Tag Archives: Robots

The future forty-seven years ago.

This clip of science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke discussing future potentialities for civilization is outstanding. Granted, his forecast of developments in the urban environment isn’t totally correct. The architectural examples don’t exactly match up. The version of the urban center presented represents a visual aesthetic of the future-past more familiar with The Jetsons than most metropolises of today. However, Clarke’s foresight in discussing  interconnectivity through what we now refer to as telecommunication is  on point. He’s talking about telepresence, a term coined some sixteen years later, more than a decade prior to the the home computer being introduced to the commerical market.

Watch the rest of the BBC Special [part 1 and part 2] to hear about the bioengineering of animals to create super-chimpanzees, the end of biological evolution making way for inorganic/mechanical evolution, the application of suspended-animation for travelling into the future, and “the invention to end all inventions” called “the replicator”. According to this chronological list of predictions beginning in 2001, the universal replicator can be expected to be completed sometime in 2040, the same year as the popular utilization in the medical field of “the braincap”, a device which allows doctors to experience their patients symptoms.

Read Childhood’s End if you haven’t already.

Thanks Hill.

Supercomputer defeats the champions of Jeopardy.

Get used to it.

Bathyscaphe Trieste in the Mariana Trench, AUVs, and the Mapping of the Ocean Floor

[Image: A late 1950s artwork, depicting Trieste operating on the deep ocean floor. U.S. NHHC Photograph.]


According to a Popular Mechanics article from October 2009, more humans have made it to the outer limits, beyond our atmosphere into “space”, than have plunged into the mysterious depths of our earth’s oceans, into the “deep sea”. In order to clarify how an underwater area comes to be considered “deep sea”, its been commonly defined as “as the area below which photosynthesis can function“, which is generally around 600 feet below the surface.

Epic manned missions have taken place into the deep sea, most notably the Trieste’s six-mile submersion in 1960 into the deepest known part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. The two-man crew aboard remain the only human beings  to  ever reach such depths.

[Image: The route of the Challenger traveled between 1872-1876]


To briefly describe the extreme geography explored, the Mariana  trench is “the lowest elevation of the surface of the earth’s crust”. This anomaly of the underwater landscape is located in the Western Pacific Ocean and was first discovered during the Challenger Expedition in the 1870’s, a three-and-a-half year voyage across the globe’s waters.

The area surveyed by the Trieste over a hundred years later is appropriatley titled the Challenger Deep, named after the  expedition which originally discovered it. The area is “more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is high”
and the pressure about 1,100 times greater than that of the surface. Two other missions have since journeyed into the Challenger Deep. However, both trips were completed by unmanned robotic vessels.

Presently, the realm of underwater data collection and the death-defying dives involved have been assigned to specially designed underwater vehicles meant for maneuvering in the extremely high-pressure, low-light conditions miles beneath the water’s surface.

[Image: Underwater shot of BP oil spill via submersible robot.]


Submersible robots were popularly seen most recently in relation to the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the robots being controlled from land by remote operators using the mechanical arms equipped with various tools to secure containment caps on the underwater leaks.  These were also the same robots which provided the horrific and sureal live feed of oil gushing uncontrollably underwater. [An aside: Edward Burtynsky’s Aerial Views of the Oil Spill are totally insane.]

Removed from the world of disaster response and human-operated underwater robots, some of the most exciting developments happening in underwater exploration are due in part to the developments of the AUV, or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. These robots are separated from other underwater robots by their ability to maneuver without manual control and be powered internally by battery or, in a much more high-tech, eco-friendly fashion, by collecting thermal energy from the ocean.

From ImpactLab.net:

When it [the AUV] moves from cooler water to warmer areas, internal
tubes of wax are heated up and expand, pushing out the gas in
surrounding tanks and increasing its pressure. The compressed gas
stores potential energy, like a squeezed spring, that can be used to
power the vehicle.


Battery-powered AUVs, such as the one recently put into action by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, are also still developing.

The AUV completed a four-day science run with plenty of battery power remaining, using relatively low-power rechargeable batteries. Based on these promising initial results, the researchers hope that the little robot will eventually be able to travel from California to Hawaii using high-power disposable batteries.


And as far as the AUV’s mean of communication: Radio frequencies don’t work underwater and the robots communicate in a way similar to whales using an underwater acoustic positioning system.

[Image: A view of the inner workings of Festa’s Aqua Penguin]


Presently, I’m reminded to include a link to footage of Festo’s Aqua Penguin, among a handful of Festo’s other remarkable accomplishments. From their website:

The bionic Penguins are designed as autonomous underwater vehicles that independently orient themselves and navigate through the water basin. They are supported by a 3D sonar system which, as with dolphins, allows communication with their surroundings and with other robotic penguins – for example to avoid collisions.


Its fair to ask how this sort of engineering and robotics fits into our lives, technology replacing humans in the vast world of exploration. Maybe an even better question to ask at the moment would be exactly how will these sort of developments progress to become part of the cadre of everyday experience. Will we next invent robots that supersede humans in developing new technologies? Robots developing robots better than themselves…

The work being done by Festo probably deserves a post of it’s own, a space dedicated to analyzing the significance of inventions such as the AirPenguin. The surface is really just being skimmed here in terms of thinking about this technology.

