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Google Buys Boston Dynamics And Gets One Step Closer To World Domination

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Wild CatGoogle keeps up their steady march toward becoming an empire. Sure, there’s the search engine, gmail, Google Street View, and Google Glass, but I’m not even talking about that stuff. I’m talking about the fact that the monolithic company uses deep learning, is developing AI, wants to cure death, and hired futurist and singularity guru Ray Kurzweil as their director of engineering. Now, they’ve done something else that adds to that already impressive and somewhat frightening list: they bought Boston Dynamics.

What’s the big deal? You might be wondering. The big deal is that Boston Dynamics sits atop the robotics industry when it comes to make a certain type of robot—the kind that could chase you down, knock you over, scare the living shit out of you, and then save your life. A group of MIT engineers founded the company in 1992, with the goal to focus on mobility and maneuverability to make robots able to navigate almost any terrain and perform a variety of practical functions. One example is the Wildcat, which could be used for disaster relief or military operations, or in bringing nightmares to fruition. The Wildcat, like many other Boston Dynamic robots, was funded by DARPA.

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Meet Valkyrie, NASA’s Superhero Robot

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ValkyrieWe’ve done lots of posts here on GFR about NASA, many of which bemoan the state and the budget of the beleaguered agency. Now NASA has something that just may solve all of its problems — a superhero robot.

Valkyrie, who shares a name with female characters from Norse mythology who decide which soldiers die and which live, but who looks more like Iron Man, has the stature of a superhero at 6 feet tall and 275 pounds — it even sports a glowing NASA logo on its front. Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston built Valkyrie in just nine months as part of this month’s DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. This means Valkyrie will have to prove its disaster-thwarting meddle by driving vehicles, clearing debris, cutting through obstructions, climbing ladders, turning valves and knobs, and other physical tasks that any life-saving superhero needs to be able to perform.

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Man Becomes First Person To Be Officially Recognized As A Cyborg

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Neil-HarbissonNeil Harbisson has achromatopsia, a condition that prevents him from seeing color — for him, 50 shades of gray has an entirely different and far less erotic meaning. Distinguishing between traffic signal colors is a problem, but beyond the logistical and practical difficulties, Harbisson has always struggled with the aesthetic limitations of his condition. Just think of what it’s like for this guy to watch cartoons or fireworks! Knowing that the aesthetics of color have a huge impact on people with normal vision, about 10 years ago he decided to fix the problem by augmenting himself. That’s right — he became a cyborg.

Admittedly, he’s not a fully hybridized half-human/half-robot cyborg. His augmentation is fairly small — it’s a device called an “Eyeborg” that mounts onto his head. It allows him to see color and then some — the device also enables him to hear and feel color by converting colors into soundwaves. Harbisson experiences a device-induced form of synesthesia, or a blending of the senses, enabled by bone conduction, a process by which sounds travel to the base of his skull where a vibration mechanism then transmits them to his inner ears. The Eyeborg assigns a specific frequency to each color, with infrared being the lowest and ultraviolet light the highest.

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Robots Are Revolutionizing Education And Development For Autistic Children

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Nao robotKids with autism or Asperger’s often struggle with social interaction, which can make conventional classroom learning extremely challenging and sometimes not terribly effective. Since many kids on the autism spectrum find technology easier and more fruitful to interact with than other people, scientists and engineers are developing robots, hardware, and programs that help autistic kids learn difficult social skills.

Since classrooms full of other kids often prove to be overstimulating and even upsetting for children on the autistic spectrum, leveraging their affinity for technology seems like a smart approach. Vanderbilt University scientists have created Russell, a humanoid robot designed to help autistic children learn to mimic behavior. Because kids with autism “tend to understand the physical world much better than the social world,” according to the project’s computer and mechanical engineer Nilanjan Sarkar, Russell is an ideal learning tool. While it demonstrates some human characteristics, it isn’t anywhere near as complicated as another person; thus, it’s far less likely to overwhelm kids, and it won’t judge, get frustrated, or respond emotionally to the interactions. Robotics are also perfectly consistent and modifiable.

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This Superb Synthespians Poster Features All Your Favorite Robots And Then Some

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robot posterI know what you guys are thinking: We’re a website with the word robot in our name and we never ever have any stories about robots. Except for, you know, all the stories we write about robots. Taking a step back from reality, we dive wholeheartedly into the spectacular poster above for artist Scott Park’s creation “Synthespians. Robots. Cyborgs. Holograms. Computers.” It culls 66 of the most famous and recognizable electro-beings from the realm of film and television. The only problem I have with it is that it’s finite and it isn’t currently in my hands right now. I may have to send a T-1000 to Mr. Park’s place of business to “talk him out of one.”

From the biggest bots—including the Iron Giant, Optimus Prime, and Gypsy Danger—to the smallest—the likes of HAL9000, a Farscape DRD, and Adventure Time‘s BMO—Park’s collection is truly amazing. He’s got a list beneath the images that sources all of the movies and series that the characters come from, but it’s so much more fun to just try and identify them by yourself. Or with friends. (And even if you don’t have any friends, just hug your computer while you do your identifying.)

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Move Over, Jacques Cousteau—This Robot Turtle Investigates Shipwrecks

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U-CATWhile drones and rovers are common in the robot-related headlines these days, robots are slowly but surely taking to the seas as well. We’ve got robotic jellyfish and robots that can change color, a la cuttlefish and octopi. Now we can add a robotic turtle to that list.