Boston Dynamics' notorious robot goes on an interplanetary mission.
- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announces the deployment of a robotic "dog" for Mars exploration.
- The robot is a modified Boston Dynamics cyberdog familiar to the internet from YouTube videos over the last few years.
- The bot will be autonomous and smart enough to explore Martian caves that may one day provide shelter for human visitors to the Red Planet.
Spot on<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b815068cbe73c30294078a6d0c63b277"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wlkCQXHEgjA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In a way, it's the abuse we've seen Spot suffer on YouTube that makes it such an ideal candidate for Mars missions. If Au-Spot falls over, it can right itself, a not insignificant capability when exploring alien terrain—it's one of the current rovers' most significant shortcomings. "Toppling does not mean mission failure," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/agu-mars-robot-dogs.html" target="_blank">noted the scientists</a> introducing the bot. "Using recovery algorithms, the robot can self-right from a multitude of falls."</p><p>The 70-pound Au-Spot is also capable of moving three times faster than existing rovers. </p><p>This means that Au-Spot will be ideal for exploring Martian caves, an area of great interest to those planning future manned missions to the planet. Satellite images of the red planet have revealed <a href="https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/caves-mars" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">over 1,000 potential cave openings</a> already. It may be possible on such journeys for humans to shelter in caves away from the planet's brutal dusts storms, extreme cold, and punishing UV radiation. These places, however, are not places into which current rovers can be sent.</p><p>On the other hand, Au-Spot's remarkable flexibility and smarts will allow Earth-bound scientists to see if the caves can really be of use to future astronauts. The bot pup can get down into such caves and then get itself back out. While there, it can produce 3D maps of the terrain thanks to onboard LIDAR. Built-in AI allows the bot to learn the terrain too, so it can avoid entrapment or damage from collisions with obstacles. It strategically deploys communications modules along the way to keep its command personnel appraised of what it's doing when it's beneath the surface.</p><p>Au-Spot can even intelligently choose between multiple pathways forward, making it a far more flexible tool than current rovers. Most things that rovers do are pre-programmed routines—improvisation requires communicating with a <a href="https://medium.com/predict/how-to-drive-a-mars-rover-6f0870b0c8e1" target="_blank">human controller</a> back on Earth some 22 minutes away as the signal flies.</p>
The rise of Au-Spot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="93d8d7bf9c12aa82593aeecaf81d1dfa"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VitjPLRdY8g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Au-Spot is the child of a team of 60 scientists and engineers working together as <a href="https://costar.jpl.nasa.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CoSTAR</a>, or the Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots. They've customized a factory-fresh Spot, outfitting it with the <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2010.09259.pdf" target="_blank">NeBula</a> (Networked Belief-aware Perceptual Autonomy) system that makes it autonomous enough to successfully navigate new environments, as shown in the DARPA Subterranean Robotics Challenge video above.</p><p>To get Au-Spot mission-ready, the CoSTAR team is putting it through its paces here on Earth. In addition to sending it up and down staircases and such, it's gone on field trips to Northern California's Tulelake lava tubes for some practice on Mars-like terrain and some cave exploration as well. </p><p>At the presentation, the CoSTAR scientists predicted, "These behaviors could one day enable revolutionary scientific missions to take place on the Martian surface and subsurface, thereby pushing the boundaries of NASA's capability in exploring traditionally inaccessible sites."</p>
Is the quest to upload human consciousness and ditch our meat puppets the future—or is it fool's gold?
- Technology has evolved to a point where humans have overridden natural selection. So what will our species become? Immortal interstellar travelers, perhaps.
- Scientists are currently mapping the human brain in an effort to understand the connections that produce consciousness. If we can re-create consciousness, your mind can live on forever. You could even laser-port your consciousness to different planets at the speed of light, download your mind into a local avatar and explore those worlds.
- But is this transhumanist vision of the future real or is it a pipedream? And if it is real, is it wise? Join theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, neuroscientist David Eagleman, human performance researcher Steven Kotler, skeptic Michael Shermer, cultural theorist Douglas Rushkoff and futurist Jason Silva.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.
