I was sad to read that Google is selling Boston Dynamics, the robotics company they purchased in 2013. It seems that progress has not been quick enough for Google who were hoping to produce a marketable robot in the next few years.
Boston Dynamic’s recent video, showing the amazing balance capability of their Atlas robot, apparently upset Google HQ because of the rather negative response it attracted. (See the video here.)
According to the Guardian, potential buyers include Amazon and Toyota. Atlas would be an obvious choice for Amazon’s massive warehouses, but could they be thinking of producing a home robot of some kind? Popular Science said “Last fall, Toyota announced it was investing $1 billion into robotics in Silicon Valley, under the tutelage of a former DARPA program manager. Toyota’s quietly been in the robotics business since the 1970s, designing robots for everything from manufacturing to personal assistance.”
Here is a video from 2012 showing Toyota’s “robot quartet”!
If Google really has lost interest in Boston Dynamics, perhaps to spend more Dollars on their self driving cars, then it will be good for a new company to give Atlas the confidence he needs to make his way in the world … and please stop hitting him with a hockey stick!
David Hanson, robotics designer at Hanson Robotics, believes that in 20 years time robots will be indistinguishable from humans, and will walk among us. Robots will help us, play with us and teach us, he predicts that they will be our friends.
But if you read comments on YouTube (which I wish I wasn’t so tempted to do), nearly everyone commenting worries about robots killing us and taking over the planet.
People are also concerned about robot’s “dead eyes”, however I have to say that Hanson’s newest robot, Sophia, shown in the following video, is not quite as creepy as many of the others I have seen. After watching the video a few times I am getting used to her look and think that after an initial freaked-out reaction, I could get used to working with this machine. Sophia must be fairly realistic because it seems strange to call “her” a machine. Watch the video and see what you think . . .
I have been desperate to know for some time now, how Google has been getting on with their search for the perfect robotic assistant. Atlas has come a long way . . . and boy is he patient! If you didn’t think you could feel sorry for a machine, just have a look at the video on this post. It begins with some impressive demonstrations of balance, with Atlas walking (on two legs) over rough ground. Then we move on to see the robot working in a factory, moving boxes. A rather nasty human appears and begins to tease the robot. That is the point where I began to worry about the future.
Normally I don’t like the comments that appear beneath YouTube videos, but in this case there are some good ones. Here are a few examples:
“The pleasant music will in no way prevent me from having nightmares after watching this.”
“Well at least we know who the robot is gonna murder first when it gains self-awareness.”
“Say goodbye to your job.”
“Have fun with that hockey stick for now, meatbag, in 10 years YOU’LL be the one being toyed with!”
“I’ll be back…”
The robot looks a lot more human than, for example, Honda’s Asimo, and walks a lot more like a human too. I wonder if there is a reason that Atlas doesn’t have a face? Perhaps something to do with the ‘uncanny valley’ effect, or maybe because they wanted to keep it completely “raceless”.
My favourite part of the video, for some strange reason, was the part where the man and the robot were walking along side by side. Visions of Isaac Asimov’s robot detective sprang to mind, and I can see this happening in the police forces around the world, easily within the next ten years.
I’m excited by this, but do have reservations about the bullying!
26th February 2016: New video added below from the original source (Boston Dynamics) without the music, and with original live sound.