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DARPA Is Making Transformer Robots

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ARESIt’s been over a month since we last checked in with DARPA, which means it must be time for an update — those robotics designers at DARPA don’t stay still for long. And it turns out they’ve been working on a particularly cool project: Transformers.

DARPA’s actually been working on the Transformer (TX) program for a few years now, and last year they decided to develop the concept for ARES (Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System). The system was developed in response to a common problem that arises during war: soldiers being stranded in remote and dangerous areas. In the movies, we always see helicopters swoop to the rescue, but there aren’t enough helicopters to go around. But what if there was a machine that was part helicopter, part drone, part transport, and part cargo supplier?

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A Real Life Power Loader From Aliens Isn’t Far Off

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Exosuits are big in sci-fi right now. For all of the movie’s flaws, the metal frame that Matt Damon has bolted into his skeleton in Elysium is totally badass. And sure, the one Tom Cruise wears in the upcoming Edge of Tomorrow is clunky, bulky, and comical looking when he runs, but it makes up for any inherent silliness with ample, alien-fighting firepower. Activelink, a subsidiary of Panasonic, is working on an exoskeleton called the Power Loader that is definitely more science and less fiction.

This device amplifies human strength and will come in handy when you have to do things like move heavy loads, or in clear rubble in the case of an emergencys. Or, you know, in the event that you have to strap in and fight off an armor-plated alien-queen killing machine. This looks and functions almost exactly like the power loader that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) uses to beat back the big bitch xenomorph in James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens. It’s even just named the Power Loader, for crying out load. They must have taken one look at this, realized exactly what it is they built, and said, what the hell, why call it anything else?

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Extant Adds One More Cast Member And Talks About Robot Children

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ExtantEven though many of us are already pumped for CBS’ upcoming sci-fi thriller Extant, we don’t know all that much about what the show. Sure, Steven Spielberg is producing and Halle Berry is the star—those facts alone are enough to capture a wealth of attention—but beyond that we only have a vague, bare bones description of what the plot will look like when the series premieres July 2. There’s been another name added to the even expanding cast list, and a fact that’s been known for a while, but flown under the radar—that Halle Berry has a robot son—is getting more play.

Last week TV veterans Goran Visnjic and Michael O’Neil joined Extant, and now TV Line reports that Grace Gummer has signed on to join the party as well. Gummer may be known as Meryl Streep’s daughter, but is an accomplished actor in her own right, having appeared in the likes of last year’s indie hit Frances Ha, The Newsroom, and American Horror Story, among others.

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Drone Crash Near California Raises Concerns, Again

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DroneSecret stealth drones, French and Norwegian drones, spotlight-stealing German drones, Amazon delivery drones — the list goes on and on. Drones are in the spotlight more than Justin Bieber these days, and with them, concerns about privacy and safety. The safety concern was underscored Monday, when an American drone patrolling the Mexican border crashed near the southern California coast, about 20 miles from San Diego.

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service has a fleet of 10 drones that patrol the Mexican border looking for people smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants. This particular $12 million Predator B surveillance drone has a special kind of radar system for use over the ocean — there’s only one other like it in the fleet. The drone started experiencing mechanical problems and a crew in Arizona operating it made the decision to crash it into the Pacific because they couldn’t return it to its point of origin in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Later reports indicated that the drone was on a routine patrol mission when its generator failed, and that the back-up battery didn’t have enough charge to fly the drone back to a landing pad. Upon hitting the Pacific, the drone broke into pieces, and the CBP has surrounded the area to troll for recoverable parts. The origin of the generator failure is thus far unknown, or at least hasn’t been released, but the rest of the fleet has been grounded during the investigation.

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Robots Galore At This Year’s CES (Plus Doc Brown And A DeLorean)

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AlibabaI officially have a new entry on my bucket list — someday, I will attend CES, the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) international conference showcasing the best inventions and innovations from around the world. With over 3,000 exhibits and 300 conferences and sessions, this is a tech geek’s dream. They’ve got electronics, computers, gaming, telecommunications, driverless cars, and, most importantly, robots. And more robots. For those of us who didn’t get to attend the conference, I’m sure we’ll see some of these bots on the market soon. Until then, here’s a preview to get you all excited and ready to shell out dough for these robots that perform very specific tasks.

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New Study Measures How Well Humans And Robots Interact

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nao robotRobots: friends or foes? Companions or competitors? I’m not sure the debate will ever truly be settled, but one thing most of us will agree on is that the use of robots will only continue to become more widespread as the years pass. There are even a couple on the ISS right now, and one is there to test whether its presence helps keeps the isolation and loneliness of the astronauts at bay. Even though most mechs are used in factory and military operations, robots designed to interact socially with humans—the Jetson’s maid Rosie is probably the earliest culturally pervasive example—will become more and more a part of our daily lives. What will that mean for society? Is it possible for us to interact with our automated counterparts in anything approaching a natural, comfortable way? Time will tell, but researchers are trying to come up with answers sooner than that.

Six universities in Bristol and Bath plan to test human-robot interactions. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the project, Being There: Humans and Robots in Public Spaces, will test the possibilities of sending robot emissarys to places people can’t get. The idea of a robot proxy isn’t new, but most of the existing models, such as the VGo, aren’t humanoid—they look like segways with a screen. The idea has merit—how many times have you wanted to be in two places at once? How many overseas weddings have you been unable to attend? Have you ever been too sick to see a concert or go to a party? Robotic proxies could provide the next best thing to actual attendance, and according to the project leader, could “help to reduce social isolation and increase civic participation.”