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Bailter Space: Robot World, Matador Records

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Poster advertises musical group Bailter Space. Design consists of a photographic image of four industrial rivets, with series of text elements superimposed. Starting at top, across upper center, is "BAILTER SPACE" in yellow. Each word appears echoed in black on following line. At bottom left, "ROBOT WORLD". Matador Records logo in black and yellow, in lower right corner.

This Paper Chameleon Robot Is Surprisingly Lifelike

Smithsonian Magazine

At first glance, you might mistake the chameleon in the video above for a real, live lizard. But this little green lady is made out of paper and gears. Powered by a little music box, the reptile’s eyes dart around, and it wiggles back and forth in a surprisingly lifelike fashion. For reference, here’s what a real chameleon moves like:

Doug North, at The Automata Blog, explains why this particular paper robot is so neat:

The automaton is cleverly-built in many respects. First, the paper figure is just amazing. Next, the entire thing is a reflection. This allows the actual model to be oriented horizontally, providing some design advantage. Also, the linkage that makes the eye move is magnetism!

The piece is the work of Johan Scherft, a papercraft artist. He’s also made a whole bunch of other awesome moving models, like this hatching Deinonychus:

And this solar-powered hummingbird:

You can find instructions for how to make many of Scherft’s automata on his website, in case you want your very own hatching dino, or wobbly chameleon. And really, who doesn’t? 

Are Robot Umpires Coming to Baseball?

Smithsonian Magazine

The San Rafael Pacifics, an independent team in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, plays in one of the most old-school baseball stadiums in the country. It holds 960 people on wooden bleacher seats, the scoreboard is updated by hand, and the hot dogs are all-beef and delicious. But, in late July, the organization got a high-tech upgrade. For a two-game series against the Vallejo Admirals, their home plate umpire was a digital pitch tracking system called PITCHf/x.

PITCHf/x was first used in the 2006 Major League Baseball playoffs to analyze pitchers, and the system is now installed in every MLB stadium in the country. It uses three cameras to track the ball’s trajectory and spin and to show where it passes through the strike zone. The tool is accurate within a third of a baseball, and major league teams have been using it for years to track statistics and show pitch trajectory during television broadcasts.

PITCHf/x produces .xml files that are open source. Baseball enthusiasts can download data from any night’s game and analyze it, and there’s a whole online community of amateur analysts that have sprung up around it. Baseball has always been driven by stats and this system gives fans and managers another metric to consider.

But, until the Pacifics let PITCHf/x actually ump a game, it had never made any calls. Now, the computerized system watches the plate when the batter is up and calls balls and strikes. This frees up the human ump to call fair and foul balls and to make calls on runners coming in.

PITCHf/x, which the team affectionately nicknamed robo ump, is a series of cameras each about the size of a GoPro set up around the field. The system officiated two games as part of a fundraiser for the Pat Tilman Foundation organized by former Oakland A’s player Eric Byrnes. Byrnes was the voice of the computer, announcing the calls it made and heckling the players. "As much as the baseball traditionalists want to resist it, it's coming," Byrnes told the Associated Press.

“It’s one of the best umpires we’ve had all year,” says Vinnie Longo, the assistant general manager for the Pacifics. 

Longo had faith in the technology’s accuracy, but he wasn’t sure how players, fans and other umpires were going to react. He says the experiment went incredibly well. Even the saltiest players admitted that they didn’t hate it. Outfielder Zack Pace said he wanted to be the first player kicked out of a game by a robotic umpire, and, according to Long, there's only been blowback from players who struck out. The umpires, including the crew chief Dean Poteet who’s been calling games for 40 years, reportedly thought that the robotic ump improved the game. "Since we've found out more about it, I've had more positive feedback than I'd had negative," Poteet told the AP. The umps liked the clarity, and the fact that it sped up the pace of play. Most surprisingly, the fans liked it, too. Longo says they got excited to see what the computer would call. "I think it'll be accepted, but it will take a while," Pacifics fan Tom Hoffman told the AP.

There’s been talk for almost a decade about how PITCHf/x or other computerized systems could be incorporated into calling games. There has been some worry in the umpire’s union about what it might do to jobs and also some concern about the system’s consistency. But, especially as pitch tracking technology has improved, the biggest hurdle is the emotional one. Players and fans like the possiblity for human error in officiating the game, because it makes it more dynamic. Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer, has said that "the human element always will be part of baseball." Baseball, more than any other sport, is highly tied to tradition. It was the last major sport to bring in instant replay.

