Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Robot Journalist' Out-Writes Human Sports Reporter

"Okay, so it's not really a robot. It's actually a software program. You feed it data, it processes that data, and it spits out a news story putting those numbers you gave it into context — just like you'd see in your local newspaper. In the beginning, it was used exclusively for sports stories and a lot of people were skeptical — namely, real-life sports journalists. "I always imagine kind of the robot you imagined in the third grade with the boxy body and the antennae arms, standing in front of a keyboard," says Emma Carmichael, a writer for the sports website Deadspin. She and her colleagues at Deadspin took a few digs at the idea, and this spring, when they came across a particularly bad account of a baseball game on the college sports website they assumed it was machine generated. University of Virginia player Will Roberts had pitched a perfect game against George Washington University. The story on neglected to mention that fact until the second-to-last paragraph. "That was shocking," Carmichael says. "This was the first time this had happened in the NCAA since 2002. And when it happens, you expect to see it in the headline and you expect to see everyone talking about that aspect of the game." The writer of that story — it turns out — was a living, breathing human being. But the creators of Narrative Science, a news-writing software program, took Deadspin's assumption as fighting words. They set out to prove that their system could produce a better story. "We actually got hold of the information director of the school, we got the raw material, the numbers around the story," said Kris Hammond, Chief Technology Officer of Narrative Science. "And we fed it to our system, which wrote the story, where the headline and the lead were focused on the fact that it was a no-hitter. Because how could you write a baseball story and not notice that it was a no hitter? I mean what kind of writer or machine would you be?" And, here's the machine-generated copy they sent in to Deadspin: "Tuesday was a great day for W. Roberts, as the junior pitcher threw a perfect game to carry Virginia to a 2-0 victory over George Washington at Davenport Field. Twenty-seven Colonials came to the plate and the Virginia pitcher vanquished them all, pitching a perfect game. He struck out 10 batters while recording his momentous feat. Roberts got Ryan Thomas to ground out for the final out of the game. Tom Gately came up short on the rubber for the Colonials, recording a loss. He went three innings, walked two, struck out one, and allowed two runs. The Cavaliers went up for good in the fourth, scoring two runs on a fielder's choice and a balk." Deadspin conceded. They published a follow up, saying that — in this case — the machine did write the better story..." The above is quoted from NPR - To read this item in its entirety and listen to the NPR audio at this item's source, go to:

Monday, April 11, 2011

High School Builds Robot for Florida Police Department

From Government Technology: "...The newest member of the Rockledge, Fla., Police Department is two feet tall and weighs 100 pounds, but it’s not police dog — it’s a robot named PDbot. Nearly a year and a half ago, the Police Department tapped Rockledge High School to build a robot for assisting with police operations. The robot has since been completed and has been with the department for nearly a week. PDbot will soon be working with officers in training exercises to eventually be taken out into the field. The idea to acquire a robot or similar mechanism came to be when the department started discussing new ideas to deliver “throw phones” in hostage situations, said Chris Cochie, an investigator for the department. A throw phone is a phone that’s delivered to a hostage-taker to create a line of communication with police during negotiations. “I thought it’d be cool if we had some sort of remote control car or vehicle or something that we could attach the throw phone to, to drive it up to the bad guy,” Cochie said. The Police Department decided to approach the local high school about building and donating a robot to the department since it didn’t have the budget to purchase one. Rockledge High School is known to have one of the best robotics teams in the country, so approaching it was the smart choice, Cochie said. During one of the high school’s football games, the department’s former SWAT commander approached Marian Passmore, a math and science teacher (and current instructor for the school’s robotics team), about the idea, which she agreed to. Students from nearby Cocoa Beach High School joined the team as well. For a year and a half, a subgroup of the robotics team — 14 students total during the course of the project — prototyped, designed and built PDbot, Passmore said. Once completed, the robot was not only able to deliver a throw phone, but also can deliver medical supplies or other items during a crisis situation. In addition, the robot can launch smoke bombs, has video capability for drug surveillance, infrared for nighttime operations as well as other features. PDbot can be remotely operated up to 500 feet from the driver’s station. During a training exercise with the department’s SWAT team, to test the robot’s strength, an officer laid on the ground and had the robot push and pull him in the grass. Passmore said another officer commented that the robot’s pulling capability would be beneficial if an officer was injured during police operations because PDbot could pull him or her to a safe location. Because the Police Department lacked the funds to purchase a robot, obtaining money to build PDbot was the robotics team’s responsibility. Every year the team raises between $45,000 and $50,000 through fundraising, educational outreach grants and from local businesses, and the team put $14,000 toward the PDbot project, Passmore said. While the students were the robot’s main designers and builders, mentors from NASA and the Kennedy Space Center also came on board to help the students complete the project, Passmore said. “The biggest challenge is that they are kids. People have to remember that they are students, they’re not engineers when they’re in high school,” Passmore said, later adding, “But they’ve had some experiences that maybe a normal science class that you walk into, those kids wouldn’t have had.” According to a press release, the next version of PDbot is under development and will add full duplex audio, an attachment to break through glass doors, a taser and more." To read the complete article at its source go to: