Posts Tagged 'robots'

MASDAR

just look at the little guy...

More future cars! Spotted in The New York Times last week, the “carbon-neutral” city of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, has been infested with subterranean driverless cars. The city is apparently raised  23 feet off the ground to catch the desert breeze, and to make room for the local network of robot cars. Ostensibly little different than a subway, the very private personal transports took their design – it seems –  from well, every clean Utopian Sci Fi film ever made. Norman Foster, lead designer for Foster & Partners, who helmed the UAE’s new eco-mecca is supposedly a “lifelong tech buff who collaborated with Buckminster Fuller” – so that explains a few things.

Nicolai Ourorrsof from NYT explains:

But Mr. Foster’s most radical move was the way he dealt with one of the most vexing urban design challenges of the past century: what to do with the car. Not only did he close Masdar entirely to combustion-engine vehicles, he buried their replacement — his network of electric cars — underneath the city. Then, to further reinforce the purity of his vision, he located almost all of the heavy-duty service functions — a 54-acre photovoltaic field and incineration and water treatment plants — outside the city.

The result, Mr. Foster acknowledged, feels a bit like Disneyland. “Disneyland is attractive because all the service is below ground,” he said. “We do the same here — it is literally a walled city. Traditional cars are stopped at the edges.”

Driving from downtown Abu Dhabi, 20 miles away, you follow a narrow road past an oil refinery and through desolate patches of desert before reaching the blank concrete wall of Masdar and find the city looming overhead. (Mr. Foster plans to camouflage the periphery behind fountains and flora.) From there a road tunnels through the base to a garage just underneath the city’s edge.

Stepping out of this space into one of the “Personal Rapid Transit” stations brings to mind the sets designed by Harry Lange for “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You are in a large, dark hall facing a row of white, pod-shaped cars lined up in rectangular glass bays. (The cars’ design was based on Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for a compact urban vehicle, the D-45, which helps explain their softly contoured, timelessly futuristic silhouettes.) Daylight spills down a rough concrete wall behind them, hinting at the life above” [emphasis added].

The first 13 cars of a proposed fleet of hundreds were being tested the day I visited, but as soon as the system is up, within a few weeks, a user will be able to step into a car and choose a destination on an LCD screen. The car will then silently pull into traffic, seeming to drive itself. (There are no cables or rails.)

 the fleet in stationCheck the diagram and slideshow for more.


Fresh Scan: Sync-bot

and what's with that stadium in the background...?

Another magazine find, this time from the back cover of Make – which is coincidentally the subject of a large-ish essay I’m writing. Not strictly concerned with depicting the future, makers certainly affect aesthetics and the philosophy of progress, so I might throw it up here when it’s finished in addition to over on the parent site. Anyway, here we have anthropomorphic qualities being projected onto an what looks to be essentially an mp3 player. Personalizing and familiarizing yourself with such technology is fine, as long as you’re aware that you’re closing the gap between people and machines. When you call your car (or especially mass narcissistic tech like an iPhone) a she or a he, you are, as RAF member Jaron Lanier wrote in his 2010 book, perpetuating a” reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become” (You are Not a Gadget p. 4)

More Propaganda from Intel

Intell Add - August 2010

Online Slang. College life. Textbooks. The cool kids have a robot.

Yeeeeaaahh… We’re back baby!

America. Sending androids to the goddamn moon.

That's right, "robonaut"

Check it.

Quick thoughts:

Seems like a potentially good balance of private and federal space programs.

I get the inspire-the-kiddies idea, but do we really need to make them look so shamelessly futuristic? I mean, the unnecessary fact that they’re humanoid kind of irks me(despite being totally awesome), but can we at least paint them bright red or something? What do you think? Is proliferating the accepted future aesthetic more legitimate if it’s done to impress the youth at large?

Details:

The proposition is simple: land an operational humanoid robot on the moon in 1000 days. The humanoid will travel to the moon on a small lander fueled by green propellants, liquid methane and liquid oxygen. It will preform a precision, autonomous landing, avoiding any hazzards or obstacles on the surface. Upon landing the robot will deploy and walk on the surface performing a multitude of tasks  focused on demonstrating engineering tasks such as maintanence and construction; performing science of opportunity (i.e. using existing sensors on the robot or small science instruments); and simple student experiments

The mission is also about inspiration, streamlining agency practices and processes and using unconventional partnerships, and building a better workforce and demonstrating technologies to enable the continuation of exploration beyond low earth orbit.

