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Your School’s Next Security Guard May Be an AI-Enabled Robot

When Lori Andrews attended her daughter’s graduation at Santa Fe High School, she spotted a 5-foot-10, 400-pound robot roaming the football field alongside the newest alumni.

Andrews, a visual arts teacher at the school, said she initially thought the robot was taking photos of the graduates. She was taken aback when her husband described it as a police robot and she learned that it was providing 360-degree camera footage to the school security team.

“My reaction was, ‘Yuck,’” Andrews said. “What is it filming, what kind of camera is on it?”

The New Mexico school district started a pilot program in mid-June with the robot, which patrols the multi-building campus grounds 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Amid growing concerns about gun violence and mass shootings in schools, several companies are starting to offer similar robots to schools across the country. Few schools have deployed the machines thus far, primarily for campus surveillance. But they have the potential to do much more, including potentially confronting attackers and others who come onto campuses without permission.

Using artificial intelligence, the robot in Santa Fe learns the school’s normal patterns of activity and detects individuals who are on campus after hours or are displaying aggressive behavior, said Andy Sanchez, who manages sales for Team 1st Technologies, the robot’s distributor in North America.

In the case of an active shooter or other threat, the robot could alert the security team, Sanchez said. It could move toward the intruder and transmit video footage that informs the officers’ course of action, he said. The robot isn’t armed but can confront intruders, and human security team members would be able to speak to the intruder through the robot’s communication system.

The school chose to disable the robot’s weapons detection features during the pilot, although the security team is determining whether it might be added at a later time, said Mario Salbidrez, executive director of safety and security at Santa Fe Public Schools. Members of the district security team and the high school are responsible for reviewing video footage when the robot sends alerts about unusual activity.

The robot doesn’t have facial recognition features, and Santa Fe High School owns the robot’s video footage, meaning it can decide whether or not to save it, Sanchez said.

The robot hasn’t yet detected intruders on campus, but it has alerted the security team to new workers entering the school’s construction site and individuals attempting to open locked doors in harmless attempts to enter buildings, Salbidrez said. Its cameras have also caught faculty members waving to the cameras and students making peace signs in passing, he added.

Callie Trader, a rising senior at Santa Fe High School, said she is unfazed by additional surveillance on campus. She said she isn’t sure students will take the robot seriously, and she doesn’t think the robot will change students’ behavior any more than existing security cameras do.

“I think it will just be funnier, just different,” she said.

Reed Meschefske, a film studies and acting and drama teacher at Santa Fe High School, said that he already feels safe at school without the new surveillance measures. But the high school is large, and the robot, which he described as a “seven camera dog,” could help cover blind spots on campus that currently go undetected, he said.

Other districts are considering robots in a security role. Robert Stokes, co-owner and president of Stokes Robotics, said his company is working with multiple districts across the country. In most cases, schools will use robots in the classroom to teach students about coding, Stokes said. But in the face of an armed intruder, the robot could take more aggressive action, pointing a laser beam at a suspect’s chest or using flashing lights to try to induce them to drop their weapons.

Humans would be responsible for deciding the robot’s course of action in real-time but could remain out of the line of fire in the case of an active shooter, Stokes said.

Brad Wade, superintendent of Wyandotte Public Schools in Oklahoma, said the district hopes to introduce four robots from Stokes Robotics in the fall. The district is primarily considering robots with video cameras that could monitor the doorways of school buildings, although the robots that can directly confront intruders aren’t out of the question, Wade added.

New technology may create the appearance of making campuses safer, said Kenneth Trump, president of the Ohio-based consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services. But schools should first focus on teaching students how to inform a trusted adult about suspicious incidents on campus, he said.

“There’s a difference between doing something that’s impactful versus doing something for the sake of doing something,” Trump said. “We need to make sure that we master kindergarten before we’re looking for Ph.D. solutions to school safety.”

Team 1st Technologies is piloting the robot at Santa Fe High School free of charge for the summer. The cost for the 2023-24 school year is estimated to be around $60,000 to $70,000, Salbidrez said. The school is still determining if the robot is worth the investment, he said.

“At this point, I don’t have anything to say no to it,” Salbidrez said. “But I don’t have enough compelling information to say yes to it either.”

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Boston Dynamics’ latest Atlas video demos a robot that can run, jump and now grab and throw

Boston Dynamics released a demo of its humanoid robot Atlas, showing it pick up and deliver a bag of tools to a construction worker. While Atlas could already run and jump over complex terrain, the new hands, or rudimentary grippers, “give the robot new life,” reports TechCrunch. From the report:
The claw-like gripper consists of one fixed finger and one moving finger. Boston Dynamics says the grippers were designed for heavy lifting tasks and were first demonstrated in a Super Bowl commercial where Atlas held a keg over its head. The videos released today show the grippers picking up construction lumber and a nylon tool bag. Next, the Atlas picks up a 2×8 and places it between two boxes to form a bridge. The Atlas then picks up a bag of tools and dashes over the bridge and through construction scaffolding. But the tool bag needs to go to the second level of the structure — something Atlas apparently realized and quickly throws the bag a considerable distance. Boston Dynamics describes this final maneuver: ‘Atlas’ concluding move, an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip, adds asymmetry to the robot’s movement, making it a much more difficult skill than previously performed parkour.”

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Chess Robot Breaks Child’s Finger at Russia Tournament

During a tournament in Moscow, a chess-playing robot fractured a 7-year-old boy’s finger when the youngster attempted a quick move without giving the device enough time to finish its task. On July 19, at the Moscow Chess Open competition, the incident took place. The youngster is fine, but one of his fingers has been broken, according to Sergey Smagin, vice president of the Russian Chess Federation, who spoke to state-run news organisation RIA Novosti.

The boy, Christopher, is one of the top 30 young chess players in Moscow, and he is just nine years old. In a nation where chess has essentially become a national obsession and source of pride, that makes him very good.

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Twitter Bots Are a Major Source of Climate Disinformation

Twitter accounts run by machines are a major source of climate change disinformation that might drain support from policies to address rising temperatures. In the weeks surrounding former President Trump’s announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, accounts suspected of being bots accounted for roughly a quarter of all tweets about climate change, according to new research. “If we are to effectively address the existential crisis of climate change, bot presence in the online discourse is a reality that scientists, social movements and those concerned about democracy have to better grapple with,” wrote Thomas Marlow, a postdoctoral researcher at the New York University, Abu Dhabi, campus, and his co-authors. Their paper published last week in the journal Climate Policy is part of an expanding body of research about the role of bots in online climate discourse.

The new focus on automated accounts is driven partly by the way they can distort the climate conversation online. Marlow’s team measured the influence of bots on Twitter’s climate conversation by analyzing 6.8 million tweets sent by 1.6 million users between May and June 2017. Trump made his decision to ditch the climate accord on June 1 of that year. President Biden reversed the decision this week. From that dataset, the team ran a random sample of 184,767 users through the Botometer, a tool created by Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which analyzes accounts and determines the likelihood that they are run by machines.

Researchers also categorized the 885,164 tweets those users had sent about climate change during the two-month study period. The most popular categories were tweets about climate research and news. Marlow and the other researchers determined that nearly 9.5% of the users in their sample were likely bots. But those bots accounted for 25% of the total tweets about climate change on most days. […] The researchers weren’t able to determine who deployed the bots. But they suspect the seemingly fake accounts could have been created by “fossil-fuel companies, petro-states or their surrogates,” all of which have a vested interest in preventing or delaying action on climate change.

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Welcome To Walmart: The Robot Will Grab Your Groceries

Walmart is testing back-of-store automated systems that can collect 800 products an hour, 10 times as many as a store worker. In the backroom of a Walmart store in Salem, N.H., is a floor-to-ceiling robotic system that the country’s largest retailer hopes will help it sell more groceries online. Workers stand on platforms in front of screens assembling online orders of milk, cereal and toilet paper from the hulking automated system. Wheeled robots carrying small baskets move along metal tracks to collect those items. They are bagged for pickup later by shoppers or delivery to homes. Walmart is one of several grocers including Albertsons and Kroger that are using automation to improve efficiency in a fast-growing but costly business that comes with a range of logistical challenges.

