Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds

Monthly Archives: March 2016

Google Dumps Humanoid Robots

Apparently, Alphabet, Google’s Parent company, is planning to sell Boston Dynamics. This is the company that has been building humanoid and animal-style robots for several years.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-17/google-is-said-to-put-boston-dynamics-robotics-unit-up-for-sale

 

Video at:
http://www.bloomberg.com/api/embed/iframe?id=Cgw5dS3pSoKJmEozujy0~w

 

Interesting, this came right after videos were posted showing the BD humanoid robot stumbling through the woods like a blind man.

Why dump now, after this “triumph” – the reason is that Alphabet/Google is waking up to the very long time it will take to create useful robots – humanoid, animal, or even self-driving cars.

A great analysis here of the over-hyper in robotics:

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/224965-the-sale-of-boston-dynamics-shows-alphabet-is-waking-up-to-reality

In short, Alphabet wants to fund “moon shot” projects – but only if they can produce something useful in the next 5-7 years. Apparently, Google decided that the humanoid robots won’t be useful for more than ten years – in other words, they have no realistic way of generating anything practical for decades.

The military, which was funding the “dog-bots” in a wave of earlier viral videos, agrees, and recently shelved the “big dog” project. The reason? They are way too noisy. You can’t get enough battery into a robot to run it for more than a few minutes, and gasoline engines (which let it run for hours) will let everyone in 20 miles know you’re using a dog-bot.


http://www.theverge.com/2015/12/29/10682746/boston-dynamics-big-dog-ls3-marines-development-shelved

This is a great example of fantasy vs. reality in robotics. The videos distributed by Boston Dynamics repeatedly imply that robots are “just around the corner” and spur the predictable, incredibly boring discussion about whether we should give robots rights, will they revolt, etc…ag. But they are puppet shows.

Anyone watching the videos should realize that these are tele-operated devices, not autonomous robots. In addition, their power supplies are typically incredibly dirty and noisy gasoline engines. There’s no practical use for such devices at present. People make almost no noise doing the same tasks, and are vastly more energy efficient.

The next to go: self-driving cars. There’s no way self-driving cars will be let onto public streets for many years. Safety boards will want exhaustive tests, far more than given to human drivers, and even very small fail rates will be a cause for swiftly banning the cars. In contrast, things like parallel parking are already present. That’s because they work.

While the work by Boston Dynamics has been incredible – compare their robots to those developed at various colleges and universities – it has become clear that making Robots That Jump is an incredibly hard challenge. The real “equity value” of Boston Dynamics is religion – people need something to believe in in a techo-utopian fantasy, and the imminent arrival of practical robots is part of that belief system. Even the supposed “fear” of robots taking over is part of that – most religions have a “end times” story to thrill the faithful.

Let’s admit that we want humanoid robots because we want them to exist, not because they are practical or even possible.

 

Advertisements