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This Kickstarter Aims To Bring Robotic Combat Back To The Masses

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robogamesRemember Robot Wars from back in the day? Actually, there were a few—the 1994 U.S. series in San Francisco, a British game show first broadcast on BBC in 1998, and then a Nickelodeon version featuring kids driving the robots in 2002. All of these shows gave rise to SyFy’s Robot Combat League (which features humanoid, mecha-ish robots, and is by far the weakest of them all). Anyway, robots have been fighting each other for human entertainment for a while now, but unless Robot Combat League gets another season, there’s a dearth of these shows available at the moment. But all that’s about to change—RoboGames is coming to a computer near you.

RoboGames, created by the Robotics Society of America in 2004, bills itself as the “Olympics of Robots.” Competitors from all over the world compete in over 50 different robot fighting events, including Kung-Fu, Lego robots (including Lego bowling!), bartending, painting, and weight lifting—basically, if it’s something a robot can do, it’s an event. The games are held every year, and have aired on the Science Channel and on Discovery, but thanks to a successful Kickstarter, we’ll soon have access to a bunch of new mech combat, this time, in the form of a new independent web series.

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A Robot Comes Of Age And Gets Firebombed In This Chappie Trailer

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After District 9, South African director Neill Blomkamp stumbled with his sophomore picture, Elysium. You’ll notice something in all the marketing for his next film, Chappie, including this new trailer, it only ever notes his first outing. His next offering looks promising, and though there are some aesthetic similarities, this is markedly different from his previous work.

Voiced by frequent Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley, Chappie revolves around the titular robot “born” into a South African slum, and it looks to add a sci-fi twist to your typical coming of age story. Created by Dev Patel’s character, Chappie is a machine that can think and feel (there’s also a sweet RoboCop POV nod in this trailer), and he has all of the standard learning-the-world growing pains everyone else has, which are all accentuated because he’s mechanical.

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Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie Plays With Blocks In This Poster, First Trailer Drops Soon

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ChappieWith features District 9 and Elysium under his belt, Neill Blomkamp is one of the rising young visionary directors in science fiction (even if his last outing did leave some flat, it’s a gorgeous picture to look at). Using the genre as social allegory is key to his approach and aesthetic, and that’s sure to figure into his next film, Chappie. Now we’ve got a banner poster, a one sheet that gives us our best look at the title robot, and be sure to stay tuned tomorrow, as the first trailer is slated to drop into our laps.

Tonally, Chappie is going to be something of a departure for Blomkamp. His previous two films are both rather serious affairs, but his next reportedly has more of a comedic streak, though it is still sure to feature much of the director’s celebrated action chops. Just expect more laughs, which, aside from some moments with Sharlto Copley in District 9, haven’t figured very prominently in his body of work.

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Virtual Reality Helps Scientists Read Robots’ Minds, Here’s How

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robot thoughts

photo courtesy of Melanie Gonick, MIT

A few weeks ago, GFR reported on a robot that had trouble figuring out how to “save” robots representing humans during a study. The automaton was often unable to figure out whether to save one human-bot or the other, often resulting in it being stymied into a state of paralysis, resulting in the “death” of both. While it was clear that the robot was having an Asimovian breakdown because it couldn’t save everyone, researchers couldn’t tell what the reasoning was—or how exactly the programming functioned (or didn’t, as the case may be). But now, thanks to another advancement at MIT, we may be able to read robots’ minds, or at the very least, gain some insight into their intentions.

The scientists used a simpler task than the one that stymied the robot before—this time, instead of saving a human, they only had to reach the other side of the room without crashing into the “pedestrian.” Thus, what the robot has to “think” about is the best route, the one that will both minimize an encounters with the pedestrian while getting it across the room as quickly as possible. Thanks to a new visualization system, called “measurable virtual reality” (MVR) by its creators, scientists can see the robots “thoughts,” or at least their process.

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Automata Is Too Familiar To Be Anything More Than Wildly Okay

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AutomataGabe Ibanez’ new sci-fi feature Automata is not a terrible movie by any means, but it is very, very familiar, to the point where little, if anything, comes across as original. If you were to break it down, you could damn near name the movie where each individual scene originates. You can’t help but notice direct lifts from Blade Runner, I, Robot, Dredd, Mad Max, District 9/Elysium, and countless others. Not to mention a variety literary allusions—Asimov and Philip K. Dick especially. This is like a hodgepodge of genre influences all thrown together, and all of this combined adds up to a movie that is wildly okay.

Automata desperately wants to be a movie about big themes and ideas, like what it means to truly be alive, to truly be human, and what happens when the technology we create eclipses our ability to control and even understand it. And then the film touches on environmental catastrophe, corporate control, home, family, dreams, and even conspiracy. Just as it is an aesthetic grab bag, so is it a thematic one, with everything you can think of tossed and jumbled together in for the hell of it. As a result, it never truly digs into any single thread; this is an idea movie without much of an idea.

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Robotic Cheerleaders Are Adorable And Have A Ball

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murata cheerleadersPlenty of science fiction features robots that demonstrate what Isaac Asimov called the “Frankenstein Complex,” humanity’s fear that robots will eventually operate outside of our control and overthrow us and our way of life. Of course, this makes for more interesting stories, as demonstrated by Battlestar Galactica, Terminator, I, Robot (the movie, not the book), and countless other sci-fi narratives. The ubiquity of these stories makes it important for robot designers to combat this idea and fear, whether it’s by creating robots that aren’t terrifying to behold, by creating ones that actually help humans, or by creating little guys that are just so darn cute and adorable that you can’t help but smile at them—like Murata Manufacturing Company’s robotic cheerleaders.