1. Increase private sector investment in skills and training<p>The group pinpoints the importance of private sector investment in training employees, especially with the purpose of increasing the upward mobility for lower-wage and less-educated workers. This will particularly affect minority workers, who are overrepresented in this group. The report estimates only about half of employees get training from their employers in any given year. </p>
2. Significantly increase federal funding for training programs<p>The report advocates getting the government to fund training programs that can help lead to middle-class jobs for workers who don't have a four-year college degree. </p>
3. Support community colleges<p>The research team thinks community colleges should be supported by the federal government's money and policies to advance programs that connect employers to the education being received by students. The policies should be aimed at raising degree completion rates at community colleges. </p>
4. Invest in innovative training methods<p>Demonstration and field testing programs that work out new retraining and reemployment ideas should be given particular focus, according to the MIT scientists. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Innovation improves the quantity, quality, and variety of work that a worker can accomplish in a given time," <a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">wrote</a> the report's authors. "This rising productivity, in turn, enables improving living standards and the flourishing of human endeavors. Indeed, in what should be a virtuous cycle, rising productivity provides society with the resources to invest in those whose livelihoods are disrupted by the changing structure of work.</p>
5. Restore the real value of the federal minimum wage<p>The report spotlights the growing economic disparity between low-paid workers and the rest of society. Compared to Canadians, for example, low-paid Americans earn 26 percent less. Government policy should make sure people in traditionally low-paid service jobs like cleaning, groundskeeping, food service, entertainment, recreation, and health assistance get adequate pay and some economic security. To that end, the researchers propose that the minimum wage should be raised to at least 40 percent of the national median wage. This value should also be indexed to inflation. </p>
6. Modernize and extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits<p>Several measures are recommended to improve unemployment insurance and extend it to workers that aren't usually covered. The report suggests allowing workers to count their most recent earnings to determine eligibility, determining eligibility based on hours rather than earnings, dropping the requirement that unemployed seek full-time work (because many hold part-time jobs), and reforming partial UI benefits from the states. </p>
7. Strengthen and adapt labor laws<p>Labor laws need to be both improved and better enforced, states the report. Contraction of private sector labor unions makes it harder for rank-and-file workers to bargain for wage growth that matches the growth of productivity growth. How workers are represented needs to be innovated as much as the technologies. Current U.S. laws "retard the development of alternative approaches," write the researchers. For example, due to racial politics during the New Deal, sectors of the American workforce like domestic workers and agricultural workers are unable to participate in collective bargaining.</p>
8. Increase federal research spending<p>In a proposal aimed at fostering innovation and making sure its benefits are experienced by workers, the MIT group thinks it's key to increase government spending on research, especially in areas not addressed by the private sector. These tend to involve longer-term research that addresses the social impacts of new technologies, zeroing in on major national problems, climate change, human health and similar larger research topics. Investing into research on human-centered AI, collaborative robotics and the science of education should be a part of this approach.</p><p>Small and medium-sized businesses should receive targeted government assistance to allow them to increase productivity via the new tech, advises the MIT team. </p>
9. Expand the geography of innovation in the United States<p>Innovation is increasingly "concentrated geographically," think the researchers. For a country that has so many universities, entrepreneurs, and workers that are spread throughout, the benefits of innovation should be made available not only to more workers, but also to more of the country's regions. Each state can have its own Silicon Valley.</p>
10. Rebalance taxes on capital and labor<p>Innovation is necessary in the tax law as well, according to the report. It's important to change the manner in which the current tax code "unduly favors investments in capital" by eliminating accelerated depreciation allowances, applying corporate income tax equally to all corporations, and instituting an employer training tax credit.</p><p><a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">Read the full report here.</a></p>
Looking for fun STEM activities to try at home with your kids? Check out this DIY kit packed with 50 projects.
- Encouraging an early interest in STEM can build a strong foundation for your child's math and science skills in the future.
- The best way to teach them is with hands-on projects that are enjoyable to them.
- Help your kid grow their skills with over 50 hands-on projects in this all-in-one STEM electronics kit.
New book explores a future populated with robot helpers.
As Covid-19 has made it necessary for people to keep their distance from each other, robots are stepping in to fill essential roles, such as sanitizing warehouses and hospitals, ferrying test samples to laboratories, and serving as telemedicine avatars.