Toy Robot poised to save the world… we hope.

October 12, 2008

Source: Wired, Hanson Robotics

Zeno, the robot who will save the world, maybe.

Meet Zeno, a robot who seeks to save humanity from evil. What could possibly go wrong with that?

A boy bot on a mission. Hailing from an “Inventing Academy” in the year 2027 where child robots learn to fight evil, an 18-inch tall boy robot has been sent back to present day to stop evil A.I.s from taking over the world. Apparently, John Conner has run out of reprogrammed T-800s and is reduced to sending toys back through time.

The next Terminator movie script? Nope. It’s the back story created by Hanson Robotics to introduce Zeno the RoboKind at the recent Wired magazine NextFest. The idea behind Zeno’s existence is a familiar one:

David Hanson, Hanson Robotics:

We want to be damn sure that by the time [robots] become as smart as we are, they have a conscience and compassion and that we are friends.,” Hanson said. “There’s no guarantee. They could be psychotic.”

There are other robots and projects that are trying to make living with robots easier and making our eventual mechanical successors friendlier, so Zeno may seem unnecessary. Then again, those projects don’t have the Terminator-esque back story that humans can relate to.


Living la Vida Beta. Zeno has been under development for the past couple of years, so he still has some technical issues to overcome yet before realizing his full potential. He already has the ability to “recognize” people thanks to face- and voice-recognition. Future abilities may include a WiFi connection to the Internet, and the ability to make and test theories about the world (conspiracy theorists, consider yourselves warned).

Hanson Robotics is looking to bring Zeno to market around 2010 where the full-sized (18″), fully-capable dude may sell for $1500 US. A smaller (6″), less intelligent version will be priced for $300 US.

Check out YouTube’s collection of Zeno videos.
This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

You know I hate to ask, but are ‘phriends’ robotic?

September 11, 2008

Sources: ZDNet, ICT Results, PHRIENDS Consortium website


No, don’t go singing that Rembrants song! We’re not talking about the TV show, but a European project consortium. One with a rather ambitious goal: To get robots to observe and obey Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

From the PHRIENDS website, project page:

The European Machine Directive 98/37/EC states that all appropriate measures shall be taken to ensure that machinery or safety components may be placed on the market and put into service only if they do no endanger the health or safety of persons and, where appropriate, domestic animals or property.

This directive is the basic impetus behind the PHRIENDS project to make “safer” robots for human-robot interaction. The three-year project is due to end September 30, 2009, and they hope robots will be safe enough for humans by then. Exactly how do they plan to do this? Develop the technology:

From the Objectives page

A) new actuator concepts and prototypes;
B) new dependable algorithms for supervision and planning;
C) new control algorithms for handling safe human-robot physical interaction and for fault tolerant behaviour.

Furthermore, PHRIENDS will
D) integrate these components in functionally meaningful subsystems;
E) evaluate quantitatively components and subsystems via experimental testing;
F) contribute to the ongoing effort of international bodies towards the establishment of new standards for collaborative human-robot operation.

So, where’s the Three Laws? It appears the the forced programming of the Three Laws is not in the plans… yet. Although (B) and (C) could be used as reasons for such programming.

If this project does succeed, will it keep potential SkyNets, SHODANs, and HALs from being created? And what will this do to America’s bot-crazed military programs?


Then again, if humans have to work around bots like this 700 ton earth-mover or this self-steering (maybe self-driving?) bus, one had better hope they are “Three Laws safe.”

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

ASIMO conducts an orchestra, and the humans obey!

May 15, 2008

Obey me, my minions, or I will poke your eyes out with this pointy stick!

Detroit, Michigan, United States. 13-May-2008. (Source: ABC News via The Associated Press) Honda’s ASIMO robot becomes a music machine as it picks up a baton to conduct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra through the opera tune “The Impossible Dream.” The performance was to highlight a $1M gift from Honda to the orchestra’s music education fund.

The irony may be lost to those of you who may not have known that Detroit suffered a downturn when the US automakers closed their plants there because of Japanese automakers gains in America’s markets following the gas shortages of the seventies.


Practice makes perfect. Almost. ASIMO’s limitations became apparent during a rehersal. It was programmed to observe the orchestra’s education director and mimic his moves, but it could not adjust the pacing of the music:

During the first rehearsal, the orchestra lost its place when ASIMO began to slow the tempo, something a human conductor would have sensed and corrected, said bassist Larry Hutchinson.

The song went off without any problems reported, and ASIMO… and the orchestra… was applauded for the performance. Though if ASIMO wants to take up the baton again, it will need to learn to control the tempo of the music better. But considering how far it has come with just walking, that shouldn’t be much of a problem for ASIMO’s engineers to correct.

Now if ASIMO could be taught how to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen, or electronics like Kraftwerk…

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

When “Bum Bot” rolls, human bums run

May 10, 2008

This story first appeared in Atlanta’s Journal-Constitution in February, but only recently started making rounds on the ‘net. Bar owner Rufus Terrill had enough of the pushers, derelicts, and criminal elements around his watering hole. His answer: One bad-assed, homebuilt robot.

From the Atlanta Journal-Consititution:

He mounted an old meat smoker atop a three-wheel scooter and attached a spotlight, an infrared camera, water cannon and a loudspeaker. He covered the contraption with impact-resistant rubber and painted the whole thing jet black.

And so was born what surely must be Atlanta’s first remote-controlled, robotic vigilante.


Proto-’Robocop’ hits the streets. The area around O’Terrill (the bar) also has a daycare center… and a homeless shelter that drug dealers target every night. Terrill built and pilots his bot to combat the dealers, playing on the Terminator fears of a robot revolt.

Late at night several times a week, Terrill powers up the 4-foot-tall, 300 pound device and reaches for a remote control packed with two joysticks and various knobs and switches. Standing on a nearby corner, he maneuvers the machine down the block, often to a daycare center where it accosts what Terrill says are drug dealers, vagrants and others who shouldn’t be there.

He flashes the robot’s spotlight and grabs a walkie-talkie, which he uses to boom his disembodied voice over the robot’s sound system.

“I tell them they are trespassing, it’s private property, and they have to leave,” he said. “They throw bottles and cans at it. That’s when I shoot the water cannon. They just scatter like roaches.”

Homeless advocates have criticized the Bum Bot as an attention-grabbing political ploy (Terrill ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006 and lost), and Atlanta police have threatened to arrest Terrill for assault if he used the bot’s water cannon on someone. But so far, there haven’t been any complaints logged against Terrill or his bot, and threats to shoot the bot have been hollow.


More (fire)power to you, Bum Bot! Terrill’s patrons have been having fun watching Bum Bot in action, and the daycare center has been happy with the decrease in criminal activity since its patrols in the area.

There may be other Bum Bots out there, silently patrolling the mean streets and chasing the bums away. Thanks to Terrill and his Bum Bot, there are going to be other handyman types building “Bum Bots” to combat crime in their area.

This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.