The backroom robots could help Walmart cut labor costs and fill orders faster and more accurately. It also could address another problem: unclogging aisles that these days can get crowded with clerks picking products for online orders. A store worker can collect around 80 products from store shelves an hour, estimated John Lert, founder and chief executive of Alert Innovation, the startup that has worked with Walmart to design the system dubbed Alphabot. It is designed to collect 800 products an hour per workstation, operated by a single individual, Mr. Lert said. Workers stock the 24-foot-high machine each day with the products most often ordered online, including refrigerated and frozen foods. Fresh produce is still picked by hand in store aisles.

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US Police Already Using ‘Spot’ Robot From Boston Dynamics In the Real World

Massachusetts State Police (MSP) has been quietly testing ways to use the four-legged Boston Dynamics robot known as Spot, according to new documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. And while Spot isn’t equipped with a weapon just yet, the documents provide a terrifying peek at our RoboCop future.

The Spot robot, which was officially made available for lease to businesses last month, has been in use by MSP since at least April 2019 and has engaged in at least two police “incidents,” though it’s not clear what those incidents may have been. It’s also not clear whether the robots were being operated by a human controller or how much autonomous action the robots are allowed. MSP did not respond to Gizmodo’s emails on Monday morning.

The newly obtained documents, first reported by Ally Jarmanning at WBUR in Boston, include emails and contracts that shed some light on how police departments of the future may use robots to engage suspects without putting human police in harm’s way. In one document written by Lt. Robert G. Schumaker robots are described as an “invaluable component of tactical operations” that are vital to support the state’s “Homeland Security Strategy.” […] The question that remains is whether the American public will simply accept robocops as our reality now. Unfortunately, it seems like we may not have any choice in the matter — especially when the only way that we can learn about this new robot-police partnership is through records requests by the ACLU. And even then, we’re still largely in the dark about how these things will be used.

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EU Ruling: Self-Driving Car Data Will Be Copyrighted By the Manufacturer

Yesterday, at a routine vote on regulations for self-driving cars, members of the European Peoples’ Party voted down a clause that would protect a vehicle’s telemetry so that it couldn’t become someone’s property. The clause affirmed that “data generated by autonomous transport are automatically generated and are by nature not creative, thus making copyright protection or the right on data-bases inapplicable.” Boing Boing reports:

This is data that we will need to evaluate the safety of autonomous vehicles, to fine-tune their performance, to ensure that they are working as the manufacturer claims — data that will not be public domain (as copyright law dictates), but will instead be someone’s exclusive purview, to release or withhold as they see fit. Who will own this data? It’s unlikely that it will be the owners of the vehicles.

It’s already the case that most auto manufacturers use license agreements and DRM to lock up your car so that you can’t fix it yourself or take it to an independent service center. The aggregated data from millions of self-driving cars across the EU aren’t just useful to public safety analysts, consumer rights advocates, security researchers and reviewers (who would benefit from this data living in the public domain) — it is also a potential gold-mine for car manufacturers who could sell it to insurers, market researchers and other deep-pocketed corporate interests who can profit by hiding that data from the public who generate it and who must share their cities and streets with high-speed killer robots.

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Children ‘at risk of robot influence’

Forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests.

The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

The fact that children tended to trust robots without question raised ethical issues as the machines became more pervasive, said researchers.

They called for the robotics community to build in safeguards for children.

Those taking part in the study completed a simple test, known as the Asch paradigm, which involved finding two lines that matched in length.

Known as the conformity experiment, the test has historically found that people tend to agree with their peers even if individually they have given a different answer.

In this case, the peers were robots. When children aged seven to nine were alone in the room, they scored an average of 87% on the test. But when the robots joined them, their scores dropped to 75% on average. Of the wrong answers, 74% matched those of the robots.

“If robots can convince children (but not adults) that false information is true, the implication for the planned commercial exploitation of robots for childminding and teaching is problematic.”

