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ICRA 2014 Workshop on Robotics and Military Applications

April 23, 2014 – 2:36 pm | | Edit Post

The IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) is undoubtedly one of the largest conferences in robotics. The conference covers everything from nano-robots to exoskeletons to artificial intelligence to human-robot interaction. This year, the conference will be …

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Commentaries by AJung on anything and everything robots/roboethics

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What does it mean to have giants like Google, Apple and Amazon investing in robotics?

February 12, 2014 – 11:14 pm | | Edit Post


It’s exciting for the robotics community that the giants (Google, Apple, and Amazon) are actively investing in robotics.

Indeed, my initial response to hearing about Google’s first seven of a series of acquisitions of robotics-related companies was a very positive one (these companies include Shaft, Industrial Perception, Meka Robotics, Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss, and Holomni, see Frank Tobe’s article for more details on these companies). Technologies from these companies are ones that can make robots mobile, perceptive, responsive, and interactive. The fact that the companies are now housed under one giant roof of Google made me imagine a future of next generation robots where Google-branded humanoids will be the next Baxter, working shoulder-to-shoulder with people in dynamic manufacturing environments, or assisting caregivers and serving seniors at care facilities. How could it not be exciting?

Even if Google’s actual direction is to put bipedal robots in self-driving cars so that people can enjoy fast, fully-autonomous door-to-door delivery of flowers on Valentine’s Day, my view was that such investments can only be good for the robotics community. Large scale investments by giant corporations, regardless of what their actual plans are, can have a positive impact on the job market for roboticists, increase competition between the giants and push robotics forward.

Then I began to feel a little bit uneasy when Google acquired Boston Dynamics. That’s because Boston Dynamics is not only a company with one of the most impressive control systems I’ve ever seen (I’m sure many of you will agree with this from the video of Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, which has over 15 million views on YouTube), but it’s also a company that is known to have developed such impressive systems for the Pentagon, of all clients.

What does this all mean? What is Google planning to do with robots that can keep itself upright after being kicked, walk through rough terrains, run as fast as 29 miles per hour? The combination of Google-acquired companies became even more mysterious when the London-based AI company, DeepMind, was added to the mix. It’s safe to say that the uncertainty over Google’s plans with these companies has stirred up quite a bit of concern to the general public: some media coverage on the topic have been hyping the idea of Google buildingSkynet or being in the business of building robot soldiers.

Unless Google is indeed headed in those directions, I don’t believe that the public concern about the possibility of human extinction by Google-made robots in the near future is a good thing, either for the company or for the field of robotics in general. I think that public concerns over Google’s investment directions exist today because we, as a society, lack the presence of governing bodies whose role is to ensure that robotics technologies are developed and used for purposes desirable for the society, in manners aligned with society’s values.

However, I do applaud the fact that Google is setting up an ethics board to presumably oversee what they will and will not do with their technologies. If Google takes ethics seriously, I think Google could be a game changer in robotics (although it already is), not just by producing and selling cool robots in the future, but more importantly, by leading the way of tightly coupling ethics in robotics and making robots that “don’t do evil”.


**This post was first published on Robohub.org. To read more about “What does it mean to have giants like Google, Apple and Amazon investing in robotics?” by other experts, visit Robohubg.org 

What were the top stories in robotics from 2013?

December 11, 2013 – 6:50 am | | Edit Post

2013 was a year filled with talk of drones.
I’m not saying this just because I’m biased by the recent news reporting on how large companies (Amazon, DHL, and UPS to be exact) are exploring the use of drones …

Robots Podcast: Julie Carpenter on Working with EOD Personnel

November 29, 2013 – 6:28 am | | Edit Post

Following my Robots Podcast interview with Peter Asaro a few months ago, I had the opportunity to interview another person on a related topic: robots who work with EOD personnel. I spoke with Julie Carpenter, …

Do robots need heads?

August 15, 2013 – 7:00 am | | Edit Post

Are you curious about what your future robotic assistants will look like?
My bet is that by the time you buy your very first robotic butler, it will have a friendly head on it that moves. …

Robots Podcast: Peter Asaro on Autonomous Weapons

May 17, 2013 – 6:23 am | | Edit Post

Earlier this year, there was a very exciting progress on the drone-discussions front. On behalf of Robots Podcast, I spoke with Peter Asaro from The New School in New York city about autonomous weapons systems. Peter spoke about …

The Ethical Robot License – Tackling open robotics liability headaches

May 6, 2013 – 11:03 pm | | Edit Post

At We Robot 2013 Diana Cooper, a JD Candidate at the University of Ottawa, presented her attempt to tackle the open source headache by proposing a new license called the Ethical Robot License (ERL). In her paper, A Licensing Approach to Regulation of Open Robotics, Cooper presents ERL as “a licensing approach to allocate liability between manufacturers and users and promote ethical and non-harmful use of open robots”.

Video interviews from Robot Block Party 2013

April 18, 2013 – 1:49 am | | Edit Post

Last week, Robot Block Party 2013 took place right after We Robot conference.
Of course, I had an extra day to spend at Stanford University after the conference and couldn’t miss out on the event.
The …

New Book: “Robot Futures” by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh

March 26, 2013 – 1:36 pm | | Edit Post

Robot Futures is a new book written by Dr. Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has been teaching roboethics at the university for many years. According to Dr. Noel Sharkey, this book is “[a]n exhilarating dash into the future of robotics from a scholar with the enthusiasm of a bag of monkeys. It is gripping from the start with little sci-fi stories in each chapter punching home points backed up forcefully by factual reality. This is an entertaining tour de force that will appeal to anyone with an interest in robots.”

Self-awareness, Robot Rights, and Today’s Robots

November 6, 2012 – 2:51 pm | | Edit Post

Last Friday, I was sitting in a seminar room reading up on an article that introduced me to a group called the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots (ASPCR). The message of the group and its position is very clear from the website. The front page of the website reads in large letters “Robots are people too! Or at least they will be someday” and “Upholding Robotic Rights Since 1999″.

I am very much open to such discussion of robot rights if and when such machines are developed. I think advocating for robot rights would become necessary if robots are sentient beings that are equal to humans.

However, if and before we are to get to that point, maybe we should be asking ‘why’ we would want such a machine in the first place?

In search for more HRI/Roboethics — start of CITEC Summer School

August 28, 2012 – 12:36 pm | | Edit Post

I woke up Saturday morning with less sense of panic than I had expected.
I was scheduled to leave for Europe later that day, and I still had barely packed for my three-week trip. It’s not …

Can robots know the difference between right and wrong?

May 3, 2011 – 6:41 pm | | Edit Post

Whenever I introduce people to roboethics, people can’t help but ask me “Is robotics technology really advanced enough for us to even worry about ethical issues surrounding them?”.

I think this BBC report (forwarded to me via my labmate Tom Huryn) does a great job of connecting what’s out there already, and how roboethics is indeed a relevant topic of discussion today (rather than something sci-fi-esque for a distant future).