are. While group photos and telepresence are potentially useful, now we’re getting into some very specific situations that don’t really justify a $500 purchase, regardless of how endearing Jibo tries to be. The only way Jibo makes sense as a robot is if it gains more physical capabilities, like a way to clean your windows or cook dinner, but it’s far too early to say whether that’s going to happen.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to judge at such an early stage, but that’s exactly what Jibo is trying to do through crowdfunding. The creators are asking people to throw money at something they’ve never seen, that has only been shown to the press in limited demos, and that won’t even ship until the tail end of next year. All we have to go on right now is a slick-looking pitch video and a whole bunch of promises. As talented as the folks behind Jibo seem to be, I’ve seen enough undercooked crowdfunded projects to know that some skepticism is in order.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 16

1. To upgrade the reliability of the wisdom of crowds, look instead to the wisdom of the confident.

By the Editors of the MIT Technology Review

2. Marketing departments for technology firms should take the radical step of functioning like an outside agency, complete with their own engineers.

By First Round Review

3. According to Peter Orszag, the radical financial relief from the falling cost of health care in America means “everything you think you know about the nation’s long-term fiscal gap would be wrong.”

By Adrianna McIntyre in Vox

4. Robots writing dead simple news stories means journalists can use human intelligence on real, robust news that are worth reading.

By Kevin Roose in New York magazine

5. Is the bottomless thirst for Wall Street profits driving the soaring cost of higher education?

By Lisa Wade in Sociological Images

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

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