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Mysterious drone swarm attacks

Moscow says the US supplied the technology behind the drone attack, but Washington denies involvement. In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, a swarm of armed drones descended from an unknown location in the early hours of Saturday morning onto Russia’s vast Khmeimim airbase in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia’s military operations in Syria.

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Researchers Create First Flying Wireless Robotic Insect

You might remember RoboBee, an insect-sized robot that flies by flapping its wings. Unfortunately, though, it has to be hard-wired to a power source. Well, one of RoboBee’s creators has now helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington — one member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly. Instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser. That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell, which is mounted on top of the robot. On its own, that cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings — on RoboBee, that sort of “thinking” is handled via a tether-linked external controller.

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Boston Dynamics is “teaching” its robot dog to fight back against humans

Boston Dynamics’ well-mannered [sic] four-legged machine SpotMini has already proved that it can easily open a door and walk through unchallenged, but now the former Google turned SoftBank robotics firm is teaching its robo-canines to fight back.

A newly released video shows SpotMini approaching the door as before, but this time it’s joined by a pesky human with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed by his distractions, SpotMini continues to grab the handle and turn it even after its creepy fifth arm with a claw on the front is pushed away.

If that assault wasn’t enough, the human’s robot bullying continues, shutting the door on Spot, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. In a last-ditch effort to stop the robot dog breaching the threshold, the human grabs at a leash attached to the back of the SpotMini and yanks.

The robot valiantly trudges forward attempting to shake off this cowardly move, losing its tail in the process and looking ever more like a dog fighting its owner. Eventually the human gives in, SpotMini rights itself, lines up with the door, grabs the handle and across the threshold it goes.

Boston Dynamics describes the video as “a test of SpotMini’s ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door” because “the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot”. The firm helpfully notes that, despite a back piece flying off, “this testing does not irritate or harm the robot”.

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Pentagon Seeks Laser-Powered Bat Drones

On Wednesday, the the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative, or DESI, announced a competition for basic science grants to build “new paradigms for autonomous flight, with a focus on highly-maneuverable platforms and algorithms for flight control and decision making.”

Biomimetic, or nature-imitating, designs for crawling, slinking and even swimming robots go back decades.

But getting flying machines to mimic nature is a good deal more difficult and more complicated than teaching robots to swim and crawl, which is why even the military’s smallest drones have followed conventional aerodynamic designs.

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The Video Game That Could Shape the Future of War

“As far as video games go, Operation Overmatch is rather unremarkable. Players command military vehicles in eight-on-eight matches against the backdrop of rendered cityscapes — a common setup of games that sometimes have the added advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in development budgets. Overmatch does have something unique, though: its mission. The game’s developers believe it will change how the U.S. Army fights wars. Overmatch’s players are nearly all soldiers in real life. As they develop tactics around futuristic weapons and use them in digital battle against peers, the game monitors their actions.

Each shot fired and decision made, in addition to messages the players write in private forums, is a bit of information soaked up with a frequency not found in actual combat, or even in high-powered simulations without a wide network of players. The data is logged, sorted, and then analyzed, using insights from sports and commercial video games. Overmatch’s team hopes this data will inform the Army’s decisions about which technologies to purchase and how to develop tactics using them, all with the aim of building a more forward-thinking, prepared force… While the game currently has about 1,000 players recruited by word of mouth and outreach from the Overmatch team, the developers eventually want to involve tens of thousands of soldiers. This milestone would allow for millions of hours of game play per year, according to project estimates, enough to generate rigorous data sets and test hypotheses.”

Brian Vogt, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Capabilities Integration Center who oversees Overmatch’s development, says:

“Right after World War I, we had technologies like aircraft carriers we knew were going to play an important role,” he said. “We just didn’t know how to use them. That’s where we are and what we’re trying to do for robots.”

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Robot police “officer” goes on duty in Dubai

Dubai Police have revealed their first robot officer, giving it the task of patrolling the city’s malls and tourist attractions.

People will be able to use it to report crimes, pay fines and get information by tapping a touchscreen on its chest.

Data collected by the robot will also be shared with the transport and traffic authorities.”

