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The Winograd Schema Challenge is one alternative to the Turing test

Winograd Schema Challenge Results: AI Common Sense Still a Problem, for Now

After a chatbot pretending to be a 13-year-old named Eugene Goostman “passed” a Turing test a few years ago, experts in artificial intelligence got together and decided that a traditional Turing test might not be all that effective in measuring the intelligence of a computer program after all. Instead, they came up with (among many other things) the Winograd Schema Challenge, which is intended to determine how well an artificial intelligence system handles commonsense reasoning: understanding the basics about how the world works, and implementing that knowledge in useful and accurate ways.

A few weeks ago, the very first Winograd Schema Challenge took place at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in New York City. We spoke with Charlie Ortiz, director of the Laboratory for AI and Natural Language Processing at Nuance Communications and one of the organizers of the Winograd Schema Challenge, about how things went, why the challenge is important, and what it means for the future of AI.

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Amazon Prime Air delivery drone

Amazon to Test Delivery Drone Autonomy in the U.K.

Whether or not it’s a realistic or practical or good idea, urban commercial drone delivery is grinding remorselessly toward a thing that is going to happen. For many companies, “grind” is the right word, especially if they’re trying to do research and development in the United States, where regulations tend to be overly cumbersome and inflexible. To help move things along a bit, Amazon has decided to take its next phase of delivery drone testing to the United Kingdom.

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Traveling-wave robot

Single-Actuator Wave Robot Zips Around With High-Speed Wiggles

Every time we come back from a robotics conference thinking, “Okay, that’s it, people are out of ideas, there are no more unique ways of getting robots to move,” someone comes along and proves us wrong with something completely unexpected and cool. More than once, that someone has been David Zarrouk, who came up with the world’s fastest inchworm robot and this robot, which can drive forward and steer left and right using just one motor.

In a paper recently published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, Zarrouk describes his latest innovative robot: SAW, or Single Actuator Wave-like robot, “a novel bioinspired robot which can move forward or backward by producing a continuously advancing wave.” Basically, SAW moves around by doing the worm nonstop. Funky.

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BratWurst Bot

Video Friday: BratWurst Bot, Facebook Drone, and Powerline Ape

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada
RO-MAN 2016 – August 26-31, 2016 – New York, N.Y., USA
ECAI 2016 – August 29-2, 2016 – The Hague, Holland
NASA SRRC Level 2 – September 2-5, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
ISyCoR 2016 – September 7-9, 2016 – Ostrava, Czech Republic

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

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IAM Robotics robot picking object at warehouse

IAM Robotics Takes on Automated Warehouse Picking

There’s a small but growing handful of robotics companies trying to make it in the warehouse market with systems that work with humans on order fulfillment. Generally, we’re talking about clever wheeled platforms that can autonomously deliver goods from one place to another, while humans continue do the most challenging part: picking items off of shelves. There’s a lot of value here, since using robots to move stuff frees up humans to spend more of their time picking.

Ideally, however, you’d have the robot doing the picking as well, but this is a very difficult problem in terms of sensing, motion planning, and manipulation. And getting a robot do pick reliably at a speed that could make it a viable human replacement is more difficult still.

IAM Robotics, a startup based in Pittsburgh, Pa., is one of the first companies to take on the picking problem on a commercial level. Founded in 2012, they’ve developed an autonomous mobile picking robots called Swift that consists of a wheeled base and a Fanuc arm with a 15-lb payload and suction gripper that can reach 18 inches back into shelves. A height-adjustable carriage can access shelves between 3 and 85 inches, and an autonomously swappable tote carries up to 50 pounds of stuff. According to the company, the robot can autonomously navigate around warehouses and is “capable of picking at human-level speeds” of 200 picks per hour.

We spoke with IAM Robotics founder and CEO Tom Galluzzo to find out how they’re making this happen.

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Soft robot with rotary wheels and pneumatic motors from Rutgers University

Wheeled Robot With Soft Rotary Motors Is 100% Squishy

There’s a reason why you don’t see rotary motors or joints in nature: at anything above the molecular scale, too much stuff has to be permanently attached to too much other stuff for any of it to be freely rotating in the way a mechanical wheel or axle is. The more bioinspiration you want to work into a robot, the more of an issue this becomes, which is why it’s particularly impressive that researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., have managed to put four silicone-based wheels with air-powered motors inside of them on a robot that’s as soft as a Crocs shoe.

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Robotiq robot gripper grasping and manipulating object using tactile intelligence

Why Tactile Intelligence Is the Future of Robotic Grasping

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE.

The simple task of picking something up is not as easy as it seems. Not for a robot, at least. Roboticists aim to develop a robot that can pick up anything—but today most robots perform “blind grasping,” where they’re dedicated to picking up an object from the same location every time. If anything changes, such as the shape, texture, or location of the object, the robot won’t know how to respond, and the grasp attempt will most likely fail.

Robots are still a long way off from being able to grasp any object perfectly on their first attempt. Why do grasping tasks pose such a difficult problem? Well, when people try to grasp something they use a combination of senses, the primary ones being visual and tactile. But so far, most attempts at solving the grasping problem have focused on using vision alone.

This approach is unlikely to give results that fully match human capabilities, because although vision is important for grasping tasks (such as for aiming at the right object), vision simply cannot tell you everything you need to know about grasping. Consider how Steven Pinker describes all the things the human sense of touch accomplishes: “Think of lifting a milk carton. Too loose a grasp, and you drop it; too tight, and you crush it; and with some gentle rocking, you can even use the tugging on your fingertips as a gauge of how much milk is inside!” he writes in How the Mind Works. Because robots lack these sensing capabilities, they still lag far behind humans when it comes to even the simplest pick-and-place tasks.

As a researcher leading the haptic and mechatronics group at the École de Technologie Supérieure’s Control and Robotics (CoRo) Lab in Montreal, Canada, and as co-founder of Robotiq, a robotics company based in Québec City, I’ve long been tracking the most significant developments in grasping methods. I’m now convinced that the current focus on robotic vision is unlikely to enable perfect grasping. In addition to vision, the future of robotic grasping requires something else: tactile intelligence.

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RoboThespian talking via telepresence operation

Video Friday: Robotic Telepresence, Pepper Helper, and a Long Journey

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your melodramatic Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next two months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

MARSS 2016 – July 18-22, 2016 – Paris, France
IEEE WCCI 2016 – July 25-29, 2016 – Vancouver, Canada
RO-MAN 2016 – August 26-31, 2016 – New York, N.Y., USA
ECAI 2016 – August 29-2, 2016 – The Hague, Holland
NASA SRRC Level 2 – September 2-5, 2016 – Worcester, Mass., USA
ISyCoR 2016 – September 7-9, 2016 – Ostrava, Czech Republic

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

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SwagBot farming robot from Australian Centre for Field Robotics

SwagBot to Herd Cattle on Australian Ranches

Australia, we hear, is a big place. All that space is nice to have if you’re raising cattle, except for the fact that you’ve got to keep track of them all somehow. For ranchers, this is a lot of work, and for cattle, it means that they don’t get checked on very regularly. This would be a good opportunity for robots to step in and offer some assistance, but the problem is most robots would be crazy to try getting themselves around the kind of terrain that Australia is made of.

In order to tackle the hills, dales, fields, cliffs, rivers, swamps, crocodiles, platypuses, echidnas, koalas, quolls, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and dingoes (to name just a few common obstacles in Australia), researchers from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney led by Dr. Salah Sukkarieh have designed and tested an all-terrain robot called SwagBot that’s designed to be able to drive over almost anything while helping humans manage their ranchland.

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DURUS humanoid robot from Georgia Tech

DURUS Brings Human-Like Gait (and Fancy Shoes) to Hyper-Efficient Robots

In the middle of the DRC Finals last year, SRI’s DURUS robot slowly and steadily spent over two and a half hours walking 2 kilometers on a single battery charge. This was a Big Deal: DARPA had recognized from the beginning that the original version of ATLAS was horrendously impractical (at least in terms of locomotion), so they funded two different teams, one from SRI and one from Sandia, to design a humanoid robot that could walk 20x more efficiently. SRI’s DURUS came very, very close to this goal, achieving a cost of transport of just 1.5 through an innovative combination of hardware, software, and especially gait control.

The guy whose job it is to play with this robot is Professor Aaron Ames, who spent much of the last year moving his Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics Lab from Texas A&M to Georgia Tech, which is why we haven’t heard anything exciting about DURUS since the DRC. 
It sounds like they just got everything up and running a few months ago, and they’re now ready to share an impressive new behavior: DURUS can now walk just like a human, while wearing normal (and stylish) human shoes.

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