[Image: The R.M.S. Titanic as seen in Google Earth.]


To veer back onto a discussion regarding robots of the underwater variety, my own interest in the topic originated from considering the mapping of the ocean. Aside from the aesthetic splendor of the images produced by such projects, the concept of navigating and revealing this lightly-chartered realm  of the earth through the use of technology seems important to understanding how we will continue to experience and engage with our natural environment.

The latest version of Google Earth is now equipped with an  Ocean feature, an application which allows the user a new freedom of movement:

…to dive beneath the surface, explore the ocean with top marine experts, learn about ocean observations, climate change, endangered species and discover new places including surf spots, shipwrecks and travel spots.


As a Guardian article from Feburary of last year states, the mapping of the seabed is bringing Google Earth “closer to its aim of creating a complete digital representation of the planet.” With the earth being around 70% water, the ability to explore and document the deep sea is crucial to this virtual pioneering of the globe.

One must wonder, does this change things? Will a simulated tour around the world change the way we come to think of ourselves, how we position our personal lives in the realm of the larger universe? If it were possible to collectively get to a point where our mental states were always in a sort of “Powers of Ten” version of awareness, constantly awed by the magnitude of the galaxy, would we even be able to function as we do now or would our minds collapse under the pressure?

Better yet, perhaps after Google Earth conquers the ocean, a technology can be created which, via webcam, a user is allowed to have a microcosmic experience along with their macro one, zooming in on a pore of their nose and moving ever smaller into molecular wonderment only to eventually return, gradually zooming farther out, to the standard start-up image of Google Earth: The globe seen as a round mass of land and water.

It can be said with certainty that the age of exploration is not yet dead, that their is plenty of this earth yet to be discovered. However, all of this landscape is underwater, hidden under tons upon tons of pressure, among total darkness and weird deep sea creatures. So we create a cartography of the inaccessible  abyss and send robots of our own making in place for us to build and fix things, to record and collect data, and to assist in simulating such a submerged experience, one more effort towards trying see places we are unable to go.

Telepresence robots

[Image: Sally Ryan for The New York Times]

.“The beauty of mobile telepresence is it challenges the notion of what it means to be somewhere.”

A recent New York Time’s article, “The Boss is Robotic, and Rolling Up Behind You”, discloses various forms and functions of what are being called “telepresence robots”, essentially travelling flat screen monitors with two-way video and audio.  Incorporating already-existing telepresence technology with newfound mobility, the robots are being used in corporate and medical settings, filling the place of the person unavailable in the flesh. There are larger implications for these devices to be used for the handicapped and the elderly, though it will probably be some time before we start seeing these things show up at Target and obtain official commodity-object status.

What I’m really waiting for is for the telepresence robot party, a sort-of Chat Roulette  meets bumper cars scenario where a group of these devices manuever around a large-room, briefly talking and smashing into each other as they try to move away from the penises as quickly as possible.

Silent Running – 1972 eco sci-fi with robot drones

It would be an understatement to say that this 70’s science-fiction flick comes bearing a message.  If the grating voice of Joan Baez in the movie’s soundtrack singing about the beauty of nature weren’t enough to enforce the tree-hugging moral, consider the presented scenario: There are no more trees or plant-life on earth. The only existing vegetation exists in large domes that move through outer space attached to a ship manned by three very unsympathetic astronauts, three robot drones akin to steel-plated television box sets on wheels (accomplished by employing double amputee actors), and one very vengeful astronaut hippy responsible for maintaining the several eco-domes—barefoot, while wearing a cloak. In spite of Earth’s request to radiate the domes into oblivion, our faithful, friend of all furry creatures and is determined to save the forests.

As retrospectively cheesy and over-simplified as this movie is, “Silent Running” carries such a strong “green-minded” stance that I would be interested what the writer would have done had all the information and understanding of global warming, oil dependency, and the global health dangers of genetically modified products were as present as they are now. Undoubtedly, this is what allowed stories such as “Children of Men” and “The Road” (the book, not the movie) to develop with such a keen focus on the present, providing a historically-relevant commentary through presenting a future based on a sensitive understanding of facts. Alas, we still have movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” that have full-access to an abundance of informed ideas and still manage to turn out as awful and senseless Hollywood flops.

For the best cheesey 70’s sci-fi, I would continue to regard “Logan’s Run” as the brightly colored, polyester zenith.

Do Android Hunters Dream of Custom Robotic Wildlife?

“Of course, some of their animals consisted of electronic circuitry fakes, too; he had of course never nosed into the matter, any more than they, his neighbors, had pried into the real workings of his sheep. Nothing could be more impolite. To say, ‘Is your sheep genuine?’ would be a worse breach of manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic.”


Reading Philip K. Dicks “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep“, the novel “Bladerunner” is loosely based off of, I was brought back to an article I read in Wired about electronic animals being manufactured by Custom Robotic Wildlife. The electronic workings of these robotic, remote-controlled robots are covered in  the hide of various animals, the product line including bears, foxes, and deer, “combining technology, creativity and the art of taxidermy”. With multiple purposes ranging from decoys to catch illegal hunters to creepy mall displays, these android animals come across as strikingly life-like.

Probably the perfect wildlife accessory to go with your Real Doll.