Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Robot Invasion Begins: World on Brink of Immersion Into Robotically Enhanced Environment

Artificial or not, AI enhances human life
"Self-steering vacuum cleaners. Self-parking cars. Dolls responding to voice commands.
We may not be living in the world of "The Jetsons," but robots are definitely becoming a part of ordinary life. The company iRobot reports that more than 2.5 million of its home robotic products -- Roomba vacuums, Scooba floor washers, Verro swimming pool scrubbers, Looj gutter cleaners and ConnectR "Virtual Visiting Robots" -- have been sold.

This year's Toy Fair introduced an animatronic "Elmo Live" that can act out stories. And Playskool's Kota the Triceratops, a $300 life-size baby dinosaur for preschoolers, reacts to touch by moving its head, tail and horns, and gives "a friendly dino roar" when spoken to.
Then there's the first-generation Lexus LS 460 L automobile with "Advanced Parking Guidance System," which parallel-parks itself (as long as there's 6 feet of wiggle room). The LawnBott LB3500 from KA Home Robotics can be told when and where to mow from your cellphone or PDA.

In fact, the line between appliance and artificial intelligence is getting blurrier every day. According to roboticist Daniel H. Wilson, author of "How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on Defending Planet Earth Against Alien Invaders, Ninjas, and Zombies" (Bloomsbury; 176 pages; $13.95), to be classified as a robot, a machine only has have the ability to sense the environment, "think" about what to do and act in the physical world. Doing it for you

That sense-think-act closed-loop process "is a pretty broad definition," Wilson admitted in a recent phone interview. "But we are surrounded by all these machines that are making decisions without human intervention. Robots don't have to move to be robots. Instead of moving themselves, they can send commands to the real world."

By that criteria, even a smoke alarm is a type of AI -- artificial intelligence. So are your car's antilock brakes: Hit the pedal to tell the ABS system you want to slow down, and the vehicle's onboard computer takes over and does it for you. No more relying on humans to resist the urge to slam on the brakes instead of using the more effective light taps.

"In How to Build a Robot Army," Wilson takes robots that can be found today in homes or in laboratories -- "A lot of them are prototypes. I have a lot of friends that have cool projects." -- and suggests ways to turn them into allies in the fight against pop-culture villains such as zombies and great white sharks.

The tongue-in-check instructions include adding a can of gasoline to your Roomba to turn it into a roving land mine, or sending micro air drones, such as the remote-controlled FlyTech Dragonfly from Robosapien-maker Wowwee, with infrared navigational sensors added on to do overhead reconnaissance of werewolf-filled forests..."
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Also See (from Wired News Blog):
Book Review: How to Build a Robot Army
"A couple weeks ago my GeekTeen, John, age 15, asked if he could blog a review of roboticist Daniel Wilson's two books. We checked and found Wilson had just published a new volume -- which gave me a great excuse to interview him too! He says he's gotten a lot of positive response from parents and kids (including's Chris Anderson, whose kids sent him drawings inspired by his previous book).
You can read my Times Union interview with Wilson for the next week.
And here's John's review:
You’ve all seen movies where aliens come to wreak havoc in cities or Godzilla terrorizes Tokyo,and the poor, weak humans have to fight them. But what if we had robots on our side? Almost nothing can stand up to those powerhouses (except other robots of course). But how to make an army of robots? You buy this book.
How to Build a Robot Army is written by Daniel H. Wilson, who has a degree in robotics and has written two books before this one. (How to Survive a Robot Uprising and Where’s my Jetpack?) In this book, he tells you how to build a make-shift army using Roombas, Furbys and other household robots. The first part of the book is a crash-course in robotics: how to modify them for battle, what types there are, how to put weapons on them, and more. It also explains how to upgrade humans for battle (such as suiting them with exo-skeletons or swallowing a pill infused with microbots). Next is a lesson in robot training, such as how to make a robot team and how to tame walker robots. The final section is a list of famous movie monsters (Godzilla, the Wolf Man, zombies etc.) and what robots you can send against them...."
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