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“DragonflEye” project is turning insects into cyborg drones

“R&D company Draper is developing an insect control “backpack” with integrated energy, guidance, and navigation systems, shown here on a to-scale dragonfly model.

To steer the dragonflies, the engineers are developing a way of genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light. Once they get it to work, this approach, known as optogenetic stimulation, could enable dragonflies to carry payloads or conduct surveillance…”

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Pentagon successfully tests micro-drone swarm

“The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones.

The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction.

Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents’ defenses with their great numbers.

The test of the world’s largest micro-drone swarm in California in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing,” it said.

“Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said William Roper, director of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter—a technophile and former Harvard professor—created the SCO when he was deputy defense secretary in 2012.

The department is tasked with accelerating the integration of technological innovations into the US weaponry.

It particularly strives to marry already existing commercial technology—in this case micro-drones and artificial intelligence software—in the design of new weapons.

Originally created by engineering students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013 and continuously improved since, Perdix drones draw “inspiration from the commercial smartphone industry,” the Pentagon said.”

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The Internet of Things will be the world’s biggest robot

Computer security expert and privacy specialist Bruce Schneier writes:

“The Internet of Things is the name given to the computerization of everything in our lives. Already you can buy Internet-enabled thermostats, light bulbs, refrigerators, and cars. Soon everything will be on the Internet: the things we own, the things we interact with in public, autonomous things that interact with each other.

These “things” will have two separate parts. One part will be sensors that collect data about us and our environment. Already our smartphones know our location and, with their onboard accelerometers, track our movements. Things like our thermostats and light bulbs will know who is in the room. Internet-enabled street and highway sensors will know how many people are out and about­ — and eventually who they are. Sensors will collect environmental data from all over the world.

The other part will be actuators. They’ll affect our environment. Our smart thermostats aren’t collecting information about ambient temperature and who’s in the room for nothing; they set the temperature accordingly. Phones already know our location, and send that information back to Google Maps and Waze to determine where traffic congestion is; when they’re linked to driverless cars, they’ll automatically route us around that congestion. Amazon already wants autonomous drones to deliver packages. The Internet of Things will increasingly perform actions for us and in our name.

Increasingly, human intervention will be unnecessary. The sensors will collect data. The system’s smarts will interpret the data and figure out what to do. And the actuators will do things in our world. You can think of the sensors as the eyes and ears of the Internet, the actuators as the hands and feet of the Internet, and the stuff in the middle as the brain. This makes the future clearer. The Internet now senses, thinks, and acts.

We’re building a world-sized robot, and we don’t even realize it.”

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Robot “escapes” lab in Russia, makes a “dash for freedom.”

For all the anthropomorphising, the elements of this story are way less interesting than the way the story is being reported…

“A robot escaped from a science lab and caused a traffic jam in one Russian city, it’s reported. Scientists at the Promobot laboratories in Perm had been teaching the machine how to move around independently, but it broke free after an engineer forgot to shut a gate, says the local edition of the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper. The robot found its way to a nearby street, covering a distance of about 50m (164ft), before its battery ran out, the daily says.”

QZ reports: “It’s happening: A robot escaped a lab in Russia and made a dash for freedom.

“With every passing day, it feels like the robot uprising is getting a little closer. Robots are being beaten down by their human overlords, even as we teach them to get stronger. Now, they’re starting to break free.”

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“RoboCop” deployed to Silicon Valley shopping centre

At the Stanford shopping center in Palo Alto, California, there is a new sheriff in town – and it’s an egg-shaped robot.

“Everyone likes to take robot selfies,” Stephens said. “People really like to interact with the robot.” He said there have even been two instances where the company found lipstick marks on the robot where people had kissed the graffiti-resistant dome.

The slightly comical Dalek design was intentional…”

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Scientists put the brainwaves of a parasitic roundworm into Lego robot body

“Scientists believe they could be on the brink of creating artificial life after they digitized the brain of a worm and successfully placed it inside a robot.

Incredibly, they discovered that the bionic simulation behaved in exactly the same way as a real worm — despite the fact that they’d never coded its actual behavior.”

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