There's still strong debate on both sides. Those in favor, like Joseph Stromberg at Vox, say it'll improve the game's accuracy. "It's a better way of calling balls and strikes—and in a sport where a few inches can be the difference between a win and a loss, there's no reason to retain inaccuracy solely for tradition's sake," he writes. Opponents say it takes away from the spirit of the game. "Standardizing the zone would remove a level of interplay between batter, pitcher, catcher, and umpire that many fans find compelling. No longer could a savvy pitcher with pinpoint command annex extra territory off the corners, like Tom Glavine or Mariano Rivera, or learn how to tailor his approach to each umpire’s personalized zone," Ben Lindbergh wrote, for Grantland.

In the first in the two-game series, 536 pitches were thrown, and PITCHf/x missed only one, when a computer overheated. The most interesting moment was when the robo ump made an “umpire’s balk” and was slow to make a call. “It took a minute to make up its mind,” Longo says. “But what are you going to do? Yell at a computer?”

Longo, for one, welcomes our new robot overlords and says he’s interested to see if and when they get picked up by other teams. He suspects it will take a while for the technology to make it to the MLB, because they're slow to change rules that impact all 30 teams, but that it’s hard to argue with a system that works so well.

“This is going to make a stop in independent ball first, because we have fewer regulations,” Longo says. “But the MLB commissioner is paying attention.”

Design for Unidentified Object in Robot Form

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
At left, a tall structure, possibly a design for furniture or a sculpture, in robot form. The vertical central element has a right arm in the form of an extension mirror. The lower half of the structure rests on a tall scaffold, a cone form, and a pod-like leg. To the right is an outline drawing of a scaffold, and above this, a sketch of a three-part form on wire legs.

Kill Pop-Art!! Robot Opera Program

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Toy, Tin Toy, Robot, "Space Elephant"

National Air and Space Museum
This metal "space elephant" is a tin toy manufactured in Japan for export to Western markets. In the 1950s and 1960s, its maker, Yoshiya (also known as Kobe Yoko Ltd.), specialized in producing mechanical or wind-up toys with fanciful designs. In post-WWII Japan, producing these metal toys began as a way to tap into an international market for "penny toys" or cheap playthings, but developed by the late 1950s into a industry manufacturing creatively-designed, complex toys with moving parts and/lights that competed successfully with Western toymakers. This toy illustrates how Japanese toy makers tapped into the fascination for space exploration even if the basic form of the toy was not space-related.

Using “kanei-kogyo,” or family industries, many Japanese tin toy companies distributed preprinted metal sheets to home-based shops, where families worked together to stamp, shape, and wholly or partially assemble them. The distributor paid these family shops by the piece and shipped the completed toys overseas. Because space themes sold well, many toys received space-age designs or packaging.

The Gewirz family donated this toy to the Museum in 2006.

Toy, Tin Toy, Robot, "Space Dog"

National Air and Space Museum
This metal remoted-controlled "space dog" is a tin toy manufactured in Japan for export to Western markets. In the 1950s and 1960s, its maker, Yoshiya (also known as Kobe Yoko Ltd.), specialized in producing mechanical or wind-up toys with fanciful designs. In post-WWII Japan, producing these metal toys began as a way to tap into an international market for "penny toys" or cheap playthings, but developed by the late 1950s into a industry manufacturing creatively-designed, complex toys with moving parts and/lights that competed successfully with Western toymakers. This toy illustrates how Japanese toy makers tapped into the fascination for space exploration even if the basic form of the toy was not space-related.

Using “kanei-kogyo,” or family industries, many Japanese tin toy companies distributed preprinted metal sheets to home-based shops, where families worked together to stamp, shape, and wholly or partially assemble them. The distributor paid these family shops by the piece and shipped the completed toys overseas. Because space themes sold well, many toys received space-age designs or packaging.

The Gewirz family donated this toy to the Museum in 2006.

Toy, Tin Toy, Robot, "Space Whale"

National Air and Space Museum
This metal "space whale" is a tin toy manufactured in Japan for export to Western markets. In the 1950s and 1960s, its maker, Yoshiya (also known as Kobe Yoko Ltd.), specialized in producing mechanical or wind-up toys with fanciful designs. In post-WWII Japan, producing these metal toys began as a way to tap into an international market for "penny toys" or cheap playthings, but developed by the late 1950s into a industry manufacturing creatively-designed, complex toys with moving parts and/lights that competed successfully with Western toymakers. This toy illustrates how Japanese toy makers tapped into the fascination for space exploration even if the basic form of the toy was not space-related. Notice the Sputnik-like satellite on its back.

Using “kanei-kogyo,” or family industries, many Japanese tin toy companies distributed preprinted metal sheets to home-based shops, where families worked together to stamp, shape, and wholly or partially assemble them. The distributor paid these family shops by the piece and shipped the completed toys overseas. Because space themes sold well, many toys received space-age designs or packaging.

The Gewirz family donated this toy to the Museum in 2006.

