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Lockheed Martin's Spybot Knows How Not to Be Seen

This stealthy robot from Lockheed Martin is smart enough to know when you can see it and when you can't, and picks all the right hiding places

2 min read
Lockheed Martin's Spybot Knows How Not to Be Seen

There are some basic rules that both humans and robots should be aware of when it comes to not being seen, and Monty Python only scratched blew up the surface. Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratory has been developing a robot designed to operate around humans without being detected, and not just by being small and quiet: it listens for humans, guesses where they might be looking, and then finds itself a nice dark hiding place when it needs to.

Lockheed's robot is equipped with a 3D laser scanner that allows it to build detailed maps of its surroundings. It also has an array of acoustic sensors, which allow it to localize footsteps and voices. It can then combine the locations of humans with its 3D map to guess what areas the humans might be able to see, and then does its best to stay hidden. Keeping to the shadows, the robot always maintains an escape route, and if it senses a human approaching, it will look for the deepest darkest corner it can find and then hold its virtual breath until the danger has passed.

This is certainly not the first deceptive robot we've seen. Given the opportunity, a robot swarm at EPFL independently evolved the capacity for deception alarmingly quickly in a competition for virtual food. And researchers from Georgia Tech taught a robot to use deliberately deceptive tactics to fool other robots and humans. The Georgia Tech research, especially, seems like it's destined for applications like surveillance, as it endows a robot with a method of analyzing a situation to determine whether deception would be effective, based on what it knows about the robot (or person) trying to find it. If it decides that deception would help it achieve its goals, the robot then leaves tracks in one direction before moving off in a different one.

The key to avoiding detection by humans is to understand how you're perceived by humans. As Monty Python so astutely pointed out, for example, even the most perfect hiding place won't do you any good if it's the only possible place that you can be. By building models of both physical environments and perceptual environments, or how humans sense and react to things, robots will be much better at not just spying, but also understanding and reacting to us in less adversarial environments.

[ Lockheed Martin ] via [ New Scientist ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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