January 26, 2017 weblog
Playing with little robots that act smart around obstacle courses
That question is the foundation of the bots_alive story and technology.
Brad Knox said for nine years he researched how people could interact with machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics. After he got his PhD at University of Texas at Austin he went to the MIT Media Lab as researcher.
He said there they wanted to see how robots could interact with people and they would huddle and ask why there were no robots they would really want to interact with for more than a few minutes!
The conversations led him to start bots_alive. He said the focus is on robots that you feel are alive even though you know they are just machines. The little robots are critter-like and bots_alive is now a Kickstarter project. They are offering a robot kit where your smartphone plays a key role as the eyes and brains of this spider.
Michael Irving in New Atlas reported that "A new kit called bots_alive, which adds AI and augmented reality elements to an existing Hexbug Spider, is now crawling out of the toy box and onto Kickstarter."
Explaining the Hexbug, New Atlas said, "These relatively cheap robo-bugs are normally remote-controlled, but the bots_alive kit is designed to give them a life of their own."
Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum wrote about their use of computer vision. Ackerman said the little items are using "computer vision to localize a fiducial sticker placed on the robot's head. As long as your phone's camera can see the fiducial, it has full control of the robot's movements, and gives it a life of its own."
As the Kickstarter site page said, craft obstacle courses and watch these robots solve them with lifelike intelligence. This is a kit that turns mindless remote-controlled Hexbug Spiders into smart and autonomous creatures.
Knox said his team created robot behaviors that are varied and unpredictable. And that points to the significance of these little things. IEEE Spectrum noted what we have here are sophisticated brains being brought to cheap robots.
Tyler Lee in Ubergizmo: "It's one thing to be able to manually remote control drones or robots, but it's another thing to have them control themselves." Lee added, "the possibilities of autonomous robots that can figure their way out of problems does hold a lot of promises."
Lee described the process, saying "robots can find their way around various beacons. For example you could craft a maze and get the robot to seek out a blue beacon, and placing red beacons in its path means that its AI will then try to figure out a way around it."
Lee wrote about the unpredictability in action, where "the robots are unpredictable as they will be able to generate a variety of possible paths to take before deciding, going to show that it is 'thinking' about its next move."
Kyle Wiggers in Digital Trends also reported on this feature. "AI programmers typically give robots personalities with decision trees, Knox explained, dictating the rules by which they abide when behaving in certain ways. But true artificial intelligence of the kind embodied by bots_alive is entirely free form. 'We don't always know what the robot will do,' he said."
Those who want to have this item can pledge on the Kickstarter page where prices vary according to what you choose, so it is best to check there. But as an example, a pledge of $60 will get you the complete bot_alive kit. Estimated delivery is September.
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