This Robot Is Trying to Get Into College

Smithsonian Magazine

Robots are, or soon will be, taking our jobs. Some of our jobs, at least. Robots are already working the factory floor on a grand scale, and newer generations are edging in elsewhere: they're stocking shelves, doing construction and slinging drinks. Robots are also showing up in less seemingly robot-friendly industries, like acting, stand-up comedy and journalism. They're even threatening to usurp the workers of the world's oldest profession.

The Todai Robot might be the clearest symbol of this coming shift. It's being built by the Japanese government and partners, and it's designed to be an artificial intelligence system that can pass the grueling University of Tokyo (Todai) entrance exam. 

Rather than trying to accelerate the demise of university-educated workers, the project's goal is actually more forward thinking. The Kyodo news agency recently interviewed Noriko Arai, the project director, about the Todai robot:

[E]ach time people lose their jobs due to advances in artificial intelligence technologies, they will have to seek education and vocational training in completely new fields.

"If society as a whole can see a possible change coming in the future, we can get prepared now,” she said.

If this robot can pass the same standardized test prospective students would need to, it will show that even jobs that require a university education may not be future-proof career options. Arai and her team hope to have cleared the Todai test by 2021. “If they succeed, she said, such a machine should be capable, with appropriate programming, of doing many — perhaps most — jobs now done by university graduates,” says the New York Times. The idea is to prepare ahead: If you're going to be retraining anyway, may as well pick a more robot-proof industry.

So far, the artificial intelligence system is doing pretty well at multiple choice math and science questions. The real hurdle will be the essay section. (Isn't it always?)

Sandia Interior Robot acquired by American History Museum

Smithsonian Insider

This interior robot was recently added to the permanent robotics collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History as a donation from Sandia National […]

The post Sandia Interior Robot acquired by American History Museum appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Can’t Make a Conference? Send a Robot Instead

Smithsonian Magazine

Image: Suitable

Sometimes you just can’t make both the Twin Days Festival and the Celebrity Impersonators Convention in one year. But now, even if you can’t swing the trip to the First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism, you can send a robot instead.

Eliza Strickland at IEEE Spectrum took Beam telepresence up on their offer to test out the robots and “attend” the FutureMed conference:

As I found out when I logged onto a Beam parked in the FutureMed conference hall, the experience can be challenging when people aren’t accustomed to dealing with robots. The hall was crowded with attendees, many of whom assumed that there was no human presence within my machine, and felt no compunction about pushing past my Beam or blocking its way. A few people did react with surprise to my video face and smiled or waved, but in general I didn’t make much progress. The Beam doesn’t contain any safeguards in terms of impact-avoidance—I was in full control of the machine, and if I tried to proceed it seemed likely that I’d ram into people, run over their toes, and in general cause havoc.

Beam telepresence robots aren’t just for conferences, Suitable says on their website:

Beam began as a solution to our own frustrations with remote work. Despite the variety of existing technologies like email, chat, and videoconferencing, we found that our remote team members felt isolated, things got lost in translation, and calling multiple meetings for daily work was disruptive. Then it hit us: What if our distributed team could just be together?

And other publications have tested out the remote office capabilities. Jacob Ward used it to carry out his duties as editor in chief of Popular Science from across the country. Paul Miller at The Verge tested it out too, rolling around the Suitable offices and meeting their employees:

It bears repeating that I “met” all of these people via Beam. The audio and video quality was sufficient to allow for Beam-to-Beam interactions, which were only barely inferior to IRL ones. At one point I was huddled up with three other Beams, picking the brains behind them and attempting to learn the proper etiquette for Beam “body language,” when a local spoke up: “This is kind of weird, I’m the only human here.”

So the next time you have to miss that conference or meeting, think about sending a robot to be there for you.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Robots Get Their Own Internet
A Real, Working Transformer Robot!

ROBODOC Hip/Knee Replacement Surgical Robot prototype donated

Smithsonian Insider

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History today acquired a 1989 prototype of ROBODOC, a groundbreaking orthopedic surgical device created for hip and knee replacement […]

The post ROBODOC Hip/Knee Replacement Surgical Robot prototype donated appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Robot Invasion: Are Smart Products Running Your Life?

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Advanced robotic prosthetics are breaking down the difference between human and machine, while consumer products equipped with cameras, sensors, and software seek to observe and learn from our behavior. As smart phones, thermostats, and robotic vacuum cleaners become more autonomous and lifelike, people develop emotional relationships with them. Join Cooper Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton as she speaks with the field’s top thinkers Carla Diana (Smart Design), Ayanna Howard (Georgia Institute of Technology), and Matthew Johannes (Johns Hopkins University) about how robots are changing the face of design and engineering. Beautiful Users is made possible by major support from Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee and Adobe Foundation Generous support is also provided by Dorit and Avi Reichental. Additional funding is provided by the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, the Ehrenkranz Fund, the Bill Moggridge Memorial Fund, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Deborah Buck, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc., and IDEO. Image: Neato robotic vacuum prototype, designed by Carla Diana, Smart Design Modular Prosthetic Limb, designed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Illustration by Bryan Christie

Toy, Tin Toy, Robot, Astro Scout 3 Astronaut

National Air and Space Museum
This metal Astro Scout 3 Astronaut is a "tin toy" manufactured in Japan for export to Western markets. Its maker, Yonezawa Toys, Co., Ltd., was one of the biggest manufacturers of such toys. In post-WWII Japan, producing these metal toys began as a way to tap into an international market for "penny toys" or cheap playthings, but developed by the late 1950s into a industry manufacturing creatively-designed, complex toys with moving parts and/lights that competed successfully with Western toymakers. Toys like this one, which can be viewed as either a human space traveler or a futuristic robot, blended the American fascination with outer space with the Japanese fad for robots.

Using “kanei-kogyo,” or family industries, many Japanese tin toy companies distributed preprinted metal sheets to home-based shops, where families worked together to stamp, shape, and wholly or partially assemble them. The distributor paid these family shops by the piece and shipped the completed toys overseas. Because space themes sold well, many toys received space-age designs or packaging.

The Gewirz family donated this toy to the Museum in 2006.

A Plan for a Robot Who Can Impersonate Your Mom

Smithsonian Magazine

There are robots that vacuum, robots that drive cross country and robots that can flash a smile and offer up your missed messages when you walk in the door at the end of the day. Now, Google owns a patent for the concept of a robot with full-on personalities. Any kind of personality you want!

According to the patent, the robot could impersonate celebs:

The robot personality may also be modifiable within a base personality construct (i.e., a default-persona) to provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion (e.g., the Woody Allen robot), thoughtfulness, derision (e.g., the Rodney Dangerfield robot), and so forth. These moods can again be triggered by cues or circumstances detected by the robot, or elicited on command.

But the personalities would not have to be pre-programmed—the robot could connect to your computer and phone and whip up that information into an impersonation:

In response to a "Be mom" command, "mom" may not be known to the robot. The robot processor can then search user devices for information about "mom"...the robot may be able to determine "mom's" voice from recordings, and further how the user interacts with "mom" from text messages and recordings. A photograph of "mom" may result in a display for the monitor.

And you might not even have to tell the robot what to do. Say the robot notices that you get sad when it rains:

The user-profile may be for the robot to then perform uplifting tunes from "Annie," to evoke positive reinforcement responses from the user when it rains. Using the information in the user-profile, the robotmay adopt a butler persona (e.g., Bruce Wayne's Alfred), and nicely offer an umbrella to the user as the user is leaving for work, or based on what the user is wearing, the robot may offer suggestions to the user based on the weather.

Sounds very very neat but kind of...vague. Right? MIT robotic ethics and intellectual property researcher Kate Darling thinks that's a problem. She explains at IEEE Spectrum:

When companies like Google lock down this type of early conceptual idea, it prevents others from working on the actual technical solutions. And at this stage in the space, we need more than one company innovating. Competition will drive better implementations of personalized robots.

One thing is clear: robot smarts are on the rise. Let's just hope we can keep telling them to be nice.

Meet the First Robot to Ring the NASDAQ Bell

Smithsonian Magazine

You might be ready for your robot overlords, but NASDAQ isn’t. They’ve invited all sorts of humans to ring their opening and closing bell, but yesterday marked the first robot to ever execute the honor. New Scientist has video:

The robot that did the deed is the UR5—a “multi-jointed, people-friendly robot arm,” as New Scientist describes it:

“It is a very exciting step for us, and an exciting step for the robot industry as a whole,” says Esben Østergaard of Universal Robots in Odense, Denmark, which makes UR5. “The world needs robots, and we are very happy to be chosen to represent this important event in the history of robot technology.”

Here you can see how the UR5 arm works in more detail:

Jennifer Hicks, at Forbes, explains exactly how the robot rang the bell:

To ring the NASDAQ closing bell, the UR5 robot arm was integrated with a three-fingered SDH gripper. UR5 weighs only 40 pounds and can handle a payload of up to 11.3 pounds. The programming to ring the bell is through an intuitive 3D tablet touchscreen — or by just grabbing the robot arm to demonstrate the desired movement.

As trading gets more and more automated and computers more integral to the process, it was probably only time before some sort of robot rang the bell. Just one more step to world domination by robots.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Robots Get Their Own Internet
My Robot Helper of Tomorrow

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