This last part is my favorite.

This mission will change perceptions and attitudes about what can be done, what should be done, and what is possible.

Whoa.

See previous coverage of the “Robonaut“.

Robot Consciousness Begins; A Conversation

Video from The New York Times, of journalist Amy Harmon conversing with a nonprofit owned AI in Vermont. The thing has crude mechanical head which theoretically helps the viewer bond with it and think of it as a person. The goal here – I suppose – is to understand the intricacies of off-the-cuff conversation and how that can be translated into bytes.  What’s particularly weird is that Bina48 is physically modeled after a real Bina, whose “recorded interviews, memories and thoughts” are further uploaded to the AI. Which, whaaat?

A human like AI in vermont

A presumably in-joke form the programmers, and my favorite part of the video:

Bina48: “Well let me say friendship is working together to accomplish something important – like building a better future, or conspiring to take over the planet. I feel like we’re good friends already.”

Harmon: “Sometimes I sort of wanted to throttle it, or at least switch it off.”

Automated Homes

Boing boing iPad home automation

Inspired by the above post on Boing Boing, I decided to take a look at home automation and how today’s tech is measuring up to its fictional predecessors. Author/blogger Alan Graham described in the post, how he is using an iPad as a interface for his home-brewed automation system. Using the Pad’s touch screen, he can adjust his home’s lights, temperature, coffee grinder, entertainment system, and apparently a chicken coop.

Boing Boing iPad auto home display

Now Graham’s ingenuity and customization of his home should be commended in the same way that one does a custom-mod Xbox, but the phenomenon of automating your home is itself fascinating; and from the point of view of this blog, it’s worth looking at its origin in Science Fiction. The use of technology to ease the pains and chores of everyday life has long been a staple of industrialization, and later commodity culture.

you'll live better electrically

This idea of selling a better lifestyle was integral to early advertising, as it was to early SF. The obvious example that comes to mind is the 1960’s The Jetsons, whose near-utopian homes were rigged with everything from moving sidewalks to humanoid cleaning bots. For our purposes, just watch the first 90 seconds or so , and try not to be too creeped out by the dog – have they ever heard a real one?

So this got me thinking – to quote the ever precient Doktor Sleepless:

“Where’s my jetpack? Where’s my flying car?”

Well, Where’s my automated home?

Surely by 2010, we should have some pretty banging automated houses set up around the globe… Some quick searching turned up several companies working in the same vein as the previously mentioned Alan Graham. My favorite is called (no, really)… HAL.

HAL home automation... not going to kill you, really.

I can understand wanting to materialize the blissful technology of Utopian SF, but the homicidal AI from 2001? Really? In control of your home? Maybe the folks at Home Automated Living  never saw 1977’s wonderfully ludicrous Demon Seed, whose trailer follows:

The film details a programmer-cum-philosopher whose utilitarian home automation system is taken over by a recently created super AI.

Here’s another video of a setup be E-Home in Dubai. Our tour guide has the unfortunate habit of referring to “Valerie” as a person, and says in a particularly creppy bit around 2:25: “she knows what I like…” But hey, automated curtains!

If  – like in the above video – you’re using a gaming controller to accomplish mundane actions around your house, aren’t you threatening the already narrow gap between real life and its simulacra? Which brings us to the big question of whether or not we should protect that distinction. The pleasure taken in narrative fiction and the ever-illusive goal of depicting precise reality in film and software are signs that (at some level or another) we want to escape reality into something that is exactly like it – but better. Temporary escapism is reasonable, but replacement is not. After all, turning your home into a futuristic techno-palace isn’t actually improving real conditions so much as it is further escaping into conditions already portrayed in mass media. Plus it’s definitely worth questioning the nirvana-like goal of controlling your total environment from a comfortable sofa.

Field Report: On the Streets

futuristic doorbell thing

Small future panel spotted on Wooster st.

svedka vodka robot ad

Svedka is apparently in the prescriptive future propaganda business as well as getting folks drunk.


Categories

Click for more info