Automaton iconAutomaton

Facebook AI Director Yann LeCun on His Quest to Unleash Deep Learning and Make Machines Smarter

Artificial intelligence has gone through some dismal periods, which those in the field gloomily refer to as “AI winters.” This is not one of those times; in fact, AI is so hot right now that tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, Baidu, and Microsoft are battling for the leading minds in the field. The current excitement about AI stems, in great part, from groundbreaking advances involving what are known as “convolutional neural networks.” This machine learning technique promises dramatic improvements in things like computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. You probably have heard of it by its more layperson-friendly name: “Deep Learning.”

Few people have been more closely associated with Deep Learning than Yann LeCun, 54. Working as a Bell Labs researcher during the late 1980s, LeCun developed the convolutional network technique and showed how it could be used to significantly improve handwriting recognition; many of the checks written in the United States are now processed with his approach. Between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s, when neural networks had fallen out of favor, LeCun was one of a handful of scientists who persevered with them. He became a professor at New York University in 2003, and has since spearheaded many other Deep Learning advances.

More recently, Deep Learning and its related fields grew to become one of the most active areas in computer research. Which is one reason that at the end of 2013, LeCun was appointed head of the newly-created Artificial Intelligence Research Lab at Facebook, though he continues with his NYU duties.

LeCun was born in France, and retains from his native country a sense of the importance of the role of the “public intellectual.” He writes and speaks frequently in his technical areas, of course, but is also not afraid to opine outside his field, including about current events.

IEEE Spectrum contributor Lee Gomes spoke with LeCun at his Facebook office in New York City. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Read More

FAA Unveils Drone Rules: Autonomy Is In, Drone Delivery Is Out

Yesterday, on a Sunday, right after Valentine’s Day, in the middle of a holiday weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration decided to announce the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), governing the operation of drones under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). We’ve been watching the FAA take swings at commercial UAS rules for a while, usually cringing as they do, even as commercial drone operators desperately plead for reasonable procedures under which they can legally run their businesses.

The worry has always been that the FAA would attempt to over-regulate, requiring things like airworthiness certificates for drones and pilot’s licenses for drone operators and all manner of other restrictions that would make it a lot harder for people to use UAS. It seems that the FAA has been listening, though, and the agency’s proposed rules for UAS show a level of openness, restraint, and general not-that-bad-ness that’s a pleasant surprise.

Having said that, there’s still a lot of important stuff to understand whether you fly big-ish or small-ish drones. We have all the proposed rules, along with some analysis of the sticking points of the current proposal, after the jump.

Read More

Video Friday: RoboCore, Anki Overdrive, Valkyrie's New Moves

RoboCore is a dedicated controller board that’s been designed from the ground up for robots. It’s sort of like an Arduino, except that instead of being a DIY generalist, it’s optimized for building and programming your own robots from scratch. You can plug all kinds of stuff into it, and it’s easy to program while also providing wireless and cloud connectivity without you having to muddle through all kinds of frustrating setup and configuration and customization. Video of how it works, plus more, ’cause it’s Friday Friday Friday.

Read More

DARPA and OSRF Developing Next-Gen Prosthetic Limbs in Simulation and Reality

One of the most direct, tangible ways that robotics can help humanity is by restoring independence to people who don’t have it. This is especially true for robotic prosthetics, as they transition from systems with a mind of their own to systems that are leveraging your mind instead.

Earlier this week, DARPA announced contract awards for HAPTIX (“Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces”), a program that “seeks to create a prosthetic hand system that moves and provides sensation like a natural hand.”

It sounds cool, but what really drove the importance of this home for us were two videos that DARPA posted today: one showing amputees eating and drinking with DEKA arms—created by Dean Kamen’s DEKA R&D firm for DARPA—and another showing a U.S. Army volunteer using one to climb up a rock wall.

Read More

This Invincible Flying Robot Just Won a $1 Million Drone Competition

We started writing about AirBurr, the robot that would become Gimball, in October of 2009. Over the last five or so years, we’ve watched it change and evolve through what by now has to be more than a dozen unique versions until we were introduced to Gimball at ICRA 2014 in Japan. This is a robot with quite an academic development history, and that makes us particularly excited to see it win US $1 million in the first Drones for Good competition (an event organized by the United Arab Emirates government), not as a research project, but as a commercial one.  

Read More

Spot Is Boston Dynamics' Nimble New Quadruped Robot

Boston Dynamics is infuriatingly cool. They have to be the only robotics company out there that can just post a YouTube video of an incredibly agile autonomous quadruped named “Spot” with a four sentence description, and that’s that—no info on their site, no press release, no interviews. Because they know that everybody is going to watch it and think it’s awesome anyway. Grr.

Read More

Fetch Robotics: Unbounded Core Team Developing New Robots for Logistics

Today, Fetch Robotics is announcing its existence, a big chunk of funding, and the fact that it’s working on not one, but two robots, one of which is a mobile manipulator targeting the logistics market. What is Fetch Robotics? In short, it’s the core team from Unbounded Robotics, now bigger, better, well funded, and (apparently) with less of a predilection for making things orange. We talk to Fetch’s founders (and funders) and Fetch CEO Melonee Wise, and speculate about exactly what’s going on over there, after the break.

Read More

Video Friday: Teleoperated Balloon Animals, Zipperbots, and Indiana Darwin

Robots are getting much, much better at sensing and manipulation. It may not always feel like they’re making progress, but they are. Still, asking them to do anything autonomously, especially in unfamiliar or unstructured environments where things need to happen in real time, is usually only going to lead to disappointment, frustration, tears, and sometimes screaming.

For now, the reliable way of getting a robot to do what you want (when it involves perception and fine motor skills) is teleoperation. RE2 Robotics builds Highly Dexterous Manipulation System (HDMS) that are half the weight of a humanoid torso with twice the strength of a human, intuitively controlled by a sort of Waldo system. It’s primarily designed for military operations, but RE2 has a far more critical task: making balloon animals. See how they do it, plus lots more videos. It’s Friday!

Read More

Yet Another Drone Delivery Trial, This Time in Asia

For the next few days, Alibaba’s major online marketplace Taobao will be delivering small packages of ginger tea to 450 paying customers in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, by drone. What makes this different than other drone delivery trials we’ve seen before is that supposedly there will be real customers in the loop on this one.

Alibaba released a video showing how things will supposedly work from the moment a user orders an item and a drone is loaded and sent out to the moment when the item is delivered:

Read More


IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York, N.Y.
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Berkeley, Calif.
Jason Falconer
Angelica Lim
Tokyo, Japan

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Automaton newsletter and get biweekly updates about robotics, automation, and AI, all delivered directly to your